Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden brought Hall of Famer Deacon Jones in to give the Buccaneers a pre-game speech on the eve of their game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Jones helped Tampa Bay's coaching staff challenge the Bucs defense, and the pep talk apparently worked.
The Bucs defense set the tone for Sunday's game, holding the Cardinals to just 78 yards of offense in the first half and 195 yards in the game en route to a 17-10 win.
Although it didn't record any sacks, Tampa Bay's defensive line pressured Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner early and often. As a result, Warner completed just 10-of-30 passes for 172 yards and tossed two interceptions.
Tampa Bay's front four was also outstanding vs. Arizona's ground attack, which was led by running back Edgerrin James, who rushed nine times for just 15 yards (1.7 avg.) and one touchdown. The Cardinals rushed for a total of 23 yards on 12 carries.
The Bucs absolutely dominated the time of possession, 43:07 to 16:53. In fact, the Cardinals had produced just 110 yards of offense and were 0-of-7 on third down conversions through the first three quarters of the game. They ran a total of just five offensive plays in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay defensive end Greg Spires missed Sunday's game with a calf injury, which allowed rookie Gaines Adams to make his first career start vs. Arizona. The Cardinals attempted to test Adams early by running along the perimeter on the left side of the line, but Adams held his own. He showed good athleticism in the second quarter on a third-and-9 play when he dropped back in zone coverage and nearly intercepted a pass thrown by Warner. That play forced an incompletion and punt. Adams spent a significant amount of time playing left end during the second half. He recorded one tackle, two quarterback hurries and one pass defensed on Sunday.
With Adams playing left end quite a bit during the second half, the Bucs used DE Greg White on the right side. He was effective, producing two quarterback hurries and two tackles.
Bucs under tackle Jovan Haye and defensive end Kevin Carter led the team in tackles with four and three, respectively. They also combined for three quarterback hurries. The fact that these two defensive linemen led the team tackles is a testament Tampa Bay's ability to keep Arizona's potentially potent offense off the field for the majority of the game.
Tampa Bay nose tackle Chris Hovan notched two tackles. Backup DT Ryan Sims saw some playing time in Sunday's game and performed well. Sims got in the game midway through the second quarter and blew into the backfield and stuffed James for a 1-yard loss on a first down play. He finished the game with two tackles.
Tampa Bay's front four didn't need much help from the linebackers in terms of stopping the run. Strongside linebacker Cato June led this unit with two tackles. He also had one pass defensed. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud only recorded one tackle.
Weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks recorded two tackles. Midway through the second quarter, Brooks blitzed on a running play. He over pursued James on the play, but he did a great job of shooting back into the hole and tackling him from behind. On the very next play, Brooks nearly intercepted a short pass from Warner.
Tampa Bay's defense wasn't on the field long enough for the linebackers to drive up their tackle totals. In fact, the Cardinals ran just 42 offensive plays compared to the Bucs' 77 plays.
With the exception of an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive Arizona produced in the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay's defense completely dominated the Cardinals offense.
Warner completed just 3-of-13 passes for 63 yards in the first half and finished Sunday's contest with a quarterback rating of 26.0.
The Bucs received tremendous play from their starting safeties – Jermaine Phillips and rookie Tanard Jackson.
Phillips came up huge on Arizona's first offensive drive of the game when he broke up a pass across the middle of the field intended for WR Jerheme Urban. Urban caught the pass, but Phillips drilled him in the air, which caused the incompletion and forced the Cardinals to kick a 47-yard field goal. Midway through the second quarter, Phillips used a hard hit to break up another pass across the middle, this time to WR Anquan Boldin. That play put the Cardinals in a third-and-11 situation. Early in third quarter, Phillips was late coming over to Boldin on a sideline pass that picked up 16 yards and a first down. Midway through the fourth quarter, Phillips was late coming over on a third down pass to Fitzgerald to the Bucs' 10-yard line, which resulted in a first down. But Phillips helped secure the win for the Bucs late in the fourth quarter when he raced over to the left sideline and intercepted Warner's errant pass. While replay showed that Phillips only got one foot in bounds, the interception stood since it happened with 2:30 remaining in the game and Arizona was out of timeouts. Phillips finished the game with two tackles, one interception and two passes defensed.
Jackson recorded the first turnover of the game on the first play of the second quarter with Arizona on its own 4-yard line. Warner threw a pass across the middle of the field to tight end Leonard Pope, but Jackson played the ball well and managed to haul it in for a pick despite the fact that Pope grabbed his face mask while bringing him down to the turf. That interception and 15-yard facemask penalty gave Tampa Bay's offense the ball at Arizona's 17-yard line. It led to the Bucs' 32-yard field goal, which put them up 10-3 over the Cardinals. Jackson was outstanding in pass coverage, notching a team-high five passes defensed. He added two tackles and one interception.
Warner tested Tampa Bay's secondary early. On the second play of the game, Warner play-action faked to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber bit on it, which drew him to the line of scrimmage and allowed Fitzgerald to run down the left sideline wide open. Warner's pass to Fitzgerald was perfect and resulted in a 47-yard gain before the receiver accidentally stepped out of bounds at the Bucs' 33-yard line. Arizona capped off that six-play, 59-yard drive with 47-yard field goal, which put the Cardinals up 3-0 in the first quarter. But Barber bounced back. On the next drive, Barber nearly picked off Warner on his pass attempt to Fitzgerald close to the middle of the field. Late in the second quarter, Barber nearly picked off Warner again, but the ball bounced off of his hands and over his head. Barber finished the game with two tackles and one pass defensed on Sunday.
Although Brian Kelly (groin) was able to play Sunday, CB Phillip Buchanon started in his place vs. the Cardinals. He recorded one tackle. Kelly still saw a significant amount of playing time as Arizona often times spread the field with three- and four-receiver sets. He recorded one tackle and one passes defensed, which came in the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay's defense had a total of 11 passes defensed vs. Arizona. It only allowed Fitzgerald to haul in four passes for 95 yards and Boldin to catch three passes for 40 yards.
Bucs kicker Matt Bryant took advantage of Jackson's interception in the second quarter by kicking a 32-yard field goal, which put Tampa Bay up 10-3. However, Bryant struggled after that kick. With just two seconds remaining in the first half, Bryant's 58-yard field goal attempt fell well short. His biggest miss came in the fourth quarter. After the offense's 18-play, 86-yard drive stalled, Bryant attempted and missed a 26-yard field goal, which kept the score at 17-3 in favor of the Bucs. Arizona drove 80 yards on 11 plays and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive.
Punter Josh Bidwell was outstanding. He punted six times and averaged 49.7 yards per attempt. His best punt came late in the first quarter when he placed the ball on Arizona's own 3-yard line, which allowed wide receiver Maurice Stovall to down the ball. Bidwell had a long of 57 on the day.
Wide receiver Michael Spurlock, who was called up from the practice squad to the active roster earlier in the week, returned kickoffs for the Bucs. His first attempt went just 22 yards. However, Spurlock took his second attempt 35 yards, giving him an average of 28.5 yards per return.
Bucs CB Phillip Buchanon fielded three of the team's four punt returns on Sunday. He averaged just 3.7 yards per attempt. Bucs WR Ike Hilliard had one return for 8 yards.
Tampa Bay's coverage teams were solid. Arizona averaged just 7 yards per punt return and 20.3 yards per kickoff return.
Although he had a false start penalty, Stovall was outstanding in coverage. Stovall, safety Kalvin Pearson and linebacker Adam Hayward each recorded two tackles on special teams.
Tampa Bay's defense didn't notch any sacks, but its pass rush might have been the best it has had all season long. Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin deserves a lot of credit for a game plan that limited Arizona's 11th-ranked offense to just 195 yards and just 2-of-10 (20 percent) on third down conversions.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's game offensive game plan was good enough to produce 350 yards of offense on 77 plays, including 12-of-21 (57 percent) on third down tries. However, the Bucs failed to turn their time of possession and yardage domination into more points and allowed the game to come down to the last drive. That was disappointing in a game Tampa Bay completely dominated in all three phases.
The Bucs were called for nine penalties for 70 yards.
Want the inside scoop on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2007 season and 2008 offseason plans? Want to find out who the Bucs are targeting in free agency and the NFL Draft next year? Subscribe to PewterReport.com's Pewter Insider by clickinghere.
Looking for the best selection of Tampa Bay Buccaneers merchandise? Pewter Report endorses Sports Fan-Attic, with 9 Tampa Bay area locations in most major malls. To shop for Bucs merchandise on the Internet, as well as the largest selection of NFL, NCAA, NBA, NHL, MLB and NASCAR, visitSportsFanAtticShop.com.
WATCH Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds and Jim Flynn each Sunday night at 11:30 p.m. on Sports Zone with Al Keck and Tom Korun on ABC Action News in Tampa Bay for Bucs game highlights and the latest Bucs news. And for the best local coverage of Tampa Bay sports and Tampa Bay news, check out ABCActionNews.com.
LISTEN to Pewter Report's Jim Flynn each Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. on the Pewter Pulse with Dan Sileo on WDAE 620 AM The Sports Animal, and catch Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds each Wednesday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. on the PewterReport.com Buccaneer Blitz with Steve Duemig on WDAE 620 AM The Sports Animal.