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Buccaneers receiver Michael Clayton was Tampa Bay’s top pass catcher during his rookie year in 2004 with 80 receptions for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. But once Joey Galloway got healthy, he matched Clayton’s production over the final five games of the 2004 season. Clayton produced 20 catches for 365 yards and four touchdowns, while Galloway hauled in 23 receptions for 305 yards and five scores. In Tampa Bay’s 2005 season opener at Minnesota, Galloway proved that he could be a primary receiver, too, with five catches for 97 yards against the Vikings. Clayton also had a productive outing at Minnesota with four grabs for 57 yards, but he did have two dropped passes. Clayton had several drops in the preseason and in training camp after missing a lot of offseason work due to minor knee surgery. Don’t be surprised if Galloway puts up better numbers than Clayton by midseason. Both could be in for 1,000-yard seasons if they stay healthy.

Tampa Bay quarterback Brian Griese showed tremendous poise in shrugging off two interceptions – one of which was returned for a touchdown – and a sluggish start in the first quarter to put 17 points on the board in the second quarter. The Bucs netted just eight yards on its first 11 plays and its first three possessions resulted in punts, but managed to come to life at the end of the first quarter. Griese has the veteran savvy and ability to respond to adversity that Jon Gruden wants in a quarterback. That’s the biggest difference right now between Griese and third-year quarterback Chris Simms. Simms will be a good quarterback in time, but he’ll have to learn how to have the resolve to overcome the things that Griese overcame today and that will only come from being on the field.

Look for the NFL to issue a statistic correction this week and award a forced fumble to Tampa Bay strong safety Jermaine Phillips. Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles was credited with two forced fumbles, but it was clearly Phillips who dislodged the ball from Minnesota tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser late in the fourth quarter. That play almost turned into a turnover, but linebacker Derrick Brooks tried to pick up the loose ball instead of falling on it. That allowed Vikings running back Moe Williams to recover the fumble. Phillips has just three forced fumbles on his resume as he enters his fourth NFL season. The Tampa Bay coaching staff would like him to get at least three per year. Sunday’s outing was a good start.

New Buccaneers nose tackle Chris Hovan had a tremendous game against Minnesota, his former team, and made several disruptive plays, including one that resulted in a 2-yard loss for Vikings running back Michael Bennett. Hovan’s biggest play came when he recovered a Daunte Culpepper fumble that was forced by Simeon Rice, who sacked the Vikings quarterback from behind. That turnover stalled a potential scoring drive by Minnesota. Hovan and under tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland, who also sacked Culpepper, helped solidify the interior of Tampa Bay’s run defense. The Bucs surrendered just 26 yards on 16 carries (1.6 avg.) and held Bennett to minus-1 yard on six carries. Moe Williams was Minnesota’s leading rusher with 15 yards on six carries. Culpepper was contained to just 12 yards on four carries. Despite the strong showing in the season opener, Tampa Bay’s run defense will receive a stiffer challenge from Buffalo running back Willis McGahee next Sunday.

It’s fitting that both LSU and the New Orleans Saints won this weekend and showed tremendous heart in doing so. The Gulf Coast region of this country has suffered from a broken heart and will need a lot of uplifting spirits to help recover from Hurricane Katrina. Perhaps prideful victories by the Tigers and the Saints can assist in taking a small step towards that endeavor.

Kudos to Bucs head coach Jon Gruden for sticking with the running game en route to a 24-13 win against the Minnesota Vikings. The Bucs ground game was not very early as Vikings defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams left very little running room, but Gruden, who made a habit of abandoning the running game went it was unsuccessful early in games last season, stuck with it, which allowed Tampa Bay’s deep passing attack to open up. Wide receiver Joey Galloway, who hauled in five passes for 97 yards, reaped the benefits of Gruden’s decision to run, run and run some more. He was left single covered on three deep passing plays, and the speedy receiver capitalized on all of them. Of course, if you run the ball enough, something good will eventually happen, and that sentiment came to fruition on rookie RB Cadillac Williams’ final carry of the game, which he took 71 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. The Bucs finished the game with 31 carries for 146 yards (4.7 avg.) and one touchdown. Of the 146 total rushing yards, 90 of them came on two of Williams’ 27 carries.

Although it entered Sunday’s game with a handful of new starters, Tampa Bay’s offense appears to be way ahead of the Bucs’ 2004 offense, which went two games and three and a half quarters before it finally scored a touchdown. On Sunday, Tampa Bay’s revamped offense scored three touchdowns, and all of them were scored by rookies (two by tight end Alex Smith and one by RB Cadillac Williams). Who says having young players is such a bad thing?

If you thought winning in Minnesota was an impressive feat for Tampa Bay, you’ll probably think even more of it after you consider the fact that the Buccaneers were just 1-7 on the road during the 2004 regular season. Tampa Bay’s lone road win of ’04 came in Week 5 in New Orleans. Most playoff-bound teams have a winning record at home and at least a .500 record on the road. The Bucs took a huge step in the right direction Sunday with a big win in Minnesota. Now let’s see how they respond at home against a very tough Buffalo team, which went 4-4 on the road in ’04 and has won seven of its last eight games dating back to last season.

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