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Tampa Bay’s offense was able to move the ball with success in the first half. Bucs rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski started the game 2-of-2 for 29 yards, including a 25-yard screen pass to running back Michael Pittman on a third-and-8 play, but his third pass of the game on a third-and-4 play got batted down at the line of scrimmage. The Bucs capped off that 10-play, 45-yard drive with a 42-yard Matt Bryant field goal. Gradkowski actually started the game 5-of-7 for 52 yards while leading two scoring drives on Tampa Bay’s first two possessions, but he hadn’t completed a pass to a wide receiver until the third series of the game on a third-and-5 play when he hit Joey Galloway across the middle of the field for a 22-yard gain. But the Bucs didn’t come away with points on that promising drive as Bryant’s 51-yard field goal missed. However, Gradkowski completed 7-of-12 passes for 76 yards and did a nice job of taking care of the football, which allowed the Bucs to go into halftime with a 6-0 lead.
The second half was a much different story, although it produced the same results – no touchdowns. Gradkowski started the second half by completing a 13-yard pass WR Ike Hilliard near the flat. But then the rookie signal caller overthrew Galloway deep near the left sideline a few plays later. On third-and-4 play on the same series, Gradkowski got sacked by Falcons defensive end John Abraham, who caused a fumble. Linebacker Demorrio Williams recovered the loose ball and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown, which helped the Falcons go up 7-6. Whatever air was left in Tampa Bay’s balloon quickly came out after that play. On the next series, Gradkowski misfired on a pass to an open Pittman. After the Bucs punted on that series, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden had Tim Rattay get warmed up on the sideline. However, he didn’t come into the contest. In the meantime, Gradkowski and Tampa Bay’s offense continued to sputter.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Gruden actually made the switch, benching Gradkowski and putting Rattay in the starting lineup. Gradkowski finished the game completing 13-of-24 passes for 121 yards. However, Rattay’s starting stint was short-lived. After throwing an incomplete pass to rookie WR Maurice Stovall, Rattay handed off the ball to Cadillac Williams, who fumbled. The Falcons recovered the ball on the Bucs’ 13-yard line. On Tampa Bay’s final series of the game, Rattay led the Bucs offense down inside the Falcons’ 5-yard line while Atlanta played a prevent-type defense. However, Rattay fumbled a snap from center and managed to recover. And as time was getting set to expire, he took the final snap from center and got sacked before he could even throw the ball into the end zone, which assured the Bucs offense their second straight game without a touchdown. Rattay completed 9-of-13 passes for 89 yards.
Tampa Bay produced just 272 yards of offense and converted 8-of-17 (47 percent) of its third down attempts vs. Atlanta.
Tampa Bay didn’t have success running the football in the first half, but it had enough on a few plays. Cadillac Williams carried the ball 12 times for 38 yards while struggling to find holes. He picked up 6 yards on a third-and-4 play on the second series of the game. Williams had a quiet second half, and he had an extremely costly fumble with less than five minutes remaining in the game, which allowed the Falcons to recover the ball on the Bucs’ 13-yard line. Atlanta eventually turned that turnover into 7 points, which put the game out of reach. Williams carried the ball 20 times for 48 yards (2.4 avg.). His longest run was a 6-yarder.
Bucs RB Michael Pittman was quite productive in the first half. He picked up 25 yards on a screen pass from Gradkowski on third-and-8 on the first offensive series. That play put the Bucs on the Falcons’ 41-yard line. On the second series of the game, Pittman hauled in an 8-yard pass from Gradkowski in the flat. On the same series, he made a great sideline grab to help put the Bucs inside the Falcons’ red zone in the second quarter. Pittman caught three passes for 43 yards in the first half. Pittman continued to be one of Gradkowski’s favorite targets in the passing game in the third quarter when he hauled in a 10-yard pass from the rookie quarterback in the flat. That play picked up a first down. Pittman carried the ball three times for 4 yards, but he caught a team-leading seven passes for 73 yards vs. the Falcons.
Fullback Mike Alstott had a couple of big plays in the first half. He picked up a big first down on a third-and-3 run on the first series of the game. That run put the ball on Atlanta’s 31-yard line. However, the “A-Train’s” biggest run came on the second series of the game on a third-and-1 play when Alstott broke outside and busted off a 17-yard run to Atlanta’s 24-yard line. That run put Alstott over the 5,000-career rushing mark. The Bucs would end up kicking a field goal on that drive. Alstott carried the ball two times for 20 yards in the first half. He caught two passes for 4 yards. Alstott touched the ball one time in the second half.
The Bucs rushed 29 times for 80 yards (2.8 avg.) vs. the Falcons.
Tampa Bay’s receivers had a quiet first half. In fact, Joey Galloway caught the first pass of any Bucs receiver Sunday. That catch didn’t come until midway through the second quarter, but it was big as Galloway gained 22 yards on the third-and-5 play. But two plays later, Galloway dropped a pass from Gradkowski that would have gone for a 10-yard gain. The speedy receiver reaped the benefits of Atlanta’s prevent defense late in the fourth quarter by hauling in some passes from Rattay. He helped the offense get down near the goal line, but the Bucs couldn’t put the ball in. Galloway finished the game with five catches for 64 yards.
Bucs WR Ike Hilliard picked up 13 yards on a pass thrown to him in the flat at the beginning of the third quarter. Hilliard caught four passes for 32 yards vs. the Falcons.
Rookie WR Maurice Stovall served as the team’s No. 3 receiver. Despite seeing a significant amount of action, Stovall didn’t catch a pass vs. the Falcons’ 31st-ranked pass defense.
Bucs WR Paris Warren saw a limited amount of playing time and catch one pass for 9 yards.
Although 10 of Tampa Bay’s 15 first downs came via the passing game, the Bucs’ receivers didn’t do enough to get open and make plays vs. Atlanta’s suspect secondary, which was without starting cornerback Jason Webster.
The tight ends spent most of game blocking, and with the exception of Alstott’s 17-yard run, the Bucs didn’t have much success in that area. Tampa Bay’s pass-catching threat, TE Alex Smith, caught two passes for 17 yards and was ineffective. Bucs TE Anthony Becht ran several routes but didn’t have passes thrown his way.
Gradkowski only dropped back to pass 12 times in the first half, and pass protection was adequate. However, this unit, particularly interior offensive linemen Sean Mahan, John Wade and Davin Joseph, didn’t have much success in the trenches. In the third quarter, Bucs rookie right tackle Jeremy Trueblood false started, which put the offense in a third-and-15 situation. With 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bucs left tackle Anthony Davis allowed Falcons defensive end John Abraham to sack Gradkowski, which caused a fumble. Not only did Davis allow the sack and fumble to occur, he fell on the loose ball and failed to recover it, which allowed Falcons linebacker Demorrio Williams to pick up the ball and return it 54 yards for a touchdown. On the next series, Davis was called for a false start, which put the Bucs in a third-and-17 situation. Tampa Bay’s offensive line didn’t play well in the first half, and it completely fell apart in the second half. This unit got physically dominated and failed to open up holes for the running backs. It also failed to give Gradkowski and Rattay a comfortable pocket to pass out of.
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