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DEFENSIVE LINE Tampa Bay’s defensive line featured left defensive end Greg Spires, under tackle Jovan Haye, nose tackle Chris Hovan and right defensive end Kevin Carter as starters against Seattle on Sunday.
Carter started in place of injured DE Patrick Chukwurah (knee), who was inactive for Sunday’s contest. Carter struggled to rush the passer, but he was active against the run and notched two tackles.
Although he didn’t start, Bucs first-round draft pick, DE Gaines Adams, saw a significant amount of action against Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones, who did a good job of protecting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. The rookie was ineffective and notched just one tackle.
Spires probably had the best game of any of Tampa Bay’s defensive linemen. He beat Jones on a third down play at the beginning of the third quarter and sacked Hasselbeck, which forced the Seahawks to punt. Spires ranked fourth on the team with five tackles, one sack and one pass defensed on Sunday.
Hovan faced double teams throughout most of Sunday’s contest, which hindered his efforts as a pass rusher and run defender. He finished the contest with just one tackle.
Haye failed to take advantage of some of the one-on-one matchups he received, which allowed Hasselbeck to find open receivers, especially in the second half. Haye recorded three tackles vs. the Seahawks.
Tampa Bay’s defense struggled to generate a pass rush, but it contained running back Shaun Alexander during the first half. Alexander rushed for just 39 yards on 12 carries. However, Alexander punched the ball in from the 1-yard line near the end of the second quarter to give the Seahawks a 10-6 lead at halftime, and he built on that momentum in the second half. Alexander finished Sunday’s game with 27 carries for 105 yards (3.9 avg.) and one touchdown.
Seattle rushed 34 times for 139 yards (4.1 avg.) and one touchdown vs. Tampa Bay’s defense.
LINEBACKERS Tampa Bay’s defense, particularly its linebackers, looked extremely quick vs. Seattle, especially in the first half. This unit was led by 10-time Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks, who put together a solid first half before slipping up in the second half. Brooks helped to set the tone for the defense in the first half by stuffing Alexander short of the first down marker on a third-and-1 play up the gut. That forced the Seahawks to punt. Brooks also helped force an incompletion late in the second quarter when he blitzed and got into the backfield untouched, which caused Hasselbeck to throw an incomplete pass. Late in the second quarter on a third-and-goal play for the Seahawks, Brooks and cornerback Brian Kelly teamed up to stop Alexander in the backfield and force Seattle to kick a field goal, which at that time made the score 6-3 in favor of the Bucs. Late in the third quarter, Brooks had a rough outing defensively. He missed an open field tackle on Alexander, which resulted in a decent game. Two plays later, Brooks missed another tackle on Alexander, which resulted in a 15-yard run and put the Seahawks on the Bucs’ 35-yard line. The Seahawks eventually settled for a field goal on that drive. In the fourth quarter, the Seahawks got a favorable matchup on the outside between fullback Maurice Morris and Brooks. Morris ran a go route and beat Brooks down the sideline and hauled in a pass from Hasselbeck for a 34-yard touchdown. That play put the Seahawks up 20-6. Brooks finished Sunday’s game ranked third in tackles with eight. Brooks, 34, had a lot of trouble in pursuit, especially in the second half.
Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud had an active game. He started off shaky but finished Sunday’s game strong. Ruud allowed Seahawks wide receiver Bobby Engram to get open deep down the middle of the field and haul in a 49-yard pass from Hasselbeck on a third-and-8 play in the second quarter, which put the Seahawks on the Bucs’ 8-yard line. Seattle eventually settled for a field goal on that drive. In the third quarter, Ruud was called for a 5-yard face mask penalty. But Ruud came up big in the third quarter when he recovered a fumble from WR Nate Burleson, which was caused by Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber on the Bucs’ 33-yard line. Ruud came up huge again at the beginning of the fourth quarter when he caused Alexander to fumble on a third-and-1 play. However, the Bucs failed to recover the loose ball, which allowed kicker Josh Brown to kick a field goal, which put the Seahawks up 13-6. Ruud recorded a team-high 13 tackles while forcing a fumble and recovering a fumble vs. the Seahawks.
Strongside linebacker Cato June notched three tackles, but he had a quiet game vs. the Seahawks.
Tampa Bay’s linebackers had some trouble containing Seattle tight end Marcus Pollard, especially in the second half. He caught a team-leading five passes for 43 yards.
Seattle converted 4-of-12 (33 percent) of its third down attempts vs. Tampa Bay.
SECONDARY Bucs rookie Tanard Jackson started in place of Will Allen at free safety on Sunday. Jackson had a mixed outing. He whiffed on Alexander on a run up the middle in the second quarter, which allowed Alexander to pick up 16 yards and a first down. However, the Seahawks eventually had to punt on that drive. Late in the second quarter, Jackson displayed great closing speed and play recognition by breaking up a pass near the flat on a second down play. Jackson finished the game with three tackles and one pass defensed.
Allen, whom Jackson replaced in the starting lineup, didn’t see a lot of playing time, and he didn’t make it count when he did. Near the end of the second quarter with Seattle on Tampa Bay’s 1-yard line, Allen missed a tackle on Alexander, who allowed the running back to score a touchdown, giving the Seahawks a 10-6 lead. Allen was also late coming over to defend Hasselbeck’s 34-yard touchdown pass to fullback Maurice Morris, which put the Seahawks up 20-6 in the fourth quarter. Allen recorded just one tackle on Sunday.
Bucs strong safety Jermaine Phillips did a nice job of tackling in the open field vs. the Seahawks until the third quarter when he whiffed on WR Nate Burleson, which led to a big gain before the receiver eventually fumbled and gave the Bucs the ball back. However, Phillips sacked Hasselbeck on a flee-flicker play in the first half, which resulted in an 8-yard loss and put the Seahawks in a third-and-18 situation. Phillips was late coming over to defend the play where Engram hauled in a 49-yard pass in the first half, which eventually led to a field goal for Seattle. Phillips recorded 10 tackles, which was the second highest on the team, but he missed too plays on Sunday.
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber dove to break up a pass from Hasselbeck on a third-and-9 play on Seattle’s first offensive drive of the game, which forced a punt after Cadillac Williams’ fumble at midfield. Barber came up huge in the third quarter by forcing Burleson to fumble on the Bucs’ 33-yard line. That play allowed Ruud to recover the fumble and give the Bucs the ball. Barber notched four tackles, one forced fumble and one pass defensed.
Tampa Bay nickel cornerback Phillip Buchanon broke up a pass on a slant and pass attempt to Burleson, which forced the Seahawks to eventually punt in the third quarter. Buchanon had one tackle and one pass defensed on Sunday.
Bucs CB Brian Kelly recorded four tackles before suffering a groin injury in the second half. Both he and Barber did a good job of limiting the production of Seattle’s wide receivers.
Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck completed 17-of-24 (70.8 percent) passes for 222 yards and tossed one touchdown and no interceptions. Seattle produced 343 yards of total offense and 17 first downs.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Tampa Bay’s special teams had a mixed outing vs. Seattle. Kicker Matt Bryant got the Bucs out to a 6-0 lead in the first quarter by drilling a 38- and 32-yard field goals.
The Bucs also had some great open field tacklers to start the game from safeties Tanard Jackson, Will Allen and Sabby Piscitelli, and wide receiver Maurice Stovall. As a result, Seattle had two possessions start on their own12- and 15-yard line, respectively, in the first half.
But this unit also had several costly gaffes against Seattle on Sunday.
Kicker returner Earnest Graham muffed a kickoff late in the second quarter, which pinned the Bucs on their own 16-yard line and eventually set Seattle’s offense up with great field position and allowed the Seahawks to score. Graham averaged 22.5 yards per kickoff return on four attempts.
Wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard shared reps at punt returner. In the first quarter, Galloway ripped off a 47-yard return down the right sideline, but it was called back due to a holding penalty on cornerback Ronde Barber. The Bucs started at their own 10-yard line as a result of that mistake. Galloway averaged just two yards on one attempt while Hilliard averaged 9.5 yards on four punt returns. His longest was a 20-yarder.
In the third quarter, Hilliard returned a punt 41 yards to Seattle’s 48-yard line, but it was called back on an illegal block in the back by Piscitelli, which forced the Bucs to start on their own 6-yard line.
Piscitelli continued to struggle on special teams, missing a tackle on Seahawks punt returner Nate Burleson, who gained 51 yards on the play before being tackled by rookie linebacker Quincy Black on the Bucs’ 14-yard line. Late in the third quarter, Piscitelli had an opportunity to down a Josh Bidwell punt on the 1-yard line, but he lost the ball and allowed it to go into the end zone for a touchback.
Burleson averaged just 17.5 yards per kick return, but he killed the Bucs as a punt returner, averaging 12.6 yards on five attempts.
Bidwell averaged 48.8 yards per punt on six attempts. His longest was a 57-yarder.
COACHING Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden’s playcalling wasn’t good enough to get the Bucs offense in the end zone for the second straight regular season opener. His offense moved the ball well in the first quarter, but the Bucs could only get two field goals, which came back to haunt them. Losing quarterback Jeff Garcia and running back Cadillac Williams to head and rib injuries, respectively, certainly didn’t help, but the offense has got to be more productive in a game it spent all offseason, training camp and preseason preparing to play.
Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s group played well in the first half, but it really started to get tired in the second half when the offense failed to sustain drives. That led to some sloppy tackling and a few big plays for the Seattle offense. Tampa Bay sacked Hasselbeck twice, but the pass rush wasn’t good enough, evidenced by Hasselbeck’s ability to complete nearly 71 percent of his passes vs. the Bucs.
Tampa Bay’s special teams unit killed the Bucs in this contest. Their tackling on kickoffs was great, but missed tackles on punt returns and penalties on their own returns hindered the offense’s efforts and gave the Seahawks offense some short fields to work with. The decision to have RB Earnest Graham return kickoffs was questionable as he proved to be ineffective.
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