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Buccaneers quarterback Brian Griese started out the game being fairly conservative. Griese had thrown six interceptions in the last two games, and was careful with the football throughout the first half.
Griese threw well short of the first down yardage on his first two third down conversion attempts, and he seemed to keep doing that throughout the game. The play before the Bucs failed third-down attempt at the Broncos 21-yard line, Griese had tight end Jerramy Stevens running open in the end zone. Griese had a nice pump fake to help open up Stevens but the pass was overthrown and Tampa Bay had to settle for a field goal.
Griese had gone 102 pass attempts without being sacked before taking a sack early in the second quarter. Griese had time to throw but seemed to hesitate, and ended up being brought down.
The best drive that Griese had came unsurprisingly in the two-minute offense. Griese moved the ball 67 yards in 11 plays and got the score tied at six. After a penalty and a few nice runs by Warrick Dunn that got the Bucs to midfield, Griese threw a big pass to Antonio Bryant on third-and-6 for 17 yards. The next play, Griese worked the sideline by hitting Michael Clayton for 12 yards to the Denver Broncos 18-yard line. Instead of taking a shot at the end zone, Griese handed off to Dunn to set up Matt Bryant's 32-yard field goal.
On the second possession of the second half, Griese was hit on a blitz by Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. Griese came off the field with an injured shoulder, and was replaced by backup quarterback Jeff Garcia. Griese was finished for the game, and was taken into the locker room. For the game, Griese finished completing 13 of 19 passes for 88 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
On his first pass attempt, Garcia threw to Bryant for two yards, well short of the first down. Garcia then threw an interception on the Bucs first possession of the fourth quarter. On third-and-2 Garcia threw a short pass that was intercepted by defensive tackle Marcus Thomas. Thomas fumbled the ball back to Tampa Bay, but the Bucs went three and out in that series.
Garcia got into a groove on the next possession. He hit a nice completion to Stevens for 12 yards. He also connected with Bryant for completions of 12 yards and 14 yards. Garcia did a good job of scrambling on a few plays to buy extra time, and he ran for six yards. On the drive Garcia completed passes to five different receivers and methodically moved the ball down the field. On first-and-goal, Garcia scrambled and threw into the flat for Hilliard. The veteran snatched the pass and cut into the front corner of the end zone for Tampa Bay's only touchdown. He took the Bucs 90 yards downfield on 13 plays. The only drawback of the drive was that is took 5:22 off of the clock. Denver was able to run the clock out by getting two first downs.
Garcia and Griese combined to complete 26 of 36 pass attempts for 181 yards passing with one touchdown and one interception. While they completed a high percentage of passes, 72 percent, they averaged only seven yards a completion. There were also no big-plays, or game-changing plays made by the Bucs quarterbacks.
GAME GRADE: D
The Buccaneers seamed to try and establish the ground game early in the contest running the ball six out of their first 10 plays. Starting running back Earnest Graham started the first possession with a couple of runs and a catch that produced nine yards. In the second drive Graham started to get going when he ripped off a 14-yard run. Graham had five carries for 26 yards in the first half.
Graham was unable to get much going in the second half. The Broncos run defense improved throughout the game, and Graham got only five carries in the second half. He finished the game with 10 carries for 59 yards.
Warrick Dunn made the first big play of the game when he took a run off right tackle and jetted downfield for a 38-yard gain. Dunn was tackled at the Denver 21-yard line and that run set up the Bucs first score of the game. On the game-tying drive at the end of the first half, Dunn started the drive with a 13 yard vintage Warrick Dunn run where he cut back numerous times and spun away from a would-be tackler. In the first half, Dunn was the Bucs best offensive weapon. He had 7 carries for 68 yards and caught one pass for four yards.
Dunn had four carries in the second half, and the Broncos did a better job of limiting the Bucs change of pace back. On those four carries Dunn totaled only six yards. He finished the game with 11 carries for 74 yards, and he caught three passes for 13 yards.
Fullback Byron Storer produced some nice lead blocks for his backs in the game. There were a few occasions where Storer was almost knocked back into the ball carrier. Storer did not get active in the passing game, and had no receptions. Overall, Storer did a decent job but the game against Denver did show the drop-off in talent from Storer to injured starter B.J. Askew.
GAME GRADE: B
The Buccaneers wide receivers were had a pretty quiet game for Tampa Bay. Especially through the first three quarters. After a slow start, Bryant came on to lead the team in receiving with seven catches for 58 yards. Bryant had a long reception of 17 yards, and made some key catches on the Bucs touchdown drive. Bryant also had a dropped pass.
Early in the game the receiver that was standing out was Clayton, and not just for his role as a pass catcher. Clayton made a key block on the perimeter for Graham to spring a rush for 14 yards. Clayton also had a nice leaping catch to a convert a third-down for Tampa Bay, but that catch was called back due to penalty. Clayton did convert the Bucs first third down of the game on pass from Griese in their third possession of the game. The veteran receiver finished the game with three receptions for 26 yards, but had a bigger positive presence than the stat line indicates.
It took a long time for the Bucs to get Hilliard involved as he caught three of his four receptions on the final drive of the game for the Tampa Bay offense. Hilliard made some clutch catches on that drive. He had catches of six, 10, and the seven-yard touchdown catch. With the Bucs struggling on third downs throughout the game, it was unfortunate that they could not get their third down specialist active earlier.
Maurice Stovall made one reception for nine yards. It came on the Bucs touchdown drive and helped them move the chains. Dexter Jackson also saw some snaps on offense for the first time as a Buccaneer. Jackson did not record a catch and did not have any passes thrown his direction.
The receivers only had one drop in the game and were pretty sure-handed. At the same time, they did not create much separation from the Broncos defensive backs and they did not produce any game-changing plays for Tampa Bay.
GAME GRADE: C-
The Bucs tight ends had a quiet game just like the rest of the Bucs offense. The tight ends were mainly active as blockers against the Broncos. On the Bucs first scoring drive the tight ends made some good plays that don't show up on the stat sheet. Alex Smith and John Gilmore helped seal the edge for Dunn to run up field on his 38 yard run.
Two plays after helping to open up the Bucs biggest offensive plays of the game, the tight ends were in position to make a huge play. Stevens got open down the sideline and was running wide open in the Broncos end zone. Griese overthrew the big target in Stevens, and the Bucs had to settle for a field goal. In losing by three points, settling for a field goal early came back to bite the Buccaneers.
Smith made one reception for 11 yards and a first down. Stevens caught a 12-yard pass from Garcia on the Bucs touchdown drive, but those were the only two receptions that the tight ends made against Denver.
GAME GRADE: C
The Buccaneers offensive line welcomed the return of guard Davin Joseph back to the lineup. With Donald Penn at left tackle, Arron Sears at left guard, center Jeff Faine, Joseph at right guard, and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, the Bucs fielded the offensive line they thought would lead them in 2008. After starring throughout the first four games, the Tampa Bay offensive line struggled for much of the game against the Broncos.
However, the Bucs offensive line did a great job of blocking on the Bucs second drive of the game. The running backs had great holes to run through. Graham ran for 14 yards behind Trueblood and Joseph. A few plays later Dunn ran behind the right side and gained 38 yards. Sears pulled and helped seal the edge with the tight ends picking up blocks as well.
After that drive things seemed to go downhill for the Bucs young line. The offense's streak of passes without a sack was broken at 102. Left tackle Donald Penn allowed a sack to Denver's Ebenezer Ekuban. Griese had some time but held onto the ball too long. That play came just after a third-down conversion, and put Tampa Bay into a 2nd-and-18 situation.
On the next offensive series, Trueblood had two back-to-back plays that killed their drive. A Griese to Clayton 12-yard pass on third-and-3, was negated when Trueblood was called for holding. Then on third-and-13, Trueblood was beaten for a sack by Denver defensive end Elvis Dumervil. Trueblood had trouble containing Dumervil all game. It was evident that he was struggling with him, as Trueblood had two false start penalties in the second half.
Trueblood was not alone, Sears was called for a false start midway through the third quarter. Sears recovered the fumble by Thomas at the Bucs own 12-yard line. That was a critical recovery to keep the Bucs close in the fourth quarter.
Faine had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that negated a Broncos penalty that would have given the Buccaneers an automatic first down. Fortunately for Faine, Tampa Bay converted the third down into a new series on the next play.
Sears, Joseph, and Faine did not have some of the glaring mistakes that Trueblood and Penn had, but overall the unit did not play well. The offensive line had a rough game. They allowed three sacks, penalties, pressures, and had their starting quarterback get hurt.
The line led Tampa Bay to 139 yards rushing, but hurt the offense's ability to sustain drives by committing penalties and allowing their quarterback to be sacked and pressured. The Buccaneers barely won the time of possession, 30:47 to 29:13.
GAME GRADE: D