QUARTERBACK Quarterback Jeff Garcia just keeps on remaining efficient in running head coach Jon Gruden’s offense. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback finished Sunday’s game 15-for-25 for 176 yards. Despite going a second consecutive game without throwing a touchdown, No. 7 also didn’t throw an interception for the fourth consecutive game. Garcia came out hot against the Panthers in the first half, leading the offense on three scoring drives – two touchdowns and one field goal. Garcia was 5-for-6 on the first drive of the game that culminated in a 3-yard Garcia touchdown run. The nine-year veteran hit wide receiver Ike Hilliard for four receptions for 46 yards on the drive, including back-to-back 15-yard receptions on a second-and-4 play and a first-and-10 play, respectively. Garcia’s touchdown run came on a first-and-goal play at the 8:50 mark of the first quarter as he scrambled to his left and then cut back to the right into the end zone. The second scoring drive was dominated by the running game, but Garcia did hit fullback B.J. Askew with a 17-yard pass play on a first-and-10 at the 30-yard line with 2:43 remaining in the first quarter. On the Bucs third scoring drive of the first half, Garcia found Hilliard for a 56-yard reception on second-and-8 from Tampa Bay’s 34-yard line with 8:39 remaining in the first half. This play set up a 25-yard field goal from Matt Bryant to give the Bucs a commanding 17-0 lead heading into halftime. Garcia finished the first half 12-of-18 for 154 yards. Tampa Bay used its running game mostly in the second half as Garcia didn’t need to throw the ball as much with a 17-point lead. He went 3-for-7 for 22 yards in the second half. Garcia had one pass attempt on the Bucs’ final scoring drive that culminated in a 38-yard Bryant field goal. He found wide receiver Joey Galloway for a 7-yard reception on first-and-10 at the 28-yard line with 11:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. Garcia did a good job of not making the big mistake and throwing the ball away when nothing was there or when he was under pressure. He also ran the no huddle early in the game with precision, keeping the Panthers from substituting on defense.
RUNNING BACK Running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams was showing signs of capturing his first 100-yard game of the season in the first quarter. However, just as quick as his game was getting into gear, it was taken away. Williams had six carries for 41 yards, but left the game with 3:13 remaining in the first quarter with what was called a sprained right knee after an 18-yard carry that ended with Williams’ leg getting caught behind him. Williams took the handoff and went off right tackle on a first-and-10 play at the Carolina 48-yard line. Williams tried to make a move on defensive back Chris Harris, but was hit and his leg got bent underneath him. He immediately grabbed his right knee after the play and had to be carted off the field. The fear for the Bucs and their fans is that there is possible ligament damage in his right knee and that he could be lost for the season. The prognosis will not be known until at least Monday, but it seems as though the Bucs will be without their featured back for the rest of the season.
Running back Earnest Graham, who had 75 yards on eight carries with two touchdowns last week against the St. Louis Rams, stepped in for the second consecutive week and was productive carrying the ball. Graham finished the game with 48 yards rushing on 17 carries and one touchdown. Graham’s touchdown came on the same drive that Williams was hurt as he bowled his way into the end zone on a 1-yard run with 53 seconds remaining in the first quarter on second-and-goal. Graham had an 11-yard run on the same drive at the 2:06 mark on first-and-10 from the Carolina 13-yard line. Graham also had one reception for eight yards.
Running back Michael Pittman stepped up as well after Williams’ injury, teaming up with Graham to punish the Panthers defense in the second half with the running game. Pittman showed that he can rip off big runs with the ball in his hands just like he did when he was the feature back in 2002. The 10th year running back finished the game with 90 yards on 15 carries. The Fresno State alum found room to run on both sides of the line in the second half. On a first-and-10 play from the Bucs 25-yard line in the third quarter, Pittman took the handoff to the right side and raced down the sideline for a 29-yard run. With 6:04 remaining in the third quarter, No. 32 had an 11-yard gain up the middle on a first-and-10 carry. To open the fourth quarter, Pittman found some daylight on the left side for an 11-yard carry at the 14:41 mark. Pittman also did a good job of picking up the blitz in passing situations.
Fullback B.J. Askew did a tremendous job for a second consecutive week of leading the way for the running backs. Askew has been a major reason for the success of the running game the last couple of weeks and even had a 17-yard reception in the 20-7 victory. The reception came with 2:43 remaining in the first quarter on a first-and-10 play.
The Bucs’ running backs rushed for 179 yards on 38 attempts (4.7 avg.) and one touchdown on Sunday. But their effort wasn't perfect, evidenced by the Bucs' failure to punch the ball in from the 4-yard line on four straight running plays in third quarter, which resulted in a turnover on downs.
WIDE RECEIVERS Wide receiver Ike Hilliard had his best game in the Bucs offense with seven receptions for 114 yards. Despite fumbling the ball once, Hilliard seemed to get open for most of the first half. The Florida alum was a key component in the Bucs first scoring drive catching four passes for 46 yards. The 11th year veteran caught consecutive 15-yard receptions from Garcia, the first on second-and-4 and the second on a first-and-10 play. With 10:57 remaining in the first quarter, Hilliard caught a 9-yard reception and then followed that with 7-yard catch on a second-and-5 at Carolina’s 10-yard line. Number 19 is not known for his deep threat ability, but he hauled in a big 56-yard reception on a second-and-8 with 8:39 remaining in the second quarter. Hilliard’s fumble came with 11:46 remaining in the second quarter. He caught the ball and tried to make a move, but was stripped by Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble.
Wide receiver Michael Clayton made up for his dropped pass last week against the Rams, catching the only pass that was thrown his way on Sunday. Garcia found the LSU alum in the middle of the field at the 14:12 mark of the second quarter for a 13-yard reception on third down. Clayton was also used during running plays because of his stellar blocking ability.
Wide receiver Joey Galloway wasn’t much of a factor in the 20-7 victory with just one reception for seven yards. Galloway, however, drew a lot of attention from the Panthers secondary to open up opportunities for Hilliard. Garcia found the Ohio State alum for a 7-yard reception with 11:51 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Wide receiver Maurice Stovall saw limited action on offense and was mostly used on special teams. The Bucs converted 5-of-13 (38 percent) of their third down attempts vs. the Panthers with the wide receivers making two third-down receptions.
TIGHT ENDS Tight end Alex Smith continued to be Garcia’s safety blanket against the Panthers with four receptions for 17 yards. Smith also did a good job of blocking in the running game either sealing off a defensive end or turning out a linebacker. Smith caught an 8-yard reception from Garcia on a second-and-9 play with 12:54 remaining in the second quarter. The Stanford alum had a 7-yard reception in the 11:00 remaining in the third quarter.
Tight end Anthony Becht was used mainly in two-tight end sets on running plays. Becht had a big block on Panthers defensive end Stanley McGlover on Graham’s touchdown run with 53 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Becht did a good job of standing McGlover up and moving him to the left to open a hole for Graham.
Tight end Jeremy Stevens was only used in three-tight end sets on the goal line and didn’t have a pass thrown his way.
OFFENSIVE LINE The run blocking was stellar in both the first and second half against the Panthers on Sunday. The pass blocking was good as well as Carolina had to use the blitz on several occasions to get pressure on Garcia. The Bucs running backs had 91 yards on 17 carries in the first half. Tampa Bay equaled that success in the second half with 88 yards on 21 carries. The offensive line also didn’t allow a sack against a good Carolina front four.
Center John Wade still had some struggles in pass blocking up the middle that forced Garcia to move out of the pocket a couple of times. However, Wade’s run blocking was key in a couple of running plays up the middle.
Right guard Davin Joseph, who struggled last week against the St. Louis Rams, did a good job of keeping pressure out of Garcia’s face and had a couple of impressive pancake blocks in the first quarter. On Graham’s 11-yard run with 2:06 remaining, Joseph put Carolina defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu flat on his back as Graham raced through the hole. On the following running play, Joseph put Kemoeatu on his back again as Graham tried to pound the ball into the end zone behind the second-year right guard’s block.
Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is quickly becoming one of the up-and-coming right tackles in football. Trueblood opened up holes in the running game and kept defensive end Julius Peppers from getting his hands on Garcia. On Pittman’s 29-yard scamper with 10:23 remaining in the third quarter, Trueblood did a good job of sealing off Peppers so that Pittman could reach the corner.
Left guard Arron Sears was called on for the second consecutive week to pull on running plays and open up lanes for the running backs. On Graham’s 1-yard touchdown run with 53 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Sears blew defensive end Mike Rucker off the line of scrimmage as Graham found a big hole on the left side to get into the end zone.
Veteran left tackle Luke Petitgout was doing a good job of keeping Rucker away from Garcia early in the game, but walked off the field gingerly with a right knee injury. Petitgout did allow Rucker to get by him with a speed rush on a third-and-3 play with 6:02 remaining in the first quarter that forced Garcia to rush a throw to Smith. With 12:02 remaining in the second quarter, Petitgout got his leg rolled up on by defensive end Kris Jenkins on a running play by Graham. Petitgout didn’t return to the game and his status in unknown as well. Left tackle Donald Penn filled in for Petitgout after his injury and showed why he is active instead of Anthony Davis. Penn kept Rucker at bay for most of the two and a half quarters that he played. The Bucs also didn’t shy away from running to Penn’s side while pounding the Panthers in the second half with the running attack. Penn, however, must prepare himself quickly with Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney waiting on him next week.
Tampa Bay won the time of possession vs. Carolina, 34:40 to 25:20, and controlled the ball in the second half with a solid running attack. Given Tampa Bay's history with Carolina, Tampa Bay's effort along the offensive line was truly remarkable.
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