Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has been saying for weeks that he would need all of his quarterbacks, including demoted starter Jeff Garcia, this year. It turns out Gruden was right as Brian Griese was knocked out of the game with 8:39 left in the third quarter when he took a vicious shot to his right shoulder as he threw the ball from Denver cornerback Champ Bailey, who came free on a blitz.
The Bucs not only lost their starting quarterback in Denver, they also lost their second game of the season, dropping a 16-13 decision to the Broncos to fall to 3-2 on the season while their opponent improved to 4-1. But as it turns out Griese, who could be sidelined for at least next week’s home game against Carolina, wasn’t the only severe injury on Sunday.
“We had a couple tough injuries today,” Gruden said. “We’ll update you as soon as we get further information on Brian Griese – his shoulder – and Barrett Ruud – his knee.”
Ruud, the quarterback of the defense, left the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and did not return. After forcing at least one turnover in the first four games, Tampa Bay’s defense did not record a takeaway on Sunday. The only turnover the Broncos had came when defensive tackle Marcus Thomas picked off Garcia in the fourth quarter, but fumbled the ball back to Tampa Bay.
Apparently, when the Bucs defense doesn’t record a takeaway or put points on the board themselves, the offense can’t get the job done. Tampa Bay did roll up 307 yards of total offense, but 90 of those yards came on the Bucs’ final drive when the Broncos had a 10-point lead and were playing a prevent defense.
“There were a lot of things that doomed us today, and certainly I was at the top of that list,” Gruden said
Gruden complained about a lack of good field position and the Bucs’ penalties on Sunday, all of which occurred on offense. But Tampa Bay was only flagged five times for 30 yards at Denver. A delay of game penalty was called on Griese, left guard Arron Sears was guilty of a false start and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood was flagged with two false starts and a holding penalty.
If the penalties did do one thing, it limited the Bucs’ opportunities to run the ball due to the down and distance. The tandem of Warrick Dunn and Earnest Graham rushed for 133 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry, but only got to carry the ball a combined 21 times.
Tampa Bay’s starting field position was at its own 20, but Denver’s was at its own 23, so the Broncos didn’t necessarily have much of an advantage in that statistical category.
Facing a Cover 2 defense for most of the game, Griese and Garcia were forced to conservatively dump the ball off underneath coverage. The longest pass play was a 17-yard throw by Griese, who finished the game 13-of-19 for 88 yards before leaving in the third quarter. Garcia finished the game 13-of-17 for 93 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The Broncos came into the game averaging a league-best 435.5 yards per game, but Tampa Bay’s defense was able to hold them to just 333 yards – more than 100 yards off their season average. Although the Bucs did a great job of covering receiver Brandon Marshall, limiting him to three catches for 25 yards, quarterback Jay Cutler was able to complete 23-of-34 passes for 227 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Cutler had a 96.1 QB rating against Tampa Bay and was not sacked.
After two straight games of not allowing a sack, the Bucs surrendered three sacks in the second quarter, breaking a streak of 101 straight pass attempts with giving up a quarterback capture. Linebacker D.J. Williams ran Griese out of bounds for no gain early in the second quarter. Three plays later, defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban beat left tackle Donald Penn and dropped Griese for an 8-yard loss. The Bucs offensive line then gave up another sack on third-and-12 when Elvis Dumervil beat right tackle Jeremy Trueblood to kill the Bucs’ drive.
Tampa Bay appeared to have a couple of chances to take an early lead in the game. Griese overthrew tight end Jerramy Stevens, who was open in the end zone in the first half, and the Bucs moved the ball inside the red zone just before halftime but instead of taking a shot into the end zone from 17 yards out with 18 seconds left and one timeout, the Bucs settled for a field goal and a 6-6 time at halftime.
On its second possession of the game, the Buccaneers took a 3-0 lead on Matt Bryant’s 33-yard field goal with 4:28 left in the first quarter. The 65-yard scoring drive was keyed by a 14-yard run by Graham and a 38-yard scamper off right tackle by Dunn. On third-and-10 from the Broncos 21-yard line, receiver Michael Clayton could only gain six yards on a reception. That forced Bryant’s field goal.
Denver answered the Bucs’ score on its next possession with Cutler picking up a key third-and-11 with a 12-yard scramble from the Denver 22. Cutler then picked up two more first downs with passes to Brandon Stokely and Eddie Royal for 11 and 12 yards, respectively. But after reaching the Tampa Bay 34, a holding penalty on guard Ben Hamilton negated an 8-yard run by Cutler on third-and-4 and negated a first down. On third-and-14, a pass to Michael Pittman only gained seven yards and forced a 55-yard field goal by Matt Prater. With 14:56 left in the second quarter, the score was tied at 3-3.
On the Broncos’ next series, Cutler found tight end Daniel Graham for a gain of 10 yards, Marshall for a gain of 13 yards and running back Andre Hall for a gain of 11 yards on three straight passes. With first-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 28, penalties set in for Denver as Hall was penalized 15 yards for a chop block that moved the Broncos back 15 yards and called for a holding call that pushed Denver back 10 more yards. On second-and-26 from the Tampa Bay 44, Cutler found Royal for a gain of 7 before Pittman hauled in a pass for 15 yards on third-and-19 from the 37. On fourth-and-4, Prater nailed a 40-yard field goal as Denver took a 6-3 lead with 2:21 left in the second quarter.
Tampa Bay would answer Denver’s field goal with one of its own to tie the game at halftime. To get the drive started, Dunn ripped off gains of 13 yards and three yards on the ground, while hauling in a 4-yard pass to get the Bucs across midfield. A few plays later, Griese hit receiver Antonio Bryant with a 17-yard pass down to the Denver 29. With only one timeout left, Griese spiked the ball to kill the clock with 23 seconds left. On the next play, Griese hit Clayton down to the Denver 17 with a 12-yard completion with 18 seconds remaining. On first down, Griese audibled to a run play to Dunn that only picked up four yards before using the Bucs’ last timeout. With three seconds left before halftime, Bryant’s 31-yard field goal tied the game at 6-6.
Griese was knocked from the game with 8:39 left in the third quarter when he was hit on the right shoulder as he threw the ball by Bailey, who came unblocked on a corner blitz on second-and-11 at the Tampa Bay 10. Garcia completed a pass to Bryant for two yards, but the Bucs had to punt.
The Broncos would capitalize on good field position from the punt and pull ahead in the third quarter. On third-and-5 from the Tampa Bay 42, Pittman picked up 16 yards on a draw down to the 26. Then on the next snap, Cutler found Scheffler for a 16-yard gain down to the Tampa Bay 10. On the following play, Cutler hit wide receiver Brandon Stokely for a 10-yard touchdown pass. With 5:41 left in the third quarter, Denver led 13-6.
Garcia stayed in at quarterback for Griese, but the drive was hampered by two false start penalties on Trueblood and Sears in the first three plays. The Bucs had to punt after Dunn only picked up six yards on third-and-16 from Tampa Bay’s own 14-yard line.
Cutler kept the Broncos on the march by hitting Stokely for an 8-yard gain on third-and-2 from the Denver 37 and Glenn Martinez for a 12-yard strike on third-and-8 from the Denver 47 three plays later. Cutler continued to carve up the Tampa Bay secondary with an 11-yard pass to Stokely on first-and-10 down the Tampa Bay 30. Cutler found Stokely for a gain of five yards and Scheffler for a gain of four yards down to the Tampa Bay 21. On third-and-1, Pittman’s 4-yard run pushed the Broncos into the end zone. A 6-yard Pittman scamper drove the ball down to the Tampa Bay 11. The Bucs defense held on third-and-2 from its own 9-yard line to force a 27-yard field goal by Prater. With 12:24 left in the fourth quarter, Denver’s lead increased to 16-6.
On third-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 27, Garcia’s pass intended for Bryant was intercepted by Thomas at the Bucs’ 31. Dunn tackled Thomas and forced a fumble that was recovered by Sears at the Tampa Bay 12. That heady fumble recovery allowed the Bucs to retain possession. The Bucs couldn’t capitalize on their fortune, though and went three-and-out.
But the Bucs would tighten the score on their next possession. With Denver playing mostly a prevent defense up by 10 points with just 7:44 remaining in regulation, Garcia was able to carve up the Broncos in the middle of the field, driving Tampa Bay 90 yards for a touchdown in 13 plays. Garcia was 9-of-11 on the drive for 77 yards and also added six rushing yards on a scramble. Bryant caught three passes for 30 yards on the scoring march, while Hilliard hauled in four catches for 36 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown with 2:02 left to tighten the score to 16-13.
Tampa Bay couldn’t stop the clock after the Broncos picked a first down on Denver’s next possession.
PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME For the second straight week, Bucs kicker Matt Bryant is awarded with PewterReport.com Player of the Game honors. The reason is because with two field goals in Denver, Bryant is now a perfect 10-of-10 on the season. It doesn’t get any better than that for a kicker, especially one who has to overcome the personnel tragedy that Bryant faced just two weeks ago with the death of his infant son Tryson.
IT WAS OVER WHEN… Tampa Bay had just scored a touchdown to cut into Denver’s 16-13 lead and needed a defensive stop with three timeouts left and 1:56 left on the clock. But a 12-yard pass from Jay Cutler to tight end Tony Scheffler picked up a first down and allowed the Broncos to run out the clock for the victory after the Bucs burned their timeouts.
STATS THAT COUNT Wide receiver Antonio Bryant led all receivers with seven catches for 58 yards. It’s the third week in a row that Bryant has led the Bucs in receiving. Bryant leads all Bucs receivers this year with 24 catches for 278 yards on the season. … Running back Warrick Dunn finished the day with a team-high 74 yards rushing on 11 carries, moving him into 20th place on the NFL’s All-Time Rushing list. Dunn moved past RB Eddie George (10,441 yards) for 21st in the second quarter and later passed RB Tiki Barber (10,449 yards) for 20th. He now has 10,452 rushing yards in his career. Dunn also dashed for a season-long 38-yard run in the first quarter. … Running back Earnest Graham rushed for 59 yards on 10 carries. … Wide receiver Ike Hilliard caught his third touchdown pass of the season on Sunday, and finished with four catches for 29 yards. … Quarterback Jeff Garcia’s 6-yard run gave him over 2,000 yards rushing in his career, making him just the third active quarterback in the NFL to accomplish that feat. … Punter Josh Bidwell had a great game, averaging 49.9 yards per punt with a 44.1-yard net. Three of his seven punts were downed inside the 20-yard line and Bidwell did not have any touchbacks. … For the first time this season, Tampa Bay did not record a sack on defense. … Strong safety Jermaine Phillips had a team-high nine tackles for the Buccaneers.
LOOK WHO’S ACTIVE FOR THE BUCS Tampa Bay right guard Davin Joseph was active for the first time this season since a broken foot against New England in the Bucs’ second preseason game sidelined him for the first four regular season games. Joseph got the start today over rookie Jeremy Zuttah, who played well in Joseph’s absence.
For the first time in three games, former starting quarterback Jeff Garcia was elevated to the backup quarterback spot instead of being the inactive, emergency QB. Against Denver, Luke McCown was the third-straight signal caller.
Reserve running back Michael Bennett was active for the second time this year and saw his first action on offense at Denver, catching a 2-yard pass.
SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:
BUCS STARTING OFFENSE WR Antonio Bryant LT Donald Penn LG Arron Sears C Jeff Faine RG Davin Joseph RT Jeremy Trueblood TE Alex Smith TE John Gilmore FB Byron Storer RB Earnest Graham QB Brian Griese
BUCS STARTING DEFENSE LE Kevin Carter NT Chris Hovan UT Jovan Haye RE Gaines Adams SLB Cato June MLB Barrett Ruud WLB Derrick Brooks LCB Phillip Buchanon RCB Ronde Barber FS Tanard Jackson SS Jermaine Phillips
MISSING IN ACTION Here is a list of Tampa Bay’s inactives for the Bucs game:
WR Joey Galloway FB B.J. Askew DT Greg Peterson OT James Lee OT Anthony Davis SS Sabby Piscitelli QB Luke McCown (emergency quarterback) QB Josh Johnson
BUCS INJURIES Tight end Alex Smith suffered a minor leg injury early in the third quarter. Midway through the third quarter, quarterback Brian Griese was hit on his throwing shoulder as he threw the ball by cornerback Champ Bailey, who came free on a blitz. Griese was replaced by Garcia for the rest of the game. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud injured his knee against the Broncos in the fourth quarter and was replaced by Adam Hayward for the rest of the contest.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Broncos game at Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium was 75,480 The temperature at kickoff was 70 degrees with 30 percent humidity under partly cloudy skies.
UP NEXT The Buccaneers (3-2) return home to play NFC South rival Carolina (4-1) on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com