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For the most part, Bucs quarterback Brian Griese did his part to help Tampa Bay’s offense move the chains and put itself in scoring position Sunday. Griese completed 27-of-39 passes (69 percent) of his passes for 347 yards and tossed two touchdowns and one interception. Griese’s two TD passes went to running back Michael Pittman in the second and fourth quarter. His six-yard shovel pass to Pittman on a third-and-goal play in the second quarter capped off a nine-play, 89-yard drive. Griese’s 8-yard TD pass to Pittman capped off a 13-play, 66-yard drive and tied the game at 14-14. Griese was 8-of-9 on that drive. Despite being under some heavy pressure from Carolina’s pass rush, Griese managed to make some clutch passes in critical third down situations Sunday. In fact, the Bucs converted 10-of-16 (63 percent) of their third down tries against the Panthers, and 17 of their 20 first downs were converted via the passing game.
However, Griese was sloppy with the football at times. In the third quarter, Griese’s pass over in the flat to Pittman was nearly picked off by cornerback Chris Gamble, who would’ve have easily scored had he hauled in the bad pass. On the next series, Griese’s pass to tight end Ken Dilger was picked off by Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, who had dropped into coverage on the play. Peppers returned the ball 46 yards for a touchdown, which put them up 14-7. While he made that costly mistake, Griese still led the offense into scoring territory six times. The Bucs came away with just 14 points.
*Tampa Bay outgained Carolina 398 yards to 300 yards on Sunday.
Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman wasn’t very effective via the ground game, carrying the ball 18 times for just 69 yards (1.6 avg.). His longest run was a 9-yarder. However, Pittman was a key performer in the passing game, where he hauled in a team-leading eight catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Pittman’s biggest reception came in the second quarter when he hauled in a screen pass from QB Brian Griese and raced upfield for a 68-yard gain. That was a huge play since Pittman had dropped a pass from Griese that would’ve gone for a huge gain on the previous play. Pittman had 80 yards on that 89-yard scoring drive, which ended when Griese threw a shovel pass to him for a 6-yard score, which tied the game at 7-7.
For as many plays as he made in the passing game, Pittman had two fumbles Sunday that might have been just as significant. Pittman’s first fumble came in the third quarter when he was hit by Panthers DE Mike Rucker. Carolina recovered the ball on Tampa Bay’s 32-yard line but later missed a field goal. He fumbled again in the third quarter after Al Wallace tackled him. Pittman finished the game with 163 yards of total offense and two scores.
Fullback Mike Alstott carried the ball six times for 16 yards (2.5 avg.). He picked up a couple of first downs in short-yardage situations.
*Tampa Bay rushed for 62 yards on 28 carries (2.2 avg.) against Carolina.
Bucs rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton hauled in eight passes for 77 yards. His longest reception came in the fourth quarter when he caught a 20-yarder from QB Brian Griese for a first down. In fact, four of Clayton’s seven receptions picked up first downs for the Bucs. However, he wasn’t perfect. Clayton dropped a short pass from Griese and was flagged for a false start in the second quarter.
Joe Jurevicius caught four passes for 60 yards. His biggest catch came in the third quarter when he hauled in a deep pass from Griese down the sideline and managed to keep both feet in bounds for the 25-yard gain. Like Clayton, Jurevicius came up big on several third downs, and he made a key block on Pittman’s 68-yard screen play.
Bucs WR Joey Galloway caught three passes for 34 yards. His longest reception was a 18-yarder.
*The Bucs won the time of possession Sunday, 33:43 to 26:17.
Bucs tight end Ken Dilger only caught one pass, but it produced a 19-yard gain and put the Bucs on the Panthers’ 15-yard line in the second quarter. Dilger did a nice job of catching the pass in the flat and making two defenders miss. However, the Bucs would later have their 26-yard field goal attempt blocked.
Will Heller also had one catch for four yards. He fumbled the ball out of bounds after being tackled. Dilger and Heller were average in terms of blocking in the running game. Dilger allowed Panthers DE Julius Peppers to sack Brian Griese in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line struggled to open holes in the running game and allowed quarterback Brian Griese to get pressured too often. To Griese’s credit, he made clutch throws under a tremendous amount of pressure. Carolina did a nice job of mixing up blitzes, which kept the Bucs’ O-line off balance for most of the game.
Todd Steussie, who got into the game as a tight end in the first quarter, was called for a false start on a fourth-and-1 play, which the Bucs had decided to go for it. That forced the Bucs to kick a 39-yard field goal, but Martin Gramatica missed. Left guard Matt Stinchcomb was flagged for a false start on third-and-1 in the third quarter, which put the Bucs in a third-and-6 situation. However, Griese completed a shovel pass to RB Michael Pittman on the next play for a touchdown. Bucs center Sean Mahan was called for holding in the fourth quarter, but the offense eventually managed to pick up the first down a few plays later.
Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker and right guard Cosey Coleman made great blocks on Pittman’s 68-yard screen play in the second quarter. Walker and Stinchcomb made key blocks on Pittman’s 6-yard touchdown reception.
*Bucs QB Brian Griese was sacked two times on Sunday.
Bucs backup defensive tackle Dewayne White had the biggest game of this unit. In the first quarter on a third-and-2 play, White batted down a pass, which forced a punt. In the second quarter, White forced QB Jake Delhomme up in the pocket, which allowed defensive end Greg Spires to sack him. In the third quarter, White sacked Delhomme on third-and-5, which forced the Panthers to attempt a 46-yard field goal. Then, White blocked and recovered Jeff Chandler’s field goal attempt. White finished the game with three tackles, one sack and a blocked field goal.
Carolina double-teamed Chartric Darby often, which allowed Panthers running back Nick Goings to rush for 106 yards on 23 carries (4.6 avg.), including a 28-yarder he broke off in the third quarter. Darby didn’t record a tackle Sunday.
Chidi Ahanotu sacked Delhomme on a third down play in the fourth quarter, which forced the Panthers to punt. He had two tackles and a sack that resulted in a 11-yard loss.
Right DE Simeon Rice recorded two tackles and one sack. Rice’s quarterback takedown came in the second quarter after White forced Delhomme up in the pocket. Other than that sack, Rice didn’t get enough pressure on Delhomme Sunday.
*Tampa Bay sacked Carolina QB Jake Delhomme four times on Sunday.
Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles recorded five tackles, but he allowed Panthers wide receiver Mushin Muhammad to haul in a 46-yard pass down the middle of the field in the second quarter.
Weakside LB Derrick Brooks led this unit in tackles with six. Strongside LB Ian Gold quietly notched four tackles. All three linebackers could’ve played better against the run, where the Panthers produced 112 yards on 25 carries (4.5 avg.).
*Carolina converted 6-of-12 (50 percent) of its third down tries against Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay cornerback Brian Kelly bailed MLB Shelton Quarles out by making a spectacular one-handed interception in the second quarter. That great play ended Carolina’s drive, which was deep in Tampa Bay territory. Not only did he make that sensational play, Kelly led the entire defense in tackles with seven. He was also flagged for illegal contact. Kelly’s pick set up Tampa Bay’s 89-yard scoring drive.
Nickel corner Torrie Cox, who played in place of Mario Edwards, didn’t fare as well as Kelly. Cox allowed Panthers rookie wide receiver Keary Colbert to haul in two touchdown passes, including a 40-yarder with :20 remaining in the fourth quarter that proved to be the game-winner. Colbert’s first score came in the first quarter after Cox missed a tackle and allowed the young receiver to produce a 24-yard score. Cox had six tackles on the day.
Bucs CB Ronde Barber recorded two tackles, and both he and safety Dwight Smith teamed up to break up a pass in the end zone intended for Kris Mangum in the third quarter. Barber nearly picked off Delhomme in the first quarter, but he couldn’t hold onto the pass. Smith also recorded two tackles.
Safety John Howell finished the game with four tackles and whiffed on a attempt to tackle Colbert on his 24-yard score in the first quarter.
*Panthers QB Jake Delhomme completed 14-of-21 (66 percent) of his passes for 213 yards and tossed two touchdowns and one interception.
Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica missed three field goal attempts Sunday, which cost the Bucs nine points. In the first quarter, Gramatica missed a 39-yarder wide left. In the second quarter, his 26-yard attempt was blocked after Kenyatta Walker and Todd Steussie allowed Panthers DE Julius Peppers to get penetration and block it. And in the fourth quarter, Gramatica missed a 37-yard field goal attempt after Dave Moore got off a less-than-stellar snap.
Punter Josh Bidwell averaged 46.5 yards per attempt and pinned one of his tries inside the 20-yard line. He also drew a roughing the kicker penalty in the third quarter, which gave the Bucs a new set of downs
Punt returner Joey Galloway returned two punts for 12 yards. He fumbled his first return out of bounds. Kicker returner Torrie Cox averaged just 17.5 yards per return on two attempts.
Defensive lineman Dewayne White blocked Panthers K Jeff Chandler’s 46-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. Bucs CB Brian Kelly had a chance to pick up the loose ball and return it for a touchdown, but he couldn’t get possession of the ball, which resulted in White recovering it. Bucs QB Brian Griese was picked off by DE Julius Peppers on the ensuing offensive drive, and the ball was returned 46 yards for a touchdown, which proved to be the difference in the game.
You can’t blame Bucs head coach Jon Gruden for kicker Martin Gramatica’s three field goal misses, running back Michael Pittman’s two fumbles or quarterback Brian Griese’s interception that got returned for a touchdown. Gruden’s playcalling was good enough to get the Bucs in scoring range more than a handful of times. Unfortunately for Gruden, his team couldn’t capitalize on all of those opportunities.
As for the third-and-6 situation just before Gramatica’s last missed kick of the game, Gruden sent Griese to the huddle with two plays — one pass and one run. It was Griese who checked out of the pass play and into the running play after the Panthers showed blitz. Of course, Griese shouldn’t be blamed for this, either. It would all be a moot point had Gramatica actually made the field goal attempt.
One has to wonder why Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin elected to play prevent defense when the Panthers had the ball with 1:40 remaining in the fourth quarter and no timeouts starting from their own 27-yard line. And when Kiffin did decide to bring the blitz because QB Jake Delhomme was taking what Kiffin was giving in coverage, it left second-year CB Torrie Cox in one-on-one coverage with WR Keary Colbert, who hauled in the jump ball and raced into the end zone for a 40-yard, game-winning score. The Panthers drove 73 yards in just five plays and 1:28.
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