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QUARTERBACKS:
Although he only completed 51.7 percent of his passes, Tampa Bay QB Chris Simms showed great poise and played mistake-free football while playing an integral role in leading the Bucs to a thrilling 36-35 win over the Washington Redskins. Simms completed 15-of-29 passes for 279 yards and tossed three touchdown and no interceptions. He didn’t have a running game to work with, but Simms received a decent amount of time to throw and wasn’t sacked on Sunday. Of the team’s 19 first downs, 13 of them came via the passing game. His first touchdown strike came in the second quarter when he hit wide receiver Joey Galloway on a slant for a 24-yard gain and score. Simms’ second TD pass came in the third quarter when he made a nice throw to WR Ike Hilliard for a 4-yard score. But it was Simms’ final throw of the game that served as the most critical one of all. With less than two minutes remaining in the game, Simms engineered a five-play, 54-yard drive that ended with the third-year quarterback throwing a perfect pass down the right side of the field to WR Edell Shepherd for a 30-yard touchdown. The Bucs elected to go for the two-point conversion instead of kicking the extra point, and were successful, which gave Simms his first win as a starter this season.

*Tampa Bay was 4-of-9 (44 percent) on third down attempts vs. Washington.

GRADE: A-


RUNNING BACKS:
Tampa Bay’s ground game had a tough time getting going vs. Washington, but it had a lot of success inside the 10-yard line.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said fans might see fullback Mike Alstott touch the ball a bit more, and he stayed true to his word by giving the “A-Train” nine carries for 21 yards (2.3 avg.). While those numbers aren’t too impressive, Alstott came up huge near the goal line, where he dove for 2- and-1-yard touchdowns, respectively, in the first half. Turnovers helped to set up both of Alstott’s scores. He also delivered in the passing game by hauling in a dump pass from Simms and turning it up field for an 18-yard gain. But Alstott’s biggest carry came with less than one minute remaining in regulation and the Bucs down by one point. Instead of kicking the extra point after Shepherd’s touchdown, Gruden opted to have the offense go for the win. Gruden called on the “A-Train,” who took the handoff from Simms and just barely managed to get the ball into the end zone for the game-winning two-point conversion. It was a gutsy call by the head coach and a gutsy effort by Alstott.

Bucs rookie RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams carried the ball 10 times for 20 yards (2.0 avg.). He had little to no room to run, which makes it tough to fault Williams for the lack of yardage produced in the running game. However, you can blame Williams for a turnover that occurred in second half. On the first play of the third quarter, Williams was hit by Redskins defensive lineman Joe Salave’a behind the line of scrimmage. Salave’a hit Williams so hard that it caused the rookie rusher to fumble the ball, and the Redskins recovered it on the Bucs’ 7-yard line. It only took Washington three plays to score a touchdown, which tied the game at 21 apiece.

Bucs RB Michael Pittman didn’t receive many carries. He rushed five times for 15 yards (3.0 avg.). However, Pittman did an outstanding job of providing Simms time to throw by picking up several blitzes.

*Tampa Bay rushed 27 times for 61 yards (2.3 avg.) and two touchdowns vs. Washington.

GRADE: B


WIDE RECEIVERS:

The Bucs were without one of their best receivers on Sunday, but you wouldn’t have known it by watching Simms, who aired it out to three receivers with success.

It should come as no surprise that WR Joey Galloway led the way for the Bucs offense by hauling in a team-leading seven passes for 131 yards and a touchdown, which came on a 24-yard pass play in the second quarter. That score came a series after Galloway had dropped a pass from Simms on a third-and-2 play, which forced the Bucs to punt. Galloway’s best catch came in the fourth quarter when he made a miraculous one-handed catch for a 21-yard gain. On Tampa Bay’s game-winning drive, Galloway caught a pass for a 13-yard gain, which put the Bucs offense at the Redskins’ 41-yard line.

Bucs WR Michael Clayton was inactive Sunday due to the deep bone bruise he suffered vs. the Carolina Panthers. But veteran WR Ike Hilliard stepped up in Clayton’s place, catching three passes for 37 yards and a touchdown, which came on a 4-yard strike from Simms in the third quarter. Hilliard ran a great route to get himself open in the end zone on that scoring play, which made the score 28-28 after the extra point was good.

With Hilliard starting in place of Clayton, WR Edell Shepherd served as Tampa Bay’s No. 3 receiver, and he did an admirable job, especially in the second half. In the third quarter, Shepherd got open deep down the right seam and hauled in a perfectly thrown pass from Simms for a 46-yard gain. That pass play put the Bucs on the ‘Skins’ 7-yard line, and the offense punched the ball in for the score two plays later. Shepherd came up big again on Tampa Bay’s game-winning drive when he caught an 11-yard pass from Simms for a first down on Washington’s 30-yard line. Two plays later, Shepherd got himself open down the right sideline, and Simms found the receiver in the back of the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown. Shepherd finished the game with three catches for 87 yards (29.0 avg.).

Tampa Bay ran a lot of two-man routes due to the fact that it spent most of the game in max protect sets. This put a lot of pressure on the receivers to win one-on-one battles by running solid routes. To their credit, Galloway, Hilliard and Shepherd succeeded in this area and proved to be instrumental in Tampa Bay’s offensive success on Sunday.

*The Bucs produced 340 yards of total offense vs. the Redskins.

GRADE: A


TIGHT ENDS:
Neither Alex Smith nor Anthony Becht caught a pass vs. the Redskins, but they didn’t run many routes, either. That’s because the Bucs used a lot of max protect sets, which called for the tight ends to stay in and block. That turned out to be a good strategy as both Becht and Smith did a fantastic job of picking up a wide variety of blitzes the Redskins threw their way. Their ability to pick up those blitzes allowed Simms to have a banner day in the passing game.

GRADE: B+


OFFENSIVE LINE:
Tampa Bay’s offensive line failed to help establish the running game, but this unit did a decent job in pass protection. Washington blitzed a lot, but the Bucs offensive line managed to do a solid job of defending Simms, who wasn’t sacked on Sunday. Right tackle Kenyatta Walker really stood out and did an excellent job in terms of executing his assignments and picking up blitzers. Left tackle Anthony Davis was flagged for a false start in the fourth quarter, which set the offense up with a third-and-12 situation. The Bucs wound up turning the ball over on downs two plays later.

GRADE: B


DEFENSIVE LINE:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden challenged this group to create turnovers and get to the quarterback. They delivered in both areas, but unfortunately their run defense suffered as a result.

One week after being held without a tackle or sack, Tampa Bay defensive end Simeon Rice came up huge Sunday by recording four tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception vs. Washington. Rice’s sack/fumble in the first quarter forced the Redskins to settle for a field goal. In the second quarter, Rice intercepted a pass after CB Juran Bolden tipped a QB Mark Brunell throw intended for WR Santana Moss. That big play killed a Redskins drive that was on the Bucs’ 25-yard line. Later in the second quarter, Rice sacked Brunell and forced him to fumble again, which allowed DE Dewayne White to recover the ball on the Redskins’ 5-yard line. Alstott scored his second touchdown of the game two plays later.

Under tackle Anthony McFarland had what was arguably his best game of the season. He tackled Redskins RB Clinton Portis behind the line of scrimmage on two different plays. He also came close to getting to Brunell a couple of times. “Booger” finished the game with four tackles.

Nose tackle Chris Hovan was also active in the trenches, notching five tackles.

Bucs DE Greg Spires notched one tackle before leaving the game in the middle of the fourth quarter with a sprained left shoulder. He didn’t return.

Spires was replaced by Dewayne White, who missed a tackle on Portis’ 16-yard run at the beginning of the second quarter. However, White made up for that mistake when he recovered a fumble caused by Rice in the second quarter. That turnover led to one of Alstott’s two touchdowns. Late in the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-10 play, White helped to secure the win for the Bucs by tackling Brunell near the line of scrimmage, which resulted in a turnover on downs. White finished the game with one tackle.

While Washington rushed for 185 yards on 33 carries (5.6 avg.) vs. Tampa Bay, the Bucs’ front four wasn’t completely at fault for the mishaps the defense had in its attempt to stop the running game.

*The Redskins produced 389 yards of total offense vs. the Bucs’ No. 1 ranked defense.

GRADE: B+


LINEBACKERS:
One of the main reasons why Tampa Bay’s defense struggled to contain Washington RB Clinton Portis was because of the uncharacteristic play of Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks. Portis made Brooks pay for over pursuing several plays. Brooks was also suspect in tackling and pass coverage, where he allowed ‘Skins RB Ladell Betts to haul in a 17-yard pass for a touchdown on a third down play in the third quarter. Although he led the Bucs defense with nine tackles, Brooks had a lot to do with Portis’ success via the running game on Sunday.

Brooks wasn’t the only defensive player that missed tackles and/or took bad angles. Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles, who quietly recorded seven tackles, and SLB Ryan Nece, who notched four takedowns, were also involved in Washington’s ability to gash Tampa Bay’s No. 1-ranked run defense for 185 rushing yards. Nece also got beat by Portis on Washington’s two-point conversion in the third quarter.

*Redskins RB Clinton Portis rushed 23 times for 144 yards (6.3 avg.) vs. the Bucs.

GRADE: C-


SECONDARY:
Bucs CB Ronde Barber led the defense in tackles at halftime and finished the game with eight takedowns. He made a great pass breakup on a third-and-8 play on the first series of the game, which forced the Redskins to punt.

Barber’s partner in crime, CB Brian Kelly, gave up a big play in the first half when he got juked out by Redskins speedy WR Santana Moss, who gained 22 yards on the play, which put the Redskins at the Bucs’ 12-yard line. However, the ‘Skins wound up settling for a field goal on that drive. In the third quarter, Kelly had a tough time keeping up with Moss on a third-and-11 play. Moss made a great catch over his shoulder for a 42-yard gain. That play put the Redskins on the Bucs’ 18-yard line. Kelly finished the game with three tackles and a pass defensed. Moss finished the contest with four catches for 79 yards.

Tampa Bay free safety Will Allen missed a tackle on Portis’ 35-yard run on Washington’s second offensive series of the game. However, Allen made a great tackle on Betts behind the line of scrimmage in the second quarter. That great play resulted in a two-yard loss. Allen left the game in the third quarter after injuring his knee. He did not return and was replaced by S Kalvin Pearson. Brunell tested Pearson early by throwing deep to Moss, who hauled in a perfectly thrown pass deep in Tampa Bay territory. A holding penalty, however, negated that pass play and bailed Pearson and the Bucs defense out of trouble. Pearson notched four tackles on Sunday.

Strong safety Jermaine Phillips dropped an interception after LB Ryan Nece forced an errant pass by drilling Brunell on a blitz on the opening series of the game. Phillips spent a good portion of the game playing close to the line of scrimmage and recorded eight tackles and two passes defensed.

Bucs CB Juran Bolden had what was probably his best game in pewter. He helped to set the tone early by intercepting a pass intended for WR David Patten and returning it to the Redskins’47-yard line in the first quarter. Bolden came up big again at the beginning of the second quarter by deflecting a pass, which allowed DE Simeon Rice to intercept it. That turnover killed a drive that was at Tampa Bay’s 25-yard line. Bolden came up with another pass breakup late in the second quarter on a third-and-2 play. That deflection forced the Redskins to settle for a field goal. Bolden finished the game with three tackles and three passes defensed.

*Redskins QB Mark Brunell completed 23-of-35 (65.7 percent) of his passes for 226 yards and tossed two touchdowns and two interceptions vs. the Bucs.

GRADE: B-


SPECIAL TEAMS:
This unit dropped the ball on Sunday, literally.

Cornerback Torrie Cox was benched after muffing the opening kickoff in the third quarter, and his replacement, Edell Shepherd, allowed a kickoff to bounce off his hands and into the end zone for a touchback. Cox averaged just 20.3 yards per return while Shepherd averaged 20 yards per attempt.

The biggest mishap this unit had on Sunday came after Alstott’s second touchdown of the game in the second quarter. On the ensuing kickoff, Redskins KR Ladell Betts avoided at least three tackles en route to a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Replays showed that Betts had stepped out of bounds around midfield, but officials didn’t overturn the call.

Fullback Jameel Cook was called for holding on Cox’s kickoff return in the third quarter.

GRADE: D


COACHING:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden challenged his team to improve in several areas this week, and the Bucs responded. The team was called for just two penalties, the defensive created three turnovers and three sacks, the offensive line played better, QB Chris Simms made great strides and played mistake-free football while throwing three TD passes, and receivers Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard and Edell Shepherd stepped up in place of injured WR Michael Clayton. To Gruden’s credit, he went to the hot hand near the goal line by giving the ball to Mike Alstott, who scored two touchdowns. The decision to go for the two-point conversion and win might have been the gutsiest call in franchise history.

Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s group learned that the team’s offense has the ability to bail them out on a bad day. The special teams unit is the only one keeping the coaching staff from getting an “A” for Sunday’s effort. Still, the entire coaching staff deserves credit for what was a very inspired effort and performance by the Bucs players.

GRADE: B


This story is intended to be read by PewterInsider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on PewterReport.com. Buccaneers merchandise in the world.

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