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DEFENSIVE LINE With the Tennessee Titans entering Sunday’s game vs. Tampa Bay with the fourth-ranked ground attack in the NFL, it was no secret that the Titans were going to come out and run the ball early and often against the Bucs.
Tampa Bay’s defense was outstanding vs. Tennessee’s ground game, holding the Titans to 96 yards rushing on 33 attempts (2.9 avg.).
Titans running back LenDale White carried the ball 25 times for 64 yards (2.6 avg.) and a 2-yard touchdown and Chris Brown rushed five times for 26 yards (5.2 avg.). Their longest run was a 9-yarder. More importantly, the Bucs held mobile quarterback Vince Young to 6 yards rushing on three carries.
Bucs under tackle Jovan Haye probably had his best game as a Buccaneer. He did a great job of winning one-on-one- matchups and penetrating the backfield to help defend the run. He recorded a whopping 10 tackles on Sunday. Late in the third quarter, Haye whiffed on an opportunity to sack quarterback Kerry Collins, who entered the game to fill in for injured B Vince Young (quad injury) midway through the third quarter. However, at the beginning of the fourth quarter Haye sacked Collins to put the Titans in a third-and-13 situation.
Tampa Bay’s defensive line accounted for some big plays in the first half. On Tennessee’s second offensive drive of the game on a third-and-5 play, Young attempted to run with the ball but slipped and fell into his own teammate and then to the turf, which allowed Bucs rookie defensive end Gaines Adams to record his first sack of the game and his NFL career. That play also forced the Titans to punt. In the third quarter, Adams was flagged for being offsides, which gave the Titans the ball at the Bucs’ 34-yard line. Adams played well against the run and notched five tackles and one sack on Sunday.
Bucs defensive ends Kevin Carter and Greg Spires started on the left and right side, respectively, but it was reserve DE Patrick Chukwurah, who came through with a big play on the third offensive series of the game when Brown mishandled a handoff from Young and fumbled the football. Chukwurah saw the loose ball and jumped on it for the recovery, which stalled Tennessee’s drive at Tampa Bay’s 32-yard line. The Bucs offense turned that turnover into points by driving 59 yards on eight plays and kicking a 23-yard field goal, which put the Bucs up 3-0 at halftime. However, Chukwurah injured his shoulder in the third quarter and did not return.
Carter followed in Chukwurah’s footsteps by making a splash play of his own on a third-and-13 play at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Carter sacked Collins and appeared to force the veteran quarterback to fumble the ball, but the officials ruled that Collins was in the grasp and had thrown the ball away, which was a very questionable call as he was not out of the pocket and had no receivers in the area. However, Carter’s sack moved Tennessee out of field goal range and forced a punt. Carter notched four tackles, two quarterback hurries and one sack vs. the Titans.
Like the rest of Tampa Bay’s defensive line, Spires played well against the run. He had five tackles and one quarterback hurry.
Nose tackle Chris Hovan did a nice job of handling double teams and freeing up Haye to have a productive game while reserve defensive lineman Greg White notched one tackle and two quarterback hurries.
Although Tampa Bay had nine quarterback hurries and three sacks, and held Tennessee to 317 yards and 10 points, its defensive pass rush wasn’t good enough. As a result, the Titans converted 9-of-16 (56 percent) of their third downs and dominated the time of possession, 37:37 to 22:23.
LINEBACKERS Tampa Bay’s linebackers had just as much to do with the Bucs’ ability to stuff Tennessee’s ground attack as the defensive linemen.
However, the Bucs linebackers didn’t get to the quarterback enough when they were called on to blitz due to the lack of pressure being provided by the defensive line.
Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led the way with a team-high 11 tackles. He came up with a significant run stop on Brown on a third-and-3 play on Tennessee’s first offensive drive of the third quarter, which ended with a 48-yard field goal that tied the game at 3-3. But Ruud, who came into Sunday’s game with a knee injury, and Tampa Bay’s linebackers struggled somewhat in pass coverage. Titans tight end Bo Scaife hauled in three passes for 45 yards, and two of those catches picked up first downs. In the fourth quarter, Ruud and safety Jermaine Phillips allowed Collins to complete a third down pass to wide receiver Justin Gage for a 42-yard gain and a first down to the Bucs’ 32-yard line. Both defenders trailed Gage on the play, but Ruud made the touchdown-saving tackle. White later capped off that 13-play, 86-yard drive with his 2-yard yard touchdown run.
Strongside linebacker Cato June was extremely active and sharp in terms of tackling against the run. June notched six tackles in the first half and finished Sunday’s contest with 10 tackles.
Weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks and June missed an opportunity to sack Young at the beginning of the third quarter. Those missed tackles near the right sideline allowed Young to get the ball away for an incompletion. Brooks made a splash play of his own near the end of the third quarter when he forced tight end Bo Scaife to fumble the ball after he made a reception. Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber recovered the ball, but Gage forced Barber to fumble and the Titans recovered the loose ball at the Bucs’ 33-yard line. Brooks recorded seven tackles and one forced fumble on Sunday.
Tennessee produced 20 first downs vs. Tampa Bay. Sixteen of those first downs came via the passing game.
SECONDARY Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber had a tough day. He put himself in position to make several plays, but the defense came up empty on those turnover opportunities. Near the end of the third quarter, Barber leaped up into the air across the middle of the field and intercepted a poorly thrown ball by Collins. That pick would have given Barber 32 career interceptions, which would have been a franchise high and one better than Donnie Abraham, but replay showed that Barber didn’t hold onto the ball as he landed on his back. The interception was overturned. In the third quarter, Barber appeared to come up with another turnover when linebacker Derrick Brooks forced tight end Bo Scaife to fumble, which allowed No. 20 to recover the ball. But Titans TE Ben Troupe forced Barber to fumble the ball and wide receiver Justin Gage recovered the pigskin at Tampa Bay’s 33-yard line. On the next play, the Titans converted a third-and-10 play for a first down and the Titans eventually kicked a 48-yard field goal to cap off a 12-play, 45-yard drive. With 2:44 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Titans driving at the Bucs’ 20-yard line, Collins attempted to hit White in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown, but Barber appeared to come up with the interception as he fell out of the corner of the end zone. But replay robbed Barber of a turnover again, this time showing that he only had one foot in bounds and his arm was out of bounds. That ruling allowed the Titans to keep the driving going, and it eventually ended with White’s 2-yard touchdown run, which capped off a 13-play, 86-yard drive. That score tied the game at 10. In addition to not capitalizing on those three turnover opportunities, Barber was called for holding on the second drive of the game on third-and-3 play, which gave the Titans a first down. Barber finished the game with four tackles, two passes defensed and one fumble recovery.
Phillip Buchanon started in place of CB Brian Kelly, who missed the entire week of practice due to a groin injury. Young attempted to test Buchanon several times in the first half, and he had some success. On the first offensive drive of the game, Buchanon allowed Titans WR Eric Moulds to haul in pass for a 12-yard gain. On the third offensive drive, Young completed a 23-yard pass across the middle of the field to Gage for a first down on a third down play. But Buchanon made Young pay for testing him deep near the end of the second quarter when he picked off a pass thrown down the right sideline. Buchanon intercepted the pass, which was intended for Titans WR Roydell Williams, on the 4-yard line. That play killed the Titans’ drive, which had reached the Bucs’ 46-yard line. The play was reviewed to see if Buchanon had kept both feet in bounds, but it was not overturned. Midway through the third quarter on a third-and-7 play, Titans QB Kerry Collins completed a pass in the flat to Williams, but Buchanon made a great open field tackle to force the Titans to punt. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Collins completed a 12-yard pass to Gage, who was covered by Buchanon, to the Bucs’ 21-yard line. Buchanon had mixed results Sunday, but his interception proved to be one of the biggest plays made in this game. He finished the contest with eight tackles, one interception and one pass defensed.
At the beginning of the third quarter, the Titans began featuring more three-receiver sets in an effort to pick on nickel CB Sammy Davis. It worked as Davis gave up two completions that helped the Titans put together a 45-yard, 12-play drive that ended with a 48-yard field goal, which tied the game up at 3-3. Davis recorded two tackles on Sunday.
Bucs strong safety Jermaine Phillips and Ruud were late coming over to defend Gage on the receiver’s 42-yard reception that put the Titans on the Bucs’ 32-yard line in the fourth quarter. Phillips finished the game with three tackles.
Rookie free safety Tanard Jackson picked up where he left off last Sunday in Indianapolis in terms of his physical style of play. Midway through the second quarter, Jackson drilled Brown in the backfield for a 2-yard loss. He finished the game with four tackles and one pass defensed.
Tennessee managed to spread the ball around vs. Tampa Bay’s defense. Moulds caught a team-high six passes for 49 yards. Williams hauled in five passes for 44 yards. Gage caught four passes for 82 yards.
Young completed 11-of-14 passes for 120 yards and tossed an interception while Collins completed 10-of-20 passes for 125 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS Bucs kicker Matt Bryant was clutch for Tampa Bay, making two field goals on Sunday. His first attempt came in the second quarter. He drilled the 23-yard field goal, which capped off an eight-play, 59-yard drive that put the Bucs up 3-0. Bryant’s next kick proved to be even bigger. With just 16 seconds remaining in the contest, Bryant was called on to attempt a 43-yard field goal to win the game. Bryant nailed it and gave the Bucs their fourth win of the season with a 13-10 victory over the Titans. That clutch kick capped off a seven-play, 55-yard scoring drive for the Bucs.
Punter Josh Bidwell saw plenty of action due to Tampa Bay’s inability to convert third downs on offense (4-of-11 for 36 percent). Bidwell punted six times and averaged 44.3 yards per punt with a net of 35 yards. His longest punt was a 56-yarder.
Bucs return specialist Mark Jones averaged just 4 yards per punt return on three attempts. His one kickoff return proved to be much better. He returned it 33 yards to the Bucs’ 39-yard line in the third quarter. The Bucs offense couldn’t capitalize on the favorable starting field position.
Tampa Bay’s kickoff and punt coverage was solid. The Titans averaged just 20.5 yards per kickoff return and 5.3 yards per punt return.
Safety Kalvin Pearson, linebacker Ryan Nece and cornerback Torrie Cox each had two special teams tackles vs. the Titans.
COACHING Bucs head coach Jon Gruden couldn’t find a way to keep the chains moving on offense. The running game couldn’t do much against Tennessee’s solid run defense, producing just 30 yards on 15 carries (2.0 avg.). Tampa Bay converted just 4-of-11 (36 percent of its third downs vs. Tennessee, which put the defense in a real bind, especially in the second half. An inconsistent offense and tired defense resulted in the Titans dominating the time of possession, 37:37 to 22:23. However, the offense came up with just enough plays – Michael Clayton’s 39-yard reception, Joey Galloway’s 69-yard touchdown catch and Ike Hilliard’s 28-yard reception – to post 13 points and help win the game for the Bucs.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s unit produced nine quarterback hurries and three sacks. It also did one heck of a job against Tennessee’s potentially potent ground attack, which ranked in the top five heading into this contest. The Titans rushed for just 96 yards on 33 carries (2.9 avg.). But the Bucs pass rush, or lack thereof, was once again an issue. The Titans converted 9-of-16 (56 percent) of their third downs and produced 317 yards of offense vs. the Bucs. However, Tampa Bay’s defense produced three big turnovers.
Special teams coach Richard Bisassica hoped that return man Mark Jones would have helped to give the Bucs offense a shorter field to work with, but the rest of this unit’s play, particularly kicker Matt Bryant’s, was solid.
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