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President Hugh MacArthur
Here are a few thoughts on the latest Buccaneer disaster, given while wondering who on earth told Daryl Johnston that his plaid shirt would look good on television with a tie:

Coach Jon Gruden has clearly pushed the panic button at quarterback. If he really did tell Dick Stockton and Daryl Johnston emphatically that he would not change quarterbacks during the game against the Falcons, then he looks very silly right now. I cannot understand why a head coach would ever say something like that. Why? Because, by the fourth quarter it looked obvious that Bruce Gradkowski could have played another two games worth of quarters against the Falcons and not engineer a touchdown drive. What choice did Gruden really have?

So, now we see Tim Rattay. Please don’t get all excited by the last drive he led, which (gasp!) nearly led the Buccaneers to their first touchdown in almost 12 quarters of play. Rattay had a few things going for him. Firstly, the Falcons were up two scores and happily settled into a prevent defense with soft zone coverage. Those passes over the middle are exactly what the Falcons were willing to allow to trade time for yards. Secondly, Rattay is a veteran, and a veteran of the West Coast offense. He was looking downfield because he had to at that point in the game, but he also knew how to go through his progressions to find an open receiver. Gradkowski, who threw the majority of his completions to running backs, has clearly not learned this lesson yet. Rattay didn’t do enough to beat out Gradkowski in training camp. The best hope is that he can stabilize the quarterback position for now.

So, where does that leave the Bucs at quarterback? Well, since the opening 92-yard touchdown drive he led at Dallas on Thanksgiving, Gradkowski has clearly regressed to the point of being completely non-functional. He cannot find the open receiver and looks increasingly uncomfortable dealing with pass pressure. The good news is that he is under contract for next season, and a very inexpensive one at that as a sixth-round pick, so he will watch and learn, and be back next year.

I am guessing Rattay will be the starter for the rest of the season barring injury. Why? Well, as I have said, the panic button has been pushed. Gruden concluded during the Falcons game that Gradkowski cannot lead the Bucs to touchdowns or victories in 2006. I suspect that Gruden realizes that kicking a field goal or two over the last three games of the season could well cost him his job. I also suspect the defensive players have lost confidence in Gradkowski at this point, so to have any shot of winning a game, keeping the players’ attention, and perhaps keeping his job, Gruden needs to hand the reins to Rattay.

If there is a fourth victory to be had this season, where will it come from? Certainly a visit to Chicago next week doesn’t look promising. The final home date against the Seahawks also looks grim. The best chance is Christmas Eve in Cleveland, where the weather may be cold, but the opponent will be inept.

Here’s another baker’s dozen of quick thoughts on today’s game:

Who will play quarterback for Tampa Bay in 2007? Assuming Gruden is still coaching, I am guessing we watched him win his second game for the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Jeff Garcia has played two superb games in relief of Donovan McNabb, and he will be a free agent at the end of the season. At 36, he’ll want one more big contract and the chance to start. Garcia has struggled with terrible Lions and Browns teams, but has played well so far in Philly, which has the system and talent to help him shine.  Jon Gruden has tried to sign Garcia before, and finally may have the cap dollars to do it. Gradkowski or Simms might still be the quarterback of the future, but with a young offense and my rear on the line, if I am Gruden, I sign Garcia for the next season or two.

Phillip Buchanon has played well for two weeks in a row now. Many corners don’t make that interception and get two feet down as Buchanon did in the first half. He has a reputation of not being a great tackler and giving uneven effort in coverage, but I saw solid coverage skills the past couple of weeks. Buchanon likely deserves a shot to come back and compete for a roster spot next season.

Will Allen is one of the least athletic safeties I have seen play for the Bucs. He not only got completely embarrassed on Justin Griffith’s 21-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, and remember, Griffith is a fullback, but he was consistently late in coverage and provided Phillip Buchanon with almost no help on several completions. I am wondering if he keeps his roster spot next season.

Kudos to Michael Pittman, who was effective running and catching the football on Sunday. His middle screen for a key third down conversion in the first half and his tippy-toe sideline catch for a first down reminded me that it would be nice to see him on the field more and touching the ball. He may not be the runner that Cadillac is, but it seems to me the more touches he gets, the better our offense looks.

Does anyone remember if we have tight ends on this team?

With Rattay at the helm, I wonder if we’ll see wide receivers emerge as a force in the offense again. This is your chance to shine, Maurice Stovall. Please don’t drop another one.

I’m fuming if I’m Monte Kiffin. My defense keeps Michael Vick in check all day, and two turnovers lead to 10 Falcon points and a loss.

Derrick Brooks played with terrific intensity against the Falcons. He was popping ball carriers. Shelton Quarles and Ryan Nece also brought the wood. The Bucs’ linebackers were very physical and very effective in limiting the Falcons’ rushing attack.

I’m beginning to wonder if Dewayne White is worth a new contract. He seems like a “part of the rotation guy” to me, not a starter. With Simeon Rice’s status uncertain and Spires getting as old as Methuselah, the Bucs could easily have three or more new defensive ends on the roster next season.

It was really awful seeing the Bucs just come apart after Bruce Gradkowski’s fumble was returned for a touchdown in the third quarter.  I still don’t know how Anthony Davis doesn’t come up with it, but the air went completely out of the Buccaneer balloon after that play. The offense collapsed and the defense seemed to lose heart.

Turnovers really are the most important statistic to follow in any one game. They have cost the Buccaneers several games this season. The Bucs are now an amazing minus-12 in turnover differential. Remember when the Bucs used to be the ones taking the ball away?

Please, please step up Chris Hovan. You are the fiery leader this defense needs.  You have the passion, mean streak, and production to kick people in the ass and take names.

When is the draft again?

Publisher Scott Reynolds
The Buccaneers are never going to wear their throwback uniforms under the Glazers. If it was ever going to happen, it would have happened this year. In fact, it would have happened today with over 100 former Buccaneers in attendance for the team’s first Buccaneers alumni weekend. But there was no Bucco Bruce painted on the field and there were no throwback uniforms used today by Tampa Bay. As much as Derrick Brooks politicked, Pewter Report petitioned and fans pleaded, there will be no more Bucco Bruce in Tampa until the Glazers are no longer the owners.

Phillip Buchanon may prove to be a great midseason pick up by the Buccaneers. Buchanon was drafted by general manager Bruce Allen out in Oakland in 2002, and after being dumped by the Raiders and the Houston Texans he seems to have lost his confidence until now. Several players have resurrected their careers in Tampa Bay, including Chris Hovan. Buchanon, who got an interception in his first start today, may be the next. The Bucs need to get a good look at him down the stretch and evaluate Buchanon’s performance as he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2007. So far, so good. Kudos to Mark Dominik and Doug Williams in the pro personnel department for landing Buchanon and under tackle Jovan Haye, who is a try-hard, energetic competitor.

I’ve got an SR’s Fab Five coming up this week where I’ll state that offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Bill Muir has to go this offseason. I think Muir is a good coach with a good reputation, but he’s been put in charge of building a dominant (scratch that – good) offensive line and he simply hasn’t done it despite five years. Pass protection has been spotty, although it was quite good today against Atlanta except for John Abraham’s key sack-fumble on Bruce Gradkowski against left tackle Anthony Davis. But the Bucs’ lack of running game this year falls mostly on the offensive line, although Cadillac Williams hasn’t always run with the authority that he ran with last year. More on Muir later this week in my column, but he may become a sacrificial lamb this offseason if Jon Gruden sticks around.

Speaking of Cadillac Williams and the running game, did you see the Falcons stealing signals on Sunday? On Williams’ fourth quarter fumble, a couple of Falcons defensive players quickly point right at Williams after Tim Rattay’s audible signal. The result of the play was three Atlanta defenders swarming to Williams immediately at the snap. Williams was stuffed for a loss and stripped of the ball. Credit Atlanta for great pre-game and in-game intelligence on that play. It was obvious they knew what play Tampa Bay was audibling to.

The souring aspect of this season is that doesn’t appear to be any consolation prize for the losing. In 2003, Keenan McCardell played at a Pro Bowl level and was the MVP of a disappointing, 7-9 season that reeked of a Super Bowl hangover. After a humiliating 2004 season that saw Tampa Bay produce a 5-11 record, at least Bucs fans could be excited over the 1,000-yard season turned in by the team’s first-round draft pick, wide receiver Michael Clayton. This year, there is little to be excited about heading into the offseason, except for … well, the offseason. Clayton’s drops from a year ago continued, and for the second straight year his season ended on injured reserve. Cadillac Williams won’t reach 1,000 yards rushing this year without a huge finish and has caught fumblitis in a sophomore slump. After a promising start, Bruce Gradkowski has regressed and doesn’t look like he’s the answer for Jon Gruden in 2007. The only thing to feel good about as ‘this season’ turns into ‘next season’ is the fact that the Bucs haven’t yet lost a game in 2007, the Bucs finally have some salary cap room in 2007 and will have a top 5 draft pick. Hooray, offseason!

Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn
Tampa Bay’s offense is awful, but I’m probably not telling you anything you didn’t already know after watching the Bucs fail to score an offensive touchdown for the second straight game. I understand the fact that Tampa Bay’s offense is playing with a rookie quarterback and two rookie offensive linemen. On Sunday, this unit was even playing without one of its starting wide receivers. Not all of the blame should be placed on head coach and playcaller Jon Gruden. However, this is the NFL, so is it too much to expect Tampa Bay’s offense, as young and depleted as it is, to score one touchdown per game? I guess so. Tampa Bay’s offense has failed to score a touchdown in the first half of seven of its 13 games this season. Perhaps even worse, Gruden’s unit has failed to score a touchdown in six regular season games this season. And while the youth and injuries on this offense are very real, don’t be too quick to forget the fact that Tampa Bay’s offense failed to score an offensive touchdown in its first two regular season games this season with all of its starters, with the exception of Dan Buenning, in the lineup.

Is anyone else starting to get really concerned about some of Tampa Bay’s alleged up-and-coming players? What the heck happened to Cadillac Williams, and why is he impersonating Tiki Barber, meaning the fumbles, not the yardage, receptions and touchdowns. Where has tight end Alex Smith gone? Even before he went on injured reserve, how did wide receiver Michael Clayton forget how to catch the football? Bucs rookie WR Maurice Stovall saw a significant amount of playing time Sunday, yet he didn’t have a pass thrown his way. Huh? How did safety Will Allen go from being good enough to let Dexter Jackson go in free agency to bad enough to allow Justin Griffith to juke him out of his jockstrap? And with the plethora of injuries Tampa Bay’s secondary has suffered, how in the world has cornerback Alan Zemaitis managed to remain inactive for every single game this season? Each of these players are ones the Bucs have invested draft picks in over the past three years, and the scary part is the team may have to use draft picks and/or free agency to replace some of them in the starting lineup next year, or at least that’s what it appears they’ll have to do if they want to improve in 2007.

There’s no doubt the Buccaneers will target a veteran quarterback in free agency in 2007, but what about a running back? Don’t rule out that possibility, Bucs fans. Remember – Jon Gruden sent Michael Pittman to the bench and drafted Cadillac Williams in 2005 after Pittman showed a penchant for fumbling the football. With Williams struggling to hold onto the football, or catch it for that matter, no one should be surprised if the Bucs sign a veteran back or draft one in ’07. In fact, such a move should be expected, especially if Williams continues to struggle.

Looking at Tampa Bay’s final three games at Chicago, at Cleveland on Christmas Eve and at home vs. Seattle on New Years Eve, I find myself wondering when the Buccaneers might score a touchdown. The Chicago Bears defense isn’t exactly what the doctored ordered for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense that has failed to reach the end zone in 10 straight quarters. I hate to say it, but it doesn’t matter whether the quarterbacks is Bruce Gradkowski or Tim Rattay — that touchdown-less streak could be extended to 14 quarters in Chicago.


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