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QUARTERBACKS: Unlike last week, Tampa Bay QB Chris Simms got off to a good start on Sunday. For the most part, Simms looked more poised in the pocket and had much better pre-snap reads in the first half. His first big completion came on Tampa Bay’s first drive on third-and-9 when he hit wide receiver Michael Clayton for an 11-yard gain and first down. But his best throw of the game came in the second quarter when Simms launched a perfect pass down field to WR Joey Galloway, who beat Panthers safety Mike Minter deep and hauled in the pass in the end zone for the 50-yard score. The play capped off a seven-play, 79-yard drive. On the next drive, Simms delivered another great pass to tight end Alex Smith, who was wide open and hauled in the pass for a 17-yard gain on a third-and-2 play. Later in the second quarter, Simms threw a nice pass to Clayton for a 12-yard gain on a third down play. Simms was 10-of-13 for 121 yards and threw a touchdown and no interceptions in the first half, but the Bucs only produced seven points.
The second half was a much different story for Simms, whose pass to Clayton on the left side of the field on the second play of the third quarter, was intercepted by Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble and returned 61 yards for a touchdown. The turnover was deflating as the Bucs were at the Panthers’ 38-yard line and driving. That huge mistake put the Panthers up 24-7 at the start of the third quarter. From there, things really started to unravel. In the third quarter, Carolina defensive end Mike Rucker blew past Tampa Bay tackle Todd Steussie and sacked Simms, causing him to fumble and allowing the Panthers to recover the ball on the Bucs’ 19-yard line. The Panthers wound up kicking a field goal, which put them up 27-7. Simms wasn’t the same after both turnovers. He took two sacks on the next offensive series, and the pressure kept coming since the Bucs, who were trailing by 20-plus points, were in obvious passing situations and abandoned the running game. In the fourth quarter, Simms engineered a nine-play, 68-yard drive that led to a touchdown run by fullback Mike Alstott, which made the score 34-14.
Simms completed 25-of-42 (59.5 percent) passes and threw for 259 yards and tossed one touchdown and two interceptions. He was sacked five times for the second consecutive week.
*Tampa Bay converted 4-of-12 (33 percent) of its third down attempts vs. Carolina.
Fullback Mike Alstott didn’t have an impressive game as a lead blocker, but he pumped a little life into the Bucs’ flat offense on the third drive of the game when he hauled in a short pass in the flat and rumbled his way forward for an extra four yards and a first down. The “A-Train” broke three tackles on that play. In the third quarter, Alstott caught a pass from Simms for a first down. In the fourth quarter, Alstott capped off a nine-play, 68-yard drive by running the ball into the end zone for a 1-yard score, which made the score 34-14. He finished the game with one carry for 1 yards and two catches for 21 yards. Alstott made the best of his few touches, and it was disappointing to see the Bucs not use him more when he was one of the few things working for their offense on Sunday.
Backup RB Michael Pittman saw most of his action in the second half of Sunday’s game. He hauled in a 26-yard pass from Simms in the fourth quarter when Carolina was playing a prevent-type defense. That play helped spark Tampa Bay’s nine-play, 68-yard scoring drive. He carried the ball five times for 14 yards (2.8 avg.) and caught four passes for 29 yards on Sunday.
*Tampa Bay rushed for 44 yards on 18 carries (2.4 avg.) on Sunday.
Bucs WR Joey Galloway came up big again, hauling in five passes for 83 yards (16.6 avg.). His biggest play of the game came in the second quarter when Galloway used his speed to beat Panthers S Mike Minter deep in the end zone, where Simms hit him with a perfect strike for the 50-yard touchdown. That sensational play cut the Panthers’ lead to three points, but that was as close as the Bucs would ever get. In the fourth quarter, Galloway drew a pass interference penalty on a fourth-and-5 play, which helped to set up Tampa Bay’s second and final touchdown of the game. As productive as he was vs. the Panthers, Galloway also dropped a pass and was called for a false start in the second quarter.
Bucs WR Michael Clayton hauled in a pass from Simms for an 11-yard gain on a third-and-9 play in the first quarter. He caught another 12-yard pass from Simms for a first down late in the second quarter. But those would be Clayton’s only two catches of the game. Clayton had a sloppy outing, especially in the second half when he dropped two passes.
Bucs WR Ike Hilliard caught four passes for 28 yards, but most of his grabs came in the second half when the game was out of hand.
*Tampa Bay had 18 first downs vs. Carolina, but only two came via the passing game.
Bucs TE Anthony Becht also struggled to open up holes in the running game. He was good in terms of engaging the defenders, but Becht struggled to maintain solid blocks throughout the game. He caught two passes for 10 yards vs. the Panthers.
This unit started out playing okay, but they imploded in the second quarter when the Bucs were driving into Panthers’ territory only behind by one score. Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker was called for three false start penalties in a four-play span, which put the Bucs in a third-and-22 situation and essentially killed what was a promising drive up to that point. Near the end of the second quarter, Walker and guard Sean Mahan allowed Panthers DE Julius Peppers to split them and sack Simms. Peppers finished the game with five tackles and two sacks.
Peppers’ second sack of the game, which came near the end of the second quarter, resulted in the Bucs losing starting left tackle Anthony Davis, who had Simms fall on the back of his left knee in the process of getting brought down. Backup T Todd Steussie replaced Davis, who did not return. Like Davis, Steussie struggled vs. Carolina RE Mike Rucker, who blew by Steussie on one play in the third quarter and sacked Simms, causing him to fumble and allowing the Panthers to recover the loose ball on the Bucs’ 19-yard line. Carolina wound up kicking a 20-yard field goal, which put the Panthers up 27-7. Rucker had two sacks and one fumble recovery on Sunday.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line was the main reason why the Bucs failed to get the running game going. Carolina spent most of the game playing eight defenders in the box, and as a result Tampa Bay produced just 44 yards rushing and allowed five sacks.
*Three of Tampa Bay’s four turnovers led to 17 points for Carolina.
Bucs defensive lineman Dewayne White saw a significant amount of action vs. the Panthers and sacked Delhomme for 6-yard loss at the beginning of the second quarter. That quarterback takedown put Panthers in second-and-16 situation. Two plays later, White knocked down Delhomme’s pass, which forced the Panthers to punt. White finished the game with three tackles, one sack and one pass defensed.
Tampa Bay nose tackle Chris Hovan also knocked down one of Delhomme’s passes on Sunday. Although he didn’t sustain a pass rush, Hovan did a nice job of defending the run and taking on double teams. He notched three tackles and one pass defensed.
Under tackle Anthony McFarland didn’t play particularly well. He failed to put pressure on Delhomme and was replaced by White and DT Ellis Wyms on several occasions. McFarland recorded two tackles vs. the Panthers. Wyms did not record a tackle and was flagged for being offsides on a third-and-5 play in the third quarter. That penalty gave the Panthers a first down.
Panthers LT Travelle Wharton surprisingly handled Bucs DE Simeon Rice easily. Not only did he fail to sustain a potent pass rush, Rice didn’t even record a tackle on Sunday.
*Carolina produced 287 yards of total offense vs. Tampa Bay.
Weakside LB Derrick Brooks was flagged for a personal foul facemask penalty on Carolina’s second drive of the game. That penalty put the Panthers on the Bucs’ 4-yard line in the first quarter. On the next play, Brooks failed to tackle Davis on a 4-yard touchdown run, which put the Panthers up 10-0. Brooks recorded seven tackles vs. the Panthers.
Strongside LB Ryan Nece had a couple of nice hits and notched five tackles during Sunday’s game.
*Carolina rushed for just 77 yards on 32 attempts (2.4 avg.) vs. Tampa Bay.
Smith’s touchdown came in the fourth quarter when Delhomme found his speedy receiver in a one-on-one matchup with Bucs CB Ronde Barber, who couldn’t keep up and allowed Smith to haul in the 35-yard pass down the left sideline for a touchdown, which put the Panthers up 34-7. Barber finished the game with four tackles and one pass defensed while Kelly notched two tackles and three passes defensed.
Free safety Will Allen was late coming over in coverage on Smith’s catch on third down on the Panthers’ second offensive series of the game. That reception put the Panthers on the Bucs’ 16-yard line in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Allen was penalized for pass interference in the end zone, which gave Carolina the ball on Tampa Bay’s 1-yard line. One play later, Davis ran the ball into the end zone for the score, which put the Panthers up 17-7. Allen recorded just one tackle on Sunday.
Bucs strong safety Jermaine Phillips spent a significant amount of time playing in the box and defending the run. He helped Quarles stuff Davis on the third-and-1 play in the third quarter, which forced a punt. But later in the game, Phillips was called for a personal foul late hit penalty on Smith, which gave the Panthers the ball at the Bucs’ 1-yard line. Phillips finished the game with nine tackles and one pass defensed.
The lack of pass rush produced by Tampa Bay’s front four hindered the secondary’s ability to defend several pass plays on Sunday. Delhomme completed 11-of-18 (61 percent) of his passes for 216 yards and tossed one touchdown. More importantly, Delhomme and the Panthers played a turnover-free football game whereas the Bucs had four turnovers on Sunday.
*The Panthers converted 5-of-13 (38 percent) of their third down attempts vs. the Bucs.
Cornerback Torrie Cox returned seven kickoffs and averaged just 22.1 yards per attempt. His longest return on the day was a 30-yarder. Cox showed great initial burst after fielding the kickoffs but struggled to keep his feet around defenders.
Bucs PR Mark Jones averaged 15 yards per attempt on three tries. His longest return was an 18-yarder.
Safety Kalvin Pearson recorded two special teams tackles while LBs Marquis Cooper and Barrett Ruud, and CB Blue Adams each notched a special teams takedown.
Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s unit continues to defend the run well, but he’s got to find a way to get his players, particularly the front four, after the quarterback more often. The lack of pass rush by the Bucs allowed Delhomme to deliver some key passes and gave him enough time to avoid making a critical mistake with the football.
Tampa Bay was penalized eight times for 42 yards, but turnovers were the difference in this football game. Carolina recorded four of them while Tampa Bay notched none.
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