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QUARTERBACKS For the second straight week, Bucs QB Chris Simms turned in a horrific performance that contributed to yet another loss – the team’s second of the year. Simms completed 28-of-53 passes and threw for 313 yards. However, his biggest stat came in the interception column, where he got picked three times. To make matters worse, Simms failed to lead the offense into the end zone for the second straight week. In Simms’ defense, he had several passes dropped, including two on Tampa Bay’s opening drive. But Simms had plenty of other chances to make plays and simply didn’t capitalize on them Sunday. On the first drive, Simms could have run up the middle for a first down on a third-and-3 play. Instead, he threw the ball to fullback Mike Alstott, who dropped it. That play forced the Bucs to kick a field goal, and Matt Bryant missed. In the first quarter, Simms’ pass intended for WR Michael Clayton was intercepted by cornerback DeAngelo Hall and returned to Tampa Bay’s 11-yard line. From there, Simms fell apart. In fact, Simms had five passes deflected at the line of scrimmage. In addition to his three interceptions, Simms nearly had three other passes picked off by Falcons defenders throughout the game. Near the end of the first half, Simms got into a zone, completing 7-of-8 passes on Tampa Bay’s final drive of the half. But on a third-and-goal play with just a few seconds remaining in the half, Simms missed a wide open Ike Hilliard in the end zone and threw the ball out of bounds, which forced the Bucs to settle for a field goal. In the third quarter, Simms had a pass into the end zone deflect off a defender and into the arms of Demorrio Williams for an interception at the 1-yard line. While he completed several big passes and helped the Bucs convert 7-of-14 third downs, Simms once again struggled to get passes off cleanly at the line of scrimmage. He also wasn’t quick enough with his release and locked onto his receivers too often.
RUNNING BACKS Tampa Bay was committed to establishing the running game Sunday until the Bucs fell into a 14-0 hole in the first half. Bucs running back Cadillac Williams, who missed practice Thursday with back spasms, ran hard and moved piles, especially in the first quarter. But after carrying the ball three straight times to start the game, Williams finished the game with just 15 carries for 37 yards (2.5 avg.), and his longest run of the game went for just 5 yards. He also dropped a pass from Simms in the flat on the opening series.
Bucs RB Michael Pittman was called for illegal block in the back in third quarter. He caught three passes for 17 yards on Sunday.
Alstott dropped a pass from Simms on the opening series, which stalled a drive and forced the Bucs to kick a field goal, which they missed. He caught a pass from Simms late in the fourth quarter to get a first down. Alstott finished the game with three catches for 10 yards.
The Buccaneers rushed just 16 times for 40 yards (2.5 avg.) vs. the Falcons.
WIDE RECEIVERS One of the few bright spots from Tampa Bay’s 14-3 loss to the Falcons was WR Joey Galloway, who did a great job getting open against Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Galloway caught a team-high nine passes for 161 yards (17.9 avg.), including a 55-yarder to the Falcons’ 10-yard line in the third quarter. Galloway proved to be a reliable target for Simms, but they couldn’t hook up in the end zone for a touchdown. Galloway actually put himself in position to get open and score a touchdown, but Simms couldn’t get him the ball in an accurate and/or timely manner. Simms might have also thrown the ball to Galloway too much, evidenced by the fact that Hall recorded two interceptions and four passes defensed.
Bucs WR Ike Hilliard caught six passes for 53 yards and proved to be solid on third downs. Hilliard caught two passes for a first down on third downs plays, and near the end of the second quarter Hilliard drew an illegal contact penalty in the end zone that gave the Bucs a first down. Unfortunately for Simms, Hilliard had got himself open in the end zone on that play anyway, and but the signal caller elected to throw the ball away instead. That forced the Bucs to kick a field goal.
Tampa Bay WR Michael Clayton caught five passes for 62 yards, including a diving catch for a 19-yard gain to the Falcons’ 31-yard line in the second quarter. That catch put the Bucs in position to kick a field goal.
Of Tampa Bay’s 22 first downs, 17 of them came via the passing game, and four of them came via penalties, which means only one came via the running game.
TIGHT ENDS While TE Anthony Becht spent most of the game blocking near the line of scrimmage, TE Alex Smith had the opportunity to run several routes throughout the game. But he didn’t catch a pass on Sunday. However, Smith did draw a pass interference penalty late in the third quarter, which gave Tampa Bay’s offense the ball on Atlanta’s 44-yard line. That was an 18-yard penalty. Simms had plenty of time to throw the ball throughout the game, but there weren’t too many running lanes along the perimeter for Williams.
OFFENSIVE LINE Tampa Bay’s offensive line had left guard Dan Buenning back in the starting lineup and moved Sean Mahan back to right guard in place of Davin Joseph, who is still out with a knee injury. The offensive line opened up a few running lanes for Williams, but he only carried the ball 15 times on Sunday. This unit did a remarkable job of protecting Simms, who threw 53 passes Sunday. He threw out of a comfortable pocket and had plenty of time to find open receivers. However, Atlanta’s defense deflected five of Simms’ passes, and it wasn’t by accident. Instead of moving full speed ahead in an effort to get to Simms, the Falcons defensive line was seen dropping back and waiting for Simms to throw the ball on several occasions, and it paid off, evidenced by the tipped passes. Simms was sacked just one time, and it was a coverage sack as he needed to get rid of the ball before being taken down by Falcons defensive tackle Rod Coleman, who also tipped one of Simms’ passes on Sunday. Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker was called for holding in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay produced 351 yards of total offense vs. Atlanta.
DEFENSIVE LINE Tampa Bay’s defensive line failed miserably in its attempt to limit Atlanta’s ground attack. This unit fell victim to Atlanta’s cut-blocking scheme, which opened up massive holes for Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, and running backs Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood. Atlanta rushed for 90 yards in the first quarter. Atlanta’s potent ground attack allowed the Falcons to dominate the time of possession in the first half, 18:52 to 11:08. The Bucs defense looked exhausted at times. Defensive end Simeon Rice was a non-factor vs. Falcons left tackle Wayne Gandy, and defensive tackle Booger McFarland failed to get to Vick in some favorable one-on-one matchups. Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan and backup defensive lineman Dewayne White each recorded a sack, but this unit never came close to getting after Vick on a consistent basis or shutting down the running game.
The Falcons rushed for 306 yards on 44 carries (7.1 avg.) and one touchdown on Sunday.
LINEBACKERS Tampa Bay’s linebackers are as much to blame for Atlanta’s explosion via the ground game as the defensive linemen. Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks took some poor angles and over pursued Vick on a few occasions. He was late coming over on Vick’s 2-yard touchdown run off of a bootleg in the first half. Brooks also missed a tackle on fullback Fred McCrary on a pass into the flat. Not only did Brooks miss the tackle, McCrary simply ran over Brooks on his way into the end zone for a touchdown. Midway through the third quarter, Brooks came up with a huge interception and returned the ball 63 yards for a touchdown, but a questionable illegal block in the back call on LB Ryan Nece gave the Bucs offense the ball near midfield instead of giving the Bucs seven much-needed points. Brooks recorded six tackles Sunday.
Nece notched three tackles and one sack on a blitz in the second quarter. That play put the Falcons in a third-and-19 situation and forced them to kick a field goal, which they missed.
Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles started after missing last week’s game with a groin injury. He recorded eight tackles and forced one fumble. The Falcons recovered.
Falcons offensive coordinator Greg Knapp called several quarterback option plays for Vick, which kept the Bucs defense off balance and allowed Vick to rush for 127 yards (9.1 avg.) and one touchdown on 14 carries. Dunn rushed for 134 yards on 21 carries (6.4 avg.), and Norwood rushed for 45 yards on nine carries (5.0 avg.).
SECONDARY The Bucs were without starting cornerback Brian Kelly, who missed Sunday’s game with a foot injury. Juran Bolden started in his place, and Torrie Cox handled nickel cornerback duties. Bolden fared well, recording five tackles and one sack on Vick.
For the second straight week, Bucs CB Ronde Barber was called for pass interference in the first quarter. Barber was flagged on a pass intended for WR Michael Jenkins. That penalty gave the Falcons the ball on the Bucs’ 10-yard line and eventually led to a touchdown. Barber rebounded from that play by breaking up a pass and almost intercepting a pass intended for WR Ashlie Lelie, and stuffing Vick on a QB option in the fourth quarter. Barber finished the game with six tackles.
Tampa Bay strong safety Jermaine Phillips struggled mightily in this game. He took poor angles and failed to fill the proper gaps on several running plays that resulted in big yardage for the Falcons. He also missed Vick on several occasions, including a running play in which he flat out ran past Vick instead of attempting to tackle him. The one bright spot for Phillips came in the first quarter when Phillips drilled Falcons WR Roddy White, who had hauled in a long pass from Vick, and forced a fumble. Not only did he force the fumble, Phillips recovered the loose ball on the 10-yard line and brought it all the way back to the 30-yard line. Phillips finished the game with a team-high 13 tackles, but he was in a position to record several more on Sunday.
Cox was called for illegal contact late in the fourth quarter. He also was involved in coverage on White’s reception/fumble in the first quarter. He finished the game with three tackles.
Vick completed 10-of-15 passes for 92 yards and tossed one touchdown and one interception. The Falcons converted 5-of-13 (38 percent) of their third down tries.
SPECIAL TEAMS Tampa Bay’s special teams unit had mixed results Sunday.
Bucs kicker Matt Bryant made just 1-of-3 field goal attempts. He missed a 45-yard attempt wide right in the first quarter. He made a 22-yarder in the second quarter. But in the third quarter, Bryant missed was wide right on a 43-yard attempt.
Atlanta’s field goal kicking was even worse. Falcons K Michael Koenen missed all four of his field goal attempts, and Bucs defensive end Dewayne White and safety Jermaine Phillips each blocked one. White was called for unnecessary roughness after a punt in the fourth quarter, but his field goal block came later on that drive. Phillips’ block came in the second quarter.
Bucs punter Josh Bidwell was excellent, averaging 42.5 yards per attempt and getting off a long of 53 yards.
Linebacker Antoine Cash was called for holding in the second half.
Bucs kick returner Michael Pittman averaged just 17.5 yards per return. Punt returner Mark Jones averaged 10 yards per return on one attempt.
COACHING Bucs head coach Jon Gruden had a much better outing in terms of playcalling on Sunday, but the result was the same as the offense was held out of the end zone for the second straight week. Gruden needs to find a way to get Simms’ confidence back and get Williams on track in the running game.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin had a tough time adjusting to Atlanta’s ground attack, which ripped Tampa Bay’s defense for 303 rushing yards, the most ever allowed by a Kiffin-coached unit since he’s been with the Bucs. Kiffin called some well-time blitzes, but his players just couldn’t seem to find a way to contain Vick, and they had poor gap control with Dunn and Norwood.
Special teams coach Richard Bisaccia did a nice job of putting his players in position to block two Falcons field goals, but he’s got to work on his own kicker, who missed two of his own.
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