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PEWTER REPORT EDITOR-IN-CHIEF SCOTT REYNOLDS:
“The Buccaneers really need to consider a change at the kick return position. Torrie Cox has had problems catching the ball cleanly this year and he bobbled the opening kickoff, which caused the Bucs to start at their own 16-yard line. I know that the blocking has been suspect to start this season due to the loss of special teams stalwarts like John Howell, Jeff Gooch and Keith Burns, but the blockers don’t have any impact on whether Cox catches the ball or not. Tampa Bay’s kick return game is not near as productive as it was last year. I don’t think there is a lot of confidence in this unit right now. Perhaps a new kick returner would inject some confidence in this unit – and do a better job of catching the ball.”

“When football teams draft rookies they may expect one or two to contribute or even start on offense or defense in their first NFL season, but primarily, rookies are supposed to contribute on special teams. That’s exactly what happened on Sunday when rookie tight end Alex Smith stripped Jets punt returner Jericho Cotchery of the ball and rookie middle linebacker Barrett Ruud recovered for Tampa Bay at the New York 44. That play keyed a scoring drive that put the Bucs up 3-0. Most rookies don’t make an impact on offense or defense due to their lack of experience, but NFL teams are hopeful that they can make an impact on special teams. That’s what happened today with Smith and Ruud.”

“The Bucs brought practice squad running back Derek Watson along for the road trip to New York. On one of the pregame shows, general manager Bruce Allen indicated that Watson was along for the trip as a reward for doing his best imitation of Curtis Martin last week in practice. The reality of it was that the Bucs knew that Carnell “Cadillac” Williams would be inactive against the Jets and that Michael Pittman, Earnest Graham and Mike Alstott would be splitting the carries. Without Williams available, the Bucs were down a running back, and by bringing Watson to New York, Allen could sign him to the active roster if Pittman or Graham were to suffer an unforeseen injury or illness prior to kickoff. It’s the little things like paying attention to minor details that makes Allen one of the smartest general managers in the league.”

“When the New York Jets scored their second touchdown of the game to go up 14-10, it marked the first time the Buccaneers had trailed in the second half all season. With Tampa Bay’s offensive line personnel geared more for ball control run blocking rather than pass protection and playing catch-up football, it was no surprise that the Bucs struggled in the second half and couldn’t catch the Jets. Although Brian Griese’s three sacks came in the first half, he was harried and hurried throughout the contest. The constant pressure by the Jets defense allowed Griese to only get off a couple of downfield throws that were longer than 20 yards because he didn’t have much time to throw.”

“Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has a big decision to make. He has to decide how much of Tampa Bay’s success in its 4-0 start is attributable to quarterback Brian Griese. Are the Bucs largely winning because of the things that Griese is doing, or are they generally winning in spite of him with a strong running game and a stout defense? One thing is for sure, the Bucs lost at New York because of Griese’s intercepted pass which Jets cornerback Ty Law ran back to Tampa Bay’s 8-yard line. The Jets scored a big touchdown two plays later. Griese has thrown seven interceptions this season, including four picks over the last two weeks. You could throw in three more picks that were called back due to penalties, too. That would push his INT total to 10 on the season. The guess here is that Griese gets the start next week at Miami because the Bucs are 4-1. But at the first sign of trouble – namely an interception – Gruden turns to backup Chris Simms, who might fare better at home than he would have on Sunday had Gruden decided to pull Griese in favor or Simms.”

PEWTER REPORT MANAGING EDITOR JIM FLYNN:
“The Buccaneers have a quarterback controversy on their hands, whether they want to admit it or not. For the second consecutive week, QB Brian Griese threw a costly interception, and unlike last week vs. Detroit, the veteran signal caller’s mistake cost the Bucs the game. Griese was picked off once on Sunday, but that turnover led to the Jets’ first touchdown of the game, which proved to be the difference in the 14-12 contest. Not only did he toss that interception, Griese had two more interceptions negated by penalties on the Jets and had two more errant passes dropped by Jets defensive backs. He’s now thrown four interceptions over the past two weeks and seven through five games. Last week, Griese helped to make up for the three interceptions he threw by tossing two touchdowns. But on Sunday, Griese failed to make up for his big mistake vs. the Jets, who held the Bucs offense out of the end zone. Head coach Jon Gruden stuck with former Bucs QB Brad Johnson while he was struggling until his mistakes started outweighing his positive production. The same trend is starting to unfold with Griese, which means backup QB Chris Simms may once again get his shot at leading the Bucs offense. With Tampa Bay’s bye week approaching, Griese may find himself on the bench rather quickly if he struggles next week vs. Miami.”

“The Bucs can only hope that resting rookie running back Cadillac Williams on Sunday will pay off from this point forward. Tampa Bay was probably wise to not play Williams vs. New York Jets, but the Bucs offense sorely missed their most dangerous weapon on Sunday. Backup RB Michael Pittman was serviceable, but he doesn’t have the playmaking ability that strikes fear in opposing defenses. Even if he returns to action at 100 percent health, Williams will be hard pressed to get back on track as opposing defenses will now almost certainly stack the box and dare Griese to beat them with his inconsistent arm. Wouldn’t you after watching Griese throw 13 interceptions in his last eight starts?”

“Gruden has got to find a way to get his team to play with more discipline. The Bucs were penalized 12 times for 87 yards on Sunday, bringing their season total to 53 penalties for 443 yards. That’s an absurd amount of penalties, and although he’s not on the field committing them, Gruden must ultimately be held responsible for the infractions that are hindering his team’s effort on Sundays.”

“I wouldn’t mind seeing Edell Shepherd replace Bucs WR Ike Hilliard as the No. 3 wideout on Sundays. Hilliard seems like he’s still attempting to digest Gruden’s offense, which has made him fairly ineffective as a receiving threat. Yes, Hilliard caught five passes for 27 yards vs. the Jets, but his drop in the middle of the fourth quarter was inexcusable, and it led to the Bucs punting the ball away. Shepherd is regarded as the best route-runner on the team, and it might be time to see him display those skills more often since Hilliard hasn’t exactly exploded onto the scene through five games.”

“It was a tough call at the time, but Tampa Bay’s decision to go with kicker Matt Bryant over Todd France is definitely looking like the right one. Bryant scored all 12 of Tampa Bay’s points on Sunday by going 4-of-4 on field goal attempts. His 8-of-9 (88.8 percent) effort this season is a long ways from dead last in field goal kicking percentage, which is where Tampa Bay ranked the past two seasons before Bryant was signed this offseason.”

PEWTER REPORT CONTRIBUTING WRITER JASON ARMENDAREZ:
“With the amount of discipline obviously lacking from this team, it was only a matter of time before the penalties and miscues caught up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A team can get away with a win with penalties on occasion when playing a less-talented opponent. However, when playing on the road in a tough defensive struggle, there is little room for error as shown today in textbook fashion. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden must hold those players who consistently make mistakes accountable for the sloppy play. If he doesn’t, more losses will come. The penalty on cornerback Ronde Barber where he hit the official was unacceptable, accidental or not. A veteran with Barber’s stature should not put himself in a situation like that in the first place. He was lucky he wasn’t kicked out of the game for that mistake.”

“As much as running back Michael Pittman contributes in the passing game, it simply doesn’t compensate for what Cadillac Williams offers in the running game. Pittman shows poor running style. He does not run with any lean whatsoever and is either too hesitant to pick a hole or hits it too quickly. Williams offers excellent vision and burst through the hole. With Williams out, the offense seems to become almost one-dimensional and less confident. Gruden’s decision to draft Williams looks better and better every week. Williams needs to get better in a hurry. Pittman offers good depth, but he does not strike fear into opposing defenses.”

“Bucs quarterback Brian Griese continued stayed true to his reputation for being a hot and cold player on Sunday. There is no in-between. It’s apparent that Griese is in the middle of his cold streak, coming up with only a 68.2 rating for the game with no touchdowns and another costly interception that led to a New York touchdown. Griese must find a way to improve or he could find himself on a short leash in a short amount of time. The big question is can backup QB Chris Simms offer anything more playing behind the same offensive line? Even though Griese will no doubt be under a lot of fire from fans and some analysts after his performance today, Griese still offers this team the best chance of winning right now, as long as the players still believe in him. Hopefully he will shake off his cold snap in time for a tough schedule in the second half of the season.”

“The offensive line does deserve a chunk of the blame for Tampa Bay’s 14-12 loss to New York. No matter who your quarterback is, he won’t do well without decent offensive line play. After the first three weeks, Tampa Bay’s offensive line appeared to be immensely improved, but the inexperience has been exposed the past two games when playing against good defensive teams. You can only hope that Bucs offensive line coach Bill Muir lives up to his reputation of being a great line coach and keeps the line’s composure and confidence running.”

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