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“Enough with this “where is the offensive genius stuff?” when talking about Buccaneers head coach and play-caller Jon Gruden. Games aren’t won on style points. They are won on points – period. Gruden is simply playing to his players’ strengths this year and masking their weaknesses. That’s what good coaches do. He knew that if they Bucs didn’t turn the ball over on offense today that they stood a great chance of winning. Instead of the Bucs beating themselves, why not force the Panthers do it? Carolina simply couldn’t today. Call it Buc-ball. Even call it Dungy-ball if you want. But also call this strategy the driving force behind a 9-4 record. This strategy is winning games. There was a suggestion by a columnist today that the Bucs had to think outside the box to prevail in Carolina? Why do that when playing conservative football with a strong running game and maximum-protection passing schemes has produced an 8-4 record? Gruden had his team motivated to play today and dialed up the proper game plan. He stayed within the box. He stayed with what has worked. The old saying in football is keep running the plays that work until the other team can stop it. Gruden did that today.”

“When was the last time you saw three defensive holding calls on defensive tackles in the same game? Carolina nose tackle Brentson Buckner drew two holding calls while Tampa Bay nose tackle Chris Hovan was flagged once. You can bet that Tampa Bay and Carolina coaches were talking to the refs before the game and alerting them to something that they had seen on film.”

“How in the world did Carolina punter John Baker tackle Mark Jones on his long punt return in the second quarter? Jones had eluded four Panthers defenders to break outside down the left sidelines and had a convoy of four Buccaneers blockers. However, no one peeled off to block Baker, who knifed in and took down Jones on the Bucs’ 39-yard line. Jones can’t be faulted too much, though. He did show tremendous concentration after bobbling the punt at the 8-yard line and then turning in a season-best 31-yard punt return. That return helped propel Tampa Bay’s field-goal scoring drive at the end of the first half, but it should have scored a touchdown.”

“With the exception of Dexter Jackson’s third-quarter gamble when he tried to come away with a Jake Delhomme pass and gave up a 60-yard gain to Steve Smith, the play of Tampa Bay’s safeties was outstanding at Carolina. Even on that play, strong safety Jermaine Phillips saved a touchdown by chasing down Smith at the Tampa Bay 19-yard line. Phillips was sensational in run support, corralling DeShaun Foster for a four-yard loss in the first quarter and then knocking him from the game in the third quarter with a devastating hit to Foster’s right shoulder that temporarily knocked him from the game. Free safety Will Allen did a great job of delivering a clean – but crushing – hit on Smith as he was running a post pattern on third-and-8. The collision knocked Smith out of the game momentarily. At this stage of the season, so many hits like that one are immediately whistled for a foul because of their violent nature. Credit Allen for making sure that he led with his left shoulder instead of his helmet. Had Smith been flagged for a 15-yard penalty, the Panthers would have had a first down in Tampa Bay territory and would have possibly gained some much-needed momentum. Instead, due to Allen’s hit, it was fourth-and-9 and brought up a punting situation, and Tampa Bay’s defense remained fired up.”

“Normally you wouldn’t say that the Buccaneers would have a chance to win on the road at cold New England in December against the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots at the tail end of a three-game road trip. But normally the Bucs don’t have the chance to win three-straight road games, which has to be one of the NFL’s ultimate challenges. Because the Bucs have won in cold weather before (see Chicago and Philadelphia in 2002) under Jon Gruden, and they have the confidence of winning five road contest this season, why not pick the Bucs to win their sixth away game? Gruden and his players have been up for challenges all year, they’ll get a good one next Saturday at New England – and they have a great chance of winning, too. Maintaining their new-found lead in the NFC South division should be all the motivation the Bucs need.”

“Carolina sorely missed defensive end Mike Rucker, who missed Sunday’s game with an injury. However, the biggest difference for the Buccaneers was the play of their offensive line and running back Cadillac Williams. The Bucs played with some attitude, and that was made apparent by the determination of Williams and the blocking by the O-line. Bucs QB Chris Simms had a comfortable pocket to throw out of throughout most of the game, and Williams made several rough runs for tough yardage, which helped to keep drives alive. Williams finished the game with 112 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries (3.9 avg.), and for a change, the Bucs’ offensive and defensive lines dominated the battle in the trenches vs. the Panthers. Those factors were the biggest difference in the Bucs’ ability to break their five-game losing streak to the Panthers.”

“How big was Panthers kicker John Kasay’s 42-yard missed field goal early in the first quarter? It was huge. Not only did it kill Carolina’s momentum, but Tampa Bay benefited from that miss with great field position throughout the entire first half. The Bucs had five possessions in the first half, which started at their own 33, 46, 43, 36 and 39-yard line, respectively. That great field position helped the Bucs put 10 points on the scoreboard. In the second half, the great field position continued as the Bucs started drives at their own 34, 39, 23, 42 and 38-yard line. Tampa Bay had an average starting field position of its own 39-yard line on Sunday. Heading into Sunday’s game, the Bucs had the NFL’s worst average starting field position (24-yard line). Great field position and a 59 percent third-down conversion percentage (10-of-17) played huge roles in Tampa Bay’s ability to defeat Carolina on Sunday.”

“Although both teams are 9-4, Tampa Bay is in first place of the NFC South division because of a tie-breaker with Carolina. The division race is far from over as the Bucs still must visit New England on a short week and host Atlanta and New Orleans to finish the regular season while Carolina visits New Orleans, hosts Dallas and visits Atlanta over the final three weeks of the season. While winning the division comes with some huge perks, like hosting a home playoff game, not all will be lost if the Bucs are forced to go on the road for the entire post-season. Tampa Bay has won five games on the road this season, which is one shy of its road win total from the Bucs’ Super Bowl season. The Bucs are a confident team on the road, and they’ll need confidence as one of the places they could wind up playing in January is Carolina.”

“The good news for Tampa Bay as it now turns its attention to a Saturday afternoon game vs. New England is the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots are mortal at home. In fact, they’ve lost two games at home this season to San Diego and Indianapolis, respectively. The bad news is forecasts in Boston are calling for 40-degree temperatures at kickoff. Ironically, the Bucs snapped their cold-weather losing streak and won the NFC South division in their season finale in 2002 by beating the Chicago Bears in freezing temperatures. A win in Foxboro will give the Bucs a great chance to win the division again, and it looks like a victory will have to be pulled out in close to freezing temperatures on Saturday.”

“Prior to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers three-game road trip, I claimed that the Bucs would go 2-1 and be in the driver’s seat for an NFC Wild Card berth. While that still may be the case, the Bucs still have to play the Patriots, I didn’t expect the Buccaneers to go into Charlotte and beat the Panthers. I’ll be honest, with the way the Bucs had played the past five times against the Panthers, I was banking on them beating the Saints and the Patriots but losing to the Panthers. This just goes to show you why the cliché’s stay firm. Every week has the possibility for a different outcome. Just take it one game at a time. Tampa Bay proved this with a 20-10 whitewashing of the Panthers. The score doesn’t predict just how lopsided this game truly was. Kudos to head coach Jon Gruden for scheming and keeping the talented Carolina front four off of quarterback Chris Simms all day.”

“Carolina scored with less than a minute remaining in the game to make it a 10-point margin, but the Bucs had this one in the bag the minute cornerback Ronde Barber grabbed his team-leading fifth interception of the year. Barber has four interceptions over the last two games. Later in the fourth quarter, Barber his way into the record books by sacking Panthers QB Jake Delhomme and becoming the first cornerback to ever notch 20 interceptions and 20 sacks over the course of his career.”

“With sole possession of first place in the NFC South, Tampa Bay’s loss to Chicago becomes more of a factor. The Bucs have won five games on the road this year, and need to win a big one next week to keep pace, but the loss to the Bears may be the game that comes back to bite them in the playoff hunt. The Bucs currently have the second best record in the NFC but are tied with Chicago, which holds the tiebreaker over Tampa Bay via the head to head match up.”

“Next week, Bucs fans will likely be rooting for NFC South rival Atlanta to upset Chicago in the Windy City. That, coupled with a win by the Bucs in Foxboro, would put Tampa Bay in the driver’s seat for the second seed in the playoffs with their two remaining games at home. The second seed means a bye week and a home playoff game. I doubt the Bucs want to fly to Chicago in the dead of winter or back to Carolina in January.”

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