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“In case you haven’t noticed, we are witnessing the erosion of linebacker Derrick Brooks’ skills. The key indicator is not just the fact that Shelton Quarles is leading the team in tackles this year by 18 stops, but the amount of tackles Brooks has missed this year. Pewter Report tallied a team-leading five missed tackles for Brooks in the Bucs’ loss at San Francisco. Brooks had his share of misses against the Redskins, too, despite leading Tampa Bay with nine tackles. Pewter Report counted at least four missed tackles by Brooks on big runs by Clinton Portis. Throw in a couple of blown assignments in coverage against wide open tight end Brian Kozlowski (although he didn’t make the catch) and running back Ladell Betts on Betts’ 17-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, and you can see Brooks losing a step. But make no mistake, Brooks is still a good player and one of the better linebackers in the NFL. However, it is clear that he is not as quick as he was in his youth and is not the elite linebacker he was in his prime.”

“Chris Simms deserves an awful lot of credit for a masterful performance against Washington. He’s come a long way from that dreadful effort against San Francisco where he looked as bad as he did against Arizona in the 2004 season finale. Tonight, Simms looked as good as he did against the Houston Texans in this year’s preseason finale. But the Bucs’ success in the passing game wouldn’t have happened without a great job by the offensive line, tight ends and running backs who did a marvelous job in picking up the Redskins’ blitzes. Tampa Bay’s wide receivers deserve an awful lot of credit, too. In several of the Bucs’ big plays in the passing game, Tampa Bay was running a lot of two-man routes while they were in maximum protection sets. Without the benefits of other receivers or tight ends to run clear outs, Joey Galloway, Edell Shepherd and Ike Hilliard had to win one-on-one battles on their own against Washington – and they delivered.”

“The Tampa Bay kick return game is a joke. While there will be some calling for Rich Bisaccia’s head after this game – especially after the Bucs gave up a 94-yard kick return for a touchdown – an equal amount of angst should be directed to the Bucs’ front office for not making a move to replace Cox after his struggled fielding the ball earlier in the season. Cox has been replaced at least twice this year for bungling kick returns – and if he’s not fielding the ball cleanly, he’s slipping and falling as he is trying to make his cuts – and he was replaced by Edell Shepherd in the second half, although Shepherd bobbled his first attempt, too. It’s still not too late for the Bucs to go out in free agency and sign Frank Murphy off the street.”

“We’ve said it before but it bears repeating – Jon Gruden is still a young coach. When you look around the league and see guys like Dick Vermeil and Bill Parcells and Joe Gibbs who have about 20 more years worth of coaching experience than Gruden does, it’s important to remember that Gruden is still learning. There will be some in the ‘see, I told you so’ crowd that will chastise Gruden for not using Mike Alstott more over the past few games or the past few seasons. But instead of joining that misguided chorus, I choose to applaud him for putting aside his beliefs, his ego – his whatever – and getting Alstott more touches against Washington. That’s the sign of a smart coach, folks. Don’t think that Gruden succumbed to the wishes of the fans and the media on this one, either. He’s intelligent enough to have figured that one out himself. He knew that Alstott was ‘feeling it’ after last week’s game at Carolina in which he scored a touchdown and produced two first downs on only three opportunities. Jon Gruden got better as a coach today, and going for a 2-point conversion to win the game took an incredible amount of intestinal fortitude because he knew what the headlines were going to be in tomorrow’s papers as he and the Bucs dropped to 5-4 with a 35-34 home loss. Instead, he earns a lot of credit with the players for trusting them enough to go for two and the win. This game may be the turning point in the Bucs’ season, and Gruden’s relationship with the players, who awarded him with a game ball after the victory.”

“It’s amazing to see the maturity and growth of Kenyatta Walker. Walker had a forgettable game last week against Carolina in which he gave up a sack to Julius Peppers and was flagged for three false starts in one series. Against Washington, Walker showed resolve by playing penalty-free and not allowing a sack from Chris Simms’ blindside. He has grown up on and off the field and it was great to see a player who has had so many trials and tribulations with the media, the coaches and the fans stand and deliver. In case you didn’t know, Mike Alstott’s two-point conversion run was a play called ’14 Blast’ and it was run right behind Walker, who has played exceptional football this year – minus that Carolina game. He’s earned the respect of his teammates, his coaches and this reporter with his play this year. What a way for Walker to rebound.”

“I’ve been on Booger McFarland’s case this year for his lack of big plays, but McFarland played his best game since the season opener against Minnesota with a four-tackle effort in Tampa Bay’s 36-35 win over Washington. McFarland was disruptive, made some plays in the backfield and chased down Mark Brunell on the Redskins’ final offensive play to help seal the win. McFarland needs to build on this game and raise havoc next week at Atlanta.”

“For those Bucs fans who weren’t in attendance, this was one of the most electric Tampa Bay games I’ve witnessed in person. The crowd was amazing and there was a real electricity inside Raymond James Stadium. This game ranks up with other notable home games such as the Wild Card win over Detroit in 1997, the playoff victory over Washington in 1999, the playoff win over San Francisco in 2002 and the Monday Night Football classic against the Rams in 2000. What an amazing game to witness.”

“I swore to myself as I watched the exciting finish to Sunday’s game from the press box in Raymond James Stadium that I wasn’t going to second guess head coach Jon Gruden’s decision to go for the win rather than play it safe and kick the extra point. I made that decision before the verdict was actually in. After watching Washington commit two penalties, the second of which saw a Redskins defender block kicker Matt Bryant’s extra point attempt, there was no way Gruden was going to watch the Bucs’ fourth quarter comeback fall short vs. the Redskins because of a missed extra point. Sure, the Redskins defender was offsides and the penalty was called, but don’t think for a second that Gruden wasn’t having flashbacks to Week 2 of the 2003 regular season when then-Tampa Bay kicker Martin Gramatica had the winning extra point attempt blocked with no time remaining in regulation. The Bucs, of course, went on to lose that particular game in overtime. The Redskins practically dared Gruden to go for it, and go for it he did. Of course, most people would judge Gruden’s decision by the end result since hindsight is perfect. He’s a genius if the Bucs convert the two-point conversion, and he’s an idiot if they don’t. However, I applauded Gruden’s decision to go for it before fullback Mike Alstott just barely bulled his way into the end zone for the game-winning two-point conversion, and even if the ‘A-Train’ had been stopped short of the goal line, I’d be writing how Gruden made a great call. As it turns out, it was the right call, and one that prompted the Bucs players to give Gruden the game ball in the locker room.”

“During the offseason, I used my on-line column to discuss how Bucs wide receiver Edell Shepherd was a player to keep an eye on this season. Shepherd had a strong training camp in 2004 but his season was cut short by a broken foot he suffered in preseason. He was obviously slowed by the injury this summer, evidenced by the fact that Shepherd didn’t make a lot of splash plays in training camp and preseason and was beaten out by Ike Hilliard for the No. 3 receiver spot on the team. But with Michael Clayton sidelined for Sunday’s game with a bone bruise, Shepherd stepped up big-time by hauling in three passes for 87 yards and scoring a touchdown vs. the Redskins. Shepherd’s 46-yard catch in the third quarter helped to set up the touchdown that tied the game up at 28 apiece. In the fourth quarter, Shepherd got open deep again, this time in the end zone, where QB Chris Simms threw a perfect strike to the diving receiver for a 30-yard touchdown with just :58 remaining in the game. Of course, the Bucs wound up winning the game on the ensuing two-point conversion. While this might have been a breakout game of sorts for Shepherd, it could leave the Bucs offense with an interesting dilemma since it seemed to fare better without Clayton, who has been plagued by injuries this season.”

“Bucs QB Chris Simms has shown much improvement since making his first start of the season in San Francisco (an outing we’d all rather forget). Although he only completed 51.7 percent of his passes, Simms threw for 279 yards and tossed three touchdowns and no interceptions en route to helping Tampa Bay defeat Washington. Not only did he play mistake-free football, Simms received a good amount of protection from his offensive line, which did a tremendous job in terms of picking up a variety of blitzes run by the Redskins. Simms took a huge step in the right direction by playing well and engineering the game-winning drive with less than two minutes to play in Sunday’s game. I’m anxious to see how that success translates to Tampa Bay’s game in Atlanta next Sunday. Simms will have to be just as poised as he was vs. Washington if Tampa Bay is going to escape Atlanta with a victory.”

“For as much criticism as he’s taken over the past two weeks, Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice deserves a lot of credit for the performance he turned in at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. Just one week after being held without a tackle or sack vs. Carolina, Rice came up huge Sunday by recording four tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception vs. Washington. Rice’s sack/fumble in the first quarter forced the Redskins to settle for a field goal. In the second quarter, Rice intercepted a pass after CB Juran Bolden tipped a QB Mark Brunell throw intended for WR Santana Moss. That big play killed a Redskins drive that was on the Bucs’ 25-yard line. Later in the second quarter, Rice sacked Brunell and forced him to fumble again, which allowed DE Dewayne White to recover the ball on the Redskins’ 5-yard line. Alstott scored his second touchdown of the game two plays later. Gruden challenged the defense to step up and aid a struggling offense, and Rice responded to that challenge in a huge way on Sunday.”

“It might be premature to say the Bucs are back. Sure, they’re 6-3 on the season, but before Sunday’s kickoff many pundits had written off the 5-3 Bucs due to their two-game losing streak. While Tampa Bay clearly has areas it needs to improve in, one would be hard pressed to come up with a better way to quickly forget a two-game losing streak than winning a game the way the Buccaneers did on Sunday. The Bucs must find a way to carry Sunday’s emotional win and momentum vs. the Redskins into the Georgia Dome and defeat their NFC South division rival – the 6-3 Atlanta Falcons.”

“This was no doubt the Bucs’ biggest victory since Super Bowl XXXVII. Players on both sides of the ball showed guts and heart in amazing fashion. One could argue that the final minute of Sunday’s game was the catalyst to what should be the complete transition from the Super Bowl era into a new era. Head coach Jon Gruden’s call to go for the two-point conversion was probably one of the gutsiest calls that I can recall in the past couple of years in the entire NFL. It was quite a statement to make on behalf of the team, and no doubt a great confidence builder.”

“Simeon Rice really came up big against the ‘Skins, and his heart permeated through the entire defensive line, which was harassing and knocking around Washington quarterback Mark Brunell throughout the game. Although the Bucs gave up a large amount of rushing yardage to the Redskins, that can be attributed to the relentless pass rush that we saw today. The defensive line looked much more aggressive from the start, coming out with the mentality that they were not going to be embarrassed again at home as they were against Carolina last week.”

“Kudos go to the fans that stayed to the very end of the game, even though it appeared as if the Bucs might let this amazing contest slip away. Fans were treated to a game that was worth every penny of the ticket price, and also got to see what may be an important moment in franchise history, as QB Chris Simms was able to prove that he has the tools to lead the team to victory in the final minutes.”

“The Bucs can finally get the monkey off their back about not beating a team with a winning record. At this juncture in the season, a 6-3 record is a lot better than 5-4. A performance such as what we saw against Washington gives a huge amount of confidence to the young players, which is what they’ll need to play a scrappy team and very important division rival in the Atlanta Falcons. There’s no doubt that Atlanta will be at its best next week after losing Sunday to Green Bay.”

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