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DEFENSIVE LINE Defensive end Simeon Rice, who is playing with a severe abdominal strain, got a pass deflection on third down early in the second quarter. Rice got a sack and a forced fumble in the second quarter. He played hard despite being hurt, but the injury kept him from playing anywhere near his best. Rice finished with four tackles and his sack.
Nose tackle Chris Hovan was extremely active against the run and produced seven tackles, which was third-highest on the team and tops among defensive linemen.
Despite playing with a leg injury, under tackle Ellis Wyms made his presence felt with a sack in the third quarter on third down and played the run reasonably well. Wyms had five tackles and recorded a sack, which was his fourth on the year and his third-straight game with quarterback capture. Wyms left the game in the fourth quarter due to that previous injury and was replaced by Jon Bradley, who finished with two tackles.
Dewayne White rotated with Greg Spires in the game and had three tackles and a pass deflection. Spires had a nice pressure in the third and batted a ball, but had just one tackle.
Tampa Bay’s defensive line got some pressure on Eli Manning and made several third down stops, although it wasn’t enough to give the Bucs the winning edge. Tampa Bay’s front four were active and aggressive against the run and did a good job of tackling.
LINEBACKERS Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles have lost the burst that they once had. Both linebackers, who are in their early 30s, just can’t shed blockers and make plays from sideline to sideline like they used to. While Quarles recorded a team-high 13 tackles he didn’t make any game-altering impact plays. Brooks finished with six tackles and his play was rather pedestrian at times.
The same could be said for strongside linebacker Ryan Nece, who finished with four tackles and didn’t do much to create turnovers or make any splash plays.
Barrett Ruud came in and spelled Quarles in the third quarter after he was shaken up.
Tampa Bay’s linebacking corps was reactive as opposed to active. The Giants dictated their running game to the Buccaneers linebackers and Tampa Bay didn’t do much to stop it. They slowed down Tiki Barber (68 yards on 26 carries) and Brandon Jacobs (41 yards and one touchdown on seven carries), but didn’t stop them. The Bucs linebackers did a good job covering tight ends Jeremy Shockey (three catches for 15 yards) and Viscanthe Shiancoe (one catch for 13 yards). Tampa Bay’s linebackers did a reasonably good job tackling against the Giants.
DEFENSIVE BACKS Ronde Barber got his second-ever hit on his twin brother, Tiki, on the Giants’ first drive after Tiki ripped off a first down run in the first quarter. The Barber brothers would collide a few other times in the game. Barber, who gave up a tough one-handed catch to Plaxico Burress in the first quarter, had a great blitz on third down early in the second quarter to force a punt. He just struggled against Burress, who had seven catches for 86 yards, but then again, so did every Bucs defensive back. Barber finished with 10 tackles, which was second-best on the team.
Fellow cornerbacks Juran Bolden and Torrie Cox finished with six and one tackle, respectively.
Kalvin Pearson got some playing time in the secondary on a rotational basis with Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen at safety. Pearson finished with three tackles. Phillips, who missed a clear, easy tackle on a 22-yard Barber run in the third quarter, and Allen each had five stops against the Giants.
No one in the secondary stepped up to make game-changing plays against the Giants. With the swirling winds, there were a couple of Eli Manning passes that were up for grabs, but no Buccaneers defensive backs appeared to be in position to make a play on the ball. Aside from Burress, Tampa Bay did a good job of taking away New York’s other receivers.
SPECIAL TEAMS Matt Bryant deserves a tremendous amount of credit for making his 43-yard field goal in the swirling winds of Giants Stadium. He’s reeled off four straight successful field goals over the last two games.
Although he got off one or two wobblers, Josh Bidwell had a good day punting with a 39.7-yard average on his nine punts, one of which traveled 57 yards. He also downed two punts inside the 20-yard line and didn’t produce a touchback.
Ike Hilliard did a very smart job of fielding punts and was courageous in catching a few on the run, but he lacks the speed to make anything really happen and he averaged just 6.5 yards per return on six attempts. Earnest Graham returned a kickoff 13 yards after Michael Pittman bobbled the game’s opening kickoff.
Tampa Bay’s coverage units did a great job against Chad Morton on Sunday. Morton averaged just seven yards per punt return on four opportunities, and just 17.5 yards per kickoff return on a couple of attempts.
COACHING Due to poor field position, Jon Gruden’s play-calling was ultra-conservative in the first quarter. The Bucs wanted to open up their passing game in the second quarter when they had the wind, but Bruce Gradkowski couldn’t connect with Michael Clayton and Joey Galloway downfield due to dropped passes. Gruden ran Cadillac Williams only eight times, which was questionable given the fact that he has a rookie quarterback in unfavorable passing conditions with the stiff wind at the Meadowlands. Gruden elected to go for it on two fourth downs, but neither opportunity resulted in a Bucs first down. While his play-calling can certainly be nit-picked, the complexion of this game is different if either Joey Galloway or Michael Clayton hold on Gradkowski’s deep throws. Poor field position and the wind really limited Gruden’s play-calling options throughout the game.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin did a good job with his squad against the NFL’s number two offense. The Giants were held to 251 yards and none of their three scoring drives were longer than 54 yards. Kiffin called the right blitzes on third downs, resulting in New York converting just 3-of-14 (21 percent) of those opportunities. The defense can only be faulted for not creating turnovers.