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DEFENSIVELINE Defensive end Greg Spires got an 8-yard sack on third-and-2 that forced a punt on the last play of the first quarter. He played the run well for the second straight week and notched an identical seven tackles. Spires is slowing down as a pass rusher, but still managed to get more heat on Rex Grossman than his substitute, rookie Julian Jenkins, did. Jenkins, who needs to add strength in the offseason, got manhandled at times and finished the game with one tackle despite playing a good number of snaps, especially because of the overtime quarter.
Tampa Bay did not get great play out of its under tackles in Chicago. Starter Ellis Wyms, who is still bothered by a high ankle sprain, registered only two tackles, but did get one of the Bucs’ four sacks. Wyms’ backup Jovan Haye did not register a tackle, but played okay in some spots. On third-and-13 in the first quarter, Haye showed his football intelligence by being the first defensive lineman to recognize a screen pass to Thomas Jones and helped contain him before he picked up a third down.
Nose tackle Chris Hovan was shaken up in the first quarter, but returned, only to commit a defensive holding penalty that gave Chicago a first down on third-and-3 after Thomas Jones was stopped for a loss. Hovan didn’t have a great in terms of production (he wasn’t credited with a tackle on the stats sheet although I was sure I saw him get some assists), but he did clog the middle of the line in the run game by taking on double teams.
Right defensive end Dewayne White finished with five tackles and a key, fourth quarter sack on third down to force a punt, but also 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for scrapping with a Bears player. White had a solid game, but this team was hoping that he would step up and provide more impact plays since starting for Simeon Rice, who is on injured reserve. White has been solid, but not too spectacular. He didn’t go up against John Tait today. Instead, White squared off against reserve, John St. Clair.
The Buccaneers defensive line registered three of the team’s four sacks in addition to four hurries. The ends played well, but Tampa Bay needs better production from its defensive tackles. It should be noted that Hovan was held on numerous occasions, including a key third down pass to Rashied Davis in overtime that set up Chicago’s winning field goal. No penalty was called on that play.
LINEBACKERS Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles has been the best linebacker and perhaps the best defensive player on the Buccaneers since returning from injury three games ago. Once again, Quarles led the team in tackles with 15. Quarles is really banged up, but has been solid against the run.
I have never seen a team center its offensive attack in the passing game towards Derrick Brooks like the Bears did today with their tight ends and fullbacks. Most of Chicago’s big plays in the passing game appeared to come in Brooks’ vicinity in zone coverage. Tight end Desmond Clark abused Brooks and the Bucs safeties all day, finishing with seven catches and a career-high 125 yards (17.9 avg.) and two touchdowns. Fullback James McKie had five catches for 34 yards, including a 14-yarder and tight end John Gilmore had an 18-yard grab. To be fair, Brooks did come into the game with a lower leg injury and appeared to reaggravate it during the game. Brooks has lost a step, but he appeared to be even a step slower in coverage and was beat frequently in the passing game. In hindsight, it may have been wise to take Brooks out and play with a healthy Jamie Winborn instead.
Strongside linebacker Ryan Nece finished with six tackles, but didn’t make many impact plays.
Tampa Bay’s linebackers were beat underneath in zone coverage by Chicago’s tight ends and backs, and didn’t force any turnovers. The Bears averaged 3.9 yards per carry and tallied 134 yards rushing against the Bucs.
DEFENSIVE BACKS For the second straight week, Phillip Buchanon started at left cornerback in place of Juran Bolden, who started at nickel corner in place of Torrie Cox. Buchanon missed a couple of tackles, but finished with 10 despite taking a nasty knee to the head from Ryan Nece when making a stop. Buchanon’s coverage was okay, but he wasn’t as aggressive as he was last week against Atlanta.
Strong safety Jermaine Phillips got beat in a one-on-one situation against Bears tight end Desmond Clark for a touchdown in the first quarter. Phillips had decent coverage, but just couldn’t make a play on the ball, which was thrown to Clark’s outside shoulder away from Phillips. Phillips played the run well and finished with nine stops. He was also an effective blitzer, getting to Rex Grossman once for a sack and another time with a pressure. Phillips did get freight-trained at the goal line by Cedric Benson, who bowled him over for a touchdown.
Cornerback Ronde Barber did a great job on a pass breakup intended for Devin Hester. Barber made another great pass breakup on a downfield throw, but was peeved when Phillips came in for a hit and actually ruined a chance for Barber to make an interception. Barber did a good job in pass coverage today, but did give up a key, 28-yard pass to Rashied Davis on third down in overtime that helped set up the game-winning field goal. However, Barber contested that the ball had hit the ground and that Davis didn’t make the catch. Television replays appeared to support that notion although the instant replay booth never stopped play to challenge the call.
Safety Kalvin Pearson took a big shot on third down after biting on play action and giving up a big first down gain to the Tampa Bay 32-yard line. Pearson finished with four tackles while subbing in for Will Allen. Allen was late getting over on Clark’s second touchdown and didn’t make any plays in the passing game, but he finished the contest with eight tackles.
Tampa Bay’s defensive backs didn’t miss too many tackles and played pretty well against the run. However, like the linebackers, Tampa Bay’s safeties were targeted and taken advantage of by Chicago’s safeties and fullbacks.
SPECIAL TEAMS Chicago’s superstar rookie return man Devin Hester’s first kick return was a 27-yarder. His first punt return was a 19-yarder. Hester’s longest return of the day was a 32-yard punt return – but that’s it. Hester averaged a human 10.5 yards on six punt returns, and was stymied on kick returns with a pedestrian 15.2-yard average. Tampa Bay’s special teams unit was inspired to go up against a challenge like the one Hester, who has an NFL-record six special teams touchdowns, brings to the table.
Tampa Bay’s special teams recorded 14 tackles on the day, led by linebacker Wesley Mallard, who had three stops and a key fumble recovery. Safeties Jermaine Phillips and Blue Adams had two tackles apiece while Adams forced the Hester fumble that was recovered by Wesley. Phillips also got Hester to fumble, as did safety Kalvin Pearson, but the Bucs couldn’t recover either loose ball.
Matt Bryant’s only field goal, a 45-yarder was good. Bryant had a pooch kickoff on the ensuing kickoff, but he didn’t kick it far enough and the Bears wound up with the ball at their own 44-yard line, which was disappointing.
Punter Josh Bidwell averaged 44.5 yards per punt today and did a good job of not giving Hester many opportunities for big returns. On the one 32-yard return, Bidwell did a nice job of slowing up Hester and forcing him out of bounds to prevent a touchdown.
While Tampa Bay’s coverage units shined, the Bucs’ return units weren’t as successful. Mark Jones averaged just 6.6 yards on seven punt returns, and Torrie Cox and Michael Pittman averaged 19.5 yards per return.
If not for quarterback Tim Rattay’s late-game heroics, the Bucs special teams unit would have been the game MVP for their sensational coverage of Hester today. Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia, who has come under fire from fans, deserves major props for the focus and performance his squad showed today.
COACHING Jon Gruden’s decision to pooch kick instead of kicking to Devin Hester backfired when the Bears got great starting field position at their own 45. The fact that the Bucs offense didn’t run the ball enough to burn time off the clock near the end of the first half. That gave the Bears enough time to drive the field and allow Clark to score a touchdown with 23 seconds left in the half. From a game management standpoint, Gruden didn’t fare too well. And don’t criticize Gruden for not throwing a flag and challenging Rashied Davis’ 28-yard catch in overtime that set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal. The instant replay booth controls all replay challenges, and for some reason, that play was not reviewed despite a replay that showed the pass may have hit the ground, as Ronde Barber argued that it did. That was a real questionable call and may have played a huge roll in the Bucs’ loss. The officiating in this game was very questionable.
From an offensive playcalling standpoint, Gruden called a good game. It’s amazing what a veteran quarterback can do in Gruden’s passing game. Gruden made the right call to bench Bruce Gradkowski and go with Tim Rattay. The move paid off and Rattay needs to start the next two games. Gruden will be stubborn about this decision because it appears in hindsight that he made the wrong move in not benching Gradkowski sooner if Rattay can play like he did in the second half of the Bears game, but he needs to admit that Rattay is the way to go for the rest of the season. Despite Gruden’s flowerly praise and unwavering support for Gradkowski to the media, he has to admit that the rookie QB hit a wall and the best thing for him now will be to sit and watch instead of further destroying his confidence.
Gruden did the right thing about playing Gradkowski for 11 games. He now knows what he has and where Gradkowski’s strengths and deficiencies are. It’s doubtful that the Bucs would have made the playoffs under Rattay, and at the end of the season, a 3-13 record will be much more beneficial to the franchise on draft day than a possible 6-10 or 7-9 mark under Rattay would have been.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin once again used some plays out of a 3-4 defense to mix things up for Chicago. But Kiffin could not get his players to properly contain tight end Desmond Clark. Tampa Bay’s linebackers and safeties bought Rex Grossman’s play-action fakes too many times and the proper adjustments weren’t made until Chicago had 31 points on the board.
Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia had a great game plan for stopping Devin Hester, and for the most part it worked. His coverage unit played superbly.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org