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QUARTERBACKS: Tampa Bay QB Brian Griese responded well to criticism he received throughout the week by turning in a strong performance vs. Miami. Griese engineered two scoring drives by hooking up early with wide receiver Joey Galloway. In fact, Galloway and Griese connected on three straight third down plays, the third of which went for a 7-yard touchdown on Tampa Bay’s first offensive drive of the game. Griese was 4-of-5 on the opening drive, which went 78 yards on 10 plays. But with 3:43 remaining in the second quarter, Griese got injured after Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas’s head and shoulder appeared to mangle Griese’s left leg on a passing play. Although a cart came onto the field to bring Griese into the locker room, the tough quarterback turned it away and limped off the field. He went into the locker room shortly thereafter. Griese completed 12-of-16 (75 percent) of his passes for 120 yards and threw a touchdown before leaving the game on Sunday. The injury was deemed a sprained left knee.
Backup QB Chris Simms took Griese’s place in the staring lineup. Although he started off 0-of-2 and was blitzed often by Miami’s defense early, Simms put together a solid outing by completing a short pass to running back Michael Pittman, two key passes to WR Ike Hilliard and a 22-yard pass play to WR Michael Clayton to set the Bucs up for a 32-yard field goal, which put them up 13-6. It was a 14-play, 66-yard drive. Simms came dangerously close to throwing an interception near Miami’s goal line in the second half, but the Dolphins defender dropped the ball. Other than that pass, Simms made pretty good decisions throughout the game. Although he took two coverage sacks, Simms’ ability to move the ball through the air in the second half forced the Dolphins to back off their blitz packages.
The biggest stat for the Bucs quarterbacks was the one they didn’t produce — turnovers.
*Tampa Bay converted 8-of-17 (47 percent) of its third down attempts vs. Miami on Sunday.
But backup RB Michael Pittman, who was also listed as questionable heading into Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, performed admirably, rushing 15 times for 127 yards (8.5 avg.). On his first carry of the game, Pittman took a handoff from Griese 33 yards to Miami’s 25-yard line. He showed great cutting ability on the play call, which was a counter. Pittman’s best run of the game came near the end of the third quarter on third-and-1 when he made a great juke move to avoid a tackle by Dolphins DE Jason Taylor and sprinted 53 yards to the end zone for a touchdown, which put the Bucs up 17-6. Pittman started showboating toward the end of the play, which nearly allowed Taylor to tackle him short of the goal line, but Taylor missed the tackle and Pittman walked into the end zone for the score.
Backup RB Earnest Graham saw a significant amount of action on Sunday. He carried the ball 17 times for 50 yards (2.9 avg.). His longest run of the game came in the first quarter on a 16-yarder to the Dolphins’ 15-yard line. But in the fourth quarter, Graham fumbled the ball on his own 8-yard line, which allowed Miami to recover. All it took was one play for Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown to rush the ball into the end zone, which ruined any chance Tampa Bay had of keeping Miami’s offense out of the end zone on Sunday.
Bucs fullback Mike Alstott made a huge play in the first quarter by hauling in a pass from Griese in the flat and rumbling 23 yards to Miami’s 31-yard line. Alstott did a great job of breaking a tackle on the play. Although Williams was out and Pittman was injured, The “A-Train” didn’t rush the ball at all vs. Miami. However, both Alstott and FB Jameel Cook did an excellent job of lead blocking for Tampa Bay’s running game.
*Tampa Bay rushed 34 times for 180 yards (5.3 avg.) and one touchdown vs. Miami’s No. 2 ranked run defense.
Although he only caught two passes for 27 yards on Sunday, Bucs WR Michael Clayton came up huge on third-and-3 in the third quarter by hauling in a pass from Simms for a 22-yard gain to Miami’s 27-yard line. Clayton also threw a key block on Pittman’s 57-yard touchdown run near the end of the third quarter.
Both of Bucs WR Ike Hilliard’s catches came on the same drive in the third quarter. He caught a 10-yard pass from Simms on third-and-7, which kept the chains moving. A few plays later, Hilliard caught a pass for a first down, which put the ball on Miami’s 16-yard line. Both of those grabs helped to set up K Matt Bryant’s 32-yard field goal.
*Tampa Bay won the time of possession vs. Miami, 35:39 to 24:21.
Bucs TE Anthony Becht did a decent job as a run blocker and hauled in a 13-yard pass from a scrambling Simms in the third quarter.
Bucs RT Kenyatta Walker was called for holding on a third-and-5 play on the first offensive series of the game. That penalty negated a pass interference penalty on Miami vs. Galloway, who was in the back of the end zone. Walker was penalized for holding on a Pittman run in the second quarter as well.
Although Tampa Bay allowed three sacks, one could argue that they were coverage sacks as opposed to poor blocking from the offensive line. This unit came up huge from a run-blocking standpoint.
*The Bucs produced 342 yards of total offense vs. the Dolphins.
Bucs under tackle Anthony McFarland didn’t record a tackle and nose tackle Chris Hovan notched one. McFarland was called for a personal foul, hitting the quarterback’s facemask, on third-and-10 play in second quarter. That penalty gave the Dolphins a first down after Dolphins QB Gus Frerotte’s pass fell incomplete. McFarland’s biggest play came in the fourth quarter when he recovered Frerotte’s fumble caused by DE Simeon Rice.
Rice was called for being offsides on a third-and-15 play in the second quarter. He played extremely well against the run, notching three tackles. And once the Bucs jumped out to a big lead Rice began to have success in his attempt to get to Frerotte. In the fourth quarter, Rice sacked Frerrote and caused him to fumble, which allowed McFarland to recover.
Bucs DE Greg Spires sacked Frerotte with just seconds remaining in the third quarter, which caused a fumble allowed Bucs S Will Allen to scoop the ball up and return it 33 yards for a touchdown, which put Tampa Bay up 27-6 over Miami. Spires did an excellent job of anchoring the left side of the Bucs’ defensive line. He recorded three tackles.
Defensive lineman Dewayne White notched three tackles and a pass defensed, and saw action at both defensive end positions. He missed on an opportunity to sack Frerrote early, but he came back in the fourth quarter and recorded the quarterback takedown for a 6-yard loss. White was extremely disruptive on Sunday.
Bucs backup DT Ellis Wyms saw some action and was flagged for being offsides on the first defensive series of the game. However, that penalty was declined.
*The Dolphins rushed for just 64 yards on 18 carries (3.6 avg.).
The Bucs received a bit of a scare on the first defensive play of the game after MLB Shelton Quarles went down hard with a back injury. Quarles was in a lot of pain and went to the sideline for a few plays. Rookie LB Barrett Ruud replaced him in the starting lineup. He notched three tackles on the day. Quarles showed great toughness by returning to action and playing well, recording nine tackles and one pass defensed.
Tampa Bay WLB Derrick Brooks also notched nine tackles. He had a key pass breakup on a throw to Dolphins TE Randy McMichael on third-and-6 in the second quarter. That forced the Dolphins to punt. Brooks failed to tackle Brown on a short pass at the beginning of the fourth quarter after the rookie runner had fallen to the ground. Brooks thought Brown was down, so he tapped him but Brown’s knees were just barely off the ground, which led to a 26-yard gain. The Bucs challenged the play, but to no avail.
Bucs SLB Ryan Nece was extremely active, recording seven tackles. In the first quarter, Nece did a great job of sniffing out an end around to Dolphins WR Chris Chambers, but Nece wasn’t quick enough to chase the receiver down, which resulted in a 19-yard gain to the Bucs’ 19-yard line. Chambers took an end around in for a 34-yard touchdown two plays later, but that play was negated by two penalties on the Dolphins.
*Tampa Bay’s linebackers recorded a total of 28 tackles on Sunday.
Barber notched three tackles and two passes defensed while Kelly recorded two tackles and two passes defensed. Barber and Kelly each had a chance to intercept Frerotte and return the ball for a touchdown, but neither one of them could hold onto the errant pass.
Backup safety Will Allen, who started in place of Jermaine Phillips (thumb), recorded two tackles. His biggest play, however, came in the third quarter when he recovered a fumble and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown, which put the Bucs up 27-6.
Bucs FS Dexter Jackson injured his hamstring in the third quarter and did not return to the game. He was replaced by Kalvin Pearson, who broke up a pass intended for Booker in the fourth quarter. Pearson’s pass breakup prevented a touchdown. Pearson finished the game with two tackles and two passes defensed.
Tampa Bay nickel CB Juran Bolden recorded one tackle before leaving the game with an injured shoulder in the fourth quarter. He did not return and was replaced by CB Torrie Cox, who notched two tackles and a pass defensed.
*Tampa Bay only allowed Miami QB Gus Frerotte to complete 21-of-43 (48.8 percent) passes for 267 yards. The Dolphins converted just 3-of-14 (21 percent) of their third down tries vs. the Bucs.
Punter Josh Bidwell averaged 48.9 yards on seven attempts. He got off a 61-yarder at the beginning of the second quarter, but Dolphins PR Wes Welker returned the ball 38 yards to Miami’s 48-yard line. In the second quarter, Bucs long snapper Dave Moore missed a tackle on Welker, who gained an extra 10 yards as a result of the missed tackle. Welker returned four punts for 70 yards (17.5 avg.).
Bucs CB Torrie Cox returned one kickoff fro 23 yards.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s troops got to tee off on Frerotte once the Bucs jumped out to a 21-point lead. They continue to shut down the run. In fact, the Bucs haven’t allowed a single team to rush for 100 yards yet through six regular season games.
Special teams coach Richard Bisaccia’s coverage unit struggled to contain Welker in the first half, but adjustments were obviously made in the second half, which allowed the Bucs to shut him down in the third and fourth quarter.
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