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Publisher Scott Reynolds
“The talk of the Buccaneers finishing the 2009 season 0-16 can’t be dismissed after Tampa Bay lost its third game against a similarly talented football team on Sunday, falling 28-21 to the 2-3 Carolina Panthers. The 0-6 Bucs also lost to 2-4 Buffalo and 2-4 Washington. Look at the schedule and find the Bucs’ first – and perhaps only – victory this year. Is it at Miami, where the Dolphins run the Wildcat and could roll up 300 yards rushing against Tampa Bay? Is at Carolina? That’s doubtful given how well they run the ball. Is it against the New York Jets? Probably not, as Josh Freeman will be playing by then and who knows how ineffective the offense may be under his watch. Looking back, this season was cursed the moment Bucs co-chairman Ed Glazer inexplicably said Tampa Bay was going to wear the 1976 throwback jerseys this year against Green Bay on November 8. What a novel concept! Why don’t the Bucs celebrate the team’s 0-14 inaugural season? That’s a truly splendid idea. In hindsight, the Bucs should have worn the same jerseys the team used in 1979 when it won its first NFC Central division title. After all, that would have made much more sense as that team will be celebrated during the throwback game, along with Lee Roy Selmon’s enshrinement into the Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium. Not to mention the fact that the ’79 Bucs actually won 10 games. Blaming Tampa Bay’s dreadful season on that ill-fated throwback jersey decision sounds better than blaming it on linebackers coach Joe Barry, who has lost 23 straight regular games dating back to Detroit’s 25-20 win over Kansas City on December 23, 2007. Barry, who is 1-29 in his last 30 regular season contests, may be a walking voodoo doll with that kind of misfortune.”
“Alright, superstition aside. This Bucs team is woefully out-manned, especially up front on defense. I don’t think Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims could start for most teams in the NFL. The same could be said for Stylez G. White, Tim Crowder and to some degree, Jimmy Wilkerson, too. That means Tampa Bay’s starting defensive line is full of only NFL-caliber backups. The Panthers were having a terrible time stopping the run earlier this season until they signed Hollis Thomas off the street a few weeks ago. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik should have made that move. I know it didn’t fit in Dominik’s youth movement plans, but neither does Hovan, who won’t be a Buccaneer in 2010 anyways. In my opinion, Thomas might be considered an upgrade over Hovan and could have replaced him on the roster for this year to help Tampa Bay defend the run a little better. Thomas only had one tackle for Carolina, but did have a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery. Hovan didn’t show up on the stats sheet and is averaging just over three tackles per game.”
“I spoke with rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller, who will likely emerge as a starter at some point this season, in the locker room after the game. He was sitting in his locker alone with his head down, visably shaken not only by the loss to Carolina, but by the manner in which it occurred as he was on the field as the Panthers ground game took over on a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that featured 15 runs for 76 yards while consuming 8:04 off the clock with 8:33 left in the fourth quarter. Miller was incredibly frustrated by his performance and the team’s performance, and almost moved to tears. It’s obvious Miller cares about the game of football and he cares about winning. That’s a good sign for a young player with a good deal of promise and ability. Miller is a prideful player and a winner coming from a Texas program that compiled a 44-6 record during his four years of playing for the Longhorns. Miller’s six losses in Tampa Bay in 2009 equal the amount of games he lost during his entire college career. In my 14 years of covering the Bucs professionally, I’ve seen plenty of Bucs players not take losses as hard as they should. Miller was letting this loss soak in and I have no doubt that it will be used as motivation to make himself a better player this week in practice. Miller and rookie receiver Sammie Stroughter are two young players that have a professional approach towards football and could be building blocks for the Buccaneers in the coming years.”
“Linebacker Quincy Black is a tough player for the scouts and coaches to figure out. Black, a physically talented player that obviously lacks experience as this is his first year as a starter, missed some assignments in pass coverage against Carolina. Black had some coverage gaffes in the first three quarters in the flat, losing his assignment of covering Mushin Muhammad and giving up a 16-yard gain in the second quarter before recovering to make the tackle. With 4:55 left in the third quarter, Black had the same type of error while covering tight end Dante Rosario, who picked up six yards and a first down on second-and-3 at the Tampa Bay 47. Yet, Black showed off some instincts and was around the ball while fielding a blocked field goal by Davin Joseph in the second quarter, and deflecting a pass down the deep middle of the field intended for Steve Smith that was eventually picked off by fellow linebacker Barrett Ruud. Black did not do a great job shedding blockers, evidenced by his two tackles, and has plenty of room to improve. What frustrates the team is that he has the physical tools to play the position, but rarely flashes some of his playmaking ability. His development is coming along much slower than expected and the Bucs don’t know if he can be a legitimate starter in the NFL or if he’s just a backup linebacker who thrives on special teams. Tampa Bay has 10 more games to find out and Black needs to get better in a hurry.”
“How about the play of cornerback Aqib Talib lately? In the last three games, Talib has been the shutdown cornerback the Bucs had hoped he would be when the team made him their first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Talib had a career-high three interceptions against Washington and followed that up by blanketing DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia, holding him to one catch for one yard last week. Against Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, Talib erased him from the action, holding him to one catch for four yards. There may not be a player playing better than Talib right now in Tampa Bay. He’s playing at a Pro Bowl level right now. The key is whether he can sustain it. His biggest challenge to date awaits him in London where Talib will likely be matched up with Randy Moss, who is coming off an eight-catch, 129-yard, three-touchdown performance against Tennessee.”
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn
"Second-year quarterback Josh Johnson showed some improvement last week against the Eagles. He was relentlessly blitzed, but held up fairly well in the pocket and made some plays. The Bucs were expecting to see Johnson build on that performance in his third start as pro, but that didn't happen against the Panthers. Instead, Johnson took a significant step back. He completed 11-of-17 passes for 147 yards and threw an interception. While his offensive line didn't help him enough, Johnson failed to look down the field for open receivers. He was sacked four times, and Johnson's interception to start the third quarter was a terrible throw that led to the Panthers scoring one of their four touchdowns on the day. Johnson continued to use his legs to make plays, rushing eight times for 45 yards, but he'll have to start making plays downfield with his arm. Otherwise, rookie QB Josh Freeman likely will get his first start for the Bucs after the bye week against the Packers."
"Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia deserves a lot of credit. Tampa Bay went 31 seasons and several games without returning a kickoff for a touchdown in a regular season contest. With rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter's 97-yard kickoff return for a TD in place of injured return specialist Clifton Smith (concussion), the Bucs have now accomplished that feat three times in as many seasons. Micheal Spurlock was the first player in Bucs history to return a kickoff for a touchdown, which came in 2007. Smith set the franchise record for longest kickoff return for a TD in franchise history with his 97-yard score vs. Kansas City last year. Stroughter tied that record with his return and score on Sunday. Although he's a rookie and a seventh-round draft pick, Stroughter appears to have some leadership qualities that the Bucs' 0-6 football team desparately needs. When asked about tying the franchise record for longest kickoff return in franchise history, Stroughter simply answered, ‘We lost the game. That's all that matters.' That answer was genuine, and it was the right one from a young player the Bucs can build around going forward."
"Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme has thrown 15 interceptions in Carolina's last six games dating back to the team's devastating playoff loss to Arizona last year. The Bucs contributed to that embarrassing stat thanks to middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and safety Tanard Jackson. They each had an interception on Sunday, which gives the Bucs a total of six on the season. Jackson's was the biggest, returning the pick 26 yards for a touchdown, the first of his pro career. Unfortunately for the Bucs, the Panthers wisely stopped having Delhomme throw the ball late in the fourth quarter. In fact, on Carolina's final drive of the game, the Panthers threw just one time – a 4-yard completion to WR Steve Smith. The other 15 plays were executed on the ground, and worked, evidenced by the team's 76 yards rushing and one score on that game-winning drive."
"By losing Sunday, the Bucs have dropped 10 straight games dating back to 2008, which is the second-longest losing streak in franchise history only behind Tampa Bay's 0-26 start from 1976-77. If you think the 0-6 Bucs will get any sympathy from the Patriots in London, think again. New England hosted the winless Tennessee Titans Sunday, and the score at halftime was 45-0 in favor of the Patriots. New England went on to win the game 59-0. If Tampa Bay loses to New England next week, which most expect to happen, the Bucs will be 0-7 heading into their bye week. That loss total would match Tampa Bay's loss total from its 9-7 record last season."
Beat Writer Charlie Campbell
"The third quarter woes for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued on Sunday against the Panthers. Entering the sixth game of the season the Bucs had been outscored 33-0 in the third quarter in their five games. The half started out with Josh Johnson throwing an interception on the Bucs first play from scrimmage. Defensively, it was no better as the Bucs allowed 14 points in the third quarter. Tampa Bay finally got on the scoreboard on Sammie Stroughter's 97-yard kick return. The Bucs defense got into turning things around in the third frame by notching an interception against the Panthers. Through six games the Bucs have been outscored in the third quarter 47-7. The Buccaneers offense has been shut out in the third quarter in six games, and without the special teams touchdown it would be 47-0. The Bucs players and coaching staff are clearly not doing a good job of making halftime adjustments. The opposing coaching staff has their teams making more plays to open the second half, and that has been key in the Bucs losing all six games of the 2009 season."
"A week after lighting up a stout Philadelphia Eagles defense, tight end Kellen Winslow was held in check against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers' linebackers are better than the Eagles', but Philadelphia definitely has a better secondary. Winslow beat cornerbacks and safeties last week, but this week Carolina did not let him get loose for big plays. There were times when Winslow was open but the ball wasn't thrown to him by quarterback Josh Johnson, who struggled to find open receivers on Sunday. Still, entering the game with the Panthers, Winslow was the best receiver Tampa Bay has had this season. He leads the team in yards (286), receptions (29), and touchdowns (four). With that production one would think that the Bucs would make it a conscious effort to get him the ball more often. The Buccaneers only threw four passes to Winslow against the Panthers, and he caught three of them for 29 yards. Tampa Bay has hardly any elite talent on their roster. It has some good players, but very few that are among the best at their position across the league. Winslow is one of those few players, and the Bucs have to get him more involved. With very little production coming out of wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton, it is curious to see the Buccaneers not leaning on Winslow even more."
"Speaking of Clayton. He finished the game with one catch for nine yards. The Bucs fans gave Clayton a loud ovation when he held onto the one catchable pass that was thrown to him. The sixth-year veteran wide receiver is one of the NFL's leaders in dropped passes with seven. After the drops, it is disappointing to see Clayton stay in the starting lineup a week after a number of crucial drops against the Eagles. When a player performs as poorly as Clayton has, it sends the wrong message to the team that the player stays in the starting lineup and does not see his snaps decrease. Backups Maurice Stovall and Brian Clark did not get reps for Clayton on Sunday. Apparently the size of Clayton's salary and the team's desire for him to perform are more significant factors in him starting than his production. For the season Clayton has 11 catches for 154 yards and no touchdowns."
"The last time the Bucs and Panthers played each other it was less than a year ago and was a battle for control of a first round bye in the NFC playoffs. The Bucs defense got exposed that night, and things have never been the same for Tampa Bay. Those two 9-3 teams were playing good football throughout the 2008 season, and they were battling for a division title in that game. The Bucs lost the remaining three games in 2008, the first six so far in 2009, and the losing streak does not look like it will end any time soon with New England and Green Bay coming up next. Carolina had a meltdown of their own in the playoffs, and Sunday's game between the Panthers and Buccaneers looked like a battle of which bad team was worse. Both had interceptions, fumbles, missed and blocked field goals, missed tackles, and overall sloppy play. The class of the NFC South is clearly New Orleans and Atlanta to some degree. However, less than a year ago those teams were behind the Panthers and Tampa Bay. Things can turn around quickly in the NFL."
"It is a sad state of affairs when the crowd at the Bucs game wasn't nearly as loud as the fans at the USF game on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium. The stadium was littered with empty seats on Sunday – close to 20,000 according to ProFootballTalk.com. I don't think the fans deserve any blame or criticism. The Buccaneers have not given their fan base any reason to come out to the games, and be vocal when they do."