TAMPA – The Buccaneers claimed their first win of the 2008 season at the expense of the visiting Atlanta Falcons, who were flying high after routing the Detroit Lions in the season opener last week. Tampa Bay’s running game and defense came to life to key a 24-9 victory over Atlanta as Brian Griese managed the team well on third downs and did enough to get his first win as the Bucs starting quarterback after head coach Jon Gruden demoted Jeff Garcia last week.
Griese completed 18-of-31 passes (58 percent) for 160 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and posted a QB rating of 82.7 against Atlanta, and did enough good things to earn the start next week in Chicago, according to Gruden after the game. Griese’s efficiency on third downs was a big improvement over Garcia’s efforts last week at New Orleans. The Bucs converted 43 percent of their third downs against the Falcons after converting only 16.7 percent of their downs against the Saints.
“He managed the game,” Gruden said of Griese. “In his first start back here, he won the game as a starter. That is a big compliment in pro football. I thought he missed some guys that he normally hits, but he managed the football game and made some timely plays on third down. I think he will get better and better.”
After notching just one sack and one interception against New Orleans, Tampa Bay’s defense stepped up against Atlanta’s passing game. In the first half, rookie quarterback Matt Ryan was harassed into two interceptions, which set up 10 of Tampa Bay’s 17 first half points. Ryan started the game 0-for-9 and wound up completing only 13-of-33 passes (39.3 percent) for 158 yards, which computes to a 29.6 QB rating. The Bucs recorded three of their four sacks of Ryan in the second half with defensive ends Gaines Adams (two) and Greg White (1.5) leading the way.
The reason why the Bucs were able to turn the heat on Ryan was because they shut down Michael Turner, who led all rushers last week with 220 yards and two touchdowns. Against Tampa Bay, Turner was held to 42 yards on 14 carries (3.0 avg.) and Atlanta’s ground game barely rushed for 100 yards.
The Bucs managed to play well on defense despite some limited snaps from weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks, who was nursing a hamstring strain. Brooks did manage to get his 207th consecutive start on Sunday, but played about half the snaps and recording four tackles, before giving way to rookie linebacker Geno Hayes.
“I just want to tip my hat to all the Buccaneer fans for Derrick Brooks,” Gruden said. “They need to know what he did for our team. Geno Hayes practiced to prepare to play a lot today. I am sure he was pretty disappointed that he did not get the playing time that he looked forward to. When you have an opportunity to see what Derrick Brooks did behind the scenes to play today … I will reserve comment on Geno Hayes until next week. I will just talk about our captain. I’m really proud of Derrick Brooks.”
While Atlanta’s ground game was stymied, the Bucs’ rushing attack was just as potent as it was last week at New Orleans when Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn combined for 146 yards on 20 carries. Against Atlanta, the ground game totaled 164 yards on 28 carries (5.9 avg.) with Graham rushing for 116 yards on 15 carries, including a career-high 68-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, and Dunn rushing for 49 yards on 12 carries, scoring on an amazing 17-yard draw on third-and-goal in the second quarter.
Tampa Bay improves its record to 1-1 on the season and 1-1 in the NFC South division with a victory over Atlanta, but needs to clean up its play when it comes to penalties. The Bucs were flagged 11 times for 94 yards, including a couple of personal fouls, and can’t expect to win on the road next week at Chicago (1-1) with that many penalties.
Griese, who spent two years in Chicago after being released from Tampa Bay after the 2005 season, is anxious to get his second start for the Buccaneers and face his former team.
“It will be fun,” Griese said. “I love the city of Chicago and I still have a lot of friends on the team. I’m very familiar with their defensive scheme and I’m looking forward to going back.”
Tampa Bay received great starting field position for its first possession as the Bucs’ first-round draft pick, cornerback Aqib Talib, picked off Ryan at the Tampa Bay 19. Ryan’s pass was intended for rookie wide receiver Harry Douglas and was overthrown, landing into the arms of Talib, who was tackled immediately at the Atlanta 19.
After a loss of one yard by Graham, Griese’s first pass was overthrown to a wide-open Alex Smith. The pass would have been a touchdown if it were on target. Yet, his next pass was a strike to wide receiver Joey Galloway that hit the speedster in stride for a 12-yard gain on third-and-11 from the 20. Two plays later, Griese threw a quick strike to tight end John Gilmore for a 5-yard touchdown. The Bucs covered 19 yards in five plays and took an early 7-0 lead over the Falcons.
An offsides penalty by Adams and a holding penalty on cornerback Ronde Barber converted two third-and-5 situations for the Falcons on their second drive of the gaem. Atlanta was also aided by a 17-yard run by Turner down to the Tampa Bay 39. But on third-and-7, Ryan almost threw his second pick as free safety Tanard Jackson dove and almost came up with his first INT of the season.
Tampa Bay added to its lead, two possessions later as it marched 61 yards on 14 plays with Griese converting three key third downs with big throws. On third-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 39, Griese hit wide receiver Ike Hilliard for 10 yards. On third-and-4 from the Bucs’ 45, Griese and Hilliard connected for an 11-yard hookup. And on third-and-10 from the Atlanta 20, Griese threw a shovel pass to Dunn for 12 yards. Graham appeared to score a touchdown on the next play on an 8-yard run off right tackle, but fullback B.J. Askew was flagged for holding safety Lawyer Milloy on the play. Two plays later, a 5-yard false start call on right guard Jeremy Zuttah backed up Tampa Bay and created a second-and-goal from the Atlanta 23. After a 6-yard run on second down, Dunn capped off the scoring drive with a 17-yard touchdown run on a draw, following Graham’s lead block up the middle. Dunn accounted for 35 total yards on the drive. With 11:08 left in the second quarter, Tampa Bay increased its lead to 14-0 over Atlanta.
At this point of the game, Ryan was 0-for-7 against Tampa Bay’s defense when he was picked off by safety Sabby Piscitelli on third-and-10 at the 22. Ryan threw behind wide receiver Michael Jenkins and right into the arms of Piscitelli, who advanced his first career interception 22 yards to the Falcons’ 17 -yard line. But the Bucs’ drive stalled on third-and-8 at the Atlanta 15, and Matt Bryant was called on to make a 33-yard field goal. With 9:07 left in the second quarter, the Bucs’ lead increased to 17-0.
After starting the game 0-for-9, Ryan finally completed his first pass, a 9-yard throw to Michael Jenkins to set up a third-and-1 at the Falcons’ 22. On the next play, Douglas picked up a 33-yard gain off left end to the Tampa Bay 25. Two plays later on third down, Ryan’s deep pass to Jenkins was successfully defended by cornerback Phillip Buchanon, which forced a punt.
Tampa Bay was unable to sustain its next drive and punted the ball back to Atlanta. Falcons return man Adam Jennings returned the ball 37 yards to the Tampa Bay 23. Ryan’s second completion of the game went to Jerious Norwood for eight yards, but he threw a backwards pass out of bounds that set up third-and-13 at the 26 on the next play. Ryan threw a strike to Jenkins for 13 yards to convert the first down and set up the Falcons with a first-and-goal from the 7. After an incompletion on first down, Adams beat a double team that consisted of right tackle Tyson Clabo and fullback Jason Snelling to sack Ryan for a loss. On third down, Ryan threw an incomplete pass in the back of the end zone, which led to Jason Elam’s 32-yard field goal. With 12 seconds left before halftime, the Bucs maintained a 17-3 lead.
Atlanta marched 75 yards on 14 plays with Ryan displaying more accuracy and converting two third downs with passes of 12 yards to White and six yards to Laurent Robinson. A 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on defensive end Greg White moved the ball from the Atlanta 38 to the Tampa Bay 47. A 21-yard pass from Ryan to Douglas set Atlanta up with a first down at the Tampa Bay 13. But three plays later, Norwood would be tackled by Jackson for a 3-yard loss on third down, setting up Elam’s 27-yard field goal. With 1:03 left in the third quarter cut Tampa Bay’s lead over Atlanta to 17-6.
The Bucs appeared poised to score on their next possession as they drove to the Atlanta 8-yard line behind 35 yards on three consecutive touches by Dunn, including a 15-yard run, and a 36-yard pass to Gilmore. But on third-and-8 from the 8, defensive end John Abraham got past left tackle Donald Penn, sacking Griese and forcing a fumble that was recovered by Atlanta defensive tackle Jason Jefferson at the Tampa Bay 17.
Adams and defensive end Kevin Carter sacked Ryan on first down, but the rookie quarterback was able to scramble for seven yards to set up third-and-8 at the Atlanta 19. White caught the ball for a first down, but fumbled the ball. The ball was recovered by Piscitelli, who tried to lateral the ball to a teammate, but Douglas ended up recovering the ball for Atlanta. A 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on rookie cornerback Elbert Mack advanced the ball to the Tampa Bay 48.
Ryan found Robinson for a big 23-yard gain on third-and-6 from the 44 down to the Tampa Bay 21. On third-and-6 from the 17, Ryan hit Douglas for a first down to the 4-yard line. The Bucs challenged the play, suggesting that Ryan crossed the line of scrimmage before he threw the pass, but instant replay upheld the call on the field. Ryan lost three yards on a quarterback draw on first down and threw an incompletion on second down. On third-and-goal from the 7, Ryan was flushed from the pocket and had to throw the ball away. After traveling 77 yards on 14 plays, Atlanta had to settle for Elam’s 24-yard field goal, which reduced the Bucs’ lead to 17-9 with 5:12 left in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs ended the game in dramatic style with a 68-yard touchdown run from Graham off right tackle to push the score to 24-9. The Bucs recorded two sacks on Atlanta’s final drive, forcing a turnover on downs at the Falcons’ 12-yard line. Tampa Bay could have added more points to the scoreboard, but settled running the ball into the middle of the defense to run out most of the remaining time on the clock on fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 3.
PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME Tampa Bay needed a big game from defensive end Gaines Adams, who was held without a sack last week at New Orleans. Adams came up big for the Bucs against the Falcons with six tackles, two sacks and four quarterback pressures – most of which came in the second half. Adams’ first sack came late in the second quarter as he beat the double team of right tackle Tyson Clabo and fullback Jason Snelling to take down Ryan from the left end position on second-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 7. Ryan threw an incomplete pass on the next play and Atlanta had to settle for a field goal. In the fourth quarter, Adams split sacks with defensive ends Kevin Carter and Greg White as the defense helped put away the Falcons en route to victory. For his efforts, Adams is this week’s PewterReport.com Player of the Game.
IT WAS OVER WHEN… After trailing 17-0, Atlanta kicked three field goals to cut into Tampa Bay’s lead and make the score 17-9 late in the fourth quarter. The Bucs had to pick up a couple of first downs to put the game away but running back Earnest Graham exceeded those expectations with a 68-yard touchdown run off right tackle. Graham, who ripped a 46-yard run off right tackle last week at New Orleans, wound up taking this dash the distance to put Tampa Bay up 24-9 with 3:08 remaining in regulation. Graham picked up great perimeter blocks from tight end Alex Smith and wide receiver Antonio Bryant on the touchdown run.
STATS THAT COUNT Cornerback Aqib Talib and safety Sabby Piscitelli each recorded his first NFL interception on Sunday. Talib gave Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan his first career NFL pick. Piscitelli also forced his first fumble on a kickoff in the fourth quarter. … Defensive end Gaines Adams recorded his first two sacks of the season and tied a career-high (two sacks), which came against Atlanta on November 18, 2007. … Bucs defensive end Greg White had 1.5 sacks on Sunday and leads the team with 2.5 sacks on the season. … Bucs rookie linebacker Geno Hayes made his NFL debut this week after being inactive last week at New Orleans. … Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led the Bucs with eight tackles. … Defensive end Kevin Carter recorded half a sack against the Falcons and is currently in second place among active players in sacks with 101 career quarterback captures. … Tight end John Gilmore recorded his first touchdown on his first catch as a Buccaneer. He finished the day with two catches for 41 yards, tying for the team lead in receiving yards. … Wide receiver Ike Hilliard led the Bucs with four catches for 41 yards with all four of his receptions going for first downs.
SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:
BUCS STARTING OFFENSE WR Joey Galloway TE Alex Smith LT Donald Penn LG Arron Sears C Jeff Faine RG Jeremy Zuttah RT Jeremy Trueblood WR Antonio Bryant FB B.J. Askew RB Warrick Dunn 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 Maurice Stovall LB Matt McCoy DL Greg Peterson OL James Lee RB Michael Bennett G Davin Joseph QB Jeff Garcia (emergency quarterback) QB Josh Johnson
BUCS INJURIES Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks started despite a hamstring injury, extending his consecutive games started streak to 207. Rookie linebacker Geno Hayes, who was inactive last week, was one of the players who spelled Brooks during the game.
Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway suffered a foot sprain in the third quarter and did not see much action in the second half. Cornerback Aqib Talib suffered a second half hamstring strain and was replaced in the lineup by fellow rookie Elbert Mack.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Falcons game at Raymond James Stadium was 63,611. The temperature at kickoff was 89 degrees with 55 percent humidity under partly cloudy skies.
UP NEXT The Buccaneers (1-1), who are fresh off a win against Atlanta, travel to Chicago to take on the Bears (1-1) on Sunday at Soldier Field. Chicago lost on the road to Carolina, 20-17. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org