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Publisher Scott Reynolds “There are no more ghosts left in Tampa Bay. After winning in cold weather, beating the Eagles in the playoffs at Philadelphia, making it to the Super Bowl and winning it, the only thing left for this once woeful franchise was to return a kickoff for a touchdown and that was vanquished today with Micheal Spurlock’s 90-yarder. I know Tony Dungy finished his Buccaneers career with a 54-42 record as the winningest coach in team history and was instrumental in turning the franchise around, but all of the ghosts I just mentioned were officially dispelled by Gruden, who now has a 48-46 regular season record as Tampa Bay’s coach with two games left this season. With no disrespect to Dungy and his accomplishments in his six years in Tampa Bay, you would have to consider Gruden at least Dungy’s equal – if not the best Buccaneers coach of all-time – during his own six-year stint. Dungy brought this team from laughing stock status to respectability. Gruden has taken the Buccaneers to new heights with a franchise-record three NFC South division titles, while Dungy has done the same thing for the Indianapolis Colts, winning division championships and also winning a Super Bowl. So much work needed to be done over the past 12 years in Tampa Bay that this job was too big for one man alone. As someone who has covered this franchise professionally for 13 years, it has been a pleasure to work with both Dungy and Gruden and the excellence they have brought to this team and the Tampa Bay area. Gruden's last two division titles have come while taking the Bucs from worst to first in the division. Spurlock’s kickoff return today was the last tie to the old hapless, orange-and-white, 0-14 Bucco Bruce days. When he crossed the end zone, it became official: the Yuccaneers were dead forever.”
“It won’t take Tampa Bay 1,865 times to record its next kickoff return for a touchdown. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Micheal Spurlock return another kickoff for a TD this year. The Bucs came close against Houston last week with great returns by Spurlock and Michael Clayton. Now with Spurlock’s 90-yarder against Atlanta, Tampa Bay’s kick return unit is really heating up. I wouldn’t bet against an even more confident Spurlock scoring another touchdown over the next three games, including the Wild Card playoff game.”
“I detailed the play of reserve fullback Byron Storer in my SR’s Fab Five after Tampa Bay’s 31-7 victory at Atlanta last month. Storer got in on the action in the fourth quarter against the Falcons and saw the most extensive playing time of his rookie season in that game. He was nearly flawless in his assignments at the Georgia Dome. The same could be said of Storer’s performance today in his first career start, which, of course, came against Atlanta when B.J. Askew couldn’t go due to an injured ankle. Storer’s finest block may have come on Michael Bennett’s 27-yard run in the fourth quarter. It was a tribute to Storer, who went wire-to-wire at fullback, that the Bucs rushed for a season-high 190 yards with all three running backs – Earnest Graham, Michael Pittman and Benntt – rushing for at least 50 yards with a backup leading the way. The story this year in Tampa Bay has been about “the replacements” stepping up for an injured teammate and playing exceptional football in their place. Today, Storer added his chapter to this amazing story.”
“Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud shook off a two-game funk and played much better against the Falcons than he did against the Saints or the Texans. Ruud led the team with eight tackles and put a little more distance between he and fellow linebacker Derrick Brooks for the team lead in tackles. Ruud entered the game with 152 tackles followed by Brooks, who had 151. Against Atlanta, Brooks had only two tackles. Look for this individual statistical race to go down to the wire. Will Ruud lead the team in tackles in his first season as a starter or will the wily old veteran turn it on down the stretch and reclaim the lead as he has done throughout most of his illustrious career?”
“Against Atlanta, Tampa Bay running back Earnest Graham scored his 10th rushing touchdown this year, which is tied with James Wilder (1985) and Mike Alstott (2001) for the third-highest in team history in a single season. Wilder holds the record with 13 touchdowns and Graham is within striking distance of that record, which was set in 1984. With just four more touchdowns over the final two weeks of the season, the record is Graham’s. Wouldn’t that cap off an amazing year for the man formerly known as ‘Mr. August?’ By the way, Graham’s 79 yards rushing against Atlanta gives him 877 yards on the season. With two games to go, he needs 123 yards to hit 1,000 yards rushing in 2007.”
“It’s amazing that Bucs defensive end Greg White has put together the season that he has. This is a guy that has played in 34 games this year (including 16 Arena Football League games with the Orlando Predators, four preseason games with the Bucs and 14 regular season games with Tampa Bay), and it seems like he gets better with each outing. White didn’t record a sack today against Atlanta, but did force and recover a fumble. He now has seven forced fumbles, which ties the franchise mark owned by Broderick Thomas and Wally Chambers. White is having a Simeon Rice-like year for Tampa Bay, which is incredible in that he is not even a starter – although he sees significant playing time in Larry Coyer’s D-line rotation. The tandem of White and rookie Gaines Adams is beginning to become a force in the NFL. Adams has 4.5 of his six sacks and both of his forced fumbles over the past five games. With six sacks on the year and just two games left in the regular season, it is doubtful that Adams ties or breaks Santana Dotson’s rookie sack record of 10. However, against the Falcons, he recorded his sixth sack, which moves him past Eric Curry (who had five in 1993) and into sole possession of second place among former Tampa Bay rookie sackers.”
“Bruce Gradkowski got booed when he came into the game with just over five minutes left to replace Jeff Garcia. The reason Gradkowski came in as the emergency quarterback instead of second-stringer Luke McCown is because McCown lost his voice this week. I thought Gradkowski’s uninspiring performance against Washington a few weeks ago was pretty damning for him regarding his future with the franchise. It was obvious that the home crowd didn’t forget it, either. I don’t know who the Bucs’ third quarterback will be next year in addition to Garcia and McCown, but I don’t think it will be Gradkowski.”
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn "Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for the 3-10 Atlanta Falcons, it did in Tampa Bay on Sunday. Last Monday, Atlanta's franchise quarterback, Michael Vick, was sentenced to 23 months in prison for his role in a dog fighting scandal. The following day, their head coach, Bobby Petrinio, resigned after only 13 games on the job to take the head coaching job with Arkansas. On Sunday, Atlanta became the first team ever to allow Tampa Bay to return a kickoff for a touchdown in a regular season game in its 32-year history. Micheal Spurlock's 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter of Sunday's game was the franchise's first in 1,865 attempts. Talk about adding insult to injury."
"People can attempt to discredit what Tampa Bay has done this season by suggesting the NFC South is a bad division this year. Sure, the division has not been at its best, but the Buccaneers have absolutely dominated their NFC South division rivals. In five games, the Bucs have outscored their division opponents by a combined score of 146-54. That's pretty impressive no matter who the opponents are. No team has ever gone 6-0 in the NFC South division. The Bucs, who went 0-6 in division play last year, are 5-0 and can become the first team to go undefeated in NFC South play by defeating the Carolina Panthers in both teams' regular season finale on Dec. 30."
"Tampa Bay's defense couldn't have responded better after allowing Houston to convert 10-of-17 (59 percent) of its third down attempts last week. On Sunday, the Buccaneers held the Falcons to just 133 yards of total offense and allowed them to convert 0-of-9 third down attempts. That effort likely will make Tampa Bay's defense a top three unit when the league updates its stats on Monday."
"With Seattle losing to Carolina on Sunday, the Buccaneers and Seahawks each have 9-5 records. Neither team can earn a bye week in the playoffs. That right goes to Dallas and Green Bay. However, Tampa Bay still is very much alive for the No. 3 playoff spot. The Seahawks own the tie-breaker with the Bucs due to the fact that they beat Tampa Bay in Week 1, 20-6. If Tampa Bay can win its final two games vs. San Francisco and Carolina and Seattle can drop one of its final two contests vs. Baltimore and Atlanta, the Bucs would secure the No. 3 playoff seed in the NFC. It might not sound important, but that seed would become very valuable if the Bucs advanced in the playoffs and both the Cowboys and Packers lost in the divisional playoff game. That's a scenario that would give Tampa Bay homefield advantage for the NFC Championship Game, but only if it's the No. 3 playoff seed."
Contributing Writer Charles Gonzalez
"I know what will be the top play in SportsCenter's popular Top 10 Plays of the Day and if it isn't, then the national media is choosing to ignore a great story in Tampa Bay. The Bucs have long been the only franchise in the NFL without a kickoff return for a touchdown. That drought ended on Sunday by the feet of Micheal Spurlock and was the lead highlight of a 37-3 drubbing of the Atlanta Falcons. This drought has been well-documented in the past and with it ending, there isn't one play – even the Dolphins' touchdown in overtime to end their winless season – that deserves to be No. 1 more than Spurlock's return. It was a historic moment in franchise history that had Raymond James Stadium in a frenzy that lasted as the Bucs set up for the extra point. If that play isn't No. 1 on the Top 10 plays, there is nothing that the Bucs can do this season that will put Tampa Bay in the spotlight."
"Even though he played a couple of plays vs. New Orleans, running back Michael Pittman made his official comeback on Sunday after aggravating his ankle injury vs. Atlanta three weeks ago. He looked healthy and ready to contribute to getting running back Earnest Graham some rest before the playoffs. Pittman made several juke moves where he had to put his foot in the ground and make a sharp cut. After the game, he said that his ankle was a little sore, but there was no pain. That is a good sign for Pittman and the Bucs running game. With three comparable backs – Pittman, Graham and running back Michael Bennett – the Bucs have a dangerous running attack heading into the playoffs and the running game is key for a postseason run."
"Wide receiver Michael Clayton has faced some harsh criticism the last couple of seasons about not living up to his first-round selection status and getting the case of the drops as well. He was booed heavily early in the season when he dropped one pass and almost turned the ball over in a drive at the end of the first half vs. St. Louis. He was getting back into form when he injured his ankle vs. Detroit. Now that he's healthy and getting more opportunities in the offense, he is starting to shine again. He made two big catches for first downs on Sunday and had a season-high four receptions vs. Houston last week. With wide receiver Ike Hilliard battling injuries, the Bucs needed Clayton to step up and he has answered the challenge. Clayton is stating his case for deserving to stick around Tampa Bay in 2008."
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