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PEWTER REPORT EDITOR-IN-CHIEF SCOTT REYNOLDS:
“After giving up a pair of 41-yard screen passes in back-to-back weeks to Chicago and New Orleans, you can bet that the Carolina Panthers will try to exploit Tampa Bay’s defense with a screen pass or two to DeShaun Foster next Sunday. Not only did Foster have a great game in Carolina’s win over Atlanta with 131 rushing yards and a touchdown, he also caught three passes for 49 yards, including a 27-yarder and an 18-yard scoring reception. With Tampa Bay’s pass rush really coming on in recent weeks, the Bucs’ front four had better be wary of the screen pass floating over their heads if they rush too aggressively.”

“Although Tampa Bay recorded only two sacks of New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks – by cornerback Brian Kelly and defensive end Greg Spires – the Bucs front four did a great job of harassing him all day. Brooks was 18-of-34 (52.9 percent) for 215 yards with zero touchdowns, four interceptions and QB rating of 33. Nose tackle Chris Hovan and under tackle Anthony McFarland were exceptionally disruptive up front, especially Hovan, who came perilously close to recording his first sack of the season today.”

“The Bucs better hope that kicker Matt Bryant’s hamstring is healed and he is ready to go next week at Carolina. I predicted that Todd France’s first field goal attempt as a Buccaneer would be blocked (and have Pewter Report’s Jim Flynn and Mark Lennox as witnesses), and it was. The Panthers have a history of blocking kicks, especially against Tampa Bay, and the Bucs would have a much better chance of winning at Carolina with Bryant than they would with France, whose long wind-up and low trajectory result in blockable field goals.”

“What has been the secret ingredient in Tampa Bay winning three of its last four games? Very few penalties. Tampa Bay came into Sunday’s game against New Orleans averaging 8.5 penalties for 67 yards per game this year, but only committed five penalties for 26 yards. The Bucs have really cut down on penalties over the last four games, averaging only four infractions for 37 yards per game.”

“Be impressed with cornerback Ronde Barber’s three interceptions all you want, but also know that his tackling was outstanding against New Orleans. Barber finished the game with eight tackles, including three on the Saints’ last drive, but it should be noted that a couple of his tackles were on run blitzes that either stopped running backs in the backfield or for very little gain. Barber’s only big missed tackle on the day was on Aaron Stecker’s 41-yard screen pass, but linebacker Derrick Brooks and strong safety Jermaine Phillips also missed the former Bucs running back on that play.”

“I really liked how Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms stayed within the conservative game plan and didn’t throw any risky passes that resulted in turnovers. Simms has shown that he has a gun-slinger mentality when it is warranted, but can also restrain his game a bit when it is needed and just manage the offense. Although his numbers – 12-of-21 for 123 yards with one touchdown – were rather pedestrian, Simms didn’t force the action and he played winning football today.”

PEWTER REPORT MANAGING EDITOR JIM FLYNN:
“Teams will always tell you that they would love nothing more than to control their own destiny. I’m not sure that logic applies for the 8-4 Bucs, who can sneak into first place in the NFC South division by defeating the 9-3 Panthers in Carolina next Sunday. The Panthers have won eight of their last nine games and have defeated the Bucs five straight times dating back to the 2003 season. If Carolina downs Tampa Bay, it will secure a three-game lead and essentially win the NFC South division. If Tampa Bay can somehow pull off the upset in Carolina, the Bucs will stand a good chance of winning the division since the Panthers’ three remaining games are at the Saints, home vs. the Cowboys and at the Falcons. The Bucs, who are at the Panthers, at the Patriots and home vs. Falcons and Saints, control their own destiny, but the Panthers have controlled them. It’s a tall order, but if anyone can prepare his team to pull off such an upset it’s Jon Gruden. Remember – Gruden was the head coach that helped the Bucs finally overcome their woes vs. the Philadelphia Eagles en route to winning Super Bowl XXXVII. He’ll need to produce a similar miracle if the Bucs have any shot of beating the Panthers and winning the NFC South division.

“By rushing for 96 yards on 22 carries vs. the Saints on Sunday, Bucs rookie running back Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams needs just 188 yards over the final four games of the 2005 season to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. Williams would be the first Bucs running back to accomplish that feat since Warrick Dunn did it back in 2001.”

“Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton went without a catch on Sunday and is on pace to catch just 37 passes for 430 yards and no touchdowns this season. Don’t expect Clayton to work his way out of the sophomore slump he’s been drowning in this season. If returning home to play in his old college stadium vs. a suspect Saints defense wasn’t enough to get Clayton back on track, I’m not sure there’s anything that will.”

“Tampa Bay is a tough team to beat when it wins the turnover battle. The Bucs had a plus-2 turnover ratio heading in Sunday’s game vs. the Saints. With Tampa Bay’s defense recording four interceptions, including three by cornerback Ronde Barber, on Sunday, the Bucs now have a plus-6 turnover ratio on the season. For inquiring minds that want to know, Tampa Bay had a plus-17 turnover ratio in 2002, which was the last time the Bucs made it to the playoffs.”

PEWTER REPORT CONTRIBUTING WRITER MARK LENNOX:
“On the surface, this seems like a great win for the Bucs. Winning on the road anywhere is tough and holding a team with the offensive capabilities that New Orleans has to only three points is a great testament to how far this team has come over the last two weeks. The only problem is that this is a game the Bucs should have won handily. The Saints are downtrodden and beaten. They are 3-9 on the season that was over before it began. The crowd at LSU Tigers Stadium was futile, but could you blame them? The team has been displaced since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and the fact that people even showed up to the game is a sign of good things to come. It’s difficult to play a “home” game when you can’t even go home to your family afterwards.”

“The Bucs were one lucky penalty away from possibly going to overtime in this game. When tackle Kenyatta Walker jumped offsides he literally saved his team seven points. The ensuing pass was tipped up in the air and Darren Howard would have walked in for the easy score following the interception. The bottom line is simple: The offense needs to play better down the stretch if they intend to make the playoffs. Granted, late in the second half the ground game was churning and I don’t think the Bucs were in danger of losing, but to come out with a seven-point victory against a hapless team is something to be examined. Are the Buccaneers better with Chris Simms at quarterback? Yes. Simms throws the long ball better and seems to play to win the game rather than play not to lose like Brian Griese is known to do at times. He is maturing every week but the receiving corps has to do a better job of giving Simms other options. Save Ike Hilliard’s two catches, Galloway has been the only viable option in the passing game. Galloway has 1,075 yards receiving on the season. The next closest Buc is more than 600 yards away. Against a high powered defense like the Carolina Panthers, a team who has the ability to shut down your go-to guy, someone else will have to wear the bulls eye if Tampa Bay wants to leave Charlotte with a victory next Sunday. Who is going to step up and make a play? ”

“Credit Ronde Barber for saving Tampa Bay when it needed him the most. Barber dropped a sure interception that would have given the Bucs great field position last week against the Bears. Barber came up huge with three interceptions on Sunday and is now tied for most on the team with Brian Kelly at four. He tied his career high of three picks in one game. When was the last time Barber snagged three in one game? December 23, 2001, against, you guessed it, the New Orleans Saints. Aaron Brooks seems to have his worst games against the Buccaneers.”

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