TAMPA – Tampa Bay quarterback Byron Leftwich best summed up the Buccaneers’ 34-21 season-opening loss to the visiting Dallas Cowboys, which was not unexpected by most.
“We did a lot of good things, but the difference in that football game was only four or five plays,” Leftwich said. “If you look at the football game and you really watch, the difference in us being up and them being up is about four or five plays.”
Those four or five plays that Leftwich was referring to could easily have been Dallas touchdown passes covering 42 yards, 66 yards and 80 yards, in addition to a big, 44-yard pass play in the fourth quarter to set up the Cowboys’ final touchdown. After being held in check for the first 29 minutes of the game, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo connected with wide receiver Miles Austin, who beat cornerback Elbert Mack and safety Jermaine Phillips for a 42-yard touchdown down the right sidelines to give Dallas a 13-7 lead at halftime.
In the second half, the Cowboys targeted safety Sabby Piscitelli, who was making his sixth NFL start. Romo hit receiver Roy Williams, who finished the game with three catches for 86 yards, with a 66-yard touchdown pass against Piscitelli to increase Dallas’ lead to 20-7. Piscitelli was also beaten by Patrick Crayton, who had a game-high four catches for 135 yards, on an 80-yard touchdown against quarters coverage in the third quarter, and on a similar play that went for 44 yards in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got to fix that. We can’t do that as a secondary,” Piscitelli said. “We have to work on our communication. We have to come back and make some big plays. We didn’t make any today and we gave up too many. We’ll clean it up. I’m determined we’ll clean it up.”
For over a decade under former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the Bucs defense was predicated on playing zone coverage that kept the ball in front of the defensive backs and minimized deep plays in the passing game. In the 2009 season opener, the outcome was quite different in Jim Bates’ first game as Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator as he saw miscommunication in the secondary lead to a 353-yard passing day from Tony Romo, who completed 16-of-27 passes, including three touchdown passes.
“We had our chances,” said cornerback Ronde Barber, who finished with two tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and one pass breakup. “The final score was not indicative of how good we played at times. Big plays will absolutely destroy your football team and we have to eliminate them.”
In addition to the secondary getting torched, the defense did not record any turnovers, and the defensive line did not register any sacks in allowing Dallas to roll up 462 yards of total offense. â€¨â€¨Tampa Bay’s revamped offense, which features a new quarterback in Leftwich, a new tight end in Kellen Winslow, a new running back in Derrick Ward and a new offensive coordinator in Greg Olson, nearly matched the Cowboys’ offensive production and was the lone bright spot against Dallas. The Buccaneers had 450 yards of offense, including an impressive 174 yards on the ground in which the team averaged 5.6 yards per carry against a usually stout Dallas defense.
While Ward performed well and rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries (5.2 avg.), including a 22-yarder, Cadillac Williams got the start at halfback and was sensational. He rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries (7.5 avg.), including a 35-yard jaunt.
“These guys are running hard in the backfield,” said Bucs center Jeff Faine, who had to leave the game in the fourth quarter with a triceps injury. “It was against a good front, too, so it was a good challenge for us. We stuck with the running game, too. I felt pretty good about our offense in general. We just have an onslaught of guys.”
The problem for Tampa Bay’s offense was that it couldn’t match Dallas’ big plays in the passing game. The offense wasn’t helped by the fact that Mike Nugent’s first quarter field goal was blocked, and his 46-yard attempt right before halftime was wide right.
Leftwich played well for the Buccaneers, didn’t commit a turnover and wasn’t sacked, although he was hit a lot and took a pounding.
“That’s why he’s so tough, he’s so physical because he’ll absolutely stand in there and throw that football,” Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said. “He’s going to deliver it while he’s getting hit. You’re concerned, but at the same time that’s his game. That’s the Doug Williams-like game.”
Leftwich finished his Tampa Bay debut, completing 25-of-41 passes (60.9 percent) for 276 yards with a 2-yard touchdown to Winslow in garbage time to trim Dallas’ 20-point lead to 34-21 late in the fourth quarter. But one of the plays that Leftwich was not able to make was a pass to a wide-open Winslow on fourth-and-7 at the Dallas 26 that would have gone for a first down with 7:44 left in the final quarter and Tampa Bay trailing 27-14.
“I didn’t look it in. That’s a ball I usually catch,” Winslow said, explaining why he dropped the catchable pass. “It could have changed the whole game. That’s what I’ll be thinking about until next Sunday. It hurts, but all you can do is come back and make the next play.”
That’s one of those four or five game-deciding plays Leftwich was talking about that led to Tampa Bay’s loss, which spoiled Morris’ head coaching debut.
“We’re on pace to be where we want to be, but we have to understand that our biggest leap has got to be between week one and week two,” Leftwich said. “We would have loved to have won this game, but now that we went out there and played a full game, we know what we have to work on.”
Dallas took the opening possession and marched into Tampa Bay territory with a nine-play, 31-yard drive. Romo found Williams twice for a total of 20 yards through the air, but the drive went in reverse on first-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 26 when Barber sacked Romo for a 9-yard loss on a corner blitz. Two plays later, the Cowboys had to settle for three points after a run on third-and-17 failed to pick up a yard. Nick Folk’s 51-yard field goal was good, and with 9:35 left in the first quarter, Dallas opened up a 3-0 lead.
Tampa Bay tried to answer Dallas’ initial score and had a promising drive into Cowboys territory. Williams rushed for 28 yards on four carries and Leftwich hit Winslow and Jerramy Stevens for gains of 19 and 14 yards, respectively. With 7:59 left in the first quarter, linebacker DeMarcus Ware suffered a neck injury when he tackled Winslow on his 17-yard gain and had to leave the game. When the Bucs’ drive stalled at the Cowboys’ 20, Nugent’s field goal attempt was blocked by safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who shot in between guard Marcus Johnson and Stevens. Cornerback Mike Jenkins recovered the ball and returned it 17 yards to the Dallas 48.
Jones ripped off a 19-yard run down for Dallas down to the Tampa Bay 29, and tight end Jason Witten, who finished with five catches for 71 yards, hauled in an 18-yard pass to the 8-yard line. However, Dallas’ drive fizzled out on third down and Folk’s 22-yard field goal increased Dallas’ lead to 6-0 with 1:22 left in the first quarter.
Tampa Bay was able to cash in on points on its next drive with Williams leading the way, ripping off 13 yards on his first two carries and a 32-yarder to get down to the Dallas 8-yard line. Ward also chipped in a 14-yard catch and seven yards on two carries. On third-and-goal from the 1, Williams plunged over the goal line to cap off an 11-play, 78-yard drive that consumed 6:03. With 10:19 left in the second quarter, the Bucs led 7-6.
On fourth-and-2 from the Dallas 18, Piscitelli was flagged for running into the punter. The penalty gave the Cowboys a first down at their 23-yard line. Witten had a 20-yard catch to move the Cowboys across midfield, but an unnecessary roughness penalty on left tackle Flozell Adams negated a big reverse by Crayton and stymied the Dallas drive, which ended in a punt at the two-minute warning.
The Bucs completely botched their next possession, losing one yard on a wide receiver screen to Antonio Bryant and then Leftwich inexplicably ran out of bounds to give Dallas, which only had one timeout, an extra clock stoppage. After a minimal gain on third down, Dallas called timeout and had 1:02 to work with before halftime. On first-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 42, Romo through a pass to Miles Austin down the right sidelines. Austin beat Mack and safety Jermaine Phillips for a touchdown. With 46 seconds left, Dallas reclaimed the lead, 13-7.
The Bucs did attempt to strike back before halftime as Leftwich hurled a 47-yard pass to Michael Clayton, who finished with five catches for 93 yards, down the right sidelines against Terence Newman down to the Dallas 28 with seven seconds left. After Leftwich overthrew Bryant in the end zone, Nugent’s 46-yard field goal was wide right at halftime.
Dallas increased its lead to 20-7 on its first possession in the third quarter when Williams blew by Piscitelli and Phillips for a 66-yard touchdown. It took the Cowboys just 1:17 to move 79 yards on three plays to give the Cowboys a 13-point advantage with 11:23 left in the third quarter.
The Bucs picked up only one first down in the third quarter, going three-and-out twice, but managed to find their groove offensively in the fourth quarter.
Ward got the drive started off with runs of 12 and 22 yards, which set up Tampa Bay at its 47-yard line. Leftwich had some good fortune on the drive as fullback B.J. Askew recovered his fumbled snap and an interception to Dallas cornerback Mike Jenkins was negated after an illegal contact penalty on Sensabaugh gave the Bucs the ball and a first down at the Dallas 48. Ward picked a first down with a 3-yard run and a 7-yard catch, and that was followed up by a 20-yard completion to Clayton down to the Dallas 18. After a 4-yard run by Ward, Leftwich threw a supposed 14-yard touchdown pass to rookie Sammie Stroughter, the Cowboys challenged the play and instant replay showed that Stroughter’s knee was down at the 1. On the next play, Ward dove in for a touchdown to cap off an 11-play, 84-yard drive that consumed 4:51. With 13:45 left in the fourth quarter, Dallas’ lead was cut to 20-14.
Dallas’ quick strike offense continued to punish Tampa Bay as Crayton got behind Piscitelli for an 80-yard touchdown catch. It took Dallas just two plays and 1:02 to cover 81 yards and increase its lead to 27-14 with 12:43 left in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs had a promising drive into Cowboys territory end midway through the fourth quarter. Williams picked up 11 yards on two carries and Maurice Stovall and Stroughter picked up first downs through the air with catches for 13 and 10 yards, respectively, to move the ball down to the Dallas 29. On fourth-and-7 from the 26, a wide-open Winslow dropped a catchable pass from Leftwich to end the drive.
The Cowboys ended the game with a six-play, 74-yard scoring drive that featured another big pass play – a 44-yard catch by Crayton against Piscitelli – to give Dallas a first down at the Tampa Bay 20. Three runs by Barber totaled 20 yards, including a 6-yard scoring dash. With 3:57 left in the fourth quarter, Dallas took a nearly insurmountable 34-14 lead.
The Buccaneers’ last gasp drive did result in points, but it was too little too late. Stevens hauled in two passes for 24 yards and Brian Clark had a nice, 17-yard gain down to the Dallas 28. A 7-yard pass to Clayton preceded a pass interference penalty that gave the Bucs a first and goal on the Dallas 9-yard line. After a 7-yard run down to the Dallas 2 on third-and-goal from the 10, Winslow caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Leftwich. With 1:28 left in regulation, Dallas’ lead was cut to 34-21.
PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME
No wonder the Buccaneers chose to start Cadillac Williams at running back against the Cowboys despite only seeing action in one preseason game. Against Dallas, Williams picked up where he left off versus Miami in the preseason when he averaged nearly seven yards per carry in his lone preseas. Williams was averaging 6.8 yards per carry in the first quarter, rushing for 41 yards on six carries.
That average swelled to 9.6 yards per carry in the second quarter as Williams ripped off a 32-yard run down to the Dallas 8. Three plays later, his 1-yard touchdown run gave Tampa Bay a 7-0 lead. At halftime, Williams had rushed for 77 yards on eight carries.
â€¨With Williams’ second quarter touchdown, which was the 15th rushing score in his career, Williams moved into seventh place in Bucs history for rushing TDs with Lars Tate (1988-89).
Williams saw his carries reduced somewhat in the second half as Derrick Ward got more touches, but he still finished with a game-high 97 yards on 13 carries (7.5 avg.).
IT WAS OVER WHEN…
The Bucs fell behind the Cowboys, 27-14, in the fourth quarter, but Tampa Bay was on the march to try to make it a one-score game. The Bucs drove down to the Dallas 26, but could not convert a first down. On fourth-and-7 from the 26, quarterback Byron Leftwich threw a pass to tight end Kellen Winslow that hit him right in the hands, but fell incomplete with 7:44 left in the game.
Had the Bucs scored a touchdown on that drive, they would have been in position to make a stop with the score being 27-21 and potentially win the game, 28-27. Instead, the Cowboys marched 74 yards in six plays and scored another touchdown to increase their lead to 34-14 with 3:50 left.
STATS THAT COUNT
Cornerback Ronde Barber recorded the Bucs’ first sack of the season when he dropped Tony Romo for a 9-yard loss in the first quarter. … Mike Nugent’s first field goal attempt as a Buccaneer was blocked. … Tampa Bay outgained Dallas 231-188 yards, but trailed 13-7. … The Bucs had a 33:32 to 26:28 time of possession advantage against the Cowboys. … Quarterback Byron Leftwich completed passes to 10 different receivers on Sunday. … Rookie receiver Sammie Stroughter had three catches for 25 yards in his NFL debut. … Receiver Antonio Bryant was held to two catches for 29 yards. … Receiver Michael Clayton led the Bucs with five catches for 93 yards and had one pass attempt that fell incomplete. … Tight end Kellen Winslow caught five passes for 30 yards and one touchdown and also had a 7-yard run on a lateral from Leftwich. … Tight end Jerramy Stevens had four catches for for 41 yards. … Punter Dirk Johnson averaged 41 yards on five punts, downing two inside the 20-yard line. … Safety Sabby Piscitelli led the Bucs with eight tackles. … Linebacker Geno Hayes had six tackles, one tackle for loss and three quarterback hurries, but did not get the start at weakside linebacker because he arrived late to the stadium on Sunday. Bucs head coach Raheem Morris disciplined Hayes and started Matt McCoy at weakside linebacker instead. … Rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller had two tackles in his NFL debut.
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 Jeremy Zuttah
C Donald Penn
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Kellen Winslow
WR Antonio Bryant
RB Cadillac Williams
QB Byron Leftwich
BUCS STARTING DEFENSE
LE Jimmy Wilkerson
DT Ryan Sims
DT Chris Hovan
RE Gaines Adams
WLB Matt McCoy
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Quincy Black
LCB Aqib Talib
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Jermaine Phillips
SS Sabby Piscitelli
MISSING IN ACTION
Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that were declared inactive for Sunday’s game:
QB Josh Freeman (emergency QB)
DE Kyle Moore
DE Maurice Evans
OT Demar Dotson
OL Marc Dile
TE John Gilmore
CB E.J. Biggers
LB Adam Hayward
BUCS IN-GAME INJURIES
Center Jeff Faine suffered an elbow injury in the fourth quarter and did not return. He was replaced by newly acquired center Jonathan Compas. Left guard Jeremy Zuttah injured an ankle in the fourth quarter and was replaced by Marcus Johnson. Wide receiver Antonio Bryant injured his knee in the fourth quarter and didn’t return.
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Cowboys game at Raymond James Stadium was 63,806. The kickoff temperature was 85 degrees under partly cloudy skies with 82 percent humidity and a feels-like temperature of 95 degrees.
The Buccaneers travel to Buffalo to face the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, September 20. Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m. ET