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“In case you didn’t already know, Buccaneers defensive end Simeon Rice is full of it. In what Rice said was a “monster game” this week, there certainly wasn’t much to be scared of when it came to his pass rush on Sunday. The Bucs were hoping Rice would be motivated from being suspended from last week’s game and that he would turn in a “monster game” himself. That didn’t happen nor did it even come close to happening. Rice struggled to provide much pressure against Travelle Wharton. Travelle who, you say? You know, Travelle Wharton, the second-year left tackle out of South Carolina. Never heard of him? Rice may not have heard of him, either, but it is safe to say that he knows who he is now after being so stonewalled by Wharton that he didn’t even appear in the stats column. Not sacks, no tackles – nothing. With a big cap number in 2006 ($9.2 million), an iffy attitude and very little production this year, Rice likely has just eight games left in Tampa.”

“My how the under tackle position has fallen since Warren Sapp’s last good season in 2002. Anthony McFarland, Sapp’s replacement, had another whopper of a game on Sunday, notching two tackles against Carolina and not even coming close enough to Jake Delhomme to be able to identify him in a police lineup. Without question, McFarland, who has just 14 tackles and one sack (in the season opener at Minnesota) at the midway point of the season, has been the team’s most disappointing player. Given the current state of the defensive line and the lack of pressure from the front four, a shake up is in order and probably overdue. I recommend starting Ellis Wyms at under tackle in place of McFarland and Dewayne White, who had the Bucs’ lone sack today, at right end in place of Rice. Wyms and White seem to be generating the most amount of pressure on the quarterback over the last three games. The shuffling of starters may prompt better efforts from Rice and McFarland, or at the very least, motivate Wyms and White enough so that they hold on to their starting spots.”

“Tampa Bay’s defense has not been opportunistic enough over the last two games and has now gone eight quarters without forcing a turnover. The last turnover came when McFarland recovered a Gus Frerotte fumble with 5:21 left in the fourth quarter of Tampa Bay’s win over Miami. With as many playmakers as this team has at each level of the defense, going two straight games without recovering a fumble or picking off a pass is shameful. The Bucs defense has set a high standard, and they have played well below it since the bye week. The defense is simply not making enough plays to win games.”

“I’d like to reference my Buccaneer Blitz column from the August issue of Pewter Report where I state that Tampa Bay’s offensive line is not good enough to match up with the tough, physical defensive lines of the NFC South. That point was proven today as the Bucs’ O-line surrendered five sacks and could not get enough push off the ball to generate a credible running game. The Bucs have never had success running the ball against Carolina and three new offensive linemen – left tackle Anthony Davis and guards Dan Buenning and Sean Mahan – and a new running back in Carnell “Cadillac” Williams haven’t made enough impact to turn the tide. Although losing Davis to a knee injury late in the second quarter certainly didn’t help. With five straight wins, including three at Raymond James Stadium, Carolina’s dominance over Tampa Bay is in full swing and will probably stay in effect until the Bucs can win the battle at the line of scrimmage.”

“With the Panthers playing so well this season and in the midst of a five-game winning streak, it is hard to imagine the Buccaneers rallying to win the NFC South after today’s loss. After losing three of its last four games, Tampa Bay may be seeing its once rosy playoff hopes dashed with Washington coming into Raymond James Stadium next week and two games against Atlanta, a trip to New England and another round with Carolina on the horizon. Let’s not forget that Tampa Bay has never swept New Orleans, either. Can the Bucs finish 10-6 now? It’s doubtful. Ask yourself where the four wins are going to come from that would allow Tampa Bay to post a 9-7 record at season’s end? Pewter Report predicted an 8-8 season for the Bucs in August, but even I am having trouble thinking how the team can go 3-5 over the second half of the season given the current state of the offense with the line in disarray, a running game that has evaporated, a young quarterback who will continue to make mistakes as he learns and a star receiver who keeps dropping passes. After it looked like the Bucs would surpass expectations this season due to a 5-1 start, Pewter Report’s 8-8 prediction may indeed come true.”

“I thought Chris Simms made some real progress in the Carolina game. He played a very tough Panthers defense, but found a real comfort zone early on, completing 10-of-13 passes for 121 yards and a beautiful, 50-yard touchdown pass to Joey Galloway in the first half. This outing showed marked improvement over his play at San Francisco where he was just as much to blame for the Bucs’ loss as the offensive line was. Today, the offensive line has to draw the lion’s share of the criticism in Tampa Bay’s loss. Simms did throw a killer interception that was returned for a touchdown by Chris Gamble, but those types of throws are expected (but not necessarily forgivable) with a young quarterback who has just four starts in the NFL. Simms seemed to settle down early in the game, make good decisions and convert some key third downs. He did get rattled a little later in the game, but five sacks and numerous hits will do that to you.”

“Just when you thought tackle Kenyatta Walker was coming closer to living up to expectations, the fifth-year tackle had a mental meltdown vs. his worst nightmare, the Carolina Panthers. Walker was arguably Tampa Bay’s most consistent offensive lineman this season, but that all changed in the second quarter of Sunday’s game when he was called for not one, not two but three false start penalties in a four-play span. Those penalties, which were inexcusable and quite embarrassing, put the Bucs in a third-and-impossible situation and eventually forced them to punt after driving into Panthers territory. Not only did he show up in the penalty department, Walker struggled to defend Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, who notched two sacks on Sunday. Walker’s penalties were a big-time momentum killer, and there’s simply no excuse for it.”

“Even though the Bucs suffered their worse loss (20-point deficit) since the 2003 regular season finale vs. the Tennessee Titans, third-year QB Chris Simms took a step in the right direction on Sunday. He made better pre-snap reads and showed much more poise inside and outside of the pocket, which allowed him to use the proper footwork to deliver some nice passes for big plays. Simms’ 50-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Joey Galloway was one of the most impressive plays I’ve seen from the Bucs offense in quite some time. However, his errant pass to Panthers CB Chris Gamble, who returned the ball 61 yards for a touchdown, looked all too familiar. I’d like to see what Simms can do with better pass protection and a running game to work with, but opposing defenses will continue to take the ground game away from the Bucs until Simms shows he’s capable of beating a team with his arm. Let’s hope that days comes sooner rather than later.”

“One of the main reasons why the Bucs managed to get off to a 5-1 start this season was because of their ability to run and protect the football. However, both of those strengths have quickly turned into weaknesses for the Bucs, who have lost three of their last four games and are now on a two-game losing streak. Over the past two games, the Bucs have rushed for 87 yards on a total of 38 carries. Although he is no longer listed on the injury report and back in action, Tampa Bay rookie running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams has struggled, carrying the ball 24 times for 48 yards (2.0 avg.) over the last two games. It might be frustrating to watch, but head coach Jon Gruden has got to show more patience with the running game. Remember – several of Williams’ long runs earlier in the season came in the fourth quarter when he had already carried the ball 20-plus times. Williams is capable of breaking a long one every time he touches the ball, so Gruden has got to make a better effort to keep him involved, even when the game gets out of hand like it did on Sunday. As far as turnovers are concerned, the Bucs have seven of them over the last two weeks, including four on Sunday. To make matters worse, the Bucs have failed to create a turnover in eight quarters. Tampa Bay will be hard pressed to win another game this season if it continues to fail to create turnovers and take care of the ball on offense.”

“Tampa Bay’s promising season is quickly falling apart at the seams. This team hasn’t been the same since QB Brian Griese suffered torn ligaments in his knee. They’re 5-3 and still very much alive for a playoff spot, but one has to wonder how the Bucs will go about winning another game after watching the way they’ve performed over the last two weeks. Don’t look now, but the Bucs’ schedule doesn’t get any easier, either. Tampa Bay’s next three games are against Washington (4-3), at Atlanta (6-2) and Chicago (5-3).”

“After starting off on fire, the Bucs offensive line has appeared to flat line, buckling under pressure from a mediocre defense in San Francisco last week and Carolina this week. I’m not sure what tackle Kenyatta Walker’s problem is, but it’s pretty evident that Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers owns him, dating back the past two seasons. Tampa Bay’s offensive line remains inconsistent, at times giving QB Chris Simms plenty of time as shown on his 50-yard touchdown pass to WR Joey Galloway, and other times nowhere near enough, as in the sack-fumble in the third quarter which led to a field goal by the Panthers. Although the line has been better this year, it still hasn’t played well enough to dictate the trenches game in and game out.”

“Quarterback Chris Simms should not have the loss solely put on his shoulders even though he threw the costly interception that was retuned for a touchdown by Panthers CB Chris Gamble. For the most part, Simms managed the game well and showed much better accuracy and decision making in this contest. It wasn’t until Carolina was able to key into the passing game that Simms began to falter. He also got no help whatsoever from the running game, as the offensive line was unable to open holes in the first half. By the time the second half started, head coach Jon Gruden was forced to go to the air as Carolina started lighting up the scoreboard.”

“It should be expected that the Bucs will not win the division, and will probably miss the playoffs if the team doesn’t start playing together and better in all aspects. The highest-paid players need to pull their weight. Two names that come to mind are Booger McFarland and Simeon Rice. Hey guys, where’s the production? Booger must improve his game if he wants to remain in Tampa, along with Rice. McFarland is hardly noticeable on the stat sheet, and has not taken over a game as of yet this season. Rice is a hot and cold player, and right now he’s far into his cold streak.”

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