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Defensive end Dewayne White showed great awareness on Cleveland’s first pass attempt by deflecting it. White got shaken up on the Browns’ first series when he took a helmet from Greg Spires to the back on a pass rush. White got good pressure on Browns quarterback Derek Anderson in the fourth quarter and forced an errant pass that was picked off by Derrick Brooks, who returned it for a touchdown. White finished with three tackles.
Under tackle Jovan Haye, who Tampa Bay plucked off Cleveland’s practice squad, had a solid day stuffing the run along with nose tackle Chris Hovan. Haye had three tackles and played as well as starter Ellis Wyms, who had one tackle and two quarterback pressures. Rookie Julian Jenkins also had one tackle as he rotated along the defensive line.
Hovan had a great game against the run, finishing with a team-high eight tackles and his second sack of the season, which knocked Anderson out of the game in the fourth quarter.
Spires got a key, third-quarter sack against Anderson inside Tampa Bay’s red zone, setting up a third-and-14. He added another sack on Ken Dorsey’s first snap at quarterback. In addition to his season-high two sacks, Spires posted four tackles and four quarterback hurries.
Cleveland only had 109 yards of offense in the first half and finished with just 187. Tampa Bay’s active and inspired defensive line had a lot to do with that.
Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles didn’t do a great job with his drops in pass coverage in Cover 2 early in the game. However, his play against the run was stout. Quarles finished with four tackles on the day.
Weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks, who saw his consecutive Pro Bowl streak end at nine this year, picked off Derek Anderson in the fourth quarter and returned the interception 21 yards for a touchdown that put Tampa Bay up 19-0. Brooks had seven tackles and one pass breakup in the game and played inspired football after a rough outing against Chicago last week.
Strongside linebacker Ryan Nece had good coverage against the Browns backs and tight ends, but did not record a tackle.
Browns running back Reuben Droughns had some success against the Buccaneers defense, with 91 yards on the ground, but he never really hurt Tampa Bay. The Bucs linebackers did a really solid job in pass coverage.
Safety Jermaine Phillips intercepted a pass that deflected off Browns tight end Kellen Winslow to start the second quarter. Phillips picked off another pass in the second quarter that was intended for Winslow and had his best game as a Buccaneer. Phillips, who has over 100 tackles for the first time in his career, had several big hits in the game, finishing with four tackles and a team-high three passes defensed.
Phillip Buchanon got the third start of his Buccaneers career in place of Juran Bolden, who started at the nickel corner. Buchanon picked off Anderson in the fourth quarter to record his second interception as a Buccaneer. He also had two passes defensed and two tackles.
Cornerback Ronde Barber had two tackles and did a good job blanketing Joe Jurevicius (four catches for 58 yards) and Braylon Edwards (two catches for seven yards).
Free safety Will Allen needs to be replaced next year. He just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to be a starter. He failed to take down Kellen Winslow on a 16-yard catch when he had a clear shot at him. Allen finished with two tackles, but didn’t make any plays in the passing game. While Phillips is coming on and being more aggressive, Allen isn’t raising his level of play.
Bolden had two tackles and reserve safety Kalvin Pearson had one stop against Cleveland.
Tampa Bay’s secondary matched up well against Cleveland’s wide receivers. The Bucs only gave up one pass over 20 yards in the game and the secondary picked off Anderson three times.
The Buccaneers special teams started off rough on the opening kickoff. After an offsides call forced a re-kick, and Matt Bryant’s ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, which allowed Cleveland to start at its own 45-yard. Bryant did get Tampa Bay on the scoreboard first with a 23-yard field goal in the first quarter. Bryant also added a 24-yard field goal that allowed the Bucs to have a 6-0 halftime. Bryant finished the day 3-of-3 after adding a 37-yarder to give Tampa Bay a 22-7 lead late in the fourth quarter. Bryant is now 17-of-21 on the year (80.9 percent).
Bryant did have his extra point blocked when Jeremy Trueblood didn’t get a shoulder into Browns safety Sean Jones, who came free to deny the Bucs a point after touchdown.
Tampa Bay got into the blocking game with guard Jeb Terry lending a helping hand, blocking Phil Dawson’s 31-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. That play helped the Bucs maintain their 12-0 lead.
The Bucs didn’t have the chance to return any of the Browns’ three punts, and averaged only 16.5 yards on two kick returns. Torrie Cox returned his opportunity 22 yards, while upback Jerald Sowell returned a short kickoff 11 yards.
Tampa Bay’s coverage teams were phenomenal once again, limiting Dennis Northcutt to 13 yards on his lone punt return, and holding Cleveland to 16.2 yards per kick return. Joshua Cribbs averaged 19.8 yards on four kick returns. Wesly Mallard led the way on Tampa Bay’s coverage teams with two tackles.
Punter Josh Bidwell averaged 41.5 yards on his two punts, downing one inside the 20-yard line and not having a touchback.
The Bucs special teams have turned into a force this year with their only deficiencies being in the punt return and kick return areas. Their only gaffe today was a blocked extra point. Tampa Bay’s coverage units are dominant.
Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden’s decision to start Tim Rattay at quarterback paid off as he generated more big plays downfield than Bruce Gradkowski did – four plays to be exact. Gruden’s offense didn’t capitalize as much as it should have inside the red zone, but it was productive enough to win. The receivers stepped up with big catches and didn’t have any big drops. The offensive line and the running backs synced up to produce 153 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Gruden did a good job using all three backs – Michael Pittman, Mike Alstott and Earnest Graham. His play-calling was steady and effective.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin really got his players fired up. The pass rush came alive with three key sacks and eight big pressures. That pressure helped force four interceptions, including one that produced a touchdown. Kiffin’s play-calling confused the Browns quarterbacks all day. A superb job by Kiffin and the defense.
Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia has done a great job of getting his squads motivated. Tampa Bay’s special teams have been outstanding lately. Don’t be surprised when Bisaccia is awarded Pewter Report’s Assistant Coach Of The Year in our January issue. I’ll have more on Bisaccia next week in my SR’s Fab Five column. Stay tuned.
The bottom line is that the coaches got the players to play a “meaningless” game on the road. The Bucs came out with a lot of energy and gumption and got its first road win of the year.
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