Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham was making up for lost time as Tampa Bay opened the 2004 preseason on a winning note, defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 20-6 on Monday night. While his 2003 preseason was cut short after a shoulder injury in early August, a bigger, healthier Graham accounted for both of Tampa Bay’s touchdowns in the victory in the preseason opener and earned PewterReport.com’s Pewter Player of the Game honors for his efforts.

“It felt good to get out here and play with the guys,” Graham said. “Last year it was unfortunate. I got hurt in the second preseason game and I wasn’t able to play the whole preseason. This kind of showed what I can do. I gave it my best effort and played hard. Hopefully that will lead to some good things.”

A beefier Graham, who increased his weight from 215 to 230 pounds in the offseason, rambled into the end zone from two yards out with 6:22 left in the first half to give the Bucs a 13-3 lead. His three-yard touchdown plunge with 4:20 left in the fourth quarter sealed the Bucs’ win. After Mike Alstott, who had just two yards on four carries against Cincinnati, Graham is Tampa Bay’s only other power runner who is effective in short yardage and goal line situations.

The Bucs offensive line didn’t do a stellar job in the running game against the Bengals, as evidenced by the fact that Tampa Bay rushed for just 90 yards on 28 carries (3.2 avg.), and Graham only managed 15 yards on seven carries. But aside from his two pile-moving touchdown runs, Graham flourished in the passing game. He totalled three receptions for 34 yards, including a 22-yard catch-and-run from Brian Griese on the Bucs’ final scoring drive in the fourth quarter, which spanned 80 yards in 10 plays.

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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: sr@pewterreport.com
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