The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will undoubtedly focus on the first half of their 29-18 road loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Although they should have scored more, the Bucs’ starting offense put 11 points on the board while the starting defense pitched a shutout, notched four sacks, forced a fumble and held Jacksonville to only 95 first-half yards.
But the second half was downright ugly for the Buccaneers, who got outscored 29-7 and committed three turnovers on offense.
After two weeks of high praise from head coach Jon Gruden and just about everybody else in Tampa Bay, rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and his 134.1 QB rating was humbled mightily by a swarming Jacksonville defense. Gradkowski, who took over for Chris Simms in the third quarter, threw two interceptions, fumbled once and was 10-of-17 (58.8 percent) for 124 yards passing.
But until Tampa Bay’s final drive culminated in a 4-yard touchdown pass to Paris Warren with six seconds left, Gradkowski was only 4-of-10 for 50 yards for the better part of two quarters. On the final drive, however, the rookie got into rhythm and was 6-of-7 for 74 yards and the score.
Tim Rattay, the Bucs’ second-string quarterback over the first two preseason games, did not see any playing time.
Gradkowski was not the only backup who was shaky at Jacksonville. Tampa Bay’s second- and third-string defenses could not stop the Jaguars ground game, which rolled up 102 yards of their 149 rushing yards in the second half. It should be noted that Jacksonville still had its starting offense in the game in the third quarter and scored its first 15 points against Tampa Bay’s backups.
A couple of Bucs starters saw their first action of the preseason at Jacksonville. Running back Cadillac Williams played on Tampa Bay’s first two series and finished with three yards rushing on four carries and nine yards receiving on two catches. Tampa Bay only rushed for 12 yards on 11 carries at halftime, and finished with just 58 yards rushing on 22 carries (2.6 avg.).
Wide receiver Joey Galloway made his preseason debut and had two catches for 28 yards, including a nice, 26-yarder from Simms, who finished the game completing 9-of-14 passes for 77 yards (78.6 QB rating), but was also the victim of three sacks and three pass deflections at the line of scrimmage.
Tampa Bay’s defense appears to be in midseason form, but after tonight’s showing at Jacksonville, the Bucs offense is still a work in progress and must do a better job of establishing the running game. The offensive line must also do a better job creating passing lanes for Simms and not committing drive-killing penalties.
The Buccaneers got on the scoreboard first after middle linebacker Shelton Quarles recorded a sack and forced a fumble with a hard hit on Jacksonville quarterback Byron Leftwich, who was trying to scramble for a first down. Linebacker Derrick Brooks recovered the ball for the Bucs on the Jaguars’ 43-yard line. An instant replay challenge by Jack Del Rio was turned back by umpire Larry Nemmers, who ruled that the call on the field stood.
Tampa Bay then proceeded to cover 43 yards in eight plays to take the lead. Simms was 3-of-4 for 37 yards on the drive, with a pair of 10-yard completions to Williams and Alex Smith sandwiched around an 18-yard pass to Michael Clayton on third-and-12 from the Jaguars’ 35. Mike Alstott capped off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown dive, following a lead block by fullback Rick Razzano.
Instead of kicking the extra point, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden wanted to practice a two-point conversion, which caught Jacksonville off guard. Holder Josh Bidwell rolled right and was pressured by defensive back Rashean Mathis, but managed to get a lob pass off to defensive end Dewayne White. However, Jaguars safety Donovin Darius stepped in front of the pass and appeared to pick it off. But White was able to reach in and wrestle the ball away from Darius and score a two-point conversion before he was pushed out of bounds. With 8:32 left in the first quarter, Tampa Bay led 8-0.
The Bucs defense stymied the Jaguars offense on their next two possessions thanks to big sacks by Anthony McFarland and Ellis Wyms on successive series.
Tampa Bay had a chance to increase its lead in the first quarter, after Galloway raced 26 yards down to the Jacksonville 9-yard line after catching a short pass from Simms. But on second-and-goal from the 7, Simms was sacked for a 15-yard loss by defensive end Reggie Hayward, who beat right tackle Kenyatta Walker, and then taken down by defensive tackle Rob Meier for a loss of five. Matt Bryant’s 45-yard field goal attempt missed to the right.
Bryant would make his next field goal attempt with 3:46 left in the second quarter. Tampa Bay benefited from back-to-back pass interference penalties on Mathis, who was covering Bucs receiver David Boston on both plays. The first flag was for 25 yards, while the next one was for 37 yards and set up Tampa Bay on the Jaguars 15. But on third-and-6, Simms had his second pass deflected at the line of scrimmage, and Bryant was forced to trot out to give Tampa Bay an 11-0 lead, which would be the score at halftime.
After doing nothing against Tampa Bay’s starting defense, Jacksonville’s first-team offense was able to embark on an 11-play, 79-yard touchdown drive against the Bucs’ second-string defense that consumed 6:22 off the clock. Greg Jones rushed for 21 yards and LaBrandon Toefield rushed for 22 yards on the drive. Without facing much of a pass rush, Leftwich was able to complete both of his pass attempts for 33 yards on the drive, including a 20-yard throw to receiver Matt Jones. Leftwich capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge, and Toefield rushed for the 2-point conversion to make the score 11-8 with 6:50 left in the third quarter.
The Bucs’ second-string defense gave up another touchdown to the Jaguars’ first-string offense on the next possession after Gradkowski ended a Tampa Bay offensive series with an ill-fated interception. Leftwich, who finished the game completing 13-of-20 passes for 167 yards, hit wide receiver Earnest Wilford with a 17-yard gain, running back David Winbush with a gain of 27, and Matt Jones with a 19-yard touchdown pass to give Jacksonville a 15-11 lead with 58 seconds left in the third quarter.
Jacksonville would add another touchdown with 5:29 left in the fourth quarter as David Garrard hit running back Rich Alexis with a 9-yard touchdown pass to give the Jaguars a 22-11 lead.
After Gradkowski fumbled the ball to the Jaguars after being sacked at the Tampa Bay 13, Jacksonville added another touchdown with 2:02 remaining as Alvin Pearman dove over the goal line from 1-yard out to push its lead to 29-11.
Gradkowski would drive the Bucs 74 yards for their final touchdown, completing back-to-back passes to Chas Gessner for 14 and 42 yards that set up Tampa Bay with a first-and-goal from the Jacksonville 4. On first down, it appeared as if Gradkowski completed a touchdown pass to J.R. Russell, but the instant replay booth official overturned the call due to the fact that Russell did not possess the ball all the way down to the ground. Gradkowski would hit Warren for the score on the next play.
Tampa Bay falls to 1-2 in the preseason and travels to Houston for the final exhibition game of the 2006 season.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org