Tough Enough
Tampa Bay starting left defensive end Greg Spires was listed as questionable during the week leading up to the game in Atlanta,

Although it didn’t look like he was going to play, Spires impressed his teammates and coaching staff by playing through a sprained left shoulder en route to helping the Bucs escape Atlanta with a 30-27 win on Sunday.

“Well, he didn’t look very promising Saturday, the day we left for the trip,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Spires. “It didn’t look like he was going to play. He showed up in the locker room wanting to go out and try it one more time. It’s a credit to him, really. There are not a lot of guys who would have played or could have played, given his physical circumstances, but he’s a tough guy. He’s a tough guy and we certainly needed him yesterday.”

Spires, left tackle Anthony Davis (sprained ankle) and tight end Anthony Becht (knee sprain) will likely appear on Tampa Bay’s injury report when it’s released on Wednesday. The severity of their injuries has yet to be determined. Safeties Will Allen (knee) and Dexter Jackson (hamstring) are questionable for Sunday’s game vs. the Chicago Bears.

Cadillac Back On Track
Tampa Bay rookie running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time since Sept. 25 on Sunday by carrying the ball 19 times for 116 yards and scoring a 9-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Needless to say, Gruden was pleased to see Williams, who has rushed for 632 yards on 152 carries (4.2 avg.) and three touchdowns this season, back on track.

“I was pleased, I really was pleased,” Gruden said of Williams. “I thought he got started early. We started the game with three tight ends and one back. That’s the first time for me. We had a good counter play back to the weak side, it was well-blocked and Cadillac made a nice read. I thought from that point on, we were in good shape. I thought he started to get his rhythm back. he made some real good cuts to the backside, moved the pile, finished runs and made a key play as a receiver, as well, late in the game. I was pleased with him and hopefully he’s got a lot left in the tank.”

Comeback Kid?
For the second straight game, Bucs quarterback Chris Simms engineered a scoring drive in the fourth quarter that helped lead his team to a come-from-behind victory.

Simms bounced back from a fourth quarter interception that led to a go-ahead touchdown for the Falcons by completing 3-of-5 passes for 35 yards throughout the rest of Sunday’s game. Simms engineered the game-tying scoring drive, and turnover created by the defense set up Tampa Bay’s game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter.

Although Simms has led the Bucs to come-from-behind wins over the past two weeks, Gruden doesn’t consider the situations similar.

“They were different circumstances, really.,” said Gruden. “[There was] more drama against Washington in the two-minute drill, obvious passing situations. Yesterday he managed, for the most part, our two-tight end, two-back set. We were a little bit different in terms of our balance in that drive. I thought he made some real good decisions in terms of changing plays and he recognized a couple hot receivers and made a couple great plays down the stretch. He’s getting better in all phases – two games in a row without a sack. The interception, I think, was just a trajectory issue. He has an open receiver; you’ve got to throw the ball with a little bit more loft to get it over the linebacker and under the safety. But other than that he played error-free and was clutch when we needed him to be.”

Tampa Bay has posted 66 points in its last two games, and Gruden senses that his young offense, which stumbled vs. San Francisco and Carolina a few weeks ago, is building confidence.

“I think it’s helping them, you know,” Gruden said. “I can’t speak for everybody but I don’t think Chris Simms or Cadillac Williams or Michael Clayton or [Joey] Galloway or any of these guys lack confidence. I think they realize that a lot of them are young guys, this is a new experience to them. Alex Smith came up big yesterday. Dan Buenning had a heck of a game in there against a great player in Rod Coleman. I don’t think they know enough to really get anti-confident or over confidant or anything. I think they just are eager to go out and play football but I think winning and having success is not harmful to anyone.”

Just For Kicks
Some questioned Tampa Bay’s decision to keep kicker Matt Bryant over Todd France heading into the regular season. Now one could make the argument that Bryant has been the Bucs’ best free agent pickup of the 2005 season.

Bryant drilled 3-of-3 field goals vs. the Falcons, including a 45-yard game-winner with less than one minute remaining in Sunday’s contest. Bryant is 14-of-16 (87.5 percent) on his field goal attempts this season, which is a big improvement for the Bucs, who finished two straight seasons with the worst field goal kicking percentage in the league.

“Well, we missed two mid-range short field goals against the Rams, we missed three at Carolina,” Gruden recalled from last season. “You lose by three or four points, you hate to point fingers. I don’t know anybody who wins tournaments on the golfing tour who’s last in the tour in putting accuracy, if you know what I mean. You’ve got to put the ball in the hole. Three points sometimes loom large at the end of games. So far, so good. Matt Bryant’s been a huge asset to this year’s team.”

Third Down Woes
The Bucs allowed the Falcons to produce 443 yards of total offense and 27 points on Sunday. Although he was critical of his defense, Gruden was quick to give credit to the Falcons offense, particularly QB Michael Vick.

“Well, you know what, a couple times – and I said it last week about [Mark] Brunell and I’ll say the same about [Michael] Vick – there were three occasions yesterday where he broke containment,” said Gruden. “And we had containment, to be honest with you. He just physically broke to the outside and made some of the most explosive, incredible, acrobatic plays I’ve ever seen, really. And when he moves, obviously you’re coverage responsibility has to move also. But it’s a credit to Vick; he’s phenomenal at what he does. There were a couple plays where you’ve got to credit Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. They picked up our blitz, they threw the ball into congested areas and guys made plays. That happens sometimes when you’re playing an offense that has as much talent as they do. They’ve got a great running attack with [Warrick] Dunn and [T.J.] Duckett. Geez, what an inside-out combination that is. Michael Vick puts incredible pressure on you. So it was a combination of how well they played yesterday and just some things that we’ve got to clean up.”

Four weeks ago, Tampa Bay had the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL, but over the past three weeks the Bucs have allowed point totals of 34, 35 and 27 vs. Carolina, Washington and Atlanta, respectively. In those three contests, the Bucs defense has surrendered a total of 1,119 yards, which averages out to 373 yards per contest.

Third downs have been a real problem for the Bucs defense as of late. Over their past three games, the Bucs have allowed opposing offenses to convert 23-of-39 (58.9 percent) of their third down attempts, which has left the defense tired and vulnerable.

“Third downs have hurt us, uncharacteristically,” Gruden said. “I think they converted six or seven in succession yesterday. I thought the Redskins did the same. Carolina was backed up on third and ten. They got Ricky Proehl for a huge play down the middle against third and long situation. So, that’s the area that we have to, I think, take a good look at and make some dramatic improvement. It’s easy to tip our hat at the other guy. But, we’ve got enough good players, and certainly a good enough scheme for us to play a lot better than we have. That will be a goal of ours obviously against the Bears.”

Despite their recent woes, the Bucs defense still ranks No. 3 overall.

Stepping Up To The Challenge
During the first half of Tampa Bay’s game vs. Atlanta, Gruden and his coaching staff noticed that Atlanta’s offense had an unfair advantage on a 12-yard scramble for a first down by QB Michael Vick.

Gruden called the officials over and challenged the play, claiming the Falcons had 12 players on the field. As it turns out, Gruden was right and won the challenge, his first win on a challenge this season.

“Whoopidy-do-da,” Gruden said. “That was a tough man, you know what I mean? Criminy, there are 12 guys – I should win that one.

“That’s why we challenged it. They have seven officials. There are 12 men – there are two flankers, two tight ends and two backs. Hell’s bells, that’s illegal. The play comes off and thank goodness for instant replay.”

Next Up
The 7-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the 7-3 Chicago Bears at at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

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