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“The fact that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to win today without rookie rusher Carnell “Cadillac” Williams playing, and playing without starting quarterback Brian Griese for the second half, has to be a confidence boost for the offense. If there were any doubts that the Bucs could only win with Cadillac in the lineup – and those doubts were probably in the minds of the fans and the media more than the players – they were erased today. The loss of Griese was tough, but Chris Simms has inspired those around him to have confidence in him thanks to a superb preseason. Although Simms will likely look to Michael Clayton a little more than Griese did, Joey Galloway is one of Simms’ best friends on the team despite their age difference. With Simms’ strong arm and Galloway’s love of the deep ball, don’t expect Galloway to disappear now that Griese is on the sidelines.”

“The Bucs fans that were left in the stands in the fourth quarter were chanting “Alstott, Alstott” in hopes that head coach Jon Gruden would put fan favorite Mike Alstott into the game to close out Tampa Bay’s win – especially after Earnest Graham’s fumble led to a touchdown. The last thing Gruden – or any NFL head coach – is going to do is to start listening to the crowd and taking orders from fans. The thinking here is that if Gruden were to play Alstott and the A-Train were to have success, it would only create a running back controversy in the media, on talk radio and on Internet message boards because Alstott has such a loyal following from the fans. The fact that Alstott didn’t get any touches after his 23-yard reception speaks to this notion. There could also be another ulterior motive at work, and this is purely speculation on my part. Alstott took a pay cut to remain in Tampa Bay for his 10th – and probably final – season in the NFL. The Bucs benefited because they didn’t have to take a public relations hit (similar to the one they took when they released John Lynch), and Alstott gets 10 years in the league along with a nice-sized payday in 2005. I think the Bucs are expecting and planning for life without Alstott in 2006 (hence the selection of Rick Razzano in the 2005 draft). A frustrated A-Train might just go ahead and retire, which would spare the Bucs some public relations grief. However, if Alstott were having some individual success, then maybe he doesn’t want to hang up the cleats yet, despite the fact that the Bucs are ready to move on without him. Then Tampa Bay would be in the P.R. pickle again. It is shame that Alstott is going out this way, especially when he finally breaks off a play – that 23-yarder – that showed us all that he still has a little bit left in the tank.”

“Winning on third downs doesn’t always guarantee victory, but it is usually a good barometer. Tampa Bay was an efficient 8-of-17 (47 percent) on third downs today on offense, and both of the Bucs’ offensive touchdowns came on third down. Brian Griese’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Joey Galloway came on third-and-goal in the first quarter, while Michael Pittman’s 57-yard touchdown came on third-and-1 in the third quarter. The Bucs defense was solid on third down, allowing Miami to convert just 3-of-14 (21 percent) today.”

“I’ve said it before, but it is worth mentioning again. The Bucs’ unsung hero this year is kicker Matt Bryant. Bryant was perfect against Miami with field goals of 36 and 32 yards today. He’s now 10-of-11 this season, which equates to 90.9 percent. Credit special teams coach Rich Bisaccia, head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen for sticking with Bryant after a rough spell in training camp, and for making the decision to keep him over Todd France at the end of the preseason. A 30 percent difference in field goal percentage is huge for the Bucs this year, and is one of the hidden reasons why Tampa Bay is off to a 5-1 start.”

“I thought Tampa Bay’s linebackers and defensive ends played exceptionally well today. The linebackers really responded to the much-hyped return of Ricky Williams and the emergence of rookie rusher Ronnie Brown by accounting for 28 tackles. Derrick Brooks led the way with nine tackles and a sack, while Shelton Quarles battled back from a bruised back to notch nine tackles, too. Ryan Nece added seven stops, and rookie Barrett Ruud filled in nicely for Quarles in a few series and recorded his first three NFL tackles on defense. With the Bucs run defense holding Brown to 22 yards on nine carries (2.4 avg.), and Williams to eight yards on five carries (1.4 avg.), the ends turned up the pressure on quarterback Gus Frerotte. Frerotte only completed 48.8 percent of his passes against Tampa Bay, and Greg Spires, Simeon Rice and Dewayne White each recorded a sack. Spires and Rice each forced a fumble on their sacks, but it was the relentless play of White that impressed me the most.”

“It’s a shame that Bucs quarterback Brian Griese left the game injured in the second quarter because he responded well to the criticism he received throughout the week leading up to Sunday’s game. Griese completed 12-of-16 passes for 120 yards and engineered two scoring drives before suffering a left knee injury. Not only did he show a lot of character by playing well, Griese showed tremendous toughness by turning away the cart that came out on the field to get him and limping off the field. Overall, Griese’s effort was an inspiring one, and now the team awaits the results of tests that will determine the severity of their starting signal caller’s leg injury. It doesn’t look good, but if it had to happen, now was as good a time as ever for Griese to go down. The upcoming bye week gives backup QB Chris Simms, who was 6-of-10 for 69 yards, some much-needed time to prepare to be Tampa Bay’s starter vs. the San Francisco 49ers.”

“Speaking of impressive performances, it doesn’t get much better than Bucs RB Michael Pittman’s outing vs. the Miami Dolphins. Pittman started in place of rookie RB Cadillac Williams, who was inactive for the second straight week with a foot injury, but Tampa Bay’s running game surprisingly didn’t miss a beat vs. Miami’s No. 2 ranked run defense. Pittman, who was nursing a shoulder injury that had him listed as questionable on the injury report, carried the ball 15 times for 127 yards (8.5 avg.), including a 57-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Sitting Cadillac and starting Pittman turned out to be a great decision by head coach Jon Gruden and Co., and the Bucs will truly reap the benefits of that move while Williams rests his injured foot over the next two weeks.”

“I spent a great deal of time watching Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton from the press box on Sunday, and I concluded that his shoulder injury is not stopping him from getting open. In fact, Clayton was running open a lot vs. the Dolphins. You can’t blame Griese for throwing to WR Joey Galloway, who hauled in nine passes for 96 yards and is on fire, but he could look in Clayton’s direction more than he has. With Simms in the lineup, Clayton will almost certainly get more looks. His 22-yard catch in the third quarter was via a pass thrown by Simms.”

“Good things happen when the Bucs sustain a pass rush on the opposing quarterback. After going untouched throughout most of the first three quarters of Sunday’s game, Dolphins QB Gus Frerotte felt the wrath of Tampa Bay’s defense late in the third quarter when Bucs defensive end Greg Spires sacked Miami’s signal caller and forced him the fumble, which allowed safety Will Allen to recover the loose ball and return it 33 yards for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, Bucs DE Simeon Rice sacked Frerotte and knocked the ball loose in the process, which allowed DT Anthony McFarland to recover. The Bucs need to find a way to sustain the pass rush they put together late in Sunday’s game on a weekly basis.”

“With Tampa Bay needing a win after stalling in New York, the Bucs came out firing on all cylinders starting with wide receiver Joey Galloway and ending with the defense. There were some question marks after last week’s game against the Jets, but after this week there shouldn’t be many left, although a new one has come into light. How will quarterback Chris Simms respond as Tampa Bay’s new starter? Timing couldn’t have been better for Simms, who enters a bye week and has extra time to prepare for an average team in the San Francisco 49ers. The defense should be able to keep Tampa Bay in the game, which will take a lot of pressure off Simms.”

“Quarterback depth in the NFL if often overlooked, but it is arguably the most important position for depth in the league. Take a look around, and you see star quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick and Chad Pennington missing some time. Tampa Bay is lucky to have quality depth behind Brian Griese, and it is an asset that should not be overlooked by anybody. The Bucs staff will also get to take another look at what Simms can offer and how much he has progressed. This will help tremendously in showing the team and the fans if Simms, who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, is indeed the quarterback of the future in Tampa Bay.”

“The quality of depth on this 2005 team compared to the past couple of years cannot be ignored. The Bucs were decimated by injuries in 2003 and 2004, contributing to their sub par records both of those years. This year, backups have stepped up greatly. Safety Will Allen has impressed me the most. This guy just seems to have a nose for the ball and I would not be surprised to see him start next season, and perhaps even later this year. His nickname of “Big Play Willie” is certainly appropriate. Allen picked off Packers QB Brett Favre twice earlier in the year and scored the first touchdown of his career by scooping up a fumble and returning it 33 yards for a touchdown on Sunday. Through six regular season games, I would have to vote Allen the most improved defensive player on the Bucs roster.”

“After ragging on Michael Pittman a little in my roundtable last week, it’s only fair to give him props after his effort vs. Miami. Pittman stepped up big today against a tough Dolphins defense, and put a really nice move on Miami defensive end Jason Taylor en route to a 57-yard touchdown. He really stepped up nicely and showed a lot of heart in today’s game, playing with a bum shoulder. Although at times his style of play is sometimes criticized, his teamwork and toughness should never be.”

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