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Publisher Scott Reynolds “I’m going to go on record and pick the Giants to beat the Buccaneers at home next Sunday afternoon in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Let me start off and say that I think the Bucs can – and should – beat the Giants, especially with the game being in Tampa Bay where the pewter people are a respectable 6-2 after dropping a 31-23 decision to Carolina on Sunday. But New York is 7-1 on the road and looking at their last two games – at Buffalo and against New England at home – I like what the G-Men are doing inside the red zone, especially on offense. Against the Patriots, the Giants had four trips to the red zone and scored four touchdowns. Against Buffalo, New York scored one touchdown in its three trip to the red zone. Eli Manning fumbled once inside the red zone and Reuben Droughns got stuffed on fourth-and-1 from the goal line on the other play. But overall, that’s six touchdowns out of eight trips, which is a lot more productive than Tampa Bay’s offense has been. Red zone defense is also a concern for me regarding the Buccaneers. They have allowed eight touchdowns to the likes of Sage Rosenfels, Shaun Hill and Matt Moore. The most disturbing thing about those eight scores is that half of them came against the Bucs starters and all of them came from no further than the 23-yard line. A poor combination of red zone offense and red zone defense could doom Tampa Bay on Sunday against New York. I think the Giants are playing better football right now than the Bucs, who have really been banged up and have been forced to rest some starters. The edge in red zone productivity gives the G-Men the edge in this game, in my opinion.”
“I hate predicting playoff game outcomes that involve the Buccaneers because it’s a no-win situation for me. If I pick the Bucs, I’m erroneously viewed as a homer because Pewter Report covers the Buccaneers exclusively and some fans feel like we are “cheerleaders” for the organization. Conversely, when I pick against the Bucs, I’m viewed as a hater and some fans are shocked that I actually picked against them. They say, ‘I can’t believe you don’t …believe!’ Folks, it’s not my job to ‘believe’ just because I cover the Buccaneers for a living. I ‘believe’ in reporting on the Buccaneers objectively. I ‘believe’ what my eyes tell me. I ‘believed’ in Bruce Allen’s and Jon Gruden’s personnel plan heading into the season because I understood and it made sense to me during the offseason. The plan worked out masterfully, as it turns out. However, I don’t ‘believe’ I like what I’ve seen from the Buccaneers over the last month of the season – and not just because they have played some backup players. I don’t think the offensive line has improved over the last month. They have struggled with pass protection and establishing the run against big, physical fronts like they have in Houston, San Francisco and Carolina. The red zone offense and defense have been below average and I’m hard pressed to believe that Jeff Garcia, Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard and Earnest Graham will all step out on the field together next week and not have some rust or inconsistency that will need to be worked out in the first quarter. If the Bucs are sluggish and have to settle for field goals to start the game, as they did against San Francisco and Seattle, the Giants could jump out on top early just as they did against the Patriots. The last thing I’ll say for the time being about the Bucs-Giants game is that if Tampa Bay beats New York, is that I hope for your sake – the fan of the Buccaneers – that I’m wrong. Inevitably, I’ll have some wise guy try to call me out and suggest I ‘eat crow’ for ‘not believing’ in the Bucs or threaten to cancel his subscription because I’m not being loyal to the Tampa Bay organization. I’m not trying to go against the organization or tick off any Bucs fans, which comprise 100 percent of our readership. As a subscriber, you pay me for my honest opinions, analysis and objectivity. I would be doing you a disservice if I went against my beliefs just to be a popular homer. Tampa Bay’s defense can rise up at home. We’ve seen that against Washington and Atlanta down the stretch. They will need to have that type of performance against New York and win the battle on third downs to have a chance against the Giants. The Bucs do have a chance, and they should win. I just don’t think they will.”
“Want to hear an astonishing statistic? Luke McCown’s 31-yard run against Carolina was Tampa Bay’s longest run of the year. That’s right. The Bucs’ longest gain was by a quarterback this year – not a running back. Michael Pittman’s longest run was a 29-yarder. Earnest Graham’s longest carry was a 28-yarder, as was Michael Bennett’s. McCown rushed for 47 yards on five carries against Carolina, giving him 117 yards on 12 carries (9.75 avg.). To put that in perspective, Jeff Garcia, a scrambling quarterback, rushed for 116 yards this year – but on 35 carries (3.3 avg.). From a quarterbacking perspective, McCown once again teased us with his playmaking ability. He showed a big arm on the first drive, hitting Chad Lucas with a 52-yard pass into the wind, which caused Lucas to slow up a bit to receive it. McCown was decisive and accurate throwing a couple of strikes to Michael Clayton in the fourth quarter, as he did on a 4-yard touchdown slant to Jerramy Stevens. But he also took a couple of sacks he shouldn’t have, missed a wide-open Michael Pittman in the fourth quarter on second-and-9 from the Carolina 3 and threw an ill-advised pass to running back Kenneth Darby that was picked off by Panthers cornerback Richard Marshall at the 7-yard line. McCown made the mistake of throwing the ball to Darby, who was wide open at the 5, instead of leading him into the end zone with the throw. That would have prevented Marshall from intercepting the pass. McCown’s playmaking ability is improving and I think he shows some real promise. However, he has yet to eliminate a couple of costly plays from his game this year and that has to be a concern after seeing some extended action over the last five weeks.”
“Jeremiah Trotter took a year’s worth of frustration out on the Carolina Panthers. After being inactive for 13 out of Tampa Bay’s 16 games, Trotter got his most extensive playing time of the 2007 season as he started at middle linebacker in place of Barrett Ruud, who was inactive because the team is resting him for the playoffs. Trotter was everywhere in the first half and finished with a team-leading eight tackles. In the second half, Trotter seemed to wear down a bit due to the extensive playing time. He just wasn’t used to it and that’s partly the reason why DeAngelo Williams was able to rush for 70 yards in the fourth quarter.”
“I’ve written about how the Buccaneers organization has been pleased with the development of cornerback Sammy Davis this year, but he had to let down the coaches and front office members who were hoping he could develop into Brian Kelly’s or Ronde Barber’s eventual successor. Davis gave up a 20-yard touchdown to Dante Rosario despite having fairly good coverage. He and Will Allen also teamed up to surrender a 46-yard catch to Carolina wide receiver Drew Carter down to the Tampa Bay 1-yard line. He also took a poor angle and did not maintain lane integrity on Ryne Robinson’s 60-yard kickoff return down the right sidelines. The Bucs coaches and scouts were really anxious to get a good look at several young, developing players in the Carolina game. Davis had a rather disappointingly poor showing, giving up big plays and not making any big plays himself.”
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn "Tampa Bay isn't exactly entering the playoffs on a high note. Sure, the Bucs won the 2007 NFC South division title three weeks ago and have rested several key member of their football team. But going in to the post-season on a two-game losing streak and having lost three of your last four games certainly isn't ideal. One can only hope that the Bucs find their groove early next week against the New York Giants. Tampa Bay fans should be pleased if the Bucs win their home playoff game vs. the Giants. Anything after that will be gravy. Why? Because as Pewter Report president Hugh MacArthur astutely noted in his Dirty Dozen column last week, 9-7 football teams just don't make a habit of going to Super Bowls. In fact, the last 9-7 team to make it to the Super Bowl was the 1979 Los Angeles Rams, who won the NFC West division title that year en route to going to the Super Bowl and losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV, 31-19. Ironically, the Rams defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-0 in the NFC Championship Game that year to advance to the Super Bowl. If the Bucs make it to the Super Bowl this year, it's safe to say that it will be on the road, and a road that definitely is less traveled."
"Several Bucs players, including quarterback Jeff Garcia, wide receiver Joey Galloway and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, could argue that they should have made the Pro Bowl this year. You can throw another name into that hat as Bucs kicker Matt Bryant drilled three field goals on Sunday. Bryant finishes the 2007 regular season having made 28-of-33 (84.8 percent) of his field goals. That field goal percentage beats out former Bucs K Martin Gramatica's 27-of-32 (84.4 percent) effort from the 1999 season, which was his rookie campaign. Bryant only needed to make four more field goals to surpass Gramatica's 32 field goals from Tampa Bay's Super Bowl season in 2002. Tampa Bay likely will play some close games in the playoffs, which means they probably will need Bryant's leg. The good news is Bryant has proven to be a reliable kicker for the Buccaneers, especially this season."
"Tampa Bay does not have it easy in the first round of the playoffs with the 10-6 New York Giants coming into Raymond James Stadium next weekend. Don't be surprised if you hear and read about how the Giants are 7-1 on the road this season. While that's an impressive feat, it's important to note that only one of those road wins – at Washington – came against a team with a winning record. The Buccaneers are 6-2 at home this season, and despite the Giants' road record, it's a good thing Tampa Bay will play New York at home. The Bucs are 6-10 all-time vs. the Giants. The Bucs are just 1-6 all-time on the road vs. the Giants whereas they are 5-4 at home vs. New York."
Contributing Writer Charles Gonzalez
"Tight end Jerramy Stevens proved again on Sunday that he can be counted on to make a big play in the offense. Stevens has four touchdown receptions in his last four games and caused another mismatch in the red zone on Sunday vs. Carolina. Not only is he making his case for a starting spot next season, he heads into the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. Stevens has participated in seven playoff games with two starts and has the experience of playing in the Super Bowl as well. Compared to tight end Alex Smith, who has just one playoff game under his belt, Stevens is a postseason veteran. That experience will pay huge dividends next week when every play will be under a microscope and every drop can lose a game and every catch can win one. When the pressure is on and the Bucs need a big play in the playoffs, Stevens has the credentials to get a shot in the playoffs, not Smith."
"It doesn't matter if the starters are playing or the backups are in the game, the Bucs red zone offense is lacking the punch it needs heading into the playoffs. Tampa Bay was in the red zone three times on Sunday and had to settle for two field goals, which is becoming a sickening trend for this offense. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and starting quarterback Jeff Garcia haven't been pleased with the red zone success in the past couple of weeks and the struggles reared their ugly heads again vs. Carolina. The Bucs have 20 touchdowns and 21 field goals in the red zone this season. If they settle for field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone next week, the Bucs can start scheduling their tee times on the golf course because they won't get past the New York Giants without scoring touchdowns."
"Wide receiver Chad Lucas and running back Kenneth Darby saw a limited opportunity to get major playing time and seized the moment. Lucas displayed breakaway speed and good hands in a solid performance vs. Carolina. Lucas was filling in for wide receiver Joey Galloway and allowed the Bucs to still have a deep threat in the passing game. Gruden stated on Friday that this was his shot to show the Bucs what he could do and he did just that. This is a feather in the cap of Lucas heading into the off-season as the Bucs look to upgrade their receiving corps. Darby has been bouncing on and off the practice squad all season long and hadn't played in a game since the final preseason contest. But there he was making catches and carrying the ball in the second half. Even though Darby has an uphill battle to try and make this team at running back next season, he showed that he's made some progress in the offense and can make some noise on the field."
"The Bucs had the opportunity to go undefeated in NFC South play for the first time since the inception of the division in 2002. Tampa Bay and Carolina are the only two teams in the division to come close to a perfect record with the Panthers going 5-1 in 2003 and 2006 and the Bucs doing the same in 2005 and now this season. Even though this game didn't matter in the playoff picture, it would have been another accomplishment for not only Gruden, but a team that was picked to finish last in the division by several media experts. Tampa Bay battled for the last divisional win, but was worried more about being healthy for the playoffs than finishing the season without a loss in the division. Oh what could have been for the 2007 division-winning Bucs squad."
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