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DO THE BEARS HAVE A LEGIT GRIPE?
In the days following Tampa Bay's 27-24 overtime win over Chicago, some comments have been made by Bears players, columnists and fans regarding their belief that Chicago was robbed by a personal foul penalty call on cornerback Charles Tillman in overtime.
Do the Bears have a legit gripe? Well, the San Diego Chargers have a valid complaint regarding the blown call on Denver quarterback Jay Cutler's incomplete pass/fumble from two weeks ago. After further review, the Chicago Bears, on the other hand, do not. If they want to point the finger somewhere, they should point it at themselves.
Bucs left tackle Donald Penn was flagged for a personal foul in the first quarter, and he wasn't the only guilty party in that scuffle, just like Tillman wasn't the only culprit in the overtime skirmish. Call it a wash.
Anyone that feels the Bears were hosed in Sunday's loss needs a heavy dose of reality. The reality is Chicago had several chances to put Tampa Bay away, and failed to do it each time. That's what Bears fans and columnists should be peeved about, not a personal foul call on Tillman and a non-call on Bucs tackle Jeremy Trueblood.
Let's start with the first half, where the Bears offense started drives at Tampa Bay's 15, 18 and 38-yard line, yet came away with just six points.
Now fastforward to the first drive of the fourth quarter. Chicago had the ball and drove into Tampa Bay territory with a 17-14 lead. The Bears had a chance to go up 20-14, but kicker Robbie Gould missed a 49-yard field goal.
That's important to note because the Bears scored a touchdown on their next drive after intercepting quarterback Brian Griese. That touchdown made the score 24-14. Tampa Bay battled back to erase a 10-point deficit and send the game into overtime, but had Gould made the 49-yard field goal Chicago's lead would have been 13 points, not 10, and the game might have been out of reach for the Bucs.
Chicago had another chance to end the game with 3:20 remaining in the fourth quarter on a third-and-10 play. Bears cornerback Danieal Manning blitzed and batted Griese's pass up in the air to force the incompletion and punt. Had Manning been able to locate the ball it was well within his reach to intercept it. Instead, the ball fell incomplete and the Bucs were able to kick a 35-yard field goal to pull the score within seven points.
When Chicago got the ball back it set itself up in a third-and-2 situation and had a chance to basically kill the clock with a first down. But linebackers Cato June and Barrett Ruud had something to say about that when they tackled Bears QB Kyle Orton short of the first down marker to force a punt.
Once Tampa Bay got the ball back and the clock was at 1:40 and counting, another one of Griese's passes was nearly intercepted by CB Nathan Vasher, but he couldn't hold onto the pick while diving for it. Seven plays later, Griese hit tight end Jerramy Stevens for a 1-yard touchdown to tie the game and send it into overtime.
Chicago's final blown opportunity to defeat Tampa Bay came with 8:00 remaining in overtime. The Bears had forced the Bucs offense to go three-and-out and punt from their own 8-yard line, which more than likely meant the Bears offense was going to get the ball back near field goal range. Instead, Tillman was called for the personal foul penalty, which gave Tampa Bay's offense a new set of downs and allowed the Bucs to drive the field and win the game with a field goal.
The Bears had their chances to win Sunday's game, and blaming the officials for a controversial call/non-call on the play involving Tillman just isn't fair to the Bucs, especially when one considers the fact that Tampa Bay still had to drive from its own 25-yard line down to Chicago's 4-yard line to kick the game-winning 21-yard field goal in overtime.
DEFENSIVE STATS CAN BE DECEIVING
Tampa Bay's defense has finished 10 of the past 11 seasons ranked in the top 10 in the NFL under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
But after three regular season games, the Bucs are ranked nowhere near the top 10 in total defense. Instead, Tampa Bay currently is ranked near the bottom of the league, 26th to be exact. The last time the Bucs defense finished a season ranked lower than 26th overall was back in 1995. The Bucs finished the season ranked 27th that year, which is when the NFL only had 30 teams as opposed to the 32 that exist now.
Tampa Bay is allowing 359 yards per game thus far. But this stat and the Bucs' overall defensive ranking is misleading due to the fact that they don't take into account three key statistics – third down conversion percentage, turnovers and red zone defense.
The Bucs have been solid on all three fronts. Tampa Bay has notched four interceptions and recovered two fumbles through three games. In addition, two of those picks have been returned for touchdowns.
"We want to score on defense," said Bucs linebacker Cato June. "We want to get off the field on third down and get the ball back for our offense, but we have every intention on going out there and scoring on defense each time we're out there. We've scored twice already this season, but that hasn't been enough. If that were the case we'd be 3-0 instead of 2-1."
Last season, Tampa Bay's defense ranked No. 2 overall at the end of 2007, but it allowed opposing offenses to convert over 41 percent of their third down tries. That was the first time the Bucs defense had allowed opposing offenses to convert over 40 percent of their third down attempts in over a decade.
This season, the Bucs are allowing opposing offenses to convert just 34 percent of their third downs, which is impressive.
"We don't concern ourselves with stats," said Bucs safety Jermaine Phillips. "When it comes down to it we concern ourselves with wins and losses. We know that there is yardage there, but we also know that getting off the field on third downs and creating turnovers is going to play a big role in helping us win. We're not concerned with finishing number one overall. That would be nice, but we'll take a world championship over a number one defense any day."
The one stat the Bucs did concern themselves with during the offseason was red zone defense, which was suspect at best last year. So far, so good on that front this season. Opposing offenses have been inside Tampa Bay's 20-yard line eight times through three games, and the Bucs have allowed just two touchdowns while the other six drives ended with field goals. That production, or lack thereof for opposing offenses, has the Bucs ranked tied for No. 2 overall in the NFL in red zone defense.
Bucs fans shouldn't be too alarmed. Kiffin's unit is pretty close to turning things around, and there's plenty of time for Tampa Bay to move up in the defensive rankings as long as it can limit the unusual number of big plays it's allowing downfield and the offense can limit the number of favorable situations it has been putting opposing offenses in due to turnovers.
BUCS ENCOURAGED BY SACK TOTALS
The pass rush Tampa Bay sustained vs. Chicago might have been the best outing we've seen from the Buccaneers defensive line in years.
Tampa Bay produced three sacks in the win over Chicago. Two of those quarterback takedowns were generated by defensive linemen while another came via a blitz by cornerback Ronde Barber. However, there were several more quarterback pressures and disruptive plays made by the front four throughout last Sunday's game.
The Bucs now have eight sacks on the season through three games. That puts Tampa Bay on pace to notch 43 sacks this season. That would certainly be improvement over the past three years, where the Bucs notched 36, 25 and 33 sacks in 2005, 2006 and 2007, respectively.
More sacks doesn't necessarily translate into more wins, evidenced by the fact that Tampa Bay recorded 45 sacks en route to producing a 5-11 record in 2004. However, sacks are always a good thing and are critical to the success of Monte Kiffin's defense.
The Bucs are on pace to record 43 sacks in 2008. When was the last time Tampa Bay produced that same number of sacks in a season? It was 2002, the same year the Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII.
IT'S BEEN A WHILE SINCE THE BUCS FACED FAVRE-LESS PACKERS
Tampa Bay and Green Bay used to clash twice a season as members of the old NFC Central division. That was until 2002, which was when the NFL formed new divisions and realigned teams, placing the Bucs and Packers in the newly formed NFC South and NFC North divisions, respectively.
One interesting note from Tampa Bay's upcoming game vs. Green Bay on Sunday pertains to former Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who was traded to the New York Jets in August.
The Bucs expressed interest in Favre before he was dealt to New York, and it's no wonder why seeing as he went 13-7 in his meetings with Tampa Bay.
The last 20 meetings between the Bucs and Packers featured Favre at quarterback for Green Bay, but that streak will end this Sunday when Aaron Rodgers lines up under center for the Packers.
"It's going to be weird. It's weird every time I turn the television on and Brett Favre is in a Jets uniform," said Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan. "Aaron Rodgers has been there for three years and they know what they've been doing with the kid. They've been bringing him along to put him on this stage, and now it's his stage to perform on."
While Favre had Tampa Bay's number for all but seven of those 20 meetings, the Bucs had some success vs. Green Bay at Raymond James Stadium, where they are 5-1 all-time vs. the Packers. The Favre streak will die on Sunday, but the Bucs are hoping to keep their success at home vs. the Packers very much alive.
BUCS WORKING ON EXTENSION FOR RUUD
The Bucs spent the offseason working on contract extensions for several players. Some deals came to fruition, like contracts for fullback B.J. Askew and defensive end Greg White, while others have not, including quarterback Jeff Garcia and cornerback Phillip Buchanon.
But Tampa Bay isn't just focused on players whose contracts are set to expire at the end of the 2008 regular season.
Pewter Report has learned that the Bucs and the agent for middle linebacker Barrett Ruud have already had preliminary discussions regarding a contract extension for the 2005 second-round draft pick.
The Bucs could have more salary cap room than any other team in the NFL in 2009. While some fans have been frustrated with Tampa Bay's lack of spending in free agency, the Bucs' front office insists its main priority is to use the majority of its available cap room on its own players, including Ruud.
Ruud, 25, is under contract through the 2009 season, but his future could be dictated by what happens with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. If the CBA is not extended, Ruud would not become an unrestricted free agent until 2010. While the uncertainty surrounding the CBA could make it difficult to extend Ruud's contract this year or next, both sides are interested in keeping him in Tampa Bay for the foreseeable future.