TAMPA – What happens when Jon Gruden’s offense fails to execute on offense, turns the ball over, doesn’t put enough points on the board? What happens when Monte Kiffin’s defense can’t force a turnover, can’t pressure the passer, surrenders a 92-yard drive and gives up three red zone touchdowns?
The Bucs lose.
That’s exactly what happened in Sunday’s Wild Card playoff game against the visiting New York Giants who emerged victorious, 24-14.
Tampa Bay’s defense couldn’t get enough pressure on Eli Manning, who picked apart the Bucs’ secondary all day completing 20-of-27 passes (74 percent) for 185 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His primary target of the day wasn’t Plaxico Burress. Instead, it was Amani Toomer, who caught seven passes for 74 yards and one touchdown. Manning, who threw the most interceptions in 2007 with 20, took exceptionally good care of the ball.
The same can’t be said of Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia, who sat out the last game and a half to rest and avoid injury. Garcia finished the game 23-of-39 (59 percent) for 207 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, one of which was in the end zone. Garcia’s QB rating was 60.5, while Manning’s was 117.1.
This game boiled down to Tampa Bay’s offense and defense not doing enough, not making enough plays, the Bucs losing the turnover battle 3-0, and fumbling away the second half kickoff at their own 30-yard line. The Giants scored a field goal off that turnover and jumped out to a 17-7 lead early in the third quarter. After Garcia’s end zone interception in the third quarter, the Giants went on a 15-play, 92-yard touchdown drive that consumed 8:37 off the clock.
With the Giants up 24-7 with 8:03 left in the fourth quarter, the game was essentially over. A 6-yard touchdown pass from Garcia to tight end Alex Smith with 3:25 left in the game dressed up the final score, 24-14.
Running back Earnest Graham carried the ball 18 times for 63 yards for the Buccaneers and scored a touchdown in addition to catching four passes for 27 yards, but he was the lone Buccaneer on offense who was overly productive. Wide receiver Joey Galloway aggravated his shoulder injury in the game and was held to one catch for nine yards and one reverse for minus-4 yards. The frustrated Galloway squabbled with Gruden and left the game with 4:00 remaining and wasn’t in on Tampa Bay’s final touchdown drive.
Gruden was questioned about his decision to hold out several key starters over the past two games – both Buccaneers losses – after clinching the NFC South title. But the rest vs. rust issue can’t really be called into question as Tampa Bay dominated the first quarter, out-gaining New York 78 yards to minus-2 and taking an early 7-0 lead.
However, the Giants defense stiffened after falling behind, getting great pressure on Garcia and not allowing him time to set his feet and throw the ball. Although he was sacked only one time, Garcia was hit close to a dozen times by New York’s front four and its blitzing linebackers. Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan led the Giants with nine tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and three QB hurries.
With Tampa Bay’s offense stagnating in the second quarter, New York’s offense came to life under Manning, who nickeled and dimed and picked apart the Bucs secondary. While Tampa Bay did a good job containing 6-foot-4, 264-pound running back Brandon Jacobs, holding him to 34 yards on 13 carries (2.6 avg.), Jacobs did score an 8-yard touchdown on the ground and also caught a 5-yard touchdown pass. Rookie running back Ahmad Bradshaw led all rushers with 66 yards on 17 carries and chipped in a 9-yard reception.
The Bucs defense allowed the Giants to score three touchdowns inside the red zone, which has been a disturbing trend in its last four losses. Tampa Bay’s offense was two-for-two in the red zone, but just didn’t get there enough.
Three weeks ago, Tampa Bay was 9-5 after winning its NFC South championship against Atlanta and it seemed as if Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen would be in line for contract extensions. But with the Bucs losing three of their last four, including three in a row with the loss to the Giants, who advance to Dallas to play the Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Playoff game, they may have to play out the final season of their contracts before the Glazers make a final decision.
Gruden’s postseason record in Tampa Bay is 3-2, but the Bucs have lost their last two playoff games at home.
Questions also surround Kiffin’s future in Tampa Bay as the contract of the 67-year old defensive coordinator expires later this month. Kiffin’s defense finished the year ranked second in the NFL, but the same problems that have affected this defense all year – not being able to get off the field on third down, not forcing enough turnovers and giving up touchdowns inside the red zone – surfaced once again in the playoff loss to New York.
Tampa Bay opened the scoring following a 10-play 54-yard drive that took over five minutes off the clock. The drive was keyed by Graham, who had a 14-yard catch down to the 6-yard line and 37 yards rushing, including a 1-yard touchdown run on second-and-goal to give the Buccaneers an early 7-0 lead with 1:49 left in the first quarter. Jeff Garcia was 2-of-3 on the drive for 25 yards and had a key 2-yard QB dive on third-and-1 at the New York 23.
New York would answer with 10:02 left in the second quarter, tying the score at 7-7 on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Jacobs. That capped off an eight-play, 53-yard scoring march. Manning was 5-of-6 for 49 yards with Toomer hauling in three passes for 39 yards. Linebacker Derrick Brooks had an excellent chance to bring down Jacobs at the 5-yard line but tried to knock the short pass down instead of going for the tackle. As a result, Jacobs waltzed into the end zone.
The Giants exposed Tampa Bay’s shaky red zone defense again on another touchdown drive right before halftime. New York covered 65 yards in seven plays with Manning going 4-for-4 on the drive for 47 yards, including a 19-yard strike to Steve Smith on third-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 38. Jacobs barreled in from eight yards out to give the Giants a 14-0 lead with 4:06 left before halftime.
Spurlock fumbled the opening kick return of the second half at the Tampa Bay 30 where New York recovered the ball. The Bucs’ red zone defense, which has been horrible this year and had already surrendered two red zone touchdowns in the first half, finally rose up and forced a field goal after the Giants’ nine-play, 23-yard drive was halted at the Bucs’ 8-yard line. New York’s drive was stymied by false start and delay of game penalties inside the Tampa Bay 10-yard line. Lawrence Tynes’ 25-yard field goal with 9:56 remaining in the third quarter gave the Giants a 17-7 lead.
Tampa Bay’s promising third quarter drive, which featured 23 yards on the ground and a 5-yard catch ended with an interception by Corey Webster in the end zone. The pass from Garcia, who threw only his fifth interception of the season, was intended for Joey Galloway.
New York’s signature 15-play, 92-yard touchdown pushed its lead to 24-7 with 8:03 left in the fourth quarter. Garcia’s touchdown pass to Smith with 3:25 left in the game pulled the Bucs within 10 points, but a failed squib onsides kick allowed the Giants to take over and run 1:06 off the clock. Tampa Bay took over with 2:10 left, but Garcia’s pass to Michael Clayton down the right sidelines was picked off by safety R.W. McQuarters near the Giants sidelines.
The play was initially ruled an incompletion, but because it happened inside the two-minute warning, the play was reviewed by the instant replay booth and the call was overturned when it was determined that McQuarters got both feet in bounds.
IT WAS OVER WHEN… Being down 14-7 at the half, Bucs return man Micheal Spurlock fumbled the opening kickoff return of the second half, giving New York great field position at the Tampa Bay 30. The Giants were able to kick a field goal and increase their lead to 17-7 early in the third quarter. Technically, the Bucs still had plenty of time to make a comeback, but the Giants’ stingy defense wouldn’t allow that to happen as cornerback Jeff Garcia threw an interception in the end zone to Corey Webster with 6:17 left in the third quarter. New York’s 15-play, 92-yard touchdown drive officially sealed the deal with the score being 24-7, but in reality, the game was over long before that with the way that Tampa Bay played on Sunday.
PEWTERREPORT.COM’S PEWTER PLAYER OF THE GAME Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham showed no rust from sitting out the last game and a half of the season, rushing for 63 yards on 18 carries (3.5 avg.) and scoring Tampa Bay’s first touchdown. Graham was also involved in the passing game, catching four passes for 27 yards. He picked up four of the Bucs’ 20 first downs against New York. For his efforts, Graham is this week’s PewterReport.com Pewter Player of the Game.
RECORDS, MILESTONES AND NOTES • Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to start a playoff game for a division winner for three different teams. Garcia started playoff games for San Francisco (2002), Philadelphia (2006) and Tampa Bay (2007).
• Bucs running back Earnest Graham scored his first career postseason touchdown on Sunday. Graham finished the regular season with 10 touchdowns.
• Tampa Bay return man tied a postseason franchise record with five kickoff returns and ranked second in the team’s playoff history with 106 return yards.
• The Bucs offense gained 20 first downs, third most for first downs in a playoff game. Tampa Bay gained 11 first downs through the air, which was tied for the second-most in a playoff game in franchise history.
• Tampa Bay tight end Alex Smith caught his first career touchdown pass in the playoffs. Smith had three touchdown catches in the regular season.
• Buccaneers running back Michael Pittman led the team with five catches for 62 yards. He now has 14 career catches in the playoffs, which ranks him fourth in team history.
• Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks and cornerback Ronde Barber played in their 11th and 10th postseason games, respectively. Brooks became the all-time leader in postseason games played in Buccaneers history.
STATS THAT COUNT After leading all rookies in sacks during the regular season, Bucs rookie defensive end Gaines Adams recorded his first postseason sack … Ike Hilliard caught four passes for 27 yards to lead the Bucs’ wide receiving corps. … Tampa Bay punter Josh Bidwell downed three punts inside the 20-yard line and averaged 36.8 yards on Sunday. … Bucs safety Jermaine Phillips and linebacker Derrick Brooks led the team with 11 tackles. … Tampa Bay only batted down two passes, while New York swatted away seven passes on Sunday. … The Bucs converted 64 percent of their third downs (9-of-14), while the Giants converted 42 percent of their third downs (5-of-12). … New York out-gained Tampa Bay in total yardage, 277-271. … The Giants had 11 registered hurries on quarterback Jeff Garcia, while the Bucs had two hurries on quarterback Eli Manning.
BUCS’ STARTING LINEUPS VS. THE GIANTS Starting offense: WR Joey Galloway LT Donald Penn LG Arron Sears C John Wade RG Davin Joseph RT Jeremy Trueblood TE Alex Smith WR Ike Hilliard QB Jeff Garcia FB B.J. Askew RB Earnest Graham
Starting defense: LE Kevin Carter UT Jovan Haye NT Chris Hovan RE Gaines Adams WLB Derrick Brooks MLB Jeremiah Trotter SLB Ryan Nece LCB Phillip Buchanon FS Tanard Jackson SS Kalvin Pearson RCB Ronde Barber
Starting specialists: K Matt Bryant P Josh Bidwell LS Andrew Economos
BUCS-GIANTS INACTIVES BUCS INACTIVES: WR Chad Lucas, WR Brian Clark, CB Sammy Davis, G Dan Buenning, SS Donte Nicholson, LB Kenneth Darby, LB Cato June and QB Bruce Gradkowski (emergency quarterback).â€¨â€¨
GIANTS INACTIVES: RB Danny Ware, CB Sam Madison, DB Geoffrey Pope, C Shaun O’Hara, DT Manny Wright, WR Sinorice Moss, TE Jerome Collins and QB Jared Lorenzen (emergency quarterback).
BUCS INJURIES Linebacker Cato June did not play due to a foot injury. Ryan Nece started in place of June at strongside linebacker. Rookie safety Tanard Jackson suffered a knee injury in the second half and was replaced by Kalvin Pearson. Wide receiver Joey Galloway left the game in the fourth quarter due to a shoulder injury and did not return. Right guard Davin Joseph was also injured in the fourth quarter and was replaced in the lineup by Matt Lehr.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Giants game at Raymond James Stadium was 65,621. The kickoff temperature was 70 degrees with 65 percent humidity under sunny skies.
UP NEXT The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the 2007 season with a 9-8 record. Head coach Jon Gruden will be having a season-ending press conference at 11:00 a.m. on Monday at One Buccaneer Place.
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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