QUARTERBACK Quarterback Jeff Garcia was efficient and accurate in a 31-7 victory vs. the Atlanta Falcons going 10-for-20 for 159 yards with two touchdowns. After throwing three interceptions in a loss vs. Jacksonville, Garcia didn't throw an interception for the second consecutive game. The nine-year veteran had a quarterback rating of 110.2 and was only sacked one time.
Garcia bounced back in the second half after a three-and-out to open the third quarter, leading the Bucs to a 23-yard field goal from place kicker Matt Bryant to increase their lead to 17-0. Garcia opened the drive by hitting wide receiver Joey Galloway with a 19-yard reception on a skinny post route with 9:57 remaining in the third quarter. Garcia, however, couldn't get the ball into the end zone with two incomplete passes on second and third down.
On a third-and-4 with 4:57 remaining in the third quarter, Garcia found tight end Alex Smith down the seam for a 21-yard touchdown for his second touchdown of the contest. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback did a good job of sitting in the pocket as the pressure was coming of the left side from Atlanta defensive end John Abraham.
With the Bucs up 24-0 heading into the fourth quarter, Garcia was limited to just turning around and handing the ball to running back Earnest Graham. Garcia did hit Graham with a 6-yard reception on a drive that culminated in a 26-yard touchdown run by Graham to open the fourth quarter.
Garcia finished the first half going 7-of-13 for 108 yards and one touchdown. He wasted little time putting the Bucs in the lead finding wide receiver Joey Galloway for another long touchdown pass. Garcia used a nice pump fake to bait Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall and found Galloway down the sideline for a 44-yard touchdown that gave the Bucs a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Since the running game was keeping the Falcons defense honest in the first half, Garcia used two play-action fakes in the second quarter to connect on pass attempts. On first-and-10 from the 15-yard line, Garcia hit fullback B. J. Askew with an 8-yard reception. He found tight end Alex Smith on a 23-yard reception down the middle of the field with 5:51 remaining in the second quarter.
Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski came into the game late in the fourth quarter for one drive. Gradkowski went 1-for-1 for two yards, finding fullback Byron Storer for a 2-yard reception on fourth down.
RUNNING BACK Running back Earnest Graham recorded his second consecutive 100-yard performance, rushing for 102 yards on 17 carries and one touchdown. Graham rushed for 124 yards in a win vs. Arizona two weeks ago and looked fresh running the ball after the bye week, especially in the second half. Graham was able to rest in the fourth quarter after a consistent game running the ball.
Graham put his stamp on the Bucs victory on the first play of the fourth quarter with an impressive 26-yard touchdown run on third-and-3. Graham broke to the inside on a sweep play off of guard Davin Joseph's block and then juked past Falcons safety Lawyer Malloy to get into the end zone. He touched the ball on five of the six plays on the scoring drive with four carries for 39 yards and one reception for six yards.
With the Bucs holding a 14-0 lead heading into the second half, Graham became the offense's key weapon to run time off the clock. Graham was a big part of the first scoring drive in the second half, a 23-yard Bryant field goal. The four-year running back had 30 yards on four carries, including an impressive 11-yard run on first-and-10 from the Falcons' 20-yard line. Graham showed his vision in bouncing the run outside after seeing that nothing was open in the middle.
Graham showed the ability to get to the outside on a sweep play with an 8-yard run on second-and-10 at the end of the first quarter. Graham had an impressive 6-yard run in the second quarter behind the block of right guard Arron Sears.
Running back Michael Pittman returned to the lineup after missing six weeks and had 44 yards on 10 carries along with two receptions for 17 yards. Pittman dropped a third-down pass that was a definite first down with 11:21 remaining in the first quarter. He had two receptions on the second drive of the game, but fumbled the ball after an 11-yard reception. Pittman had a nice 12-yard run on a draw play in the second quarter, but it was just to get the Bucs in better position to punt the ball after thee negative plays. Pittman ran the ball strong late in the fourth quarter with the Bucs leading 31-0. Pittman's best run of the game came on a first-and-10 play at the Falcons' 46-yard line as he raced down the sideline for a 21-yard gain. On the same drive, which ended with a turnover on downs, Pittman had five carries for 26 yards.
Fullback B.J. Askew had one reception for 8 yards, but was more effective leading the way for Graham. Askew has been a consistent lead blocker this season and was a major reason for Graham's second 100-yard performance. The fullback showed off his blocking skills, especially up the middle of the field. On the Bucs drive in the third quarter that ended in a 23-yard field goal, Askew led the way on consecutive runs by Graham, 9-and-6-yard gains.
Fullback Byron Storer had one reception for two yards in the victory.
The Bucs' running backs rushed for 146 yards on 27 attempts (5.4 avg.) on Sunday.
WIDE RECEIVERS Wide receiver Joey Galloway had another long touchdown reception in the Bucs win, finishing with two receptions for 63 yards and one touchdown. In the first half, Galloway and Garcia took advantage of Hall's aggressive play to beat him for a 44-yard touchdown in the first quarter. On first-and-10 at the Falcons 44-yard line, Galloway faked the slant route and ran the fly route down the sideline for the touchdown. Galloway's only other catch of the game was a 19-yard reception on a skinny post route with 9:57 remaining in the third quarter.
Wide receiver Ike Hilliard wasn't much of a factor in the offense with one reception for 14 yards. Hilliard's only reception came on a second-and-4 with 1:12 remaining in the first quarter for a first down.
Wide receiver Maurice Stovall didn't get an opportunity in the offense with most of his action coming on special teams.
Wide receiver Michael Clayton returned after being out three weeks with an ankle injury, but only played on special teams.
TIGHT ENDS Tight end Alex Smith was a big target for Garcia in his second game back from an ankle injury. Smith finished the game with a team-high three receptions for 51 yards and one touchdown. Smith had a 21-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter on a third-and-4 play. Smith forced the Bucs to take a timeout on the first possession of the game because he didn't make it on the field for the offensive package that was called. Smith rebounded later in the first quarter with a 7-yard reception for a first down on the first scoring drive. Smith had a 5-yard motion penalty on third-and-2 early in the second quarter inside Falcons territory.
Tight end Jerramy Stevens saw limited action vs. the Falcons.
Tight end Anthony Becht was used in two-tight end sets on running plays.
The Bucs converted 3-of-10 (30 percent) of their third down attempts vs. the Falcons with the tight ends making one third-down reception.
OFFENSIVE LINE The Bucs offensive line had one of its best games this season allowing just one sack, one hurry and led the way in Graham's second consecutive 100-yard performance. Tampa Bay got a good push up the middle of the field from center John Wade and guards Arron Sears and Davin Joseph. Atlanta defensive tackle Rod Coleman returned last week from injury with two sacks, but his name was never called out during the 31-7 victory.
Center John Wade did a good job of calling out the right blocking calls against an aggressive, blitzing defense in Atlanta. Wade didn't seem overmatched for the first time this season vs. Atlanta.
Left guard Arron Sears had a consistent performance in handling Coleman in the running and passing game. Sears kept Coleman off the stat sheet as the Falcons defensive end didn't record a tackle, sack or hurry in the game.
Left tackle Donald Penn had his hands full with Atlanta defensive end John Abraham, but held his own against the Pro-Bowl player. On Garcia's 14-yard reception to Hilliard in the first quarter, Penn did a good job of picking up Malloy on a blitz off the edge. Penn, however, was beaten on a bull rush move from Abraham on a second-and-15 play in the second quarter that resulted in the only sack of Garcia in the game.
Right guard Davin Joseph is showing some improvement in his run and pass blocking that is needed in his second season. Sears usually is the pulling guard leading on running plays, but Joseph got into the act on an 8-yard run by Graham in the first quarter.
Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood battled through a shoulder injury that limited him in practice during the week. On a third-and-7 play to open the second quarter, Trueblood missed a block on Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking, who came on a delayed blitz, which made Garcia hurry a throw that was incomplete.
Tampa Bay lost the time of possession vs. Atlanta, 32:34 to 27:26, but gained 305 total yards offense.
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