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QUARTERBACKS Despite the fact that Cincinnati’s defense entered Sunday’s game allowing its opponents to rush for an average of 144 yards per game, Tampa Bay came out throwing in the first half against the Bengals. Bucs rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski had his moments, completing three straight passes on the second series of the game and firing an 18-yard strike to wide receiver Joey Galloway off of a play-action play in the second quarter. However, Gradkowski was inconsistent, misfiring on passes to WR Ike Hilliard on a short pass in the first quarter and a deep pass down the left seam to WR Michael Clayton in the end zone in the second quarter. Gradkowski appeared to throw an interception in the first quarter, but Tampa Bay’s replay challenge showed that the ball bounced off the ground before Cincinnati cornerback Tory James got a handle on the ball. Although that ruling was overturned, Gradkowski’s personal foul (facemask) penalty on James was enforced on the play, putting the Bucs in a third-and-28 situation. Gradkowski’s best throw of the first half came on the play-action throw to Galloway. That play put the Bucs on the Bengals’ 41-yard line. But that promising drive stalled after the next three plays, all of which were passes by Gradkowski, fell incomplete. Toward the end of the second quarter, Gradkowski threw a deep pass down the right sideline to Galloway, who was double covered. Gradkowski’s errant pass was intercepted by Bengals safety Kevin Kaesviharn on the Bengals’ own 24-yard line. Gradkowski completed 9-of-20 passes for 75 yards in the first half. In the third quarter with the Bucs driving thanks to Cadillac Williams’ 38-yard run, Gradkowski kept the chains moving on a third-and-6 play by scrambling and diving for a first down. On the next play, Gradkowski drew a personal foul (unnecessary roughness) penalty, which put the Bucs on the Bengals’ 10-yard line. On third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Gradkowski dropped back and led TE Alex Smith in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. That play, along with kicker Matt Bryant’s extra point, tied the game 7-7. On the next series, Gradkowski came through again on third-and-5 when he hit Galloway on a slant for a 10-yard gain. On third-and-2 in the fourth quarter, Gradkowski misfired to Smith, which caused an incompletion and killed a drive on Cincinnati’s 42-yard line. On Tampa Bay’s first drive of the fourth quarter, Gradkowski completed two straight passes by hitting TE Anthony Becht and Galloway. He used his legs to move the chains again on third-and-6, scrambling to his right and diving for a first down. That play put the Bucs on the 50-yard line. Two plays later, Gradkowski missed Clayton, who had split two defenders while running a deep route downfield. But Gradkowski came up huge later by throwing a perfect strike to Clayton for a 15-yard gain on third-and-3 play. With the game on the line and the Bucs faced with a fourth-and-4 play with less than one minute remaining, Gradkowski came through again by dumping the ball off to Clayton, who then leaped into the end zone for the game-winning score. Gradkowski completed 25-of-44 passes for 184 yards and tossed two touchdowns and one interception while rushing four times for 19 yards. Tampa Bay produced 300 yards of total offense for the second straight week under the rookie’s guidance.
RUNNING BACKS Bucs RB Cadillac Williams struggled to move the ball for big chunks of yardage early, but he broke off an 18-yard run midway through the second quarter, which put the Bucs on the 49-yard line. Williams picked up a first down on a second-and-5 run on the same drive. That play put the Bucs on the Bengals’ 39-yard line. However, Tampa Bay missed a field goal attempt after putting together that drive. Williams carried the ball 10 times for 42 yards (4.2 avg.) in the first half. On the first series of the third quarter, Williams ran behind a great block by right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and cut the ball to the right sideline for a 38-yard gain to the Bengals’ 25-yard line. The Bucs eventually capped that drive off with a touchdown when Gradkowski hit Smith in the back of the end zone for a score. Williams had a big hand in that 11-play, 80-yard drive by accounting for 49 rushing yards. Williams carried the ball 19 times for 94 yards. He actually eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in the second half, but Williams went under the century mark when he was tackled for a 6-yard loss later in the game. Williams also caught three passes for 10 yards.
Bucs RB Michael Pittman and Williams spent a few plays in the backfield together in the “Rocket” formation. Pittman carried the ball one time for 11 yards on a draw on the third-and-28 play in the first half. He spent most of game chip blocking. Pittman did a great job of ceiling off the right side with a block on Williams’ 38-yard run in the third quarter. Pittman hauled in a 10-yard pass from Gradkowski late in the fourth quarter to put the offense on the Bengals’ 15-yard line. On third-and-13, Pittman hauled in a pass to set up fourth-and-4. While he didn’t run the ball a lot, Pittman was effective as a blocker Sunday.
Fullback Mike Alstott saw less playing time than normal due to Tampa Bay’s featuring the “Rocket” backfield a few times in the first half. He caught two passes for 13 yards in the first half, 9 of which came on a screen play near the end of the half.
Tampa Bay rushed 25 times for 126 yards (5.0 avg.) vs. Cincinnati.
WIDE RECEIVERS Bucs head coach Jon Gruden made a point to get WR Michael Clayton involved in the game early. After dropping a short pass near the sideline on a third-and-2 play in the first quarter, Clayton caught three passes for 27 yards, including a pass he hauled in across the middle for a first down on a third-and-5 play. Gradkowski also missed Clayton on a few passes, including a deep throw down the left seam in the end zone in the second quarter. Clayton came up big on third-and-3 late in the fourth quarter when he hauled in a pass from Gradkowski for a 15-yard gain. That play kept the chains moving and put the Bucs deep in Bengals’ territory. Clayton capped off his big day by making a big play, coming through with a fourth-and-4 catch and diving across the goal line for a touchdown. The play was initially ruled incomplete after the ball came loose after Clayton hit the ground. However, replay overturned the call and gave Clayton his first touchdown since the 2004 regular season finale in Arizona. More importantly, it gave the Bucs their first win of the season. Clayton finished the game with six catches for 55 yards.
Bucs WR Joey Galloway had a quiet first half until he hauled in a 18-yard pass from Gradkowski off of a play-action throw. That play put the Bucs on the Bengals’ 41-yard line. Galloway hauled in two catches for 27 yards in the first half. Galloway came up big in the third quarter when he hauled in a pass from Gradkowski on a slant for a 10-yard gain on third-and-5. Galloway caught another pass from Gradkowski on a slant pattern on the next series, which was in the fourth quarter. That play went for a 12-yard gain. Galloway caught a team-leading seven passes for 67 yards on Sunday.
Tampa Bay was just 3-of-14 (21 percent) on third down attempts vs. Cincinnati.
TIGHT ENDS Tampa Bay’s tight ends spent most of the first half blocking. Bucs TE Alex Smith caught one pass for 4 yards in the second quarter. But Smith came up huge in the third quarter when he dove for Gradkowski’s pass in the back of the end zone for a touchdown, which helped the Bucs tie the game at 7 all. In the fourth quarter, Becht hauled in a pass across the middle of the field for a 12-yard gain. Smith finished the game with three catches for 10 yards and one touchdown. Becht caught just one pass for 12 yards. Both players played a role in helping the team rush for 126 yards on Sunday.
OFFENSIVE LINE Tampa Bay’s offensive line, which had two rookies – right guard Davin Joseph (making his first pro start) and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, in the starting lineup, struggled to open big holes for Williams early and did a decent job in pass protection in the first half. However, penalties were a problem for this unit and put the Bucs offense in some difficult down-and-distances. Center John Wade was called for holding on the second series of the game, which negates a 6-yard run by Williams. Trueblood was penalized for tripping toward the end of the first quarter, which put the Bucs in a first-and-20 situation. Sean Mahan, who replaced left guard Dan Buenning in the first half, was called for a false start penalty in the second quarter. Tampa Bay was penalized seven times for 60 yards in the first half and finished the contest with nine penalties for 75 yards. In the second half, Trueblood helped to set the tone early by laying a great block on a Bengal defender, which allowed Williams to break off a 38-yard run to the Bengals’ 25-yard line. In the fourth quarter with Tampa Bay driving into Cincinnati’s red zone, Mahan was called for tripping on a third-and-2 play, which set up third-and-13. Despite those problems, Tampa Bay’s offensive line allowed Gradkowski to get sacked just one time and helped the Bucs out rush the Bengals on Sunday, 126-53.
Tampa Bay won the time of possession vs. Cincinnati, 35:07 to 24:53.