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Tampa Bay's defense held Denver's No. 1-ranked offense to 330 yards of offense and one touchdown on Sunday, but the Bucs still lost to the Broncos, 16-13. To put that in perspective, the Broncos were averaging 435 yards and 30 points per game heading into Sunday's contest.
Denver had a fairly conservative game plan vs. Tampa Bay, opting to run the football early. They did, however, open things up in the passing game in the second half. The Broncos rushed the ball 26 times for 106 yards (4.1 avg.).
Running back Selvin Young carried the ball 10 times for 38 yards. Former Bucs fullback Mike Pittman found success, carrying the ball six times for 39 yards (6.5 avg.). He was effective in running the clock out near the end of the fourth quarter by picking up first downs via the ground game. Quarterback Jay Cutler proved to be fairly difficult to contain. He used his mobility to rush five times for 16 yards.
Tampa Bay's front four failed to generate a pass rush when Cutler did drop back to throw, which allowed him to complete 23-of-34 (67.6 percent) passes for 227 yards. The Bucs did not sack Cutler in the game.
Bucs defensive end Kevin Carter had two tackles vs. the Broncos. He nearly intercepted Cutler on a screen pass in the third quarter, but he dropped the pass near midfield. A few plays later, the Broncos scored their first and only touchdown of the game.
Second-year DE Gaines Adams also registered two tackles. He had a nice run stuff on Broncos RB Andre Hall in the second quarter, but did not provide enough pressure on Cutler. The same can be said for Bucs DE Greg White, who also notched two tackles.
Defensive tackles Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims each notched one tackle. Under tackle Jovan Haye did not record a tackle.
Tampa Bay's defense was excellent in terms of stopping the running game in the first half. Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led the way by stuffing Pittman on a third-and-3 running play in the first quarter, which forced a punt. He also tackled Broncos RB Andre Hall for a 1-yard loss. However, Ruud suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter and did not return. Adam Hayward took his place. Ruud and Hayward notched six and four tackles, respectively.
Bucs linebackers Cato June and Derrick Brooks also contributed. June made a great tackle on Young in the flat for a 1-yard gain after a swing pass in the second quarter. June and Brooks each recorded five tackles.
The Broncos used some play-action passes and bootlegs to open things up in the passing game in the second half, particularly in the short-to-intermediate part of the field. Cutler used tight ends Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham often. Scheffler caught four passes for 65 yards, including a 33-yarder. Graham had one catch for 10 yards.
Denver converted 6-of-15 (40 percent) of its third down attempts on Sunday.
Tampa Bay failed to create a turnover vs. Denver. The Broncos also picked up 13 of their 17 first downs via the passing game. However, the Bucs defense still did a solid job overall vs. the Broncos' No. 1-ranked offense on Sunday.
Bucs strong safety Jermaine Phillips recorded a team-leading nine tackles. He had an impressive pass defensed on Graham in the first half. But Phillips was involved in a few big plays on Sunday. At the start of the third quarter, Phillips was late coming over on Scheffler's 33-yard reception off a bootleg from Cutler. Bucs cornerback Phillip Buchanon also took a bad angle on the play. Phillips also tried to tackle Broncos WR Brandon Stokley, who had six receptions for 52 yards, on his 10-yard touchdown reception ona bubble screen, but to no avail.
Cornerback Ronde Barber recorded seven tackles. He and Phillip Buchanon were solid in coverage, evidenced by the fact that WR Brandon Marshall caught just three passes for 25 yards and rookie WR Eddie Royal caught three passes for 23 yards.
Rookie CB Aqib Talib and safety Tanard Jackson each had one tackle vs. the Broncos.
Tampa Bay rookie return specialist Dexter Jackson struggled mightily vs. Denver after turning in a solid effort the previous week vs. Green Bay. Jackson slid to the ground on his first punt return of the game to avoid contact. He bobbled the opening kickoff of the third quarter, which allowed the ball to go into the end zone for a touchback. After Denver went up 16-6 with a touchdown, Jackson got tackled on the ensuing kickoff at the 18-yard line in the fourth quarter. Midway through the fourth quarter, Jackson did a horrible job of fielding a punt by allowing it to bounce on the 30-yard line and bounce back all the way to the 10-yard line. Jackson eventually fielded the ball and was tackled on the 8-yard line. He averaged 4.8 yards per punt return on four attempts and 16 yards per kickoff return on one try.
Kicker Matt Bryant drilled two field goals vs. Denver. His first attempt was from 33 yards out. It came after the Bucs' second drive of the game stalled in Denver territory. The kick capped off a 7-play, 65-yard drive. Bryant's second field goal came from 31 yards out and capped off an 11-play, 67-yard drive as time expired in the first half.
Bucs punter Josh Bidwell had a busy afternoon. He punted seven times and averaged 49.9 yards per attempt. His longest attempt went for 64 yards. He pinned one of his punts on Denver's 3-yard line in the third quarter.
Linebacker Quincy Black made a great open field tackle on Broncos rookie return specialist Eddie Royal in the second quarter. Denver started that drive at its own 12-yard line. Royal averaged 10.3 yards per punt return. The Broncos averaged just 23 yards per kickoff return. Denver made field goals from 27, 40 and 55 yards out.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden might have had the one of the most conservative game plans he's ever showcased in Tampa Bay. The Bucs rushed the ball just 22 times vs. a suspect Denver defense and quarterback Brian Griese was extremely conservative while completing 13-of-19 passes vs. Denver's 30th-ranked defense. The Bucs had just five penalties, but they were extremely costly on offense. Gruden's offense played not to lose, and that's exactly what happened in Denver. Gruden's decision to settle for a field goal instead of trying to score a touchdown at the second half, and having kicker Matt Bryant kick off instead of attempting an onside kick near the end of the game can be second guessed in Tampa Bay's 16-13 loss.
Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's unit played well vs. Denver's No. 1-ranked offense. It struggled to get after the quarterback and didn't create any turnovers, but the Broncos, who were averaging 30 points per game, scored just one touchdown vs. the Bucs. Denver punted eight times through the first four games of the year. Tampa Bay forced Denver to punt five times on Sunday.
Tampa Bay likely will continue to live and die by its decision to keep rookie wide receiver Dexter Jackson in as the punt and kickoff return specialist. To say Jackson struggled on Sunday and has struggled during the season would be an understatement.