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QUARTERBACKS Windy conditions impacted Tampa Bay’s offense, but field position had even more of an impact on head coach Jon Gruden’s playcalling, especially in the first half. Tampa Bay went three-and-out in its first five drives, and it’s no coincidence that the Bucs started two of those drives inside their own 5-yard line. Bucs rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski struggled early, completing just 2-of-7 passes for 9 yards to start the game. He almost got intercepted by defensive end Michael Strahan and had another pass deflected by Strahan in the first half. He also got sacked by Mathias Kiwanuka, which caused a fumble that Gradkowski was fortunate enough to recover. But the rookie signal caller started to settle down late in the second quarter when the Bucs had better starting field position. Unfortunately for Gradkowski, his veteran receivers didn’t help him out. After completing a pass to running back Cadillac Williams for the team’s first first down of the game, Gradkowski threw a perfect strike down the right sideline for wide receiver Joey Galloway, who dropped the ball. Two plays later, Gradkowski’s throw to Galloway across the middle of the field was dropped as well. Those drops killed a promising drive and forced the Bucs to punt. And when Galloway managed to catch a pass from Gradkowski for a 25-yard gain off of a play-action pass on the next drive, tight end Anthony Becht’s pass interference penalty negated the play. Gradkowski and Galloway did manage to connect for a first down on a third-and-7 play late in the second quarter. But the drops continued to plague the Bucs when Gradkowski’s throw to WR Michael Clayton in the corner of the end zone was dropped late in the second quarter. Tampa Bay did, however manage to get a field goal after that 13-play, 34-yard drive. Gradkowski completed 7-of-23 passes for 67 yards in the first half.
In the second half, Gradkowski picked up a first down with a 14-yard run early in the third quarter. The Bucs offense and their frustrated playcaller, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, opted to go for it on fourth-and-7 in the third quarter, and Gradkowski did his part by throwing a perfect strike to Clayton for what appeared to be a first down. However, Giants MLB Antonio Pierce hit Clayton and forced him to fumble the ball, which gave the Giants the ball near midfield. On the next drive, Gradkowski helped the Bucs move the ball by hitting Becht for a 17-yard gain down the middle of the field and Cadillac Williams for a 7-yard gain in the flat. However, that drive ended after Tampa Bay’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 backfired when Gradkowski fell under duress and misfired a pass. Gradkowski completed 20-of-48 passes for 139 yards and tossed no touchdowns and no interceptions.
While he did a good job of taking care of the football and fell victim to several dropped passes, Gradkowski was inaccurate on several short throws and failed to get the Bucs offense into the end zone for the second consecutive week.
Tampa Bay converted just 2-of-16 (13 percent) of its third down attempts vs. the New York Giants.
RUNNING BACKS Bucs RB Cadillac Williams didn’t have much running room in the first half. He rushed just five times for 4 yards, and to make matters worse, he fumbled a pitch from Gradkowski in the second quarter, which gave the Giants the ball on the Bucs’ 28-yard line. It took the Giants just three plays to put a touchdown on the board after that turnover, putting them up 14-0 over the Bucs. At the start of the third quarter, Williams dropped a short pass from Gradkowski. Late in the third quarter, Williams took a handoff from Gradkowski on a draw play and gained 16 yards to the 35-yard line. On the same drive, Williams hauled in a pass from Gradkowski and gained 7 yards to the Giants’ 34-yard line. Later on that drive, Williams failed to pick up a first down on a third-and-1 play. The Bucs turned the ball over on downs on the next play, which stalled a drive deep in Giants territory. Williams carried the ball just eight times for 20 yards (2.5 avg.) on Sunday. He caught five passes for 34 yards.
Bucs RB Michael Pittman had a somewhat productive first half. He carried the ball two times for 2 yards, but his biggest contributions came in the passing game, where he caught three passes for 25 yards, including a key first down late in the second quarter that helped the Bucs eventually kick a field goal. Pittman finished the game with five catches for 38 yards.
Tampa Bay rushed just 13 times for 40 yards (3.1 avg.) vs. New York Sunday.
WIDE RECEIVERS Bucs WR Joey Galloway had some costly, uncharacteristic drops in the first half. Gradkowski threw a perfect strike down the right sideline that would have put the Bucs offense inside New York’s 10-yard line, but Galloway dropped it. Two plays later, Galloway dropped a deep pass across the middle of the field from Gradkowski. Galloway hauled in a 25-yard pass from Gradkowski off of a play-action fake later in the second quarter, but a pass interference penalty on tight end Anthony Becht negated the play. Galloway’s biggest play in the first half came on a third-and-7 play when he dove for a pass from Gradkowski for a first down, which eventually led to the Bucs kicking a field goal. Galloway came up big late in the third quarter when he recovered Becht’s fumble. Galloway caught four passes for 32 yards, and his dropped passes were huge in this contest.
Michael Clayton joined the drop party as well, failing to haul in a pass in the corner of the end zone from Gradkowski late in the second quarter. That play would have been a 25-yard touchdown. Instead, the Bucs were eventually forced to kick a field goal. In the third quarter, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden opted to go for it on fourth-and-7. While risky, that appeared to be a good decision when Gradkowski hit Clayton on a slant for a first down, but before he could hit the ground, Clayton got hit by MLB Antonio Pierce and fumbled the football, and although the Bucs recovered the ball, Clayton needed to be the player that recovered the ball on the fourth down play, which by rule gave the Giants the ball near midfield. Clayton caught just one pass for 4 yards, and his two mistakes proved to be quite costly.
The Bucs had just 174 yards of total offense Sunday.
TIGHT ENDS Tampa Bay tight ends Alex Smith and Anthony Becht spent most of the afternoon blocking near the line of scrimmage. Becht committed a costly pass interference penalty late in the second quarter on Galloway’s 25-yard catch from Gradkowski, which was negated due to the infraction. Late in the third quarter, Becht caught a pass and gained 10 yards, but he fumbled the football. Luckily for Becht, Galloway recovered the loose ball. Becht caught two passes for 16 yards on Sunday.
Smith came up big late in the second quarter when he picked up 13 yards on a pass from Gradkowski to set up a manageable third-and-7 play. He finished the game with just two catches for 12 yards.
OFFENSIVE LINE Tampa Bay’s offensive line had trouble keeping New York’s defenders off of Gradkowski early in the first half, but this unit improved as the half went on. Bucs guard Davin Joseph was decent in run blocking and pass protection, but right tackle Jeremy Trueblood struggled with Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who caused problems for Gradkowski early. Left tackle Anthony Davis had a costly mistake in the first half, allowing Kiwanuka to sack Gradkowski and force him to fumble. Luckily for Davis and the Bucs, Gradkowski was able to fall on the loose ball. But it was Bucs left guard Sean Mahan who committed the most costly mistake out of the offensive linemen in the first half when he was called for holding, which put the Bucs in a first-and-20 situation. That penalty spoiled good starting field position for the Bucs. Luckily for Mahan, the Giants committed an encroachment penalty when the Bucs lined up to punt, which gave them a fresh set of downs and bailed Mahan out of trouble. Tampa Bay’s offensive line continued to struggle in the second half. Early in the fourth quarter on a third-and-1 play deep in Giants territory, this unit got completely blown off the ball by New York’s front seven, which allowed the Giants to tackle Williams in the backfield. The Bucs went for it on fourth-and-1, but the Giants quickly collapsed the pocket around Gradkowski, who was forced to throw the ball away, which led to a turnover on downs.
The Buccaneers rushed the ball just 13 times on Sunday, and 18 of their 40 yards were picked up by a scrambling Gradkowski. The offensive line’s play, particularly in the run-blocking department, didn’t give Gruden any reason to continue to run the football. The Bucs were simply dominated up front on Sunday.
New York dominated Tampa Bay in time of possession, 35:38 to 24:22.