Tampa Bay might have escaped Sunday’s game with a thrilling 36-35 win over Washington, but it didn’t escape the game without losing a few players to injury.
Two defensive starters – free safety Will Allen and defensive end Greg Spires – left Sunday’s game with a sprained knee and AC sprain in the shoulder, respectively.
Both players spent Monday undergoing further examination to determine the severity of their injuries. The official status of both players will likely be announced on Wednesday.
Should Allen be out for a significant amount of time with the knee sprain, S Dexter Jackson, who has missed three straight games due to a hamstring injury, could be ready to start in his place.
“I believe he has a chance to play against the Falcons,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Jackson. “His hamstring has made an improvement.”
Should Jackson not be able to play, the Bucs will lean on safeties Kalvin Pearson and rookie Donte Nicholson to fill the void left by Allen in the secondary. There is also a chance that Tampa Bay could switch nickel cornerback Juran Bolden to safety and move CBs Blue Adams or Torrie Cox into the nickel role.
Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton, who was held out of Sunday’s game with a deep bone bruise on his knee that kept him out of all three practices last week, said Monday that he thinks he’ll be ready to play vs. Atlanta.
Running Game Concerns
Tampa Bay’s ground game has failed to produce over 100 yards in a game in three straight contests and now ranks 18th in the NFL.
On Sunday, the Bucs struggled again, rushing 27 times for 61 yards (2.3 avg.). However, Gruden was quick to point out the fact that those statistics may be deceiving. After all, the Bucs rushed for two touchdowns and a two-point conversion en route to a 36-35 win over the Redskins on Sunday.
“We had some good runs, we ran for a couple of rushing touchdowns inside the five,” said Gruden. “Our inside-the-five rushing game wasn’t good, it was great last night. Once again our statistics didn’t look very good. Washington is a very good defensive football team and we expect to continue to keep grinding away and keep trying to get better. Hopefully it comes back to us, but I’m not going to dwell on it. I’m going to say we ran hard, we had some pretty good looks and there’s areas we have improvements to make like I said earlier.”
After starting the regular season off strong, Bucs rookie running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams has been put on ice, rushing 34 times for just 69 yards over the last three games. Williams has also fumbled twice, including a turnover in Sunday’s game that led to a Redskins touchdown. However, Gruden said he is not too concerned with Williams’ two turnovers.
“I’m not concerned with him,” Gruden said of Williams. “I think last night anybody would have fumbled in that situation. The handoff was almost intercepted. It was very similar to his fumble against Carolina. I’m not concerned at all and I’ll continue to give him the ball and hopefully he’ll regain the form he had earlier in the season.”
Tampa Bay’s ground game received a much-needed lift from fullback Mike Alstott, who rushed for two touchdowns and carried the ball into the end zone on Gruden’s gusty, two-point conversion call late in the fourth quarter.
Some fans have been calling for the Bucs to use the “A-Train” more on offense, but Gruden said that different situations will dictate exactly how much Alstott is used as a ball carrier and receiver.
“It’s just the decision I made, okay,” Gruden said of using Alstott more on Sunday. “It’s the decision I made. A lot of his carries came inside the five-yard line. Goal line situations and to knock down, drag out game inside the five-yard line. We like his presence there. And we got him a couple of looks in the regular field last night. Because I think the situations called for that in this kind of game. And with [Michael] Pittman beat up a little bit, obviously Carnell has had his ups and downs physically, I was going to lean on Alstott in some key situations. And I’ll continue to do that.
“I really am not going to talk about anybody’s role. I am so tired of talking about people’s stat sheets, catches, their numbers. We want to win games. No offense to anybody. We just want to get some first downs, score points, play better defensively, and get something going in the kicking game.”
Gutsy Call Pays Off For Gruden’s Bucs
Gruden had watched a fourth-quarterback comeback like Sunday’s fall short of a win because of a blocked extra point before. That happened in Week 2 of the 2003 regular season when Carolina defeated Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium. Gruden wasn’t about to suffer the same fate against the Redskins on Sunday.
After marching down the field to score touchdown, all the Bucs had to do was kick an extra point to tie the Redskins at 35 and most likely play for overtime.
Tampa Bay’s initial plan was to kick the extra point, but after watching the Redskins commit two consecutive penalties, the second of which was an offsides infraction that allowed a ‘Skins defender to block kicker Matt Bryant’s attempt, Gruden informed his players that there was a change in plan.
The Bucs were not going to let this comeback get spoiled by a mishap on special teams. Instead, Gruden chose to go for the win with a two-point conversion. As it turns out, it was the right call to make.
“I would have walked down to Madeira Beach and jumped in the water if we would have lost the game on a blocked extra point,” Gruden said. “Really, [the Carolina game] kind of entered my mind on that play. I just couldn’t believe it. The drama, and it’s going to end the night like this? Jiminy Christmas. But fortunately we got another chance and we capitalized. We capitalized, and that was great.”
Gruden said he actually contemplated going for the two-point conversion from the two-yard line but opted to play it safe with the extra point call until the Redskins made him think twice about it.
“You know what, we thought about going for two at the two-yard line but we really weren’t into our pure goal-line offense until we got to the one on that particular sequence,” said Gruden. “I didn’t want to run the ball from the two-yard line in our goal-line package. I didn’t feel good about that. When we got to the one-yard line, we got back into our Y-Steussie personnel. We could bring our full-house backfield in there and slam it in there. With the threat of the play-action pass, I felt there was no question that was the thing to do.
“I’ve never been associated with that. So I called the play and I ducked underneath the Gatorade cooler and listened to the crowd, to be honest with you.”
Gruden’s players applauded the decision to go for the win rather than play for overtime. Shortly after FB Mike Alstott took the handoff from QB Chris Simms and just barely crossed the goal line for the game-winning two-point conversion, the Bucs players awarded Gruden with the game ball in the locker room.
“I don’t know. It’s been awhile,” Gruden said when asked about the last time he received a game ball from his team. “I got one a few years ago. It was a special night last night for our team. I’m appreciative of their thoughtfulness and all that, but they won the game. It was great to win a game 36-35. We’ve won many 10-9 shootouts before. It was great to see some other guys step up and contribute, knowing that we have seven games to go. We’ve already gone deep into our roster, and to see some guys like Edell Shepherd and [Kalvin] Pearson and Ike Hilliard, some of our backup players for the most part, play key roles was huge.”
Bucs Prepare For Showdown With Falcons
Tampa Bay’s 36-35 win over Washington was big for several reasons, including the fact that the Bucs, who had lost three of their last four games, now own a tie-breaker vs. the 5-4 Redskins in the NFC playoff race.
“It was big, you know, it was an NFC game,” said Gruden. “They had the same record [that] we did. You know, hopefully it makes a difference for us. Hopefully we’ll win another game. I think 7-3 is better than 6-4. It’s a NFC game, it had big implications last night. But we have a long way to go. We have a lot of things on our football [team] we need to get better at and obviously we had a great challenge this week.”
The Bucs also couldn’t afford to drop Sunday’s game vs. the ‘Skins and realistically plan on winning the NFC South division this season. That’s because the next opponent on Tampa Bay’s schedule is division rival Atlanta, which is off to a 6-3 start but lost to Green Bay on Sunday.
The Falcons have shown that they’re mortal at home, losing games to the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers. But with both teams having 6-3 records and aspirations of catching and beating out the 7-2 Carolina Panthers for the division title, this Sunday’s game in the Georgia Dome has tremendous playoff implications.
Although Tampa Bay has won four out of its last five games in Atlanta dating back to 1997, defeating the Falcons in the Georgia Dome will be a tough task on Sunday.
“It’s a big factor,” Gruden said of the noise in the Georgia Dome. “It’s an unfair factor, really. It really shouldn’t be fair. They should take the roof off that dome and let some of that noise out of there, man. It’s really loud. They’ve done a great job in Atlanta filling that stadium. They’ve got a streak of consecutive sellouts and they pump a lot of noise in there with these fans. It’s a challenge, man, it’s really a challenge. And the product they have on the field speaks for itself. They give their fans reason to cheer. They’ve got a quarterback who’s rather exciting indeed.”
Of course, the quarterback Gruden is referring to is Michael Vick, who is extremely mobile and considered one of the league’s most dangerous offensive weapons. The Bucs are certainly mindful of Vick’s abilities.
“I think he should retire and be sent to another team,” Gruden said when asked about the debate of whether Vick is a good quarterback. “Some of these people who analyze this have got to be out of their skulls, in my opinion. He’s 25-6 or whatever he is as a starter. He’s a rocket ship. He is redefining the position in his own way. He threw for 250 yards, 21 out of 30 against Miami. I saw him make great throws, great decisions. When the pocket breaks down and they want to move the pocket with the naked bootleg, find somebody on this planet who can do what he can do with his hands on the ball. The guy’s a phenomenal athlete who can throw. He’s the heart and soul of the Falcon football team, if you ask me. Everybody in the stands is wearing these number seven jerseys. I think in his own way he’s redefining the quarterback position the way he wants it to be defined. No one else is like him. There are a lot of guys who might try to emulate him but, good God, he’s a hard guy to go up against because of his special, rare talent.”
Simms Helps Lead Bucs To Win
Tampa Bay third-year QB Chris Simms took a huge step in the right direction on Sunday by leading the Bucs’ come-from-behind victory over the Washington Redskins.
Simms recorded his first career win as a starter this season by completing 15-of-29 passes for 279 yards and tossing three touchdowns and no interceptions while engineering two critical scoring drives in the second half.
“What he did last night was a great performance in clutch situations,” Gruden said of Simms. “But still he wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t get sacked, he didn’t turn the ball over, and he threw for 279 yards against a heck of a team in a game we had to have and we were behind. So, pretty good. Pretty good.”
The Bucs had lost two straight games with Simms at the helm, while the offense has a ways to go, Gruden said Simms deserves credit for working hard to remedy some of the problems he’s worked through over the past several weeks.
“I can’t say enough about that, and [Quarterbacks Coach] Paul Hackett deserves a lot of credit,” Gruden said of Simms’ work ethic. “Chris Simms deserves a lot of credit. He’s been unbelievable in terms of his mission, his vision of getting better and learning this system. Fundamentals; the private time that he’s spent with Paul Hackett or me over the last couple years; the accumulation of knowledge, whether it be through knowledge of defense, knowledge of our system or knowledge of his fundamentals and his technique. That accumulation is starting to pay off for him and I’m really proud to work with him. He’s a guy who not only has talent, he has a tremendous self-motivation and drive. That’s one of the reasons why he played well last night. I believe that.”
With his first win as a starter under his belt, Simms’ next challenge comes this Sunday when Tampa Bay travels to Atlanta to take on the Falcons in what will be a raucous Georgia Dome.
“Yeah, there’s always the next step,” Gruden said. “If you’re a good quarterback you’re going to play consistently good – at home; in good weather and in bad weather; when you’re sore and beat up, which maybe he is now. He probably hasn’t had the wear and tear on him that he has now. All those things will be entered into the equation as he gets ready for a great team in Atlanta, and the noise, which is another challenge in itself.”
Tampa Bay Defense No Longer No. 1 Overall
Tampa Bay’s offense may have taken a step forward, but its defense took a step back on Sunday when it allowed Washington to produce 389 yards of total offense, including 185 yards rushing on 33 carries (5.6 avg.).
The massive amount of yardage Tampa Bay’s defense surrendered to Washington’s offense on Sunday caused the Bucs to drop from No. 1 to No. 2 overall defense on Monday. The Chicago Bears now have the No. 1 overall defense.
Needless to say, the Bucs, who allowed ‘Skins RB Clinton Portis to rush for 144 yards on 23 carries (6.3 avg.), are troubled by the fact that their next opponent – the Falcons – have the No. 1-ranked rushing offense in the NFL.
“Obviously, we have to be concerned but I am also confident,” Gruden said. “You know Washington has a nice plan, they used some creative shifts and they caught us on our heels a couple of times. Clinton Portis made some big runs. He’s a big-time back. I have seen him at close range now twice. He’s a really great talent. And they’re a really physical offensive line you see the size of [Jon] Jansen and [Chris] Samuels. They did a nice job at times and Mark Brunell did an outstanding job as well scrambling and running around so we’ve got to make some corrections. We have to tackle better, we have to be better in our gap security because this weekend Atlanta can really hurt you, as you know.”
Tampa Bay’s defense also struggled to get itself off the field on third down, where Washington converted 47 percent of its third downs into first downs on Sunday.
However, Gruden believes the defense, which had only allowed opposing offenses to convert 27 percent of their third downs heading into Sunday’s game vs. the ‘Skins, can correct those problems in a timely manner.
“You’re concerned. I’m concerned and mad when our defense gives up a first down, to be honest with you,” said Gruden. “So I’m mad as hell at the defense today. But I’m very confident that we have the right stuff in that room to put it together and once again be great next week.”
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