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Josh Freeman started the first road game of his NFL career at Miami, and the rookie signal caller had a slow start. Freeman started two of his first three drives with great field position at midfield. Only one of the drives produced points. Freeman took a delay of game on third-and-6. The penalty forced Tampa Bay to run on third down, but the Bucs were able to get a field goal out of the possession.
After a nice 16-yard pass to fullback Earnest Graham, Freeman fumbled the ball away after he did not secure the snap from center Jeff Faine. Miami recovered that fumble, but the Dolphins did not do a good job of capitalizing on Freeman's mistakes.
On the next possession Freeman moved up in the pocket to buy time, and was sacked from behind by the Dolphins Charlie Anderson. Freeman fumbled the ball, and it rolled free away from the offensive and defensive line. The Bucs were fortunate that none of the Miami defenders around the ball were able to control it. Left tackle Donald Penn dove on the loose ball.
On the next drive Freeman's fumbling woes continued. Anderson beat Penn around the corner and slapped the ball out of Freeman's hand as he was sacking him. Running back Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams recovered the fumble. After a seven-yard run from Williams, Freeman converted a third-and-7 by avoiding a sack and running up the middle of the field for 11 yards. The big 6-foot-6, 265-pound quarterback showed some shifty footwork and acceleration to get through the bodies of the line.
A controversial play went against Freeman and the Bucs in the second quarter. The play was ruled an interception when really Freeman had thrown a pass to wide receiver Michael Clayton. The pass was accurate but Clayton did not maintain possession of the ball as he rolled on the ground. It bounced into the air and was grabbed by Miami.
In the first half Freeman completed 5-of-9 passes for 49 yards and the interception. The 21-year old quarterback held onto the ball too long at times, and did a bad job of securing the football. In the first half, Freeman had three fumbles, and one interception.
The second half saw Freeman and the Bucs offense have more success. Freeman got the Bucs in field goal position with a 37-yard pass to tight end Kellen Winslow along the sideline. The pass was well thrown to let Winslow run after the catch. The next play was a near disaster for Freeman as he missed a shotgun snap and had to run back and recover the loose ball. It went for a loss of 13 yards. The Bucs got a field goal out of the drive.
The next possession saw better results for the Buccaneers. Freeman did a good job converting a third-and-2 while facing a few blitzers when he hit Clayton for three yards. After a 19-yard pass to Winslow running a deep cross, Freeman got the Buccaneers into the end zone.
Freeman dropped back to pass and had good time to throw the ball. He lofted an excellent pass into wide receiver Maurice Stovall. The ball dropped into Stovall's waiting hands for a 33-yard touchdown.
Winslow let Freeman down on the next drive when he dropped a catch on third down. The Bucs would have had a first down if the normally sure-handed tight end had held onto the ball.
Freeman brought the Bucs deep into Miami territory on the their next possession. The Freeman to Winslow connection combined for 27 yards on two catches to get the Bucs to the Dolphins' 22-yard line. Freeman took some shots downfield. He threw incomplete in the end zone for Williams, and tossed a nice pass into a leaping Stovall just in front of the goal line. Stovall had the ball, but as he was falling on the ground Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis smacked the ball out of his hands for an incompletion. On fourth-and-6, Freeman threw too high for Winslow.
The rookie signal caller got another shot to lead the Bucs to a win after a Dolphins turnover set Tampa Bay up at the Miami 26-yard line. On the first play Freeman ran for 14 yards. A few plays later, Williams got into the end zone to give Tampa Bay a 23-22 lead.
Freeman threw one more pass on the game as the Buccaneers tried a lateral play to get a win, but Miami stopped the attempt. For the game Freeman was 16-of-28 for 196 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He ran the ball seven times for 36 yards. He had four fumbles. One of which was lost, and the other three combined to cost the Buccaneers -13 yards.
GAME GRADE: C+
Derrick Ward and Williams had a hard time finding good holes to run through in the first two quarters of the game. The Buccaneers top two tailbacks totaled 12 carries for 48 yards.
Williams got loose around the left side of the offensive line on a 14-yard run. The fifth-year back out of Auburn put his head down finished his run well. He had seven carries for 30 yards in the first half. Ward chipped in 18 yards on five carries. On two carries the Bucs got 25 yards, and had 23 yards on their other 10 carries.
The second half did not feature any more running room for Williams. He had seven carries for 22 yards. Still, Williams ran hard and did a good job of breaking some tackles and never going down from first contact. On first-and-goal from the one-yard line, Williams plunged through the pile and crossed the goal line for a touchdown. That score gave Tampa Bay the lead late in the fourth quarter.
Williams finished the game with 52 yards on 14 carries. He also did a good job of blitz pickup in the game.
Like Williams, Ward had a hard time finding running lanes in the second half. He received the same number of carries that he had in the first half, five, and totaled 16 yards. For the game Ward had 10 carries for 34 yards. Neither Ward nor Williams caught a pass in the game.
Fullback Earnest Graham got involved with a 16-yard reception in the first quarter. After catching the ball in the flat Graham turned and ran up field along the sideline for 16 yards. Graham was okay as a lead blocker, but was unable to blow open any big holes.
Tampa Bay's running backs combined to run for 86 yards on 24 carries for an average of 3.6 yards per carry.
GAME GRADE: B-
The Buccaneers were without starting split end wide receiver Antonio Bryant for the second straight game. Replacing him in the lineup was Stovall. The Bucs offense was missing their franchise player Bryant, as the receivers struggled to get open and create separation from the Miami defensive backs.
Stovall was the only wide out to have any success against the Dolphins. He caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Freeman running down the sideline. Stovall beat Dolphins cornerback Shaun Smith. Stovall ran straight down the sideline and got a step on Smith. It was a nice throw and catch from Freeman to Stovall.
Late in the fourth quarter Freeman went back to Stovall a couple yards shy of the end zone. The pass was tossed into the big 6-foot-5 receiver. He went up in the air and snared the pass, but as he was coming down to the ground Davis was able to slap the ball out of Stovall's hands. For the game, Stovall caught four passes for 47 yards with a touchdown.
Outside of him the rest of the receiving corps had a quiet game. Rookie receiver Sammie Stroughter had two catches for 13 yards against Miami, and
Brian Clark was called for a holding call when the Bucs had a first-and-10 near midfield. Clark did not make a catch. Stroughter, Clark, and Clayton combined for three catches for 16 yards.
Clayton caught one pass for three yards against the Dolphins. He was part of the controversial play late in the first half. Clayton caught a pass for about a 13-yard gain. As he was being tackled he rolled over on the ground and the ball popped into the air. Dolphin Jason Taylor caught the ball and returned it for a touchdown. The pass was originally ruled to be incomplete.
The officials reviewed the play. On the replays it showed that Clayton made the catch, and looked to be down by contact. The officials ruled that Clayton did not control the ball through the entire process of hitting ground and thus never secured the completion. The ball never hit the ground, so when Taylor caught it was a live ball. Thus the Dolphins had possession of the ball. Because it was originally ruled incomplete, the Dolphins were awarded the ball but not a touchdown. It was a questionable call that went for Miami. Still Clayton should have been able to hold onto the pass. If he did it never would have gone the Dolphins way on the review, and gift wrapped a touchdown for them.
GAME GRADE: C+
It was a quiet game for Winslow until midway through the third quarter when he made the big play on the Bucs third quarter field goal drive.
Winslow caught a pass along the sideline, and juked Dolphins defender Yeremiah Bell to get up field. The Bucs leading receiver showed great acceleration getting downfield and breaking the play for a huge gain. Eventually Winslow was pushed out of bounds, but not before he gained 37 yards.
On the next drive the Bucs continued to work the ball to Winslow. A pass was dropped by the tight end, but Winslow came back to catch a 19-yard pass on a deep cross. That pass helped set up the touchdown pass from Freeman to Stovall. Later in the fourth quarter, Winslow dropped a pass running across the middle of the Dolphins defense on third-and-3. The Bucs were backed up inside their own 20-yard line, so it was a costly three-and-out due to Winslow's drop. Miami got a field goal on their possession after the dropped pass.
Winslow was Freeman's favorite target and got the Buccaneers deep into Miami territory with two catches for 27 yards on a fourth quarter drive. He also made a catch for four yards to get the Bucs inside the Dolphins' 10-yard line on their lead-capturing drive in the fourth quarter. For the game Winslow led Tampa Bay in receiving with seven catches for 102 yards.
The game saw some mistakes from Winslow as well. Along with the dropped passes, Winslow was called for a false start, and an unsportsmanlike penalty after Williams' go-ahead touchdown. Luckily for Winslow on the ensuing kickoff, the Bucs special teams and a Dolphins mistake made the penalty irrelevant as Miami started at their 15-yard line. He also made no attempt to tackle Taylor as he returned the ball in the controversial play with Clayton.
Tight end Jerramy Stevens had a 15-yard reception in the game, and tight end John Gilmore saw some action on offense as a blocker.
GAME GRADE: B+
The Buccaneers offensive line had their hands full with the Dolphins defense on Sunday. Miami was able to put a lot of pressure on the Bucs offensive line with a variety of blitzes. The pass rush forced fumbles, and prevented Freeman from completing some passes downfield. It was a hard first half for the Bucs offensive tackles.
Penn recovered a fumble after giving up a sack to Anderson. The big left tackle had Anderson blocked, but when Freeman scrambled towards the line of scrimmage Anderson changed direction and forced the fumble that Penn recovered.
Anderson beat Penn for another sack fumble in the second quarter. This time Anderson burst by Penn off the snap and turned the corner. Anderson swatted the ball out of Freeman's hand, and Williams recovered the loose ball. Penn's rough first half continued late in the second quarter when he gave up a tackle for a loss to Taylor on a first-and-10 play at the Tampa Bay six-yard line.
Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood gave up a similar sack late in the first half. Backup Dolphins defender Cameron Wake beat Trueblood around the edge and dropped Freeman for a sack.
In the first half the Bucs had 93 total yards of offense. The Dolphins had 90 more yards of offense at halftime, and as a result won the time of possession 13:55 to 16:05.
The line made some halftime adjustments, and did a much better job of forming a good pocket for Freeman to throw out of. The interior of the line in particular, left guard Jeremy Zuttah, Faine, and right guard Davin Joseph, did a good job in pass protection. Penn and Trueblood cleaned up their play, and were much more effective in the second half. The Bucs offensive line did not allow a sack in the second half of the game.
While the pass protection was better in the second half, the run blocking did not improve. The Buccaneers could never get the ground game going. They totaled 122 yards rushing. If it weren't for Freeman scrambling to get 36 yards, the Bucs would have been held to less than 100 yards rushing.
Tampa Bay had 302 yards of total offense. They lost the time of possession 28:46 to 31:14.
GAME GRADE: C+