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On the first drive, Garcia did a good job of getting the Bucs out from the shadow of their own end zone. On the first play from scrimmage for the Bucs offense, Garcia pumped faked and went deep down the middle seam to connect with tight end Alex Smith for 29 yards. Garcia also converted a third-and-12 to wide receiver Antonio Bryant on the drive. In the possession the Bucs had to punt, but Garcia did a great job of reversing the field position, which was a big aide to Tampa Bay in the next possession.
After a Panthers' interception, Garcia came close to a touchdown on a pass to tight end Jerramy Stevens. Stevens was tackled at the two-yard line. On the next play on third-and-goal, Garcia did a good play-action, but his primary receiver was covered. As a defensive player was grabbing him, Garcia tossed a soft pass to the back of the end zone and found Smith wide open for a touchdown.
On the Bucs third possession, Garcia started hot by finding wide receiver Michael Clayton open in zone coverage running a deep cross. The gain went for 22 yards, but Garcia was incomplete on his throws in the red zone, so the Bucs had to settle for a field goal.
In the first half Garcia completed 10 of 15 passes for 125 yards with one touchdown. Garcia did have a few passes that were nearly intercepted, but overall was accurate with his passes and made good decisions.
In the second half the Bucs committed to running the ball and Garcia threw only five passes, but he completed all five of them. Two were big plays on the Buccaneers' offense second touchdown drive. Garcia hit wide receiver Ike Hilliard for a five-yard gain on third-and-5. Then on third-and-2, Garcia hit running back Earnest Graham in the flat who raced up field for a 23-yard gain.
Garcia also ran for a first down on that drive. On third-and-2 at the 6-yard line, Garcia dropped back on a bootleg but did not have an open target. The veteran quarterback ran it himself and almost got in for a touchdown. Garcia was tackled at the 1-yard line, and Graham scored on the next play.
Against Carolina, Garcia had a performance that was typical of his games in the first half of last season. He managed the game well and did not turn the ball over. He also made enough plays to get the Bucs on the scoreboard repeatedly. He finished the game 15-20 on his pass attempts for 173 yards and a touchdown.
GAME GRADE: B+
Warrick Dunn and Earnest Graham had a good game for the Buccaneers. They also had to do it in extreme circumstances. Fullback Byron Storer went out with a knee sprain in the first half, forcing Graham to take the role as fullback.
Graham did an admirable job of lead blocking for Dunn. He was not as effective as the Bucs normal fullbacks, but he was not a liability either. Graham did have a great block on a 20 yard fourth quarter run by Dunn. Graham nailed linebacker Jon Beason five yards downfield, and that block allowed Dunn to get into the Panthers secondary.
Through the first two quarters the Bucs featured a heavy dose of the passing offense. In the first half Dunn ran for 32 yards on five carries, and Graham ran for 10 yards on four carries.
The duo continued their effective work in the second half, with the offense showcasing a heavy amount of work for Dunn. At the end of the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, the running backs led the Bucs offense to the offense's second touchdown drive. Dunn ran the ball six plays for 22 yards. Graham made a big reception on third-and-2. Running into the flat from the fullback position, Garcia hit Graham who raced up field for a 23-yard gain. After three more runs, Graham plunged in from the 1-yard line to score the Bucs second offensive touchdown and put them up 27-3.
After that score Graham and Dunn were done for the game. Graham finished with five carries for 11 yards and a touchdown. He also had two receptions for 47 yards. With Graham serving as a lead blocker, Dunn was Tampa Bay's workhorse running the ball 22 times for 115 yards, with three catches for 18 yards.
In the fourth quarter the Bucs protected their primary backs by taking them out of the game and putting in running back Michael Bennett. The third string running back got the mop-up carries. He totaled five runs for 11 yards. GAME GRADE: A-
It is getting routine now for the Buccaneers wide receivers to have quiet days on Sunday. Against the Panthers the receivers may have had their most underwhelming game of the year. The unit combined to catch four passes for 48 yards.
On the first drive, Bryant made a great leaping catch and pushed forward for a first down on 3rd-and-12. That 13-yard reception was the only catch of the game for Bryant.
Clayton hauled in a 22-yard catch to help set up the Bucs field goal in the second quarter. He ran a deep cross against zone coverage and hauled in the pass for a good gain into Carolina Panthers territory. He also showed good hands on a contested seven-yard catch he made later in the game. Clayton made his presence felt as a blocker as well. In the second half of the game when Tampa Bay started to pound the ball with their rushing attack, Clayton made many blocks to contribute to the Bucs maintaining their lead and control of the football.
Hilliard had one reception for six yards in the game, unsurprisingly that went for a first down on third down. Wide receiver Maurice Stovall pulled his hamstring while recording to two special teams tackles, and the hamstring injury took him out of the game.
The wide receivers did not have very many opportunities to make big plays in the game, but the Bucs still threw 20 passes and the receivers only totaled four catches. GAME GRADE: C
The tight ends got active early in the game. All three recorded catches in the first quarter, and all three were active on the field for Tampa Bay.
Smith came out on fire in the first quarter. The first play on offense he hauled in a 29-yard catch. That play helped the Bucs to get out of being backed up deep into their own territory. Smith came up big later on the next drive. On third-and-1 from the Carolina 2 yard line, Smith got wide open in the back of the end zone and Garcia found him for the touchdown. Smith added a 12-yard catch on third-and-12 in the second half of the game. Smith was hit a few yards before the marker, but he fought his way for the first down.
Stevens was called for a pass interference penalty that negated a first down pass on third-and-short. In Stevens defense, the penalty was a questionable call. On the next possession, Stevens came close to a touchdown being brought down at the 2-yard line after making an eight-yard catch. Stevens finished the game with two receptions for 10 yards.
Tight end John Gilmore recorded a seven-yard catch as well in the first quarter, and as usual he was counted on to make some big blocks for the Bucs running backs. Overall it was an excellent game for the Bucs tight ends blocking and receiving.
GAME GRADE: A-
The Tampa Bay offensive line had a good game against the Carolina Panthers' fourth ranked defense entering Sunday's contest. The Bucs started off the game well. In the first half, the Bucs offensive line did a good job of pass protection. Garcia had good time to throw the ball, and they did reasonably well in their run blocking. The Bucs had nine first downs and 167 yards of total offense through the first two quarters.
Center Jeff Faine was up to the challenge of playing against a physical defense. He had a great block downfield to help Dunn run for extra yards on 18-yard run in the second quarter. Faine was called for a holding penalty that negated a first down run by Dunn. Overall, Faine had an excellent game making the line calls, protecting Garcia, and opening up holes in the running game.
Guard Arron Sears incurred a knee sprain on the offense's second drive in the first quarter. Rookie guard Jeremy Zuttah replaced Sears, and had a solid game. On Graham's one-yard touchdown plunge he went behind Zuttah and left tackle Donald Penn.
Guard Davin Joseph was called for a holding on a third-and-1 that Tampa Bay had converted for a first down. Still, Joseph had a good game and really excelled in opening up holes in the running game. Joseph, Sears, Zuttah, and Faine dominated the Panthers defensive tackles of Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis.
Offensive tackles Penn and Jeremy Trueblood had a great game for the Buccaneers. Neither player committed a penalty and both players did an excellent job in pass protection. They both showed much improvement over their performances last week in Denver.
Penn had a great game against Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers. The Panthers star defensive end recorded only one pressure on quarterback Jeff Garcia. Penn stonewalled Peppers in pass protection, and went through him in run blocking. On Graham's one-yard touchdown run he blasted his man back off the line, and with Zuttah, gave Graham an easy hole to go through for the game clinching-score.
The line led the way for the Bucs to have 315 yards of total offense, with 142 yards rushing, and 17 first downs. Carolina had no sacks and forced no turnovers. Tampa Bay also won the time of possession 34:42 to 25:18 for Carolina.