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Tampa Bay quarterback Brian Griese was harassed all game long by Atlanta’s defense, which sacked him a whopping seven times en route to a 24-14 win Sunday. Tampa Bay’s offensive line failed miserably in its attempt to hold off Atlanta’s pass rush. Under the circumstances (too many penalties and several long down-and-distance situations), Griese performed well, completing 19-of-26 (73 percent) of his passes for 174 yards. The Bucs trailed the Falcons 17-0 at the beginning of the second quarter, but Griese led his team back into the game by engineering 72- and 47-yard scoring drives. Griese capped off both of those drives by throwing 25- and 22-yard touchdown passes to rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton and tight end Ken Dilger, respectively. Of Tampa Bay’s 15 first downs, eight of them came via the passing game. Griese threw one interception late in the fourth quarter, but his throw was made under heavy duress and in desperation as the Bucs were trailing by 10 with time running out.
*The Bucs converted 2-of-6 (33 percent) of their third down attempts).
Tampa Bay’s offensive line and running back Michael Pittman didn’t do much to help QB Brian Griese in the passing game. The Bucs’ ground game, which had been strong over the past two weeks, was sub-par against the Falcons. Pittman rushed 20 times for just 62 yards (3.1 avg.). Pittman picked up a few first downs in short-yardage situations. He also hauled in four passes for 16 yards on Sunday. Pittman’s best play of the game came on a blitz pickup in the third quarter, which allowed Griese to his WR Michael Clayton on Atlanta’s 30-yard line, but a false start penalty and three straight sacks took the Bucs out of field goal range. Pittman caught a big break in the fourth quarter when he fumbled the ball on a third-and-1 play on Atlanta’s 30-yard line. The loose ball was picked up by Chris Draft and returned 70 yards for a touchdown, but the play was negated after the officials determined that a whistle had blown the play dead as Pittman’s forward progress was stopped. On the next play, which was fourth-and-1, Pittman was stuffed for a loss again and the Bucs turned the ball over on downs.
Fullback Jameel Cook caught two passes for 10 yards and was ineffective as a lead blocker.
*The Bucs rushed 23 times for 68 yards (3.0 avg.) against the Falcons.
Rookie WR Michael Clayton was the only receiver to have a positive impact for the Bucs on Sunday. He hauled in a team-high six passes for 90 yards and scored a touchdown against rookie cornerback DeAngelo Hall in the second quarter when QB Brian Griese threw him a perfect strike for a 25-yard score. Clayton also hauled in a critical 12-yard pass on that scoring drive.
Bucs WR Joey Galloway got open twice downfield, but one of Griese’s throws fell short after he was drilled by a defender, and his second throw sailed by Galloway without the speedy receiver even turning around for the ball. He finished the game with one catch for four yards.
Joe Jurevicius caught one pass for three yards.
*The Bucs produced just 193 yards of total offense on Sunday.
Tampa Bay tight end Ken Dilger had a productive day as a receiver, catching five passes for 51 yards, including his 22-yard touchdown reception off of play-action in the third quarter, which cut the Falcons’ lead to three points. However, Dilger wasn’t as productive in the running game in terms of blocking.
Second-year TE Will Heller had a disappointing game. He was called for a false start and his blocking, which is usually strong, was sub-par. Heller had no catches on the day.
Tampa Bay had 13 penalties on Sunday and the offensive line accounted for six of them. Center Shaun Mahan, who was starting in place of John Wade, was flagged for a false start in the first quarter. Left guard Matt Stinchcomb was flagged for a false start and allowed Falcons defensive tackle Rod Coleman to dominate the trenches. Coleman finished the game with two sacks. Right guard Cosey Coleman was flagged for a hold and allowed a sack. Left tackle Derrick Deese was flagged twice for false starts and allowed a quarterback takedown. Right tackle Kenyatta Walker was flagged for holding in the fourth quarter.
Not only did this unit kill the offense in terms of putting it in long down-and-distance situations, the O-line failed to help the Bucs establish a potent ground attack. The offensive line also allowed Griese to take a beating all game long. He was sacked a whopping seven times, and if it weren’t for Griese’s escapability, that sack total would have been higher. In the third quarter with the Bucs on the Falcons’ 30-yard line down by just three points, the offensive line allowed Griese to get sacked three straight times for a loss of 22 yards, which was more than enough to knock the Pewter Pirates out of field goal range.
The Buccaneers had trouble containing Falcons QB Michael Vick, who rushed 10 times for 73 yards, including the 43-yarder he broke off in the first quarter, which helped to set up RB T.J. Duckett’s 2-yard touchdown run. Tampa Bay’s defensive line made some adjustments at halftime, which led to more pressure on Vick, who was sacked a total of four times by the Bucs.
Chidi Ahanotu, who replaced Anthony McFarland at under tackle, notched one of those sacks, but both he and Chartric Darby faced a ton of double teams, which made it difficult for them to play against the run. Falcons RB Warrick Dunn rushed 17 times for 76 yards (4.5 avg.) and Duckett rushed 10 times for 73 yards (7.3 avg.), including a 53-yarder he broke off in the fourth quarter. Backup DT Dewayne White, who replaced Ahanotu on passing downs, recorded a sack.
Defensive end Greg Spires easily had the best game of this group. He recorded seven tackles and did a nice job against Vick. Spires’ pressure on Vick in the third quarter allowed LB Shelton Quarles to sack him. Simeon Rice elevated his level of play in the third quarter and notched one sack. However, his 15-yard facemask penalty on RB Warrick Dunn on a third down in the first quarter was extremely costly as it negated a linebacker Derrick Brooks’ sack of Vick. He finished the game with three tackles.
*The Falcons rushed 40 times for 205 yards (5.1 avg.) and two touchdowns.
Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles notched a whopping 12 tackles and two sacks against the Falcons on Sunday. Quarles’ two quarterback takedowns, which came off of blitzes, really rattled QB Michael Vick.
Weakside LB Derrick Brooks also sacked Vick, but his quarterback takedown was negated by DE Simeon Rice’s facemask penalty in the first quarter. Brooks, who missed a tackle on RB T.J. Duckett’s first touchdown run, recorded four tackles. He was called for two penalties, both of which were encroachment.
Strongside LB Ian Gold had a tough outing against Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler, who finished the game with four catches for 118 yards and one touchdown. Crumpler beat Gold twice downfield, the first of which came on Atlanta’s first offensive drive when he hauled in a 45-yard pass from Vick. That play help set up Atlanta’s first score of the game. In the fourth quarter, Crumpler beat Gold again, this time for a 49-yard gain, which produced a score.
*Atlanta produced 325 yards of total offense against Tampa Bay.
Bucs cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly did a nice job of limiting the production of the Falcons’ wide receivers. In fact, QB Michael Vick completed just 8-of-16 (50 percent) passes for 147 yards. In the third quarter, Barber picked off Vick on a third-and-11 pass play intended for WR Peerless Price. That great play gave the offense the ball at Atlanta’s 46-yard line and the Bucs eventually scored a touchdown on the drive. Barber finished the game with three tackles and one pick, and Kelly notched one tackle.
Tampa Bay safeties Dwight Smith and Jermaine Phillips appeared to be late coming over to help LB Ian Gold on TE Alge Crumpler’s two big receptions. The Bucs also lucked out on a couple of other plays where Falcons receivers were running open downfield. Vick just misfired on throws to them. Phillips, who recorded three tackles, was flagged for roughing the passer in the first quarter, which gave the Falcons a first down. Smith made a nice pass breakup on a throw intended for Crumpler in the second half and recorded three tackles.
In the second quarter, nickel corner Mario Edwards was flagged for pass interference on a fade pass play intended for rookie WR Michael Jenkins in the corner of the end zone, which gave the Falcons a first down on the 1-yard line and eventually led to a touchdown, which put the Falcons up 17-0. Edwards was actually replaced by CB Torrie Cox after that penalty. Neither player recorded a tackle.
*Atlanta was 3-of-10 (30 percent) on third down attempts Sunday.
Bucs punter Josh Bidwell has seen better days. He averaged just 39.3 yards per punt on seven attempts.
Joey Galloway fielded two punts and his longest return was a 16-yarder, which put the Bucs on their own 40-yard line in the second quarter. He averaged 12 yards per return.
Kickoff returner Torrie Cox averaged 25.2 yards per return and might have scored a touchdown in the first half had he not slipped up on the field turf inside The Georgia Dome. Earnest Graham fielded a short kickoff and had a great return, but it was negated by rookie S Will Allen’s holding penalty.
Tampa Bay’s 13 penalties for 83 yards were costly and inexcusable. Personnel changes must be made if those types of infractions, particularly the ones called on the offensive line, continue. It was disappointing to see the Bucs, who had won three of their past four games and were fighting for their playoff lives entering his contest, come out flat for the first quarter and a half.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter on Atlanta’s 30-yard line with the Pewter Pirates trailing the Falcons by three points was suspect before and after RB Michael Pittman’s run was stuffed for a loss.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin did a nice job of making adjustments in the middle of the second quarter, but it was a little too late by then. The Falcons had already scored 17 points on their first three drives of the game.
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