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Buccaneers starting quarterback Brian Griese had a game that Bucs fans will remember for years to come. He almost broke the NFL record for pass attempts of 70. On the game, Griese was 38 for 67 for 407 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Griese ran hot and cold throughout the game but got hot enough to drive the Bucs to erase a 10-point deficit and lead the team to victory in overtime 27-24.
The first quarter got off to a bad start for the Griese and the Bucs.
Left tackle Donald Penn incurred an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the first play from scrimmage. On the next play from scrimmage, Griese threw high and the ball was tipped by Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and was intercepted by linebacker Lance Briggs.
Griese settled down on the Bucs third drive. He led a great 81-yard drive that produced the Bucs first score of the game. Starting at the 19-yard line Griese moved the Bucs down the field with a 14-yard pass to Antonio Bryant, a 31-yard pass to Jerramy Stevens, and a four-yard touchdown pass to Ike Hilliard.
The remaining drives in the first half resulted in punts except for a turnover on a fumble. In the first-half Griese was 11-15 for 92 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The Bucs were 1-4 on third down as well.
Griese started to have a great drive for the Bucs in the third quarter. He threw an 18-yard pass to fullback B.J. Askew, a 20-yard pass to tight end Alex Smith, and a 14-yard slant to Bryant. The Bucs were in field goal range on third and 11, Griese was pressured by Briggs and threw short for Bryant. Bears cornerback Nathan Vashar dove and intercepted the pass to end the Bucs scoring threat. While the Bears had to go 86 yards after that, they converted the turnover into a touchdown.
The slump continued for Griese into the fourth quarter. Down by three at mid-field, Griese threw downfield for Stevens. The ball was overthrown and the Bears were in Cover 4 with safety Kevin Payne playing behind Stevens, and the Bears safety caught the overthrown pass for Griese's third interception of the ball game. Griese's three interceptions led to 17 points for Chicago.
With the Bucs down by 10 with seven minutes left in the game, Griese started to work some magic. Griese threw a completion to wide receiver Michael Clayton for 11 yards. He then went back to Hilliard for 18 yards. On 3rd and four Griese threw to Stevens for a first down on a nine-yard gain. The drive ended short of a touchdown, but Griese led a 12-play drive that ended in a 35-yard field goal to pull Tampa Bay within a touchdown.
Griese got the ball back for one more drive to tie the game and send it to overtime. Starting at the 21-yard line, Griese converted some short passes to get a couple of first downs. Then on third-and-10, Griese threw to Stevens for 18 yards. He followed that up with a pass to Clayton for 13, and a pass to Hilliard for 17. Griese then threw a pass for wide receiver Maurice Stovall who was open in the end zone. The ball was slightly overthrown but Stovall should have caught it. Griese then went back to his most used target of Bryant. They connected and got down to the one-yard line on a 19-yard reception. Two plays later Griese connected with Stevens for the score that forced overtime.
In overtime, Griese had a good first drive that got the Bucs into Bears territory. At the Bears 39-yard line Griese was pressured and had his arm hit. He threw the pass away and was called for intentional grounding. The penalty killed the drive, and the Bucs had to punt.
The next drive Griese would be aided by a call after appearing to go three-and-out from inside the Bucs own 10-yard line, Tampa Bay got a second chance with a suspect penalty on Chicago. Griese then took advantage. He hit Clayton for a 17-yard gain and running back Warrick Dunn for nine yards. Griese then drew the Bears offside's and took a shot downfield to Bryant. The pair connected for a 38-yard gain and Bryant was tackled at the six-yard line. Two plays later the Bucs made the winning field goal.
Griese had a gutty performance in Chicago. He handled the Bears blitzes well and did not take a sack in the game despite being pressured regularly, especially from Briggs. Throughout the game Griese threw a number of balls too high, and that led to more incompletions and two of his interceptions, but he also stayed calm and collected when the Bucs got down. He made great decisions in the fourth quarter and overtime to bring the Bucs back. The offense went through Griese, as the Bucs were unable to produce much of a running game. With Griese at the helm, the Bucs came back from a deficit of more than seven points for the first time under head coach Jon Gruden.
GAME GRADE B
After having two great games to start the season, the Bucs' running backs had a very quiet game at Chicago.
Earnest Graham's first carry was a four-yard loss, and that was an omen for things to come in the first half. The running backs had a hard time finding running lanes throughout the game. Graham and Dunn ran for a total 16 yards on seven carries in the first half. Graham had five carries for no yards. Dunn had an 18-yard run on the Bucs first touchdown drive, but finished the first half with 16 yards, after having his second run go for a two-yard loss.
The lack of running lanes continued in the second half. Graham's first carry went for no-gain. Dunn was able to have a little more success. He had a few good runs in the second half and in overtime. He finished the game with five attempts for 31 yards. Dunn also caught four passes for 27 yards.
In the game, Graham ran 12 times for 16 yards. He did not catch a pass. Graham did have 10 of his 16 yards rushing on the Bucs final game-winning drive in overtime. The running backs also contributed to the passing game in blitz pickup. Both had some good moments and both allowed some pressure. But they were absolutely vital to the Bucs amazing feat of throwing 67 passes with no sacks.
GAME GRADE C
It didn't take long before it was obvious that Bryant was having his best game as a Buccaneer thus far. Starting at the split end receiver in place of Joey Galloway, Bryant hauled in 10 catches for 138 yards. The veteran Bryant has definitely shaken off the rust of being out of the NFL last season. He showed good speed all game, including late in the fourth quarter and overtime while the defense was wearing down. Bryant got good separation all game and did a good job of running with the ball after the catch. Bryant also had some very clutch catches.
On the Bucs game-tying drive in the fourth quarter Bryant caught a 19-yard slant that brought the Bucs to the one-yard line. Then on the game winning drive, Bryant set up the winning score with his game-long reception of 38 yards to the Bears six-yard line. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, he wasn't the only receiver to make a big contribution.
Hilliard and Clayton also had productive games. Hilliard had six receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown. Hilliard's touchdown in the first quarter was the Bucs first score of the game. Hilliard also had a critical 18-yard catch on the Bucs fourth quarter field goal drive.
Clayton grabbed five passes for 54 yards. Three of his catches produced first downs on the Bucs last three scoring drives. A false start on Clayton in overtime hurt the Bucs on a third down with only five yards to go, but on third-and-10 Clayton made up for it running a great slant to get open and catch a 17-yard pass. Clayton got more snaps as the game went on and did a good job of getting open.
Wide receiver Maurice Stovall also logged more snaps as the game went on, but unfortunately for the Bucs and Stovall he did not have as a good game as his fellow receivers. On the second play of the second quarter, Stovall caught an eight-yard pass from Griese. After catching the pass Stovall turned up field, but Bears cornerback Charles Tillman punched the ball out and linebacker Brian Urlacher recovered the fumble to set up a field goal for the Bears.
The long day for Stovall continued as there were a few passes that went incomplete that he probably should have caught. One was in the fourth quarter with the Bucs down seven. Stovall got open in the end zone and Griese's pass was a little high, Stovall reached and tried to make a one-handed catch, but the ball fell incomplete. He also had a ball go off his hands in overtime that he probably normally catches. Both passes were high but Stovall made those plays in training camp. For the game, Stovall caught two passes for 16 yards.
GAME GRADE B+
The Buccaneers tight ends had another good game for the third contest in a row. Throughout the game the tight ends looked better in the passing game than they did in the running game. The tight ends had to help with the pass protection as the Bears blitzed regularly, but they also made some vital catches in the passing game.
In his first game back from his two-game suspension, Stevens made his presence felt on the Bucs third drive of the game that produced their first touchdown. Stevens ran a deep cross and beat Bears Kevin Payne. Stevens made two very clutch plays to force overtime. On third-and-10 in the fourth quarter on the final drive, Stevens got open down the middle of the field and made an 18-yard catch for a first down. After the Bucs got to the goal line with 10 seconds remaining. Stevens was the target. The first pass to him went incomplete. The next play, Stevens motioned out from the line to get a one-on-one matchup with Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer. Stevens ran a slant and Griese hit him for the game-tying touchdown. Stevens finished the game with five catches for 61 yards and the touchdown.
Tight end Alex Smith made some big catches including a 20-yarder. For the game, he finished with three receptions for 33 yards. Tight end John Gilmore had one catch for three yards and was used regularly as a blocker. On a third-and-1 early in the game, Gilmore was overwhelmed by Chicago Bear Adewale Ogunleye who stuffed Graham for no gain. Gilmore also had a dropped pass that was almost intercepted by Briggs. However, Smith and Gilmore did do a sound job of blocking overall.
GAME GRADE B+
Last week against Atlanta, the Bucs offensive line had a great game in run blocking and struggled in pass blocking. This week against the Chicago Bears it was the opposite. The offensive line was terrible in their run blocking but was very good in pass protection. Tampa Bay's offensive line did an astounding job of protecting their quarterback 67 times and not allowing one sack.
The Bucs averaged 2.8 yards per carry and ran for 47 yards on 17 attempts. They also had four runs for negative yards. The Bucs held the ball for 31:22. Almost eight minutes less than Chicago. At the same time, the Buccaneers offensive line also did a great job of cleaning up the penalties they committed from a week earlier. They did not have a single false start in the loud road environment, and they did not commit a holding infraction in the game.
There was one penalty that hurt the team though. After the first play from scrimmage, left guard Arron Sears and left tackle Donald Penn got into some shoving with the Bears Tommie Harris and Alex Brown. Penn was flagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct that put the Bucs in a second and 18 from their own 10-yard line. The next play from scrimmage was Griese's interception by Briggs.
In the first half, the Bears defense was all over the Bucs offensive line in run blocking, but the Bucs offensive line did a good job of pass protection in the first half. Griese was not sacked and was not pressured often.
The second half was very similar. Offensive line had some rough moments during game in terms of blitz pickup, especially in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter. Some of that though was the Bears making great plays, and also the line was in some bad situations where they had way more players to pickup then lineman to do it.
At the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime, the line took advantage of a tired Bears defense and gave Griese plenty of time to lead the Bucs to victory. For the game the line did not allow a sack, and the Bears front four did not get hardly any pressure. If they had opened more holes in the running game their grade would be much higher.
GAME GRADE B