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President Hugh MacArthur “Looks like I picked the wrong time to stop sniffing glue,” —Lloyd Bridges, from the movie Airplane.Â That sentiment about sums up my thoughts watching yesterday’s game.Â Well, that and “Looks like I picked the wrong season to buy a magazine and website devoted to following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers!” The good news is short, as it must be for any team that is 3-9. The only good news I could see was that the effort was clearly there, and the Bucs have not quit on their coaches. The defense actually played very well, despite the continued lack of a pass rush from the front four. If you told me the Steelers were going to run 31 times for 76 yards before the game, I would have felt pretty good about the Bucs’ chances.
For all the grief he has taken this year for his play, Jermaine Phillips was an absolute stud yesterday. He was a heat-seeking missile against the run, and put some tremendous shots on Willie Parker. His play was reminiscent of John Lynch in his finer days.Â Shelton Quarles also had a nice game, and the Bucs’ gap discipline and tackling were generally excellent.
It’s unfortunate that Bruce Gradkowski picked his Pittsburgh homecoming to have his worst game of the season. The three interceptions he threw just killed Tampa Bay’s chances in this game. They were just awful throws. The first pick led to seven Steeler points and his killer throw from the Steeler one-yard line robbed the Bucs of seven points. Two throws, 14-point swing.Â Gradkowski was definitely under duress from the Pittsburgh pass rush for most of the day, but oddly, he wasn’t under much pressure during his worst passes.Â About the only thing I liked from Gradkowski is that he clearly started to get frustrated with the pass rush and instead of just taking sacks (though he still took some he shouldn’t have), he is beginning to fling some balls side-arm or however he has to in an effort to make a play.
The other thing that was noticeable yesterday through television replays is exactly how many open receivers Gradkowski is not seeing downfield.Â When the pressure moves in, Gradkowski immediately looks to check-down and/or run.Â The pressure was intense yesterday, but sometimes Gradkowski checks down too quickly, as replays showing a wide open Alex Smith and another showing a wide open Ike Hilliard attest.Â Coach Jon Gruden must be pulling his hair out watching the tape after the game.
Gradkowski was aided and abetted by a Cadillac fumble and at least four dropped passes that I saw. Michael Clayton dropped a certain touchdown pass on the ill-fated drive that resulted in a pick from the 1-yard line. The drop was excruciating because Clayton had been having a very good game catching the football, and he was absolutely wide open. Gradkowski’s best throw of the day just bounced right off the former first-round draft pick’s hands. Â
Joey Galloway also seems to be able to sense when a defender is in position to hammer him. His “excuse me” drops are getting irritating. I am not sure if Galloway has decided not to risk his body for a lost season or what, but he dropped two passes that were right in his usually reliable hands.
Cadillac Williams has simply got to learn to carry the ball high and tight. His fumble was costly and he nearly had another that was overturned on a controversial review. Another dropped pass didn’t help his cause.
I was glad to see Ernest Graham get into the game and get some touches.Â I think it is overdue that head coach Jon Gruden hold some of his young stars accountable for their mistakes. Clayton and Cadillac should watch some plays from the bench if they continue to treat the football like a hot potato. Â
A turnover differential of minus-3 will lose games 99 percent of the time. It’s a shame, because the Bucs really did compete for most of the game, and the other game stats support that notion. As I have said before, bad teams in today’s NFL are the ones that consistently lose because of the four or five critical plays that decide most games. They always seem to go in the other team’s favor, and they went Pittsburgh’s way yesterday.
Publisher Scott Reynolds Running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams dropped an easy pass on third-and-2 near midfield in the first quarter that forced a Tampa Bay punt. Later in the first quarter, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski passed up an open Williams in the flat to throw a pass to Joey Galloway, which was picked off by linebacker Larry Foote. That interception set up Pittsburgh’s first touchdown. You have to wonder if Gradkowski doesn’t have confidence any more in Williams as a receiver. Williams has dropped over 10 passes this year and needs to spend some serious time with the JUGGS machine in the offseason to work on his hands. Williams wound up holding on to a couple of other passes, but had a fumble early in the third quarter.
Michael Clayton’s drops continue. Clayton was on pace to become the Pewter Report MVP against Pittsburgh until his unforgivable drop in the second half. He got wide open against Pittsburgh in the third quarter, but dropped a perfectly thrown pass from Bruce Gradkowski, which would have been a touchdown. Clayton also dropped a potential touchdown pass against the New York Giants. Clayton’s drops should prompt the Buccaneers to seek out a replacement in free agency and the NFL Draft. The Bucs may want to consider replacing Ike Hilliard, who had numerous drops against Pittsburgh, and hasn’t been a huge factor on offense this year.
I’ll go on record as saying I hope Jon Gruden gets the 2007 season, but this Buccaneers team isn’t even competitive and the Glazers have to be taking note of that. Tampa Bay has had two brutal, back-to-back road losses by the combined score of 58-13. There have been plenty of PewterReport.com visitors who have questioned why I think Gruden has to win a game or two to keep his job when there’s not much difference between 5-11 and 3-13. Here’s my point, blind Gruden followers. Look around the NFL today and look at the other woeful teams that scored upsets. Tennessee beat Indianapolis. Arizona won at St. Louis. Cleveland beat Kansas City in overtime. Detroit nearly knocked off New England. I think the Glazers want to see a competitive team and the last time I saw a close game was Tampa Bay’s 20-17 win over Washington. The Bucs’ last five losses came by a score of 17-3 (New York), 31-14 (New Orleans), 24-10 (Carolina), 38-10 (Dallas) and 20-3 (Pittsburgh). This is a really, really bad Buccaneers team playing without much confidence, emotion or fire right now.
In some positive, offseason news, Tampa Bay’s draft status was helped out on Sunday with Cleveland and Houston winning and improving to 4-8. Pittsburgh, which beat Tampa Bay, and Tennessee also won and improved to 5-7. Arizona also won and improved to 3-9, which is the same record that Tampa Bay has. The only teams with a worse record than Tampa Bay are Oakland (2-10) and Detroit (2-10). Right now, the Bucs have a top 4 draft pick and I can’t honestly tell you that they will win another game this season. To say that Tampa Bay has locked up a top 5 pick in the 2007 draft with the loss at Pittsburgh today is a safe bet. Who knows? Tampa Bay could wind up with the overall number one pick.
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn I realize that there are legitimate reasons why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 3-9 right now. Injuries, salary cap problems, tough schedule, lack of draft picks, wasted draft picks, etc. But that’s no excuse for how bad the Bucs are playing right now. Only two of their nine losses have come by one touchdown or less. The rest have been by double digits. In fact, Tampa Bay has been outscored 130-40 in its last five losses. This team is having trouble even being competitive, and it’s quite concerning. There are other teams in the league that are working with significant injuries, tough schedules and rookie quarterbacks, and have endured salary cap challenges. The Tennessee Titans are a perfect example of this, yet they’ve somehow managed to compile a 5-7 record while winning three straight, including their latest win over the Indianapolis Colts. And four of Tennessee’s seven losses have been by eight points or less, which is a credit to Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, who is in the process of rebuilding his team while playing in the tough AFC South division. The fact that Jon Gruden and his staff don’t even have the Bucs playing competitive football right now is serious cause for concern. You can already tell that the Titans are heading in the right direction and likely will finish the 2006 regular season strong. It will be interesting to see how the Bucs finish the last quarter of the season. If they continue to lose in horrific fashion and fail to build any type of momentum heading into the ’07 offseason, one can only wonder what the Glazers will be thinking at the end of the season.
There seems to be a double standard with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when it comes to accountability. During Tampa Bay’s loss to Dallas, Bucs running back Michael Pittman watched a pass go off of his hands and into a Dallas defender’s for an interception, which led to a score for the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Pittman never touched the ball again in that game, and he hasn’t even been returning kickoffs for the Bucs since that mistake, which was inexcusable. However, Bucs RB Cadillac Williams’ performance in Sunday’s game was certainly more disappointing than Pittman’s on Thanksgiving Day. Williams dropped a pass that killed a drive, had two fumbles, one of which was ruled not a fumble thanks to replay, and two inexcusable false start penalties against the Steelers. So, my question is why was Williams still in the game after making those costly mistakes? In fact, why was WR Michael Clayton still in the game after he dropped an easy touchdown pass from rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski? The same question applies to WR Ike Hilliard, who didn’t even bother diving for a pass thrown across the middle of the field and dropped a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone late in the fourth quarter. Sure, the Bucs are playing without several key players and are thin at several positions, but if you’re going to hold players accountable for their mistakes, the punishment should apply equally across the board. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case at One Buc Place, and you can only assume that’s probably rubbing some of the players the wrong way.
Tampa Bay has lost five of its last six games and is now 3-9 on the season. While the Bucs aren’t competitive on the football field right now, they’re certainly competing for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. With Arizona and Cleveland winning Sunday, Tampa Bay would hold the No. 3 overall pick in next year’s draft if the season ended today. The only teams with worse records than the Bucs are the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders, both of whom have 2-10 records. Tampa Bay’s four remaining games are vs. Atlanta, at Chicago, at Cleveland and against Seattle.
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