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“It’s astonishing how far Buccaneers wide receiver Michael Clayton has fallen into a sophomore slump this season. Clayton had a key drop on a third down pass that would have picked up a first down in the second quarter. The pass hit him right in the hands, and I don’t think Clayton had another ball thrown his way the rest of his afternoon. After a stellar rookie campaign in which he caught 80 passes for over 1,000 yards and sevn touchdowns, Clayton has just 28 catches for 323 yards this year and is approaching 10 dropped passes on the season. What is stunning is that with two catches for 14 yards today, rookie tight end Alex Smith now has 24 receptions for 234 yards this season and may pass Tampa Bay’s starting flanker as the team’s second-leading receiver behind Joey Galloway. In case you don’t know, in Jon Gruden’s offense – like most West Coast offenses – the passing game is run through the flanker (Z receiver) position. But due to Clayton’s drops and Galloway’s emergence this season, Gruden’s passing game actually runs through the split end (X receiver) position.”

“After a couple of questionable outings over the last couple of weeks in which he missed several tackles, Tampa Bay weakside (Will) linebacker Derrick Brooks had a strong game on Sunday, recording a team-high 15 tackles. Brooks has been hampered by a pulled hamstring, but showed great range and explosion in helping to limit Chicago halfback Thomas Jones to 72 yards on 25 carries (2.9 avg.). His performance against the Bears may be an indication that his injured hamstring is getting closer to being 100 percent.”

“Tampa Bay struggled all day with poor field position. Not only did the Bucs have four of their 13 possessions start inside their 10-yard line, but Chicago’s first touchdown came a play after defensive end Alex Brown beat tight end Anthony Becht to sack Chris Simms on the Tampa Bay 1 and force a fumble that was recovered by defensive tackle Tommie Harris. That was a poor play call from Jon Gruden, who didn’t call the best game offensively. Gruden should have known better than to have Simms drop back against a fierce Bears pass rush after watching what happened last week when Atlanta tried to pass out of their own end zone. When you subtract the Bucs’ last possession, which came on the last play of the game with just seconds remaining, one-third of Tampa Bay’s drives started in the shadow of its own goal line. It’s no surprise that the Bucs were unable to mount a sustained drive coming from deep inside their own territory against the NFL’s top-ranked defense.”

“I talked to both Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms and left tackle Anthony Davis after the game about Chicago defensive end Alex Brown. Aside from being credited with two sacks and a forced fumble, Brown also swatted down four passes at the line of scrimmage. Both Davis and Simms credited Brown for heady play. When he wasn’t getting an effective pass rush on a particular play, Brown would simply stop rushing, wait for Simms to throw, try to get into Simms’ passing lane and then jump up with his arms extended to bat down the pass. Brown, who now has five sacks on the year, has the look of an up-and-coming star in the NFL, and should flourish playing opposite of Adewale Ogunleye, who now has nine sacks in 2005 after registering two against the Bucs on Sunday.”

“How big a role do turnovers play in the NFL? It’s kind of an obvious question, really. But consider that Chicago led 7-3 in the first quarter, yet was outgained 84-12 by Tampa Bay in total yardage. Of course, that Bears offense only had to go one yard for a touchdown due to Chris Simms’ fumble on the Tampa Bay 1-yard line on the Bucs’ initial possession.”

“The Buccaneers, including head coach Jon Gruden, seemed to shrug off the loss during the post-game interview period. Tampa Bay is still sitting pretty at 7-4 – three games above .500 – and shouldn’t get too discouraged in losing a tight game to a very tough NFC opponent. However, the Bucs are about to embark on a tough, three-game road trip starting with next week’s game against New Orleans at LSU Tigers Stadium in Baton Rouge. The Bucs are 2-4 against the Saints since the formation of the NFC South in 2002, and although they have won the last two games at New Orleans, Tampa Bay has lost the last three contests to the Saints at Raymond James Stadium. So even if the Bucs manage to come out of their three-game road trek with a 1-2 or 2-1 mark, the last two home games of the season – versus Atlanta and New Orleans – won’t be slam dunk wins by any means. I certainly don’t think the Bucs will finish the season 0-5, but it is not inconceivable that they could wind up 7-7 after their three road contests with two pressure-packed games against tough, NFC South rivals to end the 2005 campaign.”

“Tampa Bay’s defense improved its play on third downs (Bears were 4-of-15) on Sunday, but its offense took a huge step backward in that department. After completing 38.7 percent of their third down tries through the first 10 games of the season, the Bucs converted just 2-of-12 (17 percent) of their third down tries vs. the Chicago Bears. Although the Bears defense is ranked No. 1 overall and for real, the Bucs’ production on third downs was pathetic.”

“One can only hope that Matt Bryant’s missed 29-yard field goal attempt with just over two minutes remaining in Sunday’s game is not a sign of things to come. Bryant had made 15-of-17 tries before missing wide right on a field goal that would have tied the game at 13 all. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said after the game that Bryant had pulled his hamstring on the opening kickoff, but a sore hammy had nothing to do with that untimely miss or Gruden’s decision to punt instead of having Bryant attempt a 49-yard field goal in the second quarter. Those two debacles served as an eery reminder of Martin Gramatica’s kicking woes, which caused the Bucs to finish two straight seasons with the worst field goal kicking percentage in the NFL. Bryant has been solid all season long, but he was brought in to make kicks like the 29-yarder he missed on Sunday.”

“Speaking of missed opportunities, the Bears had three fumbles on Sunday, and the Bucs couldn’t manage to recover one of them. The Bears, on the other hand, forced one fumble on quarterback Chris Simms and recovered it on the Bucs’ 1-yard line, and that turnover was quickly turned into a touchdown by the Bears offense. That was the difference in Sunday’s game.”

“In a game that lacked big plays on offense, wide receiver Joey Galloway came up huge vs. the Bears by hauling in a team-leading seven passes for 138 yards, including a 39-yarder. Galloway now has 58 catches for 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns through 11 games. As well as he played, the Bucs certainly could have used a touchdown from Galloway, who has now gone two straight games without a score after coming up with 13 touchdowns in a 14-game span. Galloway has been Tampa Bay’s big playmaker on offense, and his playmaking ability has been despartely needed seeing as second-year WR Michael Clayton has forgotten how to get open and catch the ball in what has been a frustrating year for him. In training camp, Clayton said he didn’t believe in a ‘sophomore slump.’ Well, believe it, Michael. You’re living it.”

“How big was Tampa Bay’s home loss to Chicago? It was pretty big when considering the fact that the Bucs have three straight road games to play, with two of the contests being played against teams with winning records (Carolina and New England). The Bucs’ 13-10 loss allowed the 7-4 Falcons to tie the Pewter Pirates for second place and the 8-3 Panthers to take sole possession of first place in the NFC South division. If the playoffs started today, the 7-4 Bucs would not qualify for post-season play.

“This is a tough loss to swallow. Despite how well the Bears’ defense played, Tampa Bay’s ability to move the ball late in the game shows how far it has progressed offensively with quarterback Chris Simms at the helm. The play-action pass was working late, and the Bucs managed to find big holes in the Bears defense, getting key yards on multiple dump passes. The Bucs defense was solid, essentially only allowing six points. The one turnover by the offense proved to be the most costly. Chicago simply was the more opportunistic team all day. The Bears put the ball on the ground three times but managed to recover every time. Tampa Bay fumbled only once, but it proved to be the difference in the game. The defense gave their offense plenty of opportunities to win the game and greatly improved on their third down defense. With three tough road games on the docket, Tampa Bay needs to go at least 2-1 to stay in the hunt. New Orleans and New England seem to be the most winnable out of the two, but Foxboro in mid-December doesn’t sound too enticing. Bring your sweaters.”

“Towards the middle of the fourth quarter, the game had the eerie feel of the Bears-Panthers game from a week earlier. Tampa Bay had very little offensive production. Fullback Mike Alstott’s touchdown snapped the Bears’ streak of holding an opponent without a touchdown for more than 175 minutes of game time. You have to commend the offense for moving the ball late after being shut down virtually all game.”

“The production of wide receiver Joey Galloway continues to impress me. He has the awareness to find the open hole in a zone and break it for 30-plus yards and also still retains his speed despite having two reconstructed knees. Galloway’s 39-yard grab from QB Chris Simms was a benchmark for their offensive production against a tough defense. Galloway finished the game with exactly 1000 yards on the season, his first 1,000-yard season since 1998. He is arguably the MVP of the 2005 Buccaneers.”

“Speaking of team MVPs, you have to feel for kicker Matt Bryant on his final field goal attempt. He has the opportunity to tie the game and it slips away from him. The Bucs needed this one at home to stay in the race for the NFC South division title. With the loss, Tampa Bay is now in a tie with Atlanta for second place in the division. But think about where the Bucs would be without Bryant’s production all season. Granted, Tampa Bay still seems to lose the close ones (three of their four losses by less than 6 points) but Bryant has been stellar. Up until his 29-yard miss today Bryant had been 14-of-14 on field goal attempts under 40 yards. He will no doubt be in a position later in the season to win games for Tampa Bay and the smart money is on Bryant.”

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