This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
QUARTERBACKS Tampa Bay’s offensive game plan in the first half featured a lot of play-action passing. In fact, Bucs rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski’s first play from scrimmage was a great play-action fake, but his pass across the middle was a duck and fell short of the intended receiver. On third-and-8 on that same series, Gradkowski checked down to running back Michael Pittman, which forced a punt. On the next series, Gradkowski was still indecisive, throwing a pass to wide receiver Joey Galloway, who was double covered on a quick slant pattern. The pass fell incomplete. The third offensive series didn’t yield better results for the Bucs. On third-and-7, Gradkowski misfired to Galloway again, which forced the Bucs to punt for the third straight series after going three-and-out for the third straight time. Tampa Bay’s first first down of the game came on the team’s fourth offensive series of the contest, which started at the beginning of the second quarter. The first down came after Gradkowski fired a pass to rookie WR Maurice Stovall on a quick slant for a 16-yard gain. Gradkowski was able to keep that drive going on a third down play by lofting a short pass across the middle to WR Paris Warren for a 9-yard gain and a first down. However, on the same series, Gradkowski play-action passed to an open Galloway, but his pass was thrown too late, which allowed a Chicago defender to break up the pass. On third-and-10 on that same series, Gradkowski’s arm got hit by Bears cornerback Ricky Manning Jr., and that hit caused the rookie signal caller to fumble. But the Bucs managed to recover the loose ball and eventually punted. Tampa Bay’s fifth offensive series of the game started at Chicago’s 26-yard line after a nice punt return by Mark Jones and a personal foul penalty on the Bears. However, Tampa Bay’s offense continued to struggle, producing minus-1 yard in three plays before kicker Matt Bryant drilled a 45-yard field goal. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden saw enough of Gradkowski at that point and had backup QB Tim Rattay start to get warmed up on the sideline. Gradkowski finished the game completing 5-of-11 passes for 37 yards.
Rattay entered the game with 3:51 remaining in the first half. At that point, the Bucs were trailing the Bears, 14-3. His first two passes were off the mark and fell incomplete. His third pass, which came on third-and-15, went to Warren for a short gain. The Bucs were forced to punt. At that point, Rattay was as ineffective as Gradkowski, completing 2-of-6 passes for 17 yards.Â The Bucs offense was outgained by the Bears in the first half, 238-64. It was also held without an offensive touchdown for the 13th straight quarter. The score at halftime was 21-3 in favor of the Bears.
But Rattay got the Bucs offense rolling late in the third quarter. He delivered a nice sideline pass to Stovall, who stretched out for the reception and a 19-yard gain. After a 10-play,57-yard drive that was capped off by Mike Alstott’s 14-yard touchdown run, the Bucs forced Devin Hester to fumble the ensuing kickoff, which gave the Bucs the ball on Chicago’s 16-yard line. The Bucs took advantage of that turnover when Rattay fired a perfect pass to tight end Alex Smith in the corner of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown. On the next drive, Rattay overthrew Galloway and was intercepted by free safety Chris Harris. However, Rattay came up big on the next drive. With the Bucs pinned back near their own goal line, Rattay delivered a 30-yard pass on third down to Galloway. A few plays later, Rattay lofted a pass to Galloway, who brought in the ball and outraced Manning Jr. for a 64-yard touchdown, which made the score 31-24 with 6:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. On the next drive, Rattay threw a perfect strike to WR Ike Hilliard on a quick slant for a 44-yard touchdown. That play, along with the extra point, tied the game at 31 and sent it into overtime. Although the Bucs won the coin toss in overtime, Rattay and Co. failed to move the ball into scoring range, and the Bears eventually won the contest with a 25-yard field goal. Rattay completed 20-of-35 passes for 268 yards and tossed three touchdown and one interception while engineering a total of four touchdown drives.
Tampa Bay produced 357 yards of total offense vs. Chicago, which entered Sunday’s game with the No. 3-ranked defense in the NFL.
RUNNING BACKS Tampa Bay’s ground attack was nearly non-existent in the first half. The Bucs attempted to come out and open up the running game by play-action passing on the Bears. But with Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks, particularly Gradkowski, missing open receivers and Chicago jumping out to a 24-3 lead, that game plan quickly changed.
Bucs RB Cadillac Williams carried the ball just five times for 8 yards. His longest run of the half was a 7-yarder. Williams also caught one pass for a 7-yard gain in the first quarter. He finished the game with 11 carries for 26 yards while finding little to no running room throughout the game. He caught two passes for 12 yards.
Fullback Mike Alstott struggled as a lead blocker. In the second quarter on a third-and-10 play, Alstott failed to pick up Bears cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. on a blitz. Manning Jr. hit Gradkowski’s arm and forced a fumble, but the Bucs recovered. Alstott carried the ball one time for 2 yards in the first half. In the third quarter, Alstott got a little more involved in the offensive attack. He hauled in a screen pass from Rattay for a 4-yard gain. The “A-Train” picked up a key first down on a third-and-1 play late in the third quarter. That run kept the promising drive alive, and Alstott finished it off with a 14-yard touchdown run, which was the offense’s first touchdown in 13 quarters. It came with just 25 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Alstott carried the ball six times for 26 yards and one touchdown while catching one pass for 4 yards.
Michael Pittman carried the ball twice for 5 yards. He also caught one pass for a 5-yard gain in the first half, but finished the game with four catches for 30 yards. Pittman was somewhat effective in terms of picking up blitzing defenders in the offensive backfield.
Tampa Bay FB Jerald Sowell saw as significant amount of playing time Sunday, especially in the second half. However, he had a false start penalty in overtime, which moved the Bucs from a third-and-1 play into a third-and-6 situation.
The Bucs rushed 19 times for 57 yards (3.0 avg.) vs. Chicago.
WIDE RECEIVERS Tampa Bay’s receivers actually managed to get themselves open quite a bit vs. Chicago’s secondary, but the quarterbacks struggled to get them the football for nearly three quarters.
That all changed late in the third quarter with Tampa Bay’s offense pinned back near its own end zone. Rattay dropped back to throw in his own end zone on a third down play and found WR Joey Galloway down the right seam for a 30-yard gain. A few plays later, Rattay play-action passed to Galloway, who got himself open vs. Ricky Manning Jr. and outraced Chicago’s cornerback to the end zone for a 64-yard touchdown, which was the longest play of the season for the Bucs. That score made it 31-24 in favor of the Bears. Galloway finished Sunday’s game with three catches for 107 yards and one touchdown. His first reception of the game was his 600th career catch.
Bucs WR Ike Hilliard also came up big in the fourth quarter. He did a great job of getting separation from the defensive back en route to hauling in a perfectly thrown ball from Rattay on a slant and outracing three Bears defenders to the end zone while delivering a stiff arm for a 44-yard touchdown, which tied the game at 31. That play was Hilliard’s longest as a Buccaneer. He finished the game with three catches for 55 yards.
Rookie WR Maurice Stovall picked up Tampa Bay’s first first down of the game early in the second quarter when he caught a 16-yard pass on a quick slant from Gradkowski. Late in the third quarter, Stovall made a miraculous sideline catch for a 19-yard gain and first down, but the rookie was called for a personal foul — unsportsmanlike conduct — penalty after he threw the ball down over his shoulder and towards Manning Jr. Stovall caught three passes for 42 yards vs. the Bears.
Bucs WR Paris Warren also saw extended playing time. He caught two passes for 19 yards, including a 10-yarder that picked up a first down in the first half. Warren did not catch a pass in the second half.
Tampa Bay converted 6-of-18 (33 percent) of its third down attempts vs. Chicago.
TIGHT ENDS Alex Smith and Anthony Becht spent most of the first half blocking on the perimeter for the running game, but most of Tampa Bay’s run plays were designed to go up the middle. However, the tight ends got involved in the passing attack in the second half when Smith got himself open against a defensive lineman in the end zone and hauled in a 9-yard pass from Rattay for a touchdown. However, in overtime, Smith caught a pass from Rattay and attempted to muscle his way up the right sideline for extra yardage, but had the football pulled out of his arms in the process. Although the play was challenged since the Chicago defender that recovered the football appeared to be out of bounds, the Bears retained possession but later missed a field goal attempt. Smith caught a team-leading five passes for 34 yards on Sunday. Becht caught two passes for 12 yards.
OFFENSIVE LINE Tampa Bay’s offensive line did a decent job in pass protection in the first quarter, but the play-action fakes had more to do with that than anything else. Once the Bears jumped out to a 14-3 lead, their defense began to tee off. In the second quarter, Gradkowski got hit by cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. on a blitz and fumbled the football. Bucs left tackle Anthony Davis managed to recover the ball. Late in the first half, Davis was called for a false start, which put the Bucs offense in a third-and-15 position. Davis was called for another false start in overtime. This unit completely failed to open up holes for the running game, which was grounded by Chicago’s defense. Tampa Bay’s line showed poor awareness at times, especially in the third quarter when Chicago defensive end Alex Brown jumped offsides and managed to get back onsides without center John Wade even snapping the ball. Late in the third quarter, Bucs rookie right tackle Jeremy Trueblood was called for a false start. However, that mistake was nothing compared to unsportsmanlike conduct penalty Trueblood received after he took off his helmet and threw it down to the ground in frustration after Smith fumbled the ball and the Bears recovered it in overtime. Chicago recovered Smith’s fumble at the 40-yard line, but Trueblood’s penalty put the Bears offense on the Bucs’ 25-yard line. But Trueblood got bailed out when Bears kicker Robbie Gould missed a field goal attempt.
The Bucs allowed two sakcs. Chicago dominated the time of possession vs. Tampa Bay, 41:56 to 29:27.
Looking for the best selection of Tampa Bay Buccaneers merchandise? Pewter Report endorses Sports Fan-Attic, with 9 Tampa Bay area locations in most major malls. To shop for Bucs merchandise on the Internet, as well as the largest selection of NFL, NCAA, NBA, NHL, MLB and NASCAR, visit SportsFanAtticShop.com.