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Buccaneers quarterback Jeff Garcia started out well in the first quarter at Dallas. The Bucs started at the Dallas 47, and Garcia completed three passes all to the same target in getting Tampa Bay into field goal range. Garcia hooked up often with wide receiver Antonio Bryant to move the Bucs down the field and score a 36-yard field goal in their first drive.
Garcia led the Bucs on a nine play 34-yard drive on the Bucs third possession for their second score of the game, another 36-yard field goal by Matt Bryant. Garcia made some good throws to get the Bucs inside the Dallas 15 yard line. The big gain on the drive was a 17-yard strike to wide receiver Michael Clayton, who made a great catch. Garcia then made a mistake throwing a pass after he crossed the line of scrimmage. That along with a dropped pass and another penalty led the Bucs to settling for a field goal.
In the second quarter, Garcia led a long drive that ended up with a missed field goal by Bryant. In the drive, Garcia converted his first third down of the game on a 20-yard pass to wide receiver Joey Galloway, and then got a first down on third-and-4 with a six-yard run. Garcia then made a mistake on third-and-8 when he scrambled out of a good pocket and then fell down to be sacked by Cowboy Jay Ratliff. It appeared that Garcia had Clayton open in the end zone, but did not see him. The sack pushed the field goal attempt from 43 yards to 51.
In the first half, Garcia was 12 for 17 for 113 yards. While he did a good job of moving the ball, the Bucs failed to get into the end zone despite three drives that went deep into Dallas territory. Garcia completed a high percentage of his passes, but his receivers did a good job grabbing passes that were thrown high and off target.
Garcia led another field goal drive in the third quarter. On 10 plays and 56 yards, Garcia got the Bucs to just outside of the Dallas red zone before the drive stalled out. The big play on the possession that got the Bucs into field goal range came on third-and-2 at the Tampa Bay 45-yard line. Garcia hit tight end Alex Smith on a drag route after the other Buccaneers receivers ran the coverage out of the play. Smith caught the pass and turned up field for a 35-yard gain. Unfortunately for the Bucs, the offense could not produce a touchdown and had to settle for another field goal.
Garcia's first drive of the fourth quarter started at the Bucs 43-yard line. The Buccaneers couldn't capitalize on the good field position and went three-and-out. It could have been much worse as Garcia was nearly intercepted on two passes. One of them was batted away by Galloway. On third-and-10, Garcia moved around unnecessarily in a comfortable pocket and threw downfield to Clayton. The wide receiver was wide open and dove but Garcia's pass was overthrown.
The following drive, the eighth possession for Tampa Bay, started again with great field position at the Bucs 42-yard line, but again the Buccaneers offense went three-and-out.
The next drive for Tampa Bay was their last of the game. Garcia moved the ball into Dallas territory and hit Ike Hilliard for six yards on fourth-and-4. A few plays earlier Garcia hit Antonio Bryant for six yards, but missed Smith running free down the seam and what would have been a touchdown.
Garcia methodically moved the ball down the field, but only one pass went for more than seven yards, a 13-yard strike to Hilliard. On the final series for Tampa Bay, Garcia did not take any shots at the end zone despite being only 20 yards away. Garcia threw incomplete for tight end Jerramy Stevens on fourth-and-five, and that ended the Bucs comeback attempt.
Overall, Garcia was not as sharp as he had been in the previous two games. He looked similar to the quarterback for Tampa Bay in Week 1 at New Orleans. There were numerous plays were the offensive line gave Garcia a good pocket but he scrambled himself into pass rushers. He also was hesitant to throw the ball downfield throughout the game. Garcia did not lead a touchdown drive, and contributed greatly to the Bucs squandering numerous drives that started with great field position.
GAME GRADE: C-
The Bucs running backs were held in check by the Dallas defense. Warrick Dunn entered the game with a back injury and his workload was considerably less than it had been in past games.
In the first half the Bucs had some successful runs, and other runs that did not have much of an opportunity from the start. The Bucs ran for 25 yards on 10 attempts. Dunn had one carry for no yards, and Earnest Graham could not find much room to run either. Graham ran the ball eight times for 19 yards. Both caught one pass with Dunn's going for five yard and Graham's for three.
Clifton Smith got active in his first NFL game. His first play on offense was a 13-yard catch for a first down. After that Smith did not record a catch, run the ball, or see the field much on offense.
The second half was very similar to the first half for the Bucs running backs. Dunn did not get a single carry in the second half, and made only one reception for three yards. Graham ran the ball nine times for 23 yards. Graham had a little more success catching the ball, in the second half he caught three passes for 19 yards. The Buccaneers workhorse back finished the game with a quiet day of 17 runs for 42 yards with four catches for 22 yards.
Fullback Jameel Cook did not get involved at all as a receiver, and did not have one his better games as a lead blocker. Twice on third-and-1, Cook was ineffective in blowing open a hole for Graham, and the Bucs back was stopped for no gain. The Buccaneers short-yardage rushing attack was much more effective when Graham was given the carries when he lined up at fullback. Graham converted a key fourth-and-1 situation with a carry at fullback on the Bucs final drive.
The Bucs backs also contributed in blitz pickup and did a fairly good job of contributing as pass protectors.
GAME GRADE: C+
The Buccaneers wide receivers corps saw the return of playmaking wideout Joey Galloway. The receiving corps also had wide receiver Ike Hilliard play against the Cowboys after being knocked out of last week's game with a concussion.
Antonio Bryant was used often on the Bucs first drive. He caught three passes for 25 yards. He had a nice run on a screen pass that went for 12 yards, and had a fearless leaping catch over Cowboy DeMarcus Ware that went for five yards and gave the Bucs a third-and-1 that they failed to convert. Early in the game Bryant made five catches for 33 yards. After that the Bucs did not get the ball to Bryant until late the fourth quarter.
Bryant caught two passes on the final drive of the game, one for seven yards and one for six yards. After an excellent game against the Seahawks, the Bucs did not throw the ball very much to Bryant. He finished the game with seven receptions for 46 yards.
Clayton made a great catch on a slant route. The ball was thrown behind him and high, but Clayton jumped and reached back to make the catch. He ran for a few more yards for a 17-yard gain and to the Dallas 14 yard-line. Clayton also contributed some great blocks on wide receiver screens to Galloway. Clayton also got open in the end zone late in the game but was not thrown the ball by Garcia. He did a good job of getting open throughout the game, but did not have much to show for it.
Other than the blocks, there was another great play Clayton that will appear insignificant in the box score. Garcia had a pass batted up into the air at the line of scrimmage; Clayton ran under the ball and caught it at the highest point in front of a few Cowboys. The catch went for two yards, but saved Tampa Bay from a costly interception. Clayton finished the game having caught three passes for 23 yards.
Galloway ran a deep post that was overthrown by Garcia for an incompletion. The Dallas defense was ready and Galloway did not have much separation. Galloway had a dropped pass inside the Dallas 5-yard line that would have gone for a first-and-goal, but an illegal motion penalty on Bryant would have canceled the completion.
Galloway got going on the next possession. On third-and-12, Galloway sat down in the zone and caught a pass a couple yards past the first down yardage, and then turned it up field to make a 20-yard pass to for the first third down conversion of the game. Galloway then caught a wide receiver screen that he turned into a 12-yard gain and a first down. Like Clayton, the veteran Galloway showed his experience on slapping a batted ball out of the air for an incompletion with a few Cowboy defenders close.
In his return to the action and playing his former team, Galloway caught three passes for 38 yards in the game.
Hilliard did not record a catch until the Bucs final drive of the game. After catching a 13-yard pass to get the Bucs close to midfield, Hilliard came up big on fourth-and-4 at the Dallas 29-yard line. Hilliard made clutch catch for six yards and keep Tampa Bay's hopes alive. The veteran receiver made one more reception on the drive for three yards on a third-and-8 that preempted the Bucs final incompletion on fourth down. Hilliard played with a lot of heart, and finished the game with three receptions for 23 yards.
Overall, the Bucs receivers played a good game. They played smart and got open on routes further downfield where Garcia decided to throw the ball short instead.
GAME GRADE: B+
The Bucs tight ends had quiet first half. They caught only one pass, Stevens' nine-yard catch. Alex Smith and John Gilmore were held without a catch. Although they did do a fine job in blocking as Dallas blitzed often.
In the second half, Smith made the first big play for the Bucs. Smith got open on a drag route on third-and-2. Smith caught the pass and turned it up field and raced deep into Dallas territory. The play went for 35 yards and set the Bucs up at the Dallas 21-yard line.
Smith could have been the game's MVP had Garcia seen Smith running free towards the end zone on a seam route during the Bucs final drive of the game. The veteran quarterback instead dumped the ball short to Bryant. If he hit Smith, the tight end would have coasted into the end zone for the game winning score. The Bucs did not go to Smith much in the game as he finished with two catches for 39 yards.
In the fourth quarter, Stevens had a bad dropped pass on third-and-4 that put forced the Bucs to go for it on fourth down. Fortunately for Stevens, Hilliard and Garcia converted it for a fourth down. Stevens finished the game with three catches for 16 yards. Gilmore did not get a reception or a pass thrown his direction.
GAME GRADES: B-
On the Bucs first possession the offensive line did a good job giving quarterback Jeff Garcia time to throw the ball. On third-and-1 at the Dallas Cowboys' 18-yard line, Buccaneers guard Arron Sears was ran over by Cowboy Jay Ratliff, who stopped Graham for no gain and forced Tampa Bay to settle for a field goal.
Center Jeff Faine had a costly holding penalty that put the Bucs in a second-and-13 situation. Two plays later Garcia took a sack, and the Bucs missed a 51-yard field goal.
The Bucs offensive line led the way for the Buccaneers to control the ball in the first half (16:27 to 13:32). There were not a lot of holes that they opened up in the run game, but they did a solid job in pass protection.
The offensive line had some struggles in the second half, as Garcia took a number of hits and was forced to throw a number of passes early. The line also never got the run game going. Although they got great blocks by Sears and left tackle Donald Penn on Graham's fourth down conversion on the Bucs final drive of the game.
After the Bucs lost the game after failing to convert on their final fourth down, Bucs offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for throwing his helmet.
Statistically, it is evident that Bucs could only muster nine points on offense. The Bucs had 15 first downs for 262 total yards. Tampa Bay was 6 for 17 on third down, but won the time of possession 31:37 to 28:23.
GAME GRADES: D+