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DEFENSIVE LINE Tampa Bay's defense was sound in terms of slowing down Philadelphia's ground attack, but the Eagles called just five running plays in the first half. Eagles running back Brian Westbrook carried the ball three times for just 8 yards in the first two quarters and finished the game with six carries for 18 yards (3.0 avg.) and one touchdown.
Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who returned to action after missing the last two games with a rib injury, didn't have much rust to shake off. The Bucs pass rush was nearly non-existent in the first half, which allowed McNabb to complete 8-of-11 passes for 180 yards and toss three touchdowns. McNabb broke off big yardage on two carries of his own, which went for 13 and 17 yards.
The most impressive player along Tampa Bay's defensive line was left defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson. On Philadelphia's second drive of the game, Wilkerson did a nice job of chasing down McNabb on a third-and-15 play to stop him for no gain, a sack and force the Eagles to punt. On the first drive of the third quarter on third-and-8, Wilkerson got a hand up to knock down McNabb's pass toward to the right sideline to force a punt. On the next drive, Wilkerson recorded another sack after McNabb held onto he ball too long. In what might have been his best game as a Buc, Wilkerson finished Sunday's contest with six tackles, three sacks, one tackle for a loss, two quarterback hurries and one pass defensed. Wilkerson was the only Bucs defensive lineman to record a QB hurry, which helps explain why McNabb completed 16-of-21 (76.1 percent) passes for 263 yards and tossed three touchdowns.
Bucs right defensive end Gaines Adams started Sunday despite missing practice time during the week with an ankle injury. He was not effective in terms of pressuring McNabb. Midway through the second quarter Adams batted down a pass on a first down play. Adams, who faced some double teams, didn't record a tackle or quarterback pressure against the Eagles on Sunday.
Bucs backup DE Tim Crowder made a nice tackle on Westbrook for 1-yard loss in backfield late in first quarter to set up third-and-7 play, but the Eagles converted the first down on the next play. That was Crowder's only tackle of the game.
Bucs defensive tackles Ryan Sims, Chris Hovan and rookie Roy Miller were solid against the run, but didn't push he pocket enough on passing plays. They each had one tackle in the game.
LINEBACKERS Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud had an impressive first half. On Philly's second drive of the contest, Wilkerson chased down McNabb on a third-and-5 passing play for no gain, but Ruud is the one that made the play possible when he spied McNabb and forced the quarterback to move to his right towards Wilkerson. That stop was huge as the Eagles had to punt from deep in their own territory. However, Tampa Bay's ensuing offensive drive stalled after a failed fourth-and-2 attempt. On the next drive, Ruud did a great job of diagnosing a screen play to Westbrook. He made a great tackle on the elusive running back for a loss. But Westbrook found success against Ruud midway through the third quarter when McNabb threw to him one-on-one for a 20-yard reception to Tampa Bay's 7-yard line. One play later, Westbrook scored his first rushing touchdown of the season by running over Ruud on his way into the end zone to put the Eagles up 28-7. Ruud led the team in tackles with nine and had one tackle for a loss.
Bucs LB Geno Hayes has been decent in pass coverage this season, but he trailed fullback Leonard Weaver on his 20-yard touchdown reception down the left sideline in the second quarter. It capped off a six-play, 76-yard drive and put the Eagles up 14-0. Hayes had two tackles while OLB Quincy Black contributed just one tackle against the Eagles.
SECONDARY McNabb and the Eagles offense set the tone early. On Philadelphia's second offensive play of the game, McNabb dropped back to throw out of a comfortable pocket and fired a deep strike to rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who beat Bucs cornerback Elbert Mack for the 51-yard touchdown reception, which capped off a two-play, 64-yard drive and put Philly up 7-0. Maclin wasn't done, though.
Tanard Jackson returned from his four-game suspension and started at free safety for Tampa Bay. However, backup S Will Allen saw a significant amount of playing time and didn't fare well. Midway through the second quarter, McNabb threw a nice pass to tight end Brent Celek across the middle of the field for a 38-yard gain with Allen trailing in coverage. A few plays later, McNabb connected with Maclin for a 17-yard gain across the middle of the field to Tampa Bay's 20-yard line. Those plays eventually helped the Eagles get in position to score Weaver's 20-yard TD.
Late in the second quarter, McNabb found Maclin deep again, this time throwing a 40-yard touchdown strike to the rookie receiver, who had beaten Allen on the play. That score capped off a two-play, 57-yard drive and put the Eagles up 21-7. Late in the third quarter, McNabb threw a 16-yard completion to Maclin again with Allen in coverage. That catch put the Eagles on the Bucs' 32-yard line. The Eagles eventually settled for a 44-yard field goal to go up 31-7. That field goal capped off a 12-play, 64-yard drive. Late in the fourth quarter, Eagles QB Michael Vick launched a pass deep downfield to Maclin, who was covered by Mack. The pass was underthrown, but Maclin nearly hauled it in at the 2-yard line before the ball fell incomplete.
Maclin finished Sunday's game with a team-high six receptions for 142 yards (23.7 avg.) and two touchdowns. Celek also gave the Bucs defense fits and recorded four catches for 58 yards (14.5 avg.). Allen notched two tackles while Jackson, who also played some nickel corner for the Bucs, turned in three tackedowns.
The Eagles wisely avoided throwing to WR DeShaun Jackson, who was covered most of the game by Bucs CB Aqib Talib, who had three interceptions last week. Late in the first quarter on a third-and-18 play, McNabb attempted to hit Jackson near the right sideline, but Talib made a great play on the ball to force the incompletion. Jackson had just one catch for 1 yard in this game.
Bucs CB Ronde Barber was solid in coverage, but missed a tackle in the flat on rookie RB LaShawn McCoy, who managed to pick up a first down on the play late in the third quarter. On the next play, McCoy lined up in the Wild Cat formation and broke off a 10-yard run down the left side of the field. Late in the fourth quarter, Vick lined up in the shotgun formation and broke off an 11-yard run on a missed tackle by Barber to pick up a first down. Barber and Talib each recorded three tackles.
Late in the fourth quarter, Bucs S Sabby Piscitelli was called for holding on Celek. That penalty put the Eagles on the Bucs' 49-yard line. He had one tackle against the Eagles.
The Eagles rushed 21 times for 76 yards (3.6 avg.) and one score. Philly was 4-of-10 (40 percent) on third down attempts while producing 325 yards of total offense. In his first game back from a rib injury, McNabb had a QB rating of 157.2 and tossed three touchdown passes. The Bucs secondary also failed to create any turnovers in this game.
SPECIAL TEAMS Bucs punter Dirk Johnson had another solid outing, averaging 40.3 yards per punt on four attempts. His 51-yarder in the first quarter pinned the Eagles offense on their own 5-yard line.
New Tampa Bay kicker Shane Andrus didn't kick a field goal in Philadelphia even though the Bucs were in position to do so a few times. While he made both of his extra point attempts, Andrus' first kickoff of the game wasn't too impressive. However, Andrus pulled off a surprise onside kick midway through the fourth quarter, which allowed CB Elbert Mack to recover the ball at the 40-yard line.
Bucs LB Matt McCoy was called for a holding penalty on a long kickoff return by running back Clifton Smith late in the second quarter. Smith had returned the ball to near midfield, but the penalty forced the Bucs to start the drive at their own 24-yard line. Smith was impressive throughout the game, averaging 9.0 yards per punt return and 30.0 yards per kickoff return. His longest kickoff return of the game gained 38 yards.
Tampa Bay's special teams coverage units did a nice job of containing dangerous Philly return man DeSean Jackson, who averaged just 4.0 yards per punt return. The Eagles averaged just 13.0 yards per kickoff return.
COACHING Tampa Bay had 188 yards of total offense in the first half, but scored just seven points in the first two quarters against Philadelphia. That's because Bucs head coach Raheem Morris declined to attempt field goals from 43 and 39 yards out, instead electing to go for it on fourth-and-2 and fourth-and-inches. Neither play was successful. After Tampa Bay's fourth-and-inches attempt failed, Morris wisely challenged quarterback Josh Johnson's fumble and recovery after Philly had recovered the ball and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. That score was overturned as replay showed that Johnson had recovered the ball, but the Eagles still got the ball back.
Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson was much more aggressive in his play calling for Johnson compared to the game vs. Washington last week. Johnson engineered a five-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a TD to tight end Kellen Winslow in the second quarter. Tampa Bay's promising two-minute drive towards the end of the same quarter ended when Johnson threw an interception in the end zone with just six seconds remaining. The Bucs were inside the Eagles 10-yard line before the turnover. Things only got worse for Johnson in the second half, when he threw two more picks. He finished the game 26-of-50 for 240 yards and tossed two TDs and three picks. Granted, the Bucs fell behind the Eagles early, but Olson must do a better job of involving the running backs, who carried the ball just 17 times for 45 yards on Sunday.
Tampa Bay dominated the time of possession in the first half, 21:07 to 8:53. But the Eagles produced two different two-play touchdown drives, both ending with McNabb connecting with Maclin for 51- and 40-yard TDs. The two-play scoring drives continued in the third quarter when it took the Eagles just two plays to go 27 yards to score a touchdown after a Johnson interception. While Bucs defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson recorded three sacks in this game, the pass rush wasn't good enough against McNabb.
The Bucs converted 50 percent of their third downs and won the time of possession by nearly 10 minutes against the Eagles, who had 10 penalties for 111 yards. The fact that Tampa Bay still lost this game by 19 points suggests Philadelphia clearly was the better team on the football field Sunday.