QUARTERBACK Quarterback Jeff Garcia returned after missing two games with a back bruise and he showed some rustiness in his comeback. Garcia finished the game 15-for-25 for 109 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was plagued with some drops in the game, had two sacks and also made some bad decisions as well.
Garcia didn't have to throw ball much in the second half as the Bucs owned a 27-3 lead heading into the third quarter. The nine-year quarterback went 5-for-7 for 39 yards, but was relegated to turning around and handing the ball off to running backs Michael Pittman, Earnest Graham and Michael Bennett in the second half.
The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback went 2-for-3 for 16 yards on the first drive of the third quarter. He hit Graham with a 13-yard reception on third-and-4 with 13:11 remaining. Garcia threw a little dump pass to Graham for a 3-yard gain on third-and-9 which stalled out the drive. Number seven wrapped up his comeback to the starting lineup midway through the fourth quarter by finding tight end Anthony Becht for a 1-yard touchdown with 7:48 remaining.
Garcia got into a little bit of a rhythm on the second drive of the game as he went 3-for-4 for 22 yards. He found wide receiver Joey Galloway with 7-yard reception with 1:33 remaining in the first quarter. Garcia found wide receiver Ike Hilliard on a 9-yard reception on fourth-and-4 from the Falcons' 33-yard line. Garcia, however, took a bad sack on third-and-2 at the 6-yard line losing nine yards and the Bucs wrapped up the drive with a 33-yard field goal from place kicker Matt Bryant. The nine-year quarterback, who has been smart with the football with only three interceptions, made a bad throw to Galloway that was intercepted by Atlanta cornerback DeAngelo Hall with 1:23 remaining the first half.
Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski came in late in the fourth quarter and just handed the ball off to run out the clock.
The Bucs converted 9-of-19 (47 percent) of their third down attempts vs. the Falcons with Garcia throwing for six third-down conversions.
RUNNING BACK Running back Earnest Graham was the workhorse again for the Bucs offense, especially with a lead heading into the second half. He finished with a game-high 22 carries for 79 yards (3.6 avg.) and one touchdown in the win. Graham also led the team with five receptions for 40 yards amassing 119 yards total offense.
Even though the Bucs didn't put any points on the board with the first drive of the second half, the Falcons got a steady dose of Graham. The fourth-year running back had an 8-and-7-yard carry to open the drive, along with a 10-yard carry that was called back on a holding penalty. Graham had a 6-yard run on second-and-8 and a 4-yard run on third-and-2 with 9:56 remaining in the third quarter. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden sat his tired running back in the fourth quarter for some much-needed rest.
Graham carried the offense on the second drive of the game with six carries for 27 yards. He opened the drive with an 8-yard run and followed that with a 4-yard run to give the Bucs a first down. After the defense forced a fumble midway through the second quarter, Graham finished off the drive with a 1-yard plunge to make the score 24-3. That gave Graham a touchdown in six consecutive games, which is a new franchise record passing former Bucs running back Errict Rhett. He also tied fullback Mike Alstott and running back James Wilder with 10 rushing touchdowns in a season. Graham finished the first half with 49 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown.
Running back Michael Pittman made his return after a brief cameo in New Orleans and looked healthy for the first time since his ankle injury in Week 5. Pittman finished the game with 13 carries for 50 yards and three receptions for 20 yards. He had a 5-yard carry with 12:23 remaining in the third quarter and followed that with an 8-yard gain on second-and-5 from the Bucs' 43-yard line.
Pittman showed that his ankle was feeling good with a 5-yard run on third-and-5 with 2:12 remaining in the third quarter to keep a drive alive. He also had a 7-and-2-yard gain on the same drive. Pittman got the bulk of the carries on the final drive of the game as the Bucs ran out the clock. The big run of the drive came on a 17-yard scamper behind guard Davin Joseph. He had 21 yards on four carries on the drive.
Pittman had two catches on the second drive of the game including a 6-yard reception on third-and-6 to give the Bucs a first down to keep the drive going.
Running back Michael Bennett saw some action out of the backfield and displayed his speed in the open field gaining 63 yards on nine carries. Bennett finally got his hands on the ball multiple times in the fourth quarter, leading the way on the touchdown-scoring drive. He had 53 yards on six carries setting up a 1-yard touchdown pass from Garcia to tight end Anthony Becht that put the final nail in the coffin of the Falcons. His longest run of the drive came on the first time that he touched the ball racing 28 yards down the right sideline with 12:50 remaining in the fourth quarter. He followed that with an 11-yard run right up the middle of the defense.
Fullback B.J. Askew didn't play because of an ankle injury that he has battled with for the last month.
Fullback Byron Storer filled in for Askew and did a solid job in his first start with the Bucs. Storer led the way as Tampa Bay racked up 190 yards rushing and had one reception for one yard.
The Bucs' running backs rushed for 190 yards on 48 attempts (4.0 avg.) on Sunday.
WIDE RECEIVERSWide receiver Joey Galloway had just one reception for seven yards and was plagued with dropped passes on Sunday. Galloway was looking to surpass the 1,000-yard plateau in receiving yards as he entered the game just 22 yards shy of the mark. Galloway had a 7-yard reception on the second drive, but the biggest play was a pass interference called against Atlanta safety Chris Crocker that moved the ball inside the Falcons' 40-yard line. Galloway did have two dropped passes that weren't a concern in the blowout victory. The 13-year veteran, however, must clean up those drops before the playoffs.
Wide receiver Ike Hilliard was on the field despite battling what Gruden has classified as a "sore body" the last couple of weeks. Hilliard did, however, have a key fourth-down reception on the second drive that kept the drive moving. On fourth-and-4 with 47 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Hilliard made a 9-yard reception to give the Bucs a first down.
Wide receiver Michael Clayton is becoming more of a weapon in the passing game, which is what the Bucs have been looking for the past couple of seasons. Clayton had two receptions for 22 yards, both of them giving Tampa Bay first downs. With 8:30 remaining in the second quarter, Clayton had an 11-yard reception on a third-and-6 play. On third-and-5 with 2:00 remaining the second quarter, Clayton had another 11-yard reception for a first down.
Wide receiver Maurice Stovall was used mostly on special teams.
TIGHT ENDSTight end Alex Smith didn't record a reception in the win, but was used in many two-tight end sets as the Bucs went to a run-oriented offense with the lead. On a 4-yard run by Graham on second-and-15 in the first quarter, Smith had a nice seal block on Atlanta defensive end John Abraham that allowed Graham to get on the corner.
Tight end Jerramy Stevens missed Sunday's victory as he was serving a one-game suspension for violating the NFL's Substance Abuse Policy. Stevens will return to the team on Monday.
Tight end Anthony Becht is becoming a weapon down on the goal line as he caught his second touchdown of the season. He finished the game with two receptions for 10 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. His only other reception was a 9-yard reception late in the second quarter.
OFFENSIVE LINEThe Bucs offensive line had a good day opening up holes in the running game as the Bucs rushed for 190 yards and averaged four yards per game. Tampa Bay had three running backs that rushed for at least 50 yards in the victory and gave up two sacks vs. the Falcons. The two sacks, however, came because Garcia was holding on to the ball too long, similar to what quarterback Luke McCown did last week when he was sacked four times. Atlanta defensive end Chauncey Davis got a sack on a naked-bootleg by Garcia when he stayed at home and didn't take the fake. For the most part, when the Bucs had to throw the ball, Garcia had a nice pocket to step up into to complete a pass.
Center John Wade did a good job up the middle in run blocking and pass blocking despite having a holding penalty. The holding penalty came on the first play of the third quarter when he recorded a takedown of Atlanta defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. Wade also allowed Babineaux to get pressure on Garcia with 28 seconds remaining in the second quarter that caused an incomplete pass.
Left guard Arron Sears did a solid job pulling on running plays and kept Falcons defensive tackle Montavious Stanley from getting any pressure up the middle in Garcia's face. On a 4-yard gain by Graham at the end of the first quarter, Sears pulled and sealed Abraham to get Graham to the corner. Sears put Babineaux flat on his back early in the third quarter clearing the way for a 6-yard gain by Graham.
Left tackle Donald Penn did a consistent job against Abraham, a Pro Bowl defensive end. Abraham did get one sack, but it again came because Garcia held on to the ball too long on a quick pass pattern. Penn made the cut block on the slant pattern down by the goal line, but Abraham fought through it and got to Garcia.
Right guard Davin Joseph was pulling on running plays as well and seemed to enjoy planting Falcons defenders into the ground. With 9:17 remaining in the second quarter, Joseph pulled and had an easy block on Atlanta safety Jimmy Williams on a 4-yard gain by Graham.
Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood had a quiet game and did a good job of controlling the speed and power of Davis. Davis did get a sack, but Trueblood was blocking down on a naked bootleg play. Trueblood showed the fire that he's instilled in the offensive line when he got into a scuffle at the goal line in the second quarter. During a running play, Hall came in late and hit Trueblood from the side and they got into a shoving match. Hall was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty that led to Graham's 1-yard touchdown run.
Tampa Bay won the time of possession vs. Atlanta, 42:59 to 17:01, and gained 285 yards of total offense.
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