“A week after calling one of his worst games for the Buccaneers in a crushing, 28-0 loss at New England, head coach Jon Gruden rebounded and called one of his better games this season. While Gruden’s play-calling has lacked imagination over the last three games, he was full of it on Sunday. Consider a perfectly timed and executed middle screen pass to rookie tight end Alex Smith that went for 18 yards, and the rare fullback dive play that caught Atlanta napping after an 8-yard gain by Cadillac Williams to the outside. That run by fullback Mike Alstott picked up six yards and a first down. Tampa Bay’s use of fullbacks Jameel Cook and Alstott in the passing game near the goal line was noteworthy, as was a play in which Williams took a flip pitch to the left for nine yards on first-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 20 at the 10:00 mark in the third quarter. I liked the patient, methodical approach Gruden employed late in the fourth quarter and in overtime. The players played great, but Gruden coached a great game, too.”

“Tampa Bay defensive end Simeon Rice claims he’s as fast as Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick. Hardly. Vick easily broke Rice’s containment and outraced him for a 14-yard gain on third down, pulling away with each step before help from Tampa Bay arrived. Rice got to Vick twice for key sacks, but despite his boasts, he couldn’t beat Vick in a foot race. No way. Sacking Vick behind the line of scrimmage with pressure from the outside and up the middle is one thing. Pursuing Vick from behind and trying to track him down is something completely different.”

“Chris Simms didn’t take advantage of the absence of Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall in the second half like I thought he would. Hall injured his shoulder returning his second quarter interception 65 yards down to the Tampa Bay 13 and did not return to the game. Simms was either looking for Joey Galloway, who was covered by Jason Webster in the second half, or tight end Alex Smith. I thought Simms would have tried to push the ball downfield a little more without Hall in the game. In the end, Simms played it smart by sticking with the safe, conservative throws and showing great resolve and patience.”

“Shame on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans who left this game early. Once Edell Shepherd fumbled the ball to begin the overtime period, Bucs fans were getting up and crowding the aisles by the thousands. Sure, it looked bad for Tampa Bay, but anything can happen – a fumbled snap, an interception or a missed or blocked field goal. And that’s exactly what happened as Dewayne White and Jeb Terry broke through the line to block Todd Peterson’s game-winning attempt. When will these Bucs fans learn not to leave a game early? If you are one of the 50,000 Bucs fans who stayed to watch the Bucs win or lose, hats off to you for your loyalty. If you are one of the 10,000 fans who left early, why don’t you give up your season tickets so a real die-hard fan can stay to cheer on their team until the bitter end? You would think after close-fought contests like the infamous victory over St. Louis on Monday Night Football in 2000, or the nail-biting, 36-35 win over Washington earlier this year that every Bucs fans would have learned their lesson and stay in their seats until the game was over. I guess not. The 10,000 or so Bucs fans who left should be embarrassed with themselves.”

“I’m an unabashed Ronde Barber fan. The guy is just a stud cornerback and a stud human being. But this stud got abused today by Atlanta wide receiver Michael Jenkins, who happens to be a Tampa native. Jenkins made a key, 5-yard catch on fourth-and-2 from the Bucs’ 30-yard line in the second quarter to extend Atlanta’s drive. Four plays later, Jenkins burnt Barber again on an out-route in the left part of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown. With 4:58 left in the game and the score tied at 17-17, Jenkins leaped over Barber to haul in a 37-yard catch down the right sidelines on third-and-4 at the Tampa Bay 39. On the next play, T.J. Duckett scored from two yards out to give the Falcons a 24-17 lead. Jenkins finished with four catches for 54 yards today.”

“The Bucs offense is going to be exciting for years to come as this group continues to develop and mature. Quarterback Chris Simms is coming of age nicely, and Cadillac Williams is showing why he’s a shoo-in for Offensive Rookie of the Year. But the guy I’m really excited about is rookie tight end Alex Smith. Smith had a career-high eight catches for 75 yards today and was open about half a dozen other times, but Simms never saw him. Smith has deceptive field and presents himself well as a big target in zone coverage. If Michael Clayton can stay healthy and rebound next season, the Bucs have the makings for an even more potent attack next year with another strong campaign from Joey Galloway.”

“It looks like the Bucs have found a new closer. That role belonged to fullback Mike Alstott for nearly a decade, but it now officially belongs to rookie running back Cadillac Williams, who produced 150 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries on Saturday. While he’s only 215 pounds, Williams’ tough runs noticeably wore down the Falcons, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime, where Cadillac rushed for 35 and 45 yards, respectively. Williams produced 80 of his 150 yards in the final two quarters of the game, and his 6-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1 with 31 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter was all Cadillac. There were critics who criticized head coach Jon Gruden for running Williams into the ground earlier in the season. However, Williams has proven that his foot and hamstring injuries have subsided, and that he simply gets better as the game goes on. If I were Gruden, I’d give Williams the ball as much as possible. He’s shown he can do some great things with it in the latter part of football games.”

“The Bucs will have to make history next Sunday in order to record their 11th win of the season and the NFC South division title. In order to edge out the Carolina Panthers for first place in the division, which comes with an automatic playoff berth and a home game in the post-season, Tampa Bay must beat New Orleans at Raymond James Stadium. While New Orleans’ 3-12 record suggests Tampa Bay can win, the Bucs have never swept the Saints since both teams became members of the NFC South division back in 2002. Jon Gruden mentioned how good of a team the Saints are nearly a handful of times in his post-game press conference from Ray-Jay on Saturday, and for good reason. Gruden’s Bucs have never defeated the Saints at home, and they barely got out of Baton Rouge with a 10-3 win over the Saints last month. If Tampa Bay is going to secure a playoff spot and beat out Carolina for the NFC South division championship, it will have to earn it by accomplishing a rare feat vs. New Orleans.”

“Kudos to Bucs defensive lineman Dewayne White and the rest of the field goal block team for not following the lead of some Bucs fans and checking out of Saturday’s game before it was officially over. Tampa Bay’s never-say-die attitude paid off big-time in overtime when White blocked Atlanta’s 28-yard field goal attempt to keep the game alive for the Bucs. That resiliency paid off again later in overtime after K Matt Bryant, who watched his 27-yard FG attempt to win the game in OT sail wide left after a bad snap from Dave Moore, bounced back to drill the game-winning 41-yard field goal with just 15 seconds remaining in the overtime period. Hopefully the Bucs fans that headed for the exits after Edell Shepherd had fumbled the opening kickoff in overtime learned their lesson – it’s never over ’til it’s over. Luckily for the fans that attempted to leave early, the Falcons’ missed field goal likely happened before you were able to exit the stadium, which allowed you to return to your seats and watch the Bucs defeat the Falcons in one of the most exciting games ever played at Ray-Jay.”

“Although he threw two costly interceptions that turned into 10 points for the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday, Tampa Bay QB Chris Simms once again showed that he is capable of bringing his team back from behind to win football games. With the Bucs trailing 17-14 in the fourth quarter, Simms engineered three scoring drives of 43, 65 and 26 yards, respectively. While his touchdown passes to fullbacks Jameel Cook and Mike Alstott in the first half were important, Simms’ completions to tight ends Alex Smith (15 yards) and Anthony Becht (11 yards), both of which helped to move kicker Matt Bryant into field goal range in overtime, were even more impressive when considering how much pressure the third-year signal caller was under. Simms finished the game completing 29-of-42 passes for 285 yards and tossing two touchdowns and two interceptions. What those stats don’t tell you is how well Simms responded after throwing two costly interceptions. While Cadillac Williams led the way via the ground game, Simms’ poise late in the game played an instrumental role in Tampa Bay’s 27-24 overtime win over Atlanta.”

“Perhaps one of the most valuable pickups for the Buccaneers in last year’s draft, with the exception of Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams, is the addition of tight end Alex Smith. Smith set the tone early and often against the Atlanta Falcons snagging key passes to extend the Buccaneers’ first scoring drive. When Atlanta scored first, I felt that the game might get out of hand early. Maybe it was the lingering effects of last Saturday’s game against the New England Patriots, but I know the Bucs’ chances when they get down early. But, thanks to the play of the young three weapons on offense – quarterback Chris Simms, Williams and Smith – Tampa Bay managed to stay composed despite Simms tossing two costly interceptions that led to 10 Atlanta points.”

“The youth movement in Tampa Bay has paid massive dividends. The poise of the young offensive line, coupled with the play of the new starters on offense should have fans salivating about the future of the offense. The only problem with the Buccaneers is the aging defense. Many of the Buccaneers defenders are approaching – or over – 30 years of age. The defense, however, seems to be developing like a fine wine. It’s still improving with age. Defensive end Simeon Rice dropped quarterback Michael Vick twice today and linebacker Derrick Brooks added another.”

“Under tackle Anthony ‘Booger’ McFarland came back from a hamstring injury after missing only one game to make several disruptive plays up the middle and flush Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick out of the pocket. It is obvious as well that the addition of nose tackle Chris Hovan has many offense minds changing their game plans when they face the Buccaneers. The Falcons ran away from the middle of the Bucs defense for most of the game on sweep and toss plays to Warrick Dunn. When they did attempt to run up the middle, McFarland and Hovan were waiting for them. While McFarland has been battered for his inability to finish a season, the combination of McFarland and Hovan plugging up the middle has given the Buccaneer linebackers the ability to roam and make plays sideline-to-sideline.”

“Before the Tampa Bay fans get ahead of themselves and think that the Bucs have the NFC South division all but locked up, keep in mind that the Buccaneers have not defeated the New Orleans Saints at home since 2001. Not even in the Super Bowl year did the Bucs defeat the Saints. For some odd reason, the Saints get up for this game and play Tampa Bay tooth and nail. Despite losing a close game, again, to a lowly team like the Lions, the Saints would like nothing more than to force the Buccaneers to have to play in the playoffs on the road, or even worse, knock the Bucs out of playoff contention next week. With Dallas and Washington winning today and the Giants matching the Bucs’ 10-5 record, there will be a quagmire of teams vying for division championships and two wild card berths next week. The game against New Orleans on New Year’s Day will be the most important contest of the season.”

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