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QUARTERBACK Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting quarterback Jeff Garcia got his first significant amount of game action since last January, and the rustiness showed. Garcia only played in one preseason game and missed a good amount of practice in training camp. Entering the opener at New Orleans, the Bucs were trying to get Garcia ready and up to game speed. Evidently Tampa Bay did not have enough time. For the game, Garcia threw the ball for 221 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Garcia completed 24 of his 41 pass attempts (59 percent).
As the percentage indicates, Garcia was not his normal accurate self. He threw behind many receivers, and did not seem to have the timing of his throws in sync with speed in which his targets were running their routes. Not only were many passes behind, but there were a number of passes that fell short of their intended receiver.
Garcia and the Bucs offense had a very rough start and were unable to move the ball consistently for the majority of the game. The Bucs went three and out in three of their drives during the first half. The most glaring stat that indicates the offense's struggles was Garcia unable to convert a third down conversion until the fourth quarter.
Garcia got into a little rhythm at the end of the first half in the two-minute drill leading the Buccaneers to a field goal. In the third quarter Garcia looked as rusty as he did in the other drives in the first half. The fourth quarter was a big improvement from Garcia as he went 5-8 on the first drive of the quarter and threw a two-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ike Hilliard on third and goal.
The next two drives the veteran quarterback moved the ball but was unable to put the finishing touch on each drive. In the final drive of the game after getting the ball at midfield, Garcia completed a nice pass to wide receiver Antonio Bryant for 12 yards to start the drive. He then threw for another first down to tight end Alex Smith. Garcia followed that by holding onto the ball too long and taking a costly sack. A couple plays later and the Bucs were in a fourth and six situation. Garcia threw into double coverage for wide receiver Ike Hilliard and the pass was intercepted by linebacker Scott Fujita.
RUNNING BACKS The Buccaneers running backs had a solid game for Tampa Bay. Starting running back Earnest Graham had 10 carries for 91 yards, and caught three passes for 27 yards. Graham set up one of the Bucs field goals with a 46-yard run midway through the third quarter. That field goal led to Tampa Bay taking a 13-10 lead. As a receiver Graham contributed a big 18-yard reception on the Bucs touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. He caught a pass in the flat and used a stiff arm to break a few tackles and get inside the 10-yard line. A few plays later Hilliard scored.
Running back Warrick Dunn had a quality debut in his first game as Buccaneer since the 2001 season. Dunn carried the ball nine times for 54 yards with a long of 14 yards. As the Saints front four put pressure on quarterback Jeff Garcia, Dunn was somewhat restricted in his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. For the game he had only one reception for 11 yards. The quick passes, screens, and swing passes that featured Dunn in training camp did not make it to the regular season opener. That was in part due to the Saints pass rush. However, Dunn contributed well in chipping defenders and giving Garcia more time to throw late in the game.
Fullback B.J. Askew missed a lot of training camp and the preseason with an ankle injury that required a minor surgical procedure. Askew did not standout as prominently as he typically did last season, but he still played a good game. He had some nice lead blocks opening holes for Dunn and Graham. Askew ended up catching three passes for 20 yards with a long reception of 13 yards where he broke some tackles and gained a first down.
For the game, the Bucs running backs carried the ball 19 times for 145 yards.
WIDE RECEIVERS The Buccaneers wide receivers did not look any better in their first game of the 2008 season from where they finished at the end of 2007. Three receivers caught a total of 15 passes with longest reception being 26 yards.
Wide receiver Joey Galloway did not look like the Galloway that Buc fans have come to know. After destroying the Saints over the past four seasons, Galloway hauled in six passes for 56 yards with a long of 13. He did not seem to be getting the same amount of separation from defensive backs as he did in past seasons. Galloway was also not on the same page with Garcia on a few throws. On one play, Galloway was running downfield when he stopped running his route and then the pass sailed over his head to fall incomplete. It is vital for the Bucs playoff hopes this season to have Galloway and Garcia improve, and develop more chemistry together for the rest of the season.
The Buccaneers tried to get Bryant active in the game throwing the ball his direction on a number of plays. The Saints had pretty good coverage on Bryant throughout the game. He finished the contest with three catches for 43 yards with a long of 26 yards. Bryant's 26-yard reception was the critical play in the Bucs offense first scoring drive of the game. It set up kicker Matt Bryant's 37-yard field goal just before halftime. Bryant was called for a pass interference penalty on the Buccaneers next possession after halftime, but replays showed that the pushing was done by both Bryant and the Saints defender. It was a very questionable call by the officials.
The receiver that had the most solid game was Hilliard. He recorded six catches for 45 yards and a touchdown. On the Buccaneers touchdown drive in the fourth quarter Hilliard recorded half of his catches for two first downs and the touchdown on third and goal. GRADE C TIGHT ENDS Last year at New Orleans, the Bucs tight ends played a very prominent role in the game plan. This year the position group had a much quieter game. Tight ends Ben Troupe and John Gilmore played, but only contributed as blockers. Gilmore excelled blocking on the perimeter and helped to open up some nice holes for the running backs.
Starting tight end Alex Smith had a strong game for Tampa Bay. He was active as blocker in the rushing attack and the pass game. In the second half especially, Smith helped to block the Saints defensive ends after they proved to be too much for the Bucs tackles to handle by themselves. As a receiver, Smith caught two passes for 19 yards. On the final drive of the game for the Buccaneers, Smith caught a short pass in the flat and turned up field breaking a few tackles, getting a first down, and getting out of bounds to stop the clock. GRADE B- OFFENSIVE LINE The Bucs offensive line had mixed results against the Saints. The line did a good job of run blocking but had some struggles in pass protection and incurred a number of penalties. The offensive line allowed a lot of pressure on Garcia early in the game but improved their pass protection as the game went on. Their highlight for the game was the Bucs' 146 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Left guard Arron Sears was called for holding on the Bucs third drive and then for an ineligible player downfield in the fourth quarter. The first penalty was on the Bucs third drive, and was followed by Grant's sack that all-but forced a punt on that series. The second penalty was not Sears fault as the play was a screen pass that was accounted for by the Saints and forced Garcia to go elsewhere with the ball. Sears did a good job of run blocking as did the Bucs new center Jeff Faine.
Faine had the best performance along the offensive line. He was solid in pass protection and did a good job of getting downfield and making blocks at the second level of the defense. Faine did not have any mishaps in his line calls and also did not make any mistakes in snapping the ball to Garcia.
Rookie guard Jeremy Zuttah made the first start of his career and played reasonably well. He did a good job of opening holes in the running game and was not flagged for any penalties. Zuttah gave up some pressures in pass protection early in the game with one big hit put on Garcia by defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy. As the game progressed, Zuttah adjusted and was solid against the pass rush and helped to open holes in the run game.
Saints defensive ends Will Smith, Charles Grant and Bobby McCray combined to record two sacks, but also had a number of pressures and knockdowns of Garcia. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood had a rough afternoon. He gave up a sack to Grant in the first quarter shortly after being called for penalty that was declined. In the second quarter, Trueblood was called for a drive-killing penalty on an unnecessary roughness after knocking a Saints lineman down after the whistle on a one-yard run. Trueblood settled down and was sound in the second half of the game, although he also was getting some help from running backs and tight ends.
Left tackle Donald Penn had a game that was similar to Trueblood. Penn had some struggles blocking defensive end Will Smith. In the second half, the Buccaneers gave Penn some help with the running backs and tight ends helping to block Smith. Penn did allow very costly sack on the final drive of the game. McCray beat Penn around the corner and came from behind Garcia to record a big sack that put the Buccaneers in a 2nd and 17 situation. The Bucs were unable to convert a first down from that hole and the Saints finished off the win in that series.
Overall the Bucs lost the time of possession (28:28 to 31:32) due to the offenses inability to convert third downs. The offense produced a total of 352 yards.
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