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Publisher Scott Reynolds
“Bucs fans are understandably livid with the instant replay call from referee Tony Corrente, which concluded that Michael Clayton did not catch a 15-yard pass from Josh Freeman with 1:38 left in the first half, and that defensive end Jason Taylor actually picked off the pass despite Clayton hitting the ground with the ball secured in his grasp until safety Yeremiah Bell came over top of him and knocked the ball out of his hands and into the air. Here’s the NFL rule regarding the act of catching a pass and hitting the ground. I will warn you that it is deeply flawed in its construction and contradicts any ‘down by contact’ or ‘the ground can’t cause a fumble’ logic that should have applied in this situation.

Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 on page 51 of the NFL Rule Book states that ‘If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact with an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or in the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.’

After the game, Corrente explained the controversial call to the media’s pool reporter: ‘The player in question, the player who was possessing the ball in the air, as he started to come down, was hit. As he is coming down, he is now going to the ground to complete a catch and by rule, if he’s going to the ground to complete a catch, he has to maintain possession of the ball completely through the entire process of hitting the ground and thereafter showing control. As he went to the ground, basically right when he went to the ground, the ball popped out, and went right into the arms of the Miami player. The ball had never touched the ground.’

By rule, I suppose Corrente was right. But that rule, which also cost Oakland’s Louis Murphy a touchdown in the Raiders’ 24-20 season-opening loss to San Diego, is ridiculous. Clayton’s play was even less dubious than Murphy’s and Tampa Bay’s veteran receiver was clearly down with his back on the ground with possession before Bell knocked the ball out of his hands. If that isn’t down by contact, I don’t know what is. The NFL needs to reexamine its rules pertaining to watch is a catch and what isn’t. When does the play end? At some point, a play has to be over! If a receiver catches the ball, goes to the ground, gets touched by a defender and then fumbles the ball while handing it to an official, is it a live ball? The arbitrary manner in which the NFL constitutes what is a catch and what isn’t a catch is absurd. Raheem Morris has the right to be livid over this call because it gave momentum – and points – to Miami heading into halftime. The Bucs had other chances to beat the Dolphins in the second half, but that controversial call did harm Tampa Bay’s chances of winning without a doubt.”

“You can tell that some members of the young Tampa Bay defense are becoming assignment sound and are showing improvement as the season goes on. That was evident right at the end of the first quarter on Ronnie Brown’s pitch back to Chad Henne in which Henne was trying to throw deep to Ted Ginn Jr. on a trick play. Cornerback Aqib Talib didn’t bite on the feigned run play and stayed with Ginn, while linebacker Geno Hayes tracked down Henne and nearly sacked him before the quarterback could throw the ball away. Talib and Hayes are two young players that have shown a lot of progress this year. I also saw linebacker Quincy Black improve as the game progressed. Black and strong safety Sabby Piscitelli overran Ronnie Brown on his 45-yard first quarter scamper and missed point blank tackles. Black rallied and finished with seven tackles, a tackle for loss and a key interception in the fourth quarter. The same can’t be said of Piscitelli. Yes, he did force a key fumble when he injured Brown in the third quarter and finished with nine tackles, but he also missed a ton of tackles and failed to make any stops in the passing game as Henne carved up the Bucs’ secondary in the last two minutes of each half en route to scoring a combined 13 points. Piscitelli also gave the Dolphins a first down on third-and-9 in the fourth quarter with an illegal contact penalty. Piscitelli was handed the starting job this year and I’m ready to see Corey Lynch take a series or two away from him. Lynch may not be the athlete that Piscitelli is, but he may be a smarter player. I’d like to see how Lynch would fare entering the rotation at strong safety.”

“In two full games and in two series against New England, Freeman has had four fumbled exchanges with center Jeff Faine, one of which resulted in a turnover at Miami, three fumbles inside and outside the pocket and two interceptions. Although those nine gaffes have only resulted in two turnovers, that’s an awful lot of miscues with the football in nine quarters of play. Freeman has to get his play cleaned up quickly. Part of the fumbled snap problems are due to the fact that Faine and Freeman have only been working on center-quarterback exchanges on a regular basis for three weeks. When you think about it, those two are still in OTA mode with the exchanges. The center-quarterback snaps are usually ironed out during the offseason, but because Freeman rarely took snaps with the first-string offense during the offseason and in training camp, the chemistry between he and Faine is back on ‘May time’ when the season is already in full swing in November. This is why I harped on Raheem Morris’ decision to only have 2.5 hours worth of practice over two days during the bye week. Freeman needs as much practice time and as many reps with Faine as he can get. Aside from his fumbles, Freeman’s development is further along than I thought it would be by now. I love the kid’s unflappable approach to the game and ability to get better in the fourth quarter. Freeman has the ‘it’ factor that has been missing at the quarterback position for quite some time. He has the potential to be great – if he avoids turnovers.”

“Raheem Morris has his share of naysayers and doubters, and I was on the verge of becoming one after Tampa Bay’s 35-7 loss to New England. But credit Morris for getting his team to always play hard – even in the fourth quarter when the chips are down. That style of play has resulted in the Bucs coming back in the fourth quarter and almost scoring back-to-back wins. The success of any head coach boils down to four things in my opinion. He needs to have a quarterback, a kicker, a running game and a defense. Morris has to feel optimistic that he has a franchise QB in Josh Freeman and perhaps a kicker for the long haul in Connor Barth. The Bucs need to rethink their running game as it appears that it is caught in between the zone blocking scheme and a power man scheme that the Bucs had for years under Jon Gruden. An upgrade is needed at running back where Cadillac Williams is a chain-mover, but not a big-play running back, evidenced by the fact that his longest run of the year is a 19-yarder. Derrick Ward appears to have some attitude problems and I think he’s overhyped. But Morris’ biggest concern has to be on defense, which barely sniff Chad Henne on Sunday and was impotent in the two-minute defense. Serious questions have to be raised over Jim Bates’ play-calling, which has not featured near enough blitzing in my mind. Morris needs to survey the landscape and make a move at the coordinator position next year.”

“As Pewter Report chronicled in its Pewter Profile of Donald Penn in the new Midseason Awards Issue, Tampa Bay’s athletic left tackle loves playing basketball. His hoops skills have been on display when Josh Freeman has been in at quarterback. In Freeman’s regular season NFL debut in London, Penn grabbed a rebound and recovered a fumble by the rookie QB. His rebounding prowess came through again in Miami as he recovered another Freeman fumble. Penn also played the part of a basketball player when he blocked Miami’s extra point in the first quarter. Too bad he didn’t do a great job of ‘boxing out’ linebacker Charlie Anderson, who sacked Josh Freeman and forced two fumbles while going against Penn.”

Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn
"Don't blame the officiating for Tampa Bay's 25-23 loss to Miami on Sunday. Sure, the call on wide receiver Michael Clayton's catch-fumble was controversial in nature and certainly didn't go the Bucs' way, but Tampa Bay still had a chance to win its second straight game under head coach Raheem Morris, and failed, period. Blame Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates' defense, which allowed the Dolphins to engineer a five-play, 77-yard scoring drive that started on their own 16-yard line with 1:10 remaining in the game and the Bucs up 23-22. Miami made the scoring drive look easy, and once again Tampa Bay's lack of pass rush up front came back to haunt the Bucs. How bad is Green Bay's offensive line and quarterback Aaron Rodgers to have allowed the Bucs to notch six sacks in the second half last Sunday? Tampa Bay's defensive line, minus DE Stylez G. White, managed just two quarterback pressures on Miami QB Chad Henne's 31 pass attempts. By the way, the Dolphins were also without starting O-lineman Justin Smiley due to injury. That's ridiculous, and all the more reason for Bates to use athletic and speedy linebackers like Geno Hayes on more blitzes."

"The Bucs appear to have found a reliable field goal kicker in Connor Barth, who became the first kicker in the history of the franchise to make three field goals from beyond 50 yards in one game. Barth is now 4-of-5 as Tampa Bay's kicker and has a long of 54. However, one could argue that Barth's most impressive kick was his kickoff late in the fourth quarter when Tampa Bay was forced to kickoff from its own 15-yard line due tight end Kellen Winslow's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after running back Cadillac Williams' 1-yard touchdown run, which put the team up 23-22. Barth managed to kick the ball on the ground and through three Dolphins players all the way down to Miami's 15-yard line, where the Bucs coverage units wrapped up dangerous return man Ted Ginn Jr. That appeared to be a huge play in Sunday's game before Tampa Bay's defense allowed Miami's offense to drive 77 yards on five plays to kick the game-winning field goal with just 10 seconds remaining in the contest."

"Bucs safety Sabby Piscitelli is dangerously close to falling into the same category as many others from the Bruce Allen-Jon Gruden draft classes. After a horrendous game vs. Dallas in Week 1, Piscitelli struggled mightily in Tampa Bay's 25-23 loss to Miami Sunday. The former second-round draft pick had several missed tackles and also allowed Dolphins QB Chad Henne to complete a few key passes with Piscitelli in coverage. If Piscitelli can't prove himself to be a reliable full-time starter in Tampa Bay's secondary, the Bucs likely will have to invest another draft pick or cap dollars in another starting-caliber safety in 2010. That would be unfortunate since Piscitelli is a fiery player and gifted athlete. Unless the Bucs decide to give newcomer Corey Lynch a shot as a starter, Piscitelli has seven games left to prove himself worthy of remaining a starter in Tampa Bay."

"Although Tampa Bay's defense allowed Miami to rush for 199 yards (5.5 avg.) and one touchdown Sunday, the Bucs defense deserves credit for one accomplishment. Miami had converted 50 percent of its third downs heading into this game. The Bucs managed to hold the Dolphins to a 36-percent conversion rate on third downs."

"Looks like Cadillac Williams is going to Australia with former college teammate Ronnie Brown during the offseason, and he's picking up the entire tab after Brown out-rushed Williams 102 to 52, and the Dolphins defeated the Bucs 25-23 on Sunday. Although he wasn't going to outrush Brown, Williams had to be feeling pretty good about his bet with 1:10 remaining and the Bucs up 23-22  with the Dolphins starting their final drive at their own 16-yard line. Unfortunately for Williams, his defense didn't do him any favors in his quest to travel to Africa and have Brown pick up the tab next year."

Beat Writer Charlie Campbell
"The Buccaneers made many critical mistakes early in their 25-23 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Quarterback Josh Freeman's propensity to fumble the football already has been covered, but the play of the Bucs offensive tackles were a big part of that. Left tackle Donald Penn allowed one sack and two fumbles in the first half. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood allowed a sack, and the ball nearly came out on that play. It is troubling to see that the veteran tackles were beat by two relatively unknown players. Linebacker Charlie Anderson victimized Penn twice, and Trueblood was beat by linebacker Cameron Wake. Both players are backups, and for the majority of 2009 the Bucs tackles have done an excellent job in pass protection. They also have performed well against good competition. Players like Anderson and Wake should not be beating Penn and Trueblood. If those two fumbles were not recovered by Tampa Bay, the game could have gotten out of hand in the first half. The NFL is a copycat league. With Freeman putting on tape his habit of fumbling the ball, you can bet that teams are going to try and pressure Freeman around the edges of the offensive line. Coming from his sides where it is harder for the quarterback to see approaching defenders, will be a point of emphasis for attacking Freeman. Defenses also are going to drill slapping the ball out of quarterbacks' hands in the days leading up to playing the Bucs. Penn and Trueblood are going to have to be ready for more pressure coming in their direction."

"In the past month, the Buccaneers have improved and are a better football team. Head coach Raheem Morris deserves credit for getting the Bucs to play better after a disastrous 0-7 start. The past two weeks, Tampa Bay has put together fourth quarter comebacks to take the lead, and the players are playing hard throughout the game. Over the past three games, each unit of the team has made improvements. The defense is forcing more turnovers, and creating more splash plays. Offensively, the Bucs are scoring more points, and are getting more production out of their passing game. The special teams have produced more big plays, and are a very sound unit that is capable of creating game-changing plays for Tampa Bay. The Bucs still are a team that makes a lot of mistakes. The gaffes come from not playing the game with discipline or intelligence, or sometimes are just rookie miscues. However, the Buccaneers are a young team that is improving. Morris deserves credit for the improved play, and getting his team to do a better job of finishing games."

"Offensive coordinator Greg Olson has been through a rollercoaster season. After the first two games there was a lot of excitement about the offense, and Morris said the 2009 Bucs could feature the best offense the franchise has ever had. The New York Giants embarrassed the Buccaneers 24-0 after that statement, and the offense was unable to generate over 20 points in five straight games until last week against the Green Bay Packers. With Freeman in at quarterback, the offense has had new life and production. Olson has called better games as well. In Sunday's loss to the Dolphins, the plays were there for the Bucs players to make. Olson had a number of good play calls that the players failed to execute in the fourth quarter. Maurice Stovall was unable to hold onto a pass near the goal line in the fourth quarter. Tight end Kellen Winslow dropped a first down catch on third-and-2. Freeman overthrew open receivers Michael Clayton and Sammie Stroughter running down the middle of the field. Some have called for Olson to be fired at the end of the season. Doing that would change the offensive system, offensive coordinator, and quarterback coach for Freeman. That is never a recipe for success in developing a franchise quarterback. If the offense continues to improve like it has over the last two weeks, Olson should be given a contract extension. If he fixes the flaws in Freeman's game and develops him into a franchise quarterback, the Buccaneers could be on their way to having a unit that might come close to what Morris thought he had after the first two games."

"While Olson and Morris have seemed to get more from their players, defensive coordinator Jim Bates does not seem to be having the same results. The defense has been getting more turnovers, but that has largely been due to the play of safety Tanard Jackson and cornerback Aqib Talib. As a unit, the defense is just not getting better. Tampa Bay entered Sunday's game with the Dolphins with the worst-rated run defense of any team in the NFC. Despite knowing that Miami was going to run the ball often, the Buccaneers still got steamrolled on the ground. Dolphins' running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams totaled 184 yards. As a team, Miami racked up 199 yards rushing. Plus, Bates did not dial up pressure on Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne. The young, second-year quarterback had a comfortable pocket to throw out of because the defensive line was unable to get any pass rush. The pressure that the Buccaneers were able to display last week was due to a terrible Packers offensive line, not because Tampa Bay has found a formidable pass rush from their defensive linemen. Bates hardly blitzed at all against Miami. With the Bucs presenting such heavy run fronts, they had a number of defenders that were near the line of scrimmage that could have come on blitzes. While the pass rush has been bad, the Buccaneers run defense is the biggest weakness on the team. Bates does not seem to have any answers on how to get his defense to do a better job of defending the run, either."

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