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President Hugh MacArthur
“It is true that the Bucs do find the most incredible ways to lose a game.  It seems this has always been true.  In a game they had every reason to lose going in, they actually played well enough to win for most of the contest.

A completely stagnant offense comes to life for 400-plus yards, a rookie passer winds up with a rating of 107.5 with two TDs and no INTs and Cadillac Williams rushes for over 100 yards, and the Bucs lose?  How did we get to the point of following draft prospects for 2007 so quickly?

The way I see it, there were four reasons the Bucs lost the game:  turnovers, special teams, lack of pressure from the front four, and run defense.  I can excuse you for asking, what, nothing else?  However, the first two reasons involve two plays that turned the game around and account the most for why the Bucs lost.  Jeremy Trueblood, in his first start at RT, clearly has potential, but a lot to learn.  He was consistently beaten by Charles Grant whenever they matched up.  One such occurrence unfortunately led to a Bruce Gradkowski fumble deep in Bucs territory.  That fumble directly and rapidly led to seven Saints points.

Of course, everyone is reading about play number 25, Reggie Bush’s first NFL TD.  How the Bucs gave up a 65-yard punt return for a TD in that situation is beyond me.  Football is a game where the ball does take funny bounces, but this team does have a frustrating knack for doing the absolute one thing it cannot do towards the end of games.  Last year, the bounces tended to go the Bucs’ way with blocked field goals and two-point conversions.  This year, the karma seems turned 180 degrees.

One fumble.  One punt return.  14 points.

Two plays like these demonstrate how you can win a ball game everywhere in the stat sheet but where it matters, on the scoreboard.

The other two reasons I think the Bucs lost are actually more important for the long-term.  It is hard not to get excited about what Bruce Gradkowski and the offense achieved.  They actually moved the ball!  Scored points!  It looked like a pro offense.  Lord knows how many points the Bucs can score if they ever figure out how to get five guys all on the same page blocking up front.

I am worried about the defense.  There is no pressure from the front four.  None.  Simeon Rice swooped in a couple of times, but not nearly enough to harass Drew Brees.  This defense cannot survive if it needs to blitz to bring pressure, and make no mistake, we have seen far too many blitzes in 2006.  Despite leading the league in defense last season, the front four has been less and less effective in recent years, and this is a bad sign for the Bucs defense.  The Bucs corners are not made to play man coverage for large parts of ball games, and that shows when the defense has to blitz so much of the time to bring any heat on the quarterback.

The other defensive worry is the run defense.  Worry as in, where the heck did the run defense go?  The Bucs have literally been trounced this season by the Saints, Falcons and others on the ground.  We always knew that running straight at the Bucs could cause problems because the Tampa 2 calls for speedy, undersized players.  The disturbing trend this season is that the Bucs have been getting gashed by the run game on the edges.  On the edges!  This is supposed to be the fastest defense in the NFL.  Yet again and again, I see Reggie Bush or Deuce McAllister turn the corner on the Buccaneer defense.  I am not certain if this is a sign of age, or a sign of something that can be corrected, but without lateral speed and without pressure from the front four, this defense will be in trouble over the next 12 games.  

I hope that the development of the Buccaneer offense continues at a rapid pace.  It looks like the team will need all the offense it can muster to win games.”

Publisher Scott Reynolds
“You have to be impressed with rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who was generally smart and decisive with his play at New Orleans. Gradkowski certainly didn’t look like a rookie out there, and turned in the best performance at quarterback for Tampa Bay all season against the Saints. Many Bucs fans have heard Steve Duemig and I talk on the PewterReport.com Buccaneer Blitz radio show about how Chris Simms is not a Jon Gruden draft pick and how he’s not an ideal fit in his offense. If you saw Sunday’s Bucs vs. Saints game, you saw why. You witnessed the difference between Simms and Gradkowski, who was a Gruden draft pick. They have two different styles of play and Gradkowski’s is actually a better fit in the Bucs offense. I’m not picking on Simms, and I’m not kicking the guy when he’s down. I’m simply reporting the facts. If Gradkowski can get some wins down the stretch for this team and build on his sensational debut, he – not Simms – will be Tampa Bay’s quarterback of the future.”

“Did you notice how the 6-foot-1 Gradkowski didn’t have a single pass batted down at the line of scrimmage nor did he throw an interception in his rookie debut? Some fans grumbled at me for picking on Simms by saying that lousy quarterback play cost the Bucs in their 0-3 start. The fact is that Simms had seven interceptions and seven batted balls in three games with only one touchdown is quite telling. Tampa Bay struggled scoring touchdowns under Simms and Gradkowski got one on his first drive as an NFL starter, and led three touchdown drives against New Orleans. Granted, Simms didn’t have the ground game that Gradkowski had on Sunday, but Gradkowski just quarterbacked better than Simms did.”

“I like how Jon Gruden actually opened up his playbook and had plenty of new wrinkles in there for Gradkowski, including a double reverse to Michael Clayton that went for 27 yards. If you are wondering what type of NFL quarterback Gradkowski will eventually become, you saw him today … playing for New Orleans. Gradkowski has the similar skills and physical makeup that Drew Brees has. Brees isn’t an elite Hall of Famer by any means, but he is still a franchise-type quarterback. If Gradkowski could become Brees-like throughout his career, the Buccaneers offense would be set for quite some time.”

“Don’t be ticked at Gruden for not wanting Gradkowski to throw a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. Gradkowski doesn’t have a real strong arm and it showed on a wobbly deep ball that was actually turned into an intentional grounding penalty. Trust me, I’ve seen plenty of Gradkowski’s deep balls in training camp, and they are not always pretty. The risk of throwing a Hail Mary from 55 yards out is that if the ball is underthrown, all of Tampa Bay’s speedy wide receivers could be in the end zone and would not be in position to pursue an opportunistic Saints defensive back that might pick off the pass. The last thing the Bucs need before halftime is a pick-six going the other way. Yes, it was a conservative call, but it was also the right call with a full 30 minutes to play on the other side of the half. Besides, even Gradkowski’s 52-yard pass to Joey Galloway was underthrown.”

“How much beef did Tampa Bay have out on the field for Mike Alstott’s touchdown? Here was the Bucs’ starting lineup for the goal line situation in the third quarter from left to right: tight end Anthony Becht (272 pounds), tight end Cornell Green (315), left tackle Anthony Davis (329 pounds), left guard Dan Buenning (320 pounds), center John Wade (299), right guard Davin Joseph (311 pounds), right tackle Jeremy Trueblood (316 pounds), tight end Alex Smith (258 pounds), fullback Sean Mahan (311 pounds) and Alstott (248 pounds), who was the halfback. Throw in Bruce Gradkowski’s 222 pounds and that’s 3,201 pounds of offense out on the field. In the past, Tampa Bay has used the words ‘Heavy’ and ‘Jumbo’ to describe its big, goal line personnel groupings. The only word to describe this personnel grouping is ‘Colossal.’”

“Whatever was wrong with Cadillac Williams’ back appears to have been fixed. Williams had a great day running the ball with speed and authority. Give the Bucs offensive line credit for making a point to run the football today no matter what. The shame of producing 406 yards of offense, including 187 yards on the ground is that the Bucs actually lost. With a rookie quarterback at the helm, Tampa Bay’s offense produced more points and yards than I could have imagined. I put this loss squarely on the shoulders of the defense for sloppy tackling (again), no quarterback pressure (again) and no turnovers (again).”

Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn
“For the second time in three seasons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are off to a 0-4 start. There were good reasons why the 2004 Buccaneers lost their first four games. Keenan McCardell’s holdout, salary cap problems and injuries, to name a few. But a lot of those excuses aren’t in place this season. The Bucs were relatively healthy heading into the 2006 season. They had great camaraderie, the same camaraderie that helped the Bucs win the NFC South championship in 2005, and all but one starter returned to the No. 1-ranked defense from a year ago. Not only have the Bucs, who started 4-0 last season, started 0-4 this season, they’ve lost seven straight games dating back to preseason, and eight of their last nine contests dating back to their home playoff game in January. The bad news is the Bucs likely aren’t coming back from a 0-4 start. Only one team has done it in the history of the NFL – the 1992 San Diego Chargers. The good news is they have plenty of money to spend in free agency and likely will have a high draft pick next April, which are two things that should help the Bucs upgrade their roster. It should be interesting to see if Bucs head coach Jon Gruden can keep his locker room under these circumstances. If he loses it, one can’t help but wonder if the Glazers will consider a coaching change at the end of the season. If the team continues to play hard and can manage to finish the ’06 season strong, it could bode well for the Bucs in ’07.”

“Speaking of Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, wasn’t it kind of refreshing to see his playbook open up with rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski in the lineup? Gruden used Gradkowski’s mobility and playmaking ability to run play-action bootlegs, end-arounds and even had a short-yardage package that featured wide receivers Michael Clayton and Joey Galloway lining up in the backfield and running back Michael Pittman as a tight end. They didn’t win Sunday’s game, but Gradkowski’s play and running back Cadillac Williams’ production can at least make observers feel like the Bucs offense might be somewhat entertaining to watch from here on out.”

“Tampa Bay’s offensive line did a great job opening up holes for Cadillac Williams, who rushed for 111 yards on 20 carries (5.6 avg.). However, this unit had some very untimely penalties that stalled promising drives in Saints territory. One of the culprits was starting right guard Sean Mahan, who blew a block on Williams’ run in the second quarter that went for a 4-yard loss. Not only did the run go for a loss, it knocked the Bucs out of field goal range, which was obviously costly in a 24-21 loss to the Saints. Mahan was also called for a false start in the third quarter. Tampa Bay started a rookie, Jeremy Trueblood, at right tackle in place of the injured Kenyatta Walker on Sunday. Don’t be surprised if this unit features another rookie – first-round pick David Joseph — in the starting lineup in place of Mahan next Sunday.

“Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the 0-4 Buccaneers. Well, take a look at their two upcoming games against the 3-1 Cincinnati Bengals and the 4-1 Philadelphia Eagles. For inquiring minds that want to know, the last time the Bucs started a season 0-5 was 1996. The last time they started 0-6? You’d have to go back to the 1985 season to find such a feat.”

Contributing Writer Mark Lennox
“The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did everything in their power to win against the Saints. They overcame turnovers and managed to make big plays on offense when it counted the most. The problem I have with today’s game is the play of the defense, which is getting progressively worse as the season goes on. What once was a staple of the Buccaneers seems to be the Achilles heel. I’m going to be the one to say that the Buccaneers may be on their last leg of a slowing, aging defense that has lost its edge. When you fail to produce a single sack or force a single turnover, something that has been a staple of the Buccaneers defense for years, it’s time to either rethink the scheme or the players running it.”

“This season is eerily similar to the 2004 season when the Buccaneers started out 0-4.  It didn’t seem to matter what the Buccaneers did right during that stretch, they always came up short. The first two games of this season, the Buccaneers were simply outplayed, but during the last two games the Buccaneers had every chance to pull out a victory but couldn’t manage.  Against Carolina, a last-second field goal doomed the Bucs after Jake Delhomme ran for a key first down to extend the Panthers’ final scoring drive.  Against the Saints, an unlikely punt return for a touchdown did the Buccaneers in.”

“Penalties continue to haunt the Buccaneers, something that has plagued the Buccaneers since the Jon Gruden era began. Tampa Bay was flagged eight times for 66-yards, the most damaging penalty coming on a long completion to Ike Hilliard that negated his long grab. Galloway was flagged for an obvious offensive pass interference penalty for running a pick to set Hilliard free.”

“It was nice to see Cadillac Williams finally break out of his funk. Williams rushed for 111 yards after posting just 143 yards over the first three games, a vast difference from his three game total from last season in which he broke the record for yards run by a rookie. In order for Tampa Bay to get back into this season it will need Williams to snap out of a sophomore slump.”

 


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