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QUARTERBACKS Tampa Bay QB Bruce Gradkowski got off to a fast start vs. Dallas Thursday. On the first series of the game, the rookie signal caller scrambled 5 yards to pick up a first down on a third-and-5 play. That scramble proved to be big as it kept the drive alive and allowed Gradkowski to play-action pass to wide receiver Joey Galloway deep for a 53-yard gain a few plays later. Gradkowski and Galloway hooked up again near the left sideline on the same drive, which gave the Bucs a first down and put them inside Dallas’ 10-yard line. The Bucs capped off that 10-play, 90-yard drive with fullback Mike Alstott’s 2-yard touchdown run. However, Gradkowski struggled to find Galloway from that point on. He had Galloway open deep in between two defenders, but he missed him, instead throwing an errant pass to Cowboys safety Roy Williams, who intercepted it and returned the ball to Tampa Bay’s 41-yard line. The Cowboys eventually turned that turnover into seven points. On the next drive, Gradkowski was late on a deep throw to Galloway again, this time missing the speedy receiver down the left sideline as Cowboys cornerback Anthony Henry ran behind him. By the time the pass came down in the end zone, Henry was able to catch up and knock the pass down to the ground. The Bucs settled for a field goal, making the score 14-10 in favor of the Cowboys. Gradkowski completed 6-of-12 passes for 98 yards and threw no touchdowns and one interception in the first half.
Tampa Bay’s offense got off to a bad start in the second half, and things snowballed rather quickly due to the defense’s inability to stop Dallas’ potent offense. On their first offensive series, Gradkowski’s short pass to RB Michael Pittman went off of his hands and into a Dallas defender’s, which resulted in an interception and gave the Cowboys the ball on the Bucs’ 35-yard line already up 28-10. The Bucs and their offense never recovered. In fact, after moving the ball 90 yards on their first drive, the Bucs offense produced just 121 yards the rest of the game. Gradkowski completed 10-of-20 passes (50 percent) for 120 yards and tossed two interceptions.
The Bucs converted 5-of-10 (50 percent) of their third down attempts vs. the Cowboys.
RUNNING BACKS Bucs fullback Mike Alstott had a couple of key plays in the first half. He took a handoff from Gradkowski and scored on a 2-yard run in the first quarter to put the Bucs up 7-0. In the second quarter, Alstott hauled in a short pass from Gradkowski and picked up a key first down on a third down play. But the “A-Train” was derailed on that play after apparently injuring his back. He was taken into the locker room but later returned to action. Alstott had two carries for 4 yards and one catch for 4 yards in the first half. He did not touch the ball in the second half.
Bucs RB Cadillac Williams had more success via the ground game than one might have expected vs. Dallas’ defense, which was allowing just 86 yards on the ground per game heading into this contest. In the second quarter, Williams broke off a 22-yard run to the right side on a third-and-2 pitch play. That great run put the Bucs offense on the Cowboys’ 30-yard line. They later settled for a field goal. Williams rushed 14 times for 67 yards in the first half. However, Tampa Bay’s offense fell flat in the second half, and Williams carried the ball just three times for 9 yards combined in the third and fourth quarter.
Michael Pittman didn’t have a lot of opportunities on offense in the first half, but he had a key drop on a short pass across the middle of the field that would have given the Bucs great field position deep in Cowboys territory. The pass got tipped by a Cowboy defender, but it still hit Pittman in the hands. The Bucs eventually had to settle for a field goal. In the second half, Pittman’s hands failed him again when Gradkowski’s short pass went off of No. 32’s hands and got intercepted by Cowboys linebacker Akin Ayodele on the Bucs’ 35-yard line. The Cowboys later scored a touchdown off of that turnover. Pittman did not see the field on offense or as the team’s kickoff returner for the rest of the game.
Tampa Bay rushed 24 times for 101 yards (4.2 avg.) vs. Dallas.
WIDE RECEIVERS Galloway had a big first half, but it should have been bigger. He came up huge on Tampa Bay’s first offensive series when he hauled in a 53-yard pass from Gradkowski. He might have scored had the ball not been underthrown. However, Galloway caught a pass from Gradkowski near the left sideline on the same drive to help keep the drive alive. The Bucs eventually scored a touchdown. Later in the first quarter, Galloway got himself open deep in between two defenders, but Gradkowski’s pass hung in the air too long and was intercepted by safety Roy Williams. In the second quarter, Galloway did yet another great job of getting open, this time beating cornerback Anthony Henry down the left sideline and putting himself in position to score a touchdown. However, Gradkowski was late getting the pass off, which allowed Henry to catch up and defend the pass. The Bucs eventually had to settle for a field goal. Galloway caught two passes for 66 yards in the first half, but he could have had a much bigger outing. In the second half, Galloway caught just one pass for 5 yards and finished the game with a team-leading three catches for 71 yards vs. his former team.
Bucs WR Michael Clayton had a quiet first half. He was called for an illegal block in the back on Galloway’s 53-yard catch in the first quarter. On the second series of the game, Clayton dove to make a nice catch fro Gradkowski for a 9-yard gain. Like Galloway, Clayton was held to one catch in the second half. He finished the game with two catches for 19 yards.
Tampa Bay ran just 45 offensive plays vs. Dallas, which ran a total of 67 plays on Thursday.
TIGHT ENDS Bucs TE Alex Smith didn’t make the trip to Dallas for Thursday’s game. The team used Dave Moore, Anthony Becht and Doug Jolley to help fill that void. Tampa Bay’s tight ends were effective in the running game, but quiet in the passing game. In fact, none of Tampa Bay’s tight ends had a reception vs. Dallas. The Bucs also had trouble opening up running lanes for Williams once the team fell behind by three scores in the second half.
The Bucs produced just 10 first downs on Thanksgiving Day. In comparison, the Cowboys had 27.
OFFENSIVE LINE Tampa Bay’s offensive line fared better than expected in the running game in the first half, but it struggled to protect Gradkowski in the passing game. Offensive tackles Anthony Davis and Jeremy Trueblood had trouble holding of Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who pressured Gradkowski often and was able to penetrate Tampa Bay’s offensive backfield. However, Bucs guards Davin Joseph and Dan Buenning, and Trueblood each had key blocks on Williams’ 22-yard run off the pitch play in the second quarter. Buenning injured his knee in the fourth quarter after allowing Gradkowski to get sacked and was carted off the field. Tampa Bay’s offense produced just 222 yards, and the offensive line didn’t win the battle in the trenches and got physically dominated in the second half when the offense became one dimensional.
Dallas dominated the time of possession Thursday, 37:17 to 22:43.
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