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GAME GRADES: OFFENSE
QUARTERBACKS Starting quarterback Josh Johnson had the game start out poorly when he threw his sixth interception of the year. The pass was intended for wide receiver Sammie Stroughter who ran to the first down marker and stopped. Johnson did not see Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather, and the third-year safety jumped the route and made an easy interception. Meriweather coasted 39 yards for a touchdown.
On the next possession Johnson made some nice plays to move the ball into Patriots territory. He scrambled and hit running back Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams for 19 yards on second-and-10, and completed an 11-yard pass to Stroughter on third-and-9 while being blitzed and having to make a quick decision. The next pass from Johnson ended the drive in the same manner as the first possession when he threw an interception to Meriweather ,who returned the ball close to mid-field.
Johnson threw to wide receiver Michael Clayton downfield, but the veteran wide out was well covered. The pass was high and off the mark. It was batted in the air and Meriweather came under the ball. The interception took away a chance for the Buccaneers to at least come away with a field goal.
Johnson had a hard time moving the ball with five three-and-outs after the interception. On the second to last possession before halftime Johnson got the Buccaneers on the scoreboard. The first big play made by Johnson on the drive was an 18-yard strike to wide receiver Antonio Bryant on an out route. The next play got Tampa Bay on the scoreboard. Johnson threw a deep bomb for Bryant who ran a go route and beat rookie cornerback Darius Butler. Bryant ran under the well-thrown pass, and cruised into the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown.
The Bucs got the ball back for a final attempt to get points on the board in the first half, but Johnson was unable to get the ball moving. The second quarter ended with Johnson being intercepted by Butler on a Hail Mary. In the first half Johnson was 6-of-16 for 95 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He ran the ball once for seven yards.
Johnson did not have a lot of success in the third quarter. He hit receiver Sammie Stroughter for a 17-yard gain, but that play had the yardage reduced from a penalty. On the same possession, Johnson scrambled and threw a pass deep down the field for Stroughter. The rookie receiver went up and snared the ball for a 35-yard gain.
Late in the third quarter Johnson got the ball at the New England 39 yard-line, but was unable to move the Buccaneers. Johnson was off the mark on two passes and the Bucs chose to punt. It was the final possession of the game for Johnson as Josh Freeman replaced him after that series.
Johnson finished the game 9-of-26 for 156 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. The Patriots hurried Johnson and hit him often. He was never able to get in a rhythm. Johnson was very inaccurate with his passes, and could not get the offense to move the ball with any consistency.
Freeman handed the ball off on his first two snaps. He took a sack on the first time he dropped back to pass. Freeman had no chance to do anything as the offensive line was beaten quickly off the snap. He threw a strike on slant to wide receiver Brian Clark for 12 yards. On third down Freeman had to throw the ball away.
The next possession from Freeman saw him getting sacked by Patriots outside linebacker Derrick Burgess, and fumbling the ball on fourth down. In two series Freeman completed 2-of-4 passes for 16 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked twice.
GAME GRADE: F
RUNNING BACKS Starting running back Williams had some good plays in the first quarter. He had a nice run of nine yards, 11 yards, nine yards, and a reception of 19 yards. Outside of those plays it was a very quiet game for Williams. He had very few holes to run through, and with the Bucs falling behind quickly they did not have a lot of opportunities to get Williams carries. Williams had nine rushes for 30 yards in the first half. Williams had only two carries in the second half, and they totaled a loss of one yard.
In the first quarter running back Derrick Ward was called for a chop block penalty that put the Bucs in a second-and-23 situation. The veteran Ward came back to get the Bucs touchdown drive started with two runs that went for 20 yards. Those carries took Bucs to the middle of the field. Ward finished his runs well, and showed good speed hitting the hole. Ward had eight carries for 35 yards in the first half. In the second half Ward had five rushes for 13 yards, and one of those carries went for nine yards. He had the same issues as Williams with a lack of holes to run through and few opportunities.
Running back turned fullback Earnest Graham had a number of missed blocks in his first game as the starting fullback this season. Graham got beaten badly on the Bucs third-and-1 at midfield in the second quarter. The missed blocks also happened in pass protection as Graham seemed to be a step slow in getting to the blitzers, or he took bad angles. He did not record a reception or carry in the game. GAME GRADE: C-
WIDE RECEIVERS The Buccaneers wide receivers did not get a lot accurate passes thrown their direction on Sunday. Johnson was regularly high and off the mark when trying to get to his receivers down field. However the receivers saw man coverage primarily, but were not consistently getting enough separation to let Johnson have some easy completions.
Starting wide receiver Michael Clayton did not record a catch against the Patriots, and seemed to struggle in getting separation from the New England defensive backs. It was the third game of the season that Clayton was held without a reception.
Bryant had two catches for 51 yards and a touchdown in the first half, and that was all of his production against New England. Both catches came on the Bucs second to last drive of the half. Bryant had an 18-yard catch for a first down on an out route that he beat his defender on his break. The next play Bryant beat Butler on a go route to haul in a 33-yard touchdown pass. Bryant made a nice over the shoulder catch just as he was crossing the goal line.
Bryant came close to a nice gain in the third quarter but slipped and fell during his route. The pass from Johnson was almost caught by Bryant while sitting on the ground, but the franchise player was unable to make the catch. Bryant spiked the ball in frustration after the play, and was called for a delay of game penalty.
In the third quarter Stroughter got involved in the offense with a 17-yard catch for a first down. Stroughter made a great cut and worked his way up field for a nice run after the catch. Stroughter got involved with a 35-yard catch from Johnson on third-and-9. The pass was high and Stroughter leapt into the air to cradle the ball against his stomach. Stroughter finished the game as the Bucs leading receiver with three catches for 63 yards.
Backup wide receiver Brian Clark contributed a 12-yard catch late in the fourth quarter.
GAME GRADE: B-
TIGHT ENDS It was quiet game for the Bucs tight ends. Backups Jerramy Stevens and John Gilmore saw very little snaps on offense, and did not record a reception. Starting tight end Kellen Winslow had only one catch for six yards in the first half, and also had a dropped pass. Winslow caught a three-yard pass from Freeman late in the fourth quarter, but that was it for the Buccaneers leading receiver. The Patriots seemed focused on taking away the Tampa Bay's leading receiver.
The tight ends struggled in blocking on the edges. They allowed some blitzers to get them by them and pressure the quarterback.
GAME GRADE: D
OFFENSIVE LINE The Bucs starting offensive line of left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Jeremy Zuttah, center Jeff Faine, right guard Davin Joseph, and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood all allowed Johnson to be pressured, hit, and sacked by the Patriots. The pressure was constant, and Johnson was never able to get comfortable in the pocket throwing the ball.
Zuttah had a nice block to open a hole for Williams to run for 11 yards, but Zuttah had a lot of struggles in blocking the Patriots defensive tackles. Vince Wilfork beat Zuttah regularly to stop runs for no gain. Rookie seventh-round pick Myron Pryor shed Zuttah to put a punishing hit on Johnson to force an incompletion on third down. The rookie was a real problem for the Bucs offensive line all game. Faine gave up a sack to Pryor late in the fourth quarter.
Due to the interceptions and quick scoring by the Patriots, the Bucs won the time of possession 16:24 to 13:36 in the first half. Tampa Bay had 162 yards of total offense with 72 yards rushing and 90 yards passing. The Bucs offense had only seven first downs in the first half despite having the ball nine possessions.
The sloppy play was seen on missed assignments and penalties. Joseph was beaten on a third-and-1 at midfield in the second quarter by defensive tackle Ty Warren. Joseph was called for an unnecessary roughness in the third quarter that negated the yardage earned on a 17-yard reception by Stroughter. Penn was called for a holding on Wilfork in the third quarter, but the penalty was declined in order to accept the penalty on Bryant. Penn did recover Freeman's fumble on the last play of the game for the Bucs offense.
The Tampa Bay offense struggled to move the ball more in the second half than they did in the first half. In the final two quarters, the Bucs offense only produced three first downs. The line was ineffective in opening up holes on the ground, and did a poor job of pass protection. The quarterbacks were constantly being hurried, and not in a position to get comfortable throwing the ball.
They finished the game with 10 first downs on 14 possessions. They produced 240 yards of total offense with 89 rushing and 151 passing. They allowed three sacks, and lost the time of possession 33:15 to 26:45. GAME GRADE: D
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com