TAMPA – After holding a 3-0 lead at halftime, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shifted their running game into high gear and produced three touchdowns in the second half to trounce the visiting St. Louis Rams, 24-3. With the win, the Bucs improved to 2-1 on the season while the Rams fell to 0-3.

Behind the legs of Earnest Graham, Michael Pittman and Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay rolled up 182 yards rushing on 32 carries (5.7 avg.) against the Rams, with 144 of those yards coming in the second half. Graham led the way with a career-high 75 yards rushing on eight second half carries (9.4 avg.) and scored the first two touchdowns of his NFL career.

Pittman added 56 yards on the ground on seven carries (8.0 avg.), while Williams rushed for 46 yards on 12 carries (3.8 avg.) and scored the first touchdown of the game in the third quarter.

The Buccaneers offensive line was dominant in the second half, only allowed quarterback Jeff Garcia to get sacked once, and rolled up 322 yards of total offense on Sunday. Garcia did a great job of managing the offense and was an efficient 14-of-22 for 151 yards passing.

Tampa Bay’s defense continued its stingy play for a second straight week. After holding New Orleans to just 14 points a week ago and forcing two turnovers, the Buccaneers held the Rams to just three points and 245 yards on Sunday. Running back Steven Jackson rushed for 115 yards, but it came on 30 carries (3.8 avg.), and the Rams’ longest play of the game was just 18 yards.

The most important aspect of the game from the defense’s standpoint was intercepting Marc Bulger three times and shutting down the Rams’ potent aerial attack. That allowed the Bucs to win the turnover battle for a second straight week. Bulger was only sacked once by the Bucs defense, but completed 17-of-26 passes for just 116 yards.

Points were hard to come by in the first half for both teams. Buccaneers kicker Matt Bryant missed a 54-yard field goal attempt with 5:36 left in the first quarter. A 42-yard field goal attempt by Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins was wide left at the two-minute warning.

Tampa Bay recorded the first turnover of the game at the start of the second half when strong safety Jermaine Phillips intercepted a Bulger pass on third down, which was intended for Isaac Bruce at the Bucs’ 34-yard line. That snuffed out a promising St. Louis drive.

The Bucs’ second turnover of the game was nullified by an offsides penalty by defensive end Kevin Carter. That was a costly infraction as it wiped out a fumble recovery for a touchdown by cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who scooped up a loose ball that was fumbled after Bruce got hammered by Phillips following a first down catch at the 9:50 mark at the second quarter.

With three seconds left before halftime, a 27-yard field goal by Bryant gave Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead. The 12-play, 59-yard drive consumed just 1:57 off the clock and began on the heels of Wilkins’ missed field goal.

There were a couple of key plays on the Bucs’ initial scoring drive. On first-and-10 at the Rams’ 42, wide receiver Michael Clayton was wide open and dropped a perfect pass in the middle of the field that would have resulted in a 20-yard gain down to the 22-yard line. Two plays later, he made amends by hauling in an 11-yard pass down to the 31-yard line to pick up the first down. But at the end of the play, Clayton fumbled. Luckily for the Bucs, the ball was recovered by tight end Alex Smith. Five plays later, Bryant trotted out in the middle of a sudden rain shower to convert the field goal opportunity.

St. Louis outgained the Bucs 137-131 in total yards in the first half, mostly due to the running of Jackson, who logged 63 yards rushing on 18 carries (3.5 avg.) through two quarters. Although Tampa Bay had a 3-0 edge on the scoreboard, St. Louis held an 18:08 to 11:52 time of possession advantage.

In the second half, the Bucs received great field possession at their own 47-yard on the opening kickoff due to a 36-yard return by Mark Jones. Tampa Bay embarked on a seven-play, 53-yard scoring drive that was capped off by a 7-yard touchdown run by Williams. Williams led the way on the drive with 38 yards rushing on six carries to put Tampa Bay up 10-0 with 10:41 left in the third quarter.

The Rams threatened to score on their next possession, driving deep into Tampa Bay territory. A 15-yard late hit personal foul penalty on Derrick Brooks, who nailed tight end Randy McMichael while he was on the ground after no gain, gave St. Louis a first down on the Tampa Bay 22. Two plays later, on third-and-8 at the Bucs’ 20, Ronde Barber drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting Rams wide receiver Torry Holt. That set up the Rams with a first-and-goal at the Bucs’ 10-yard line. But on the next play, Buchanon was in perfect position to pick off Bulger’s pass intended for Drew Bennett in the back of the end zone, killing another St. Louis scoring opportunity.

At the end of the third quarter, Wilkins missed another 42-yard field goal when his kick hit the right upright. That marked the fourth time that the Rams had penetrated the Bucs’ 30-yard line and came away without points.

However, after Tampa Bay took over at its own 33-yard line with the change of possession, Williams fumbled at the line of scrimmage by being stripped by cornerback Oshiomogho Atogwe, who also recovered the ball.

The Rams were finally able to get on the scoreboard after the turnover with Wilkins making a 25-yard field goal. The key play on the seven-play, 26-yard drive was an 18-yard catch by Torry Holt on third-and-6 from the Tampa Bay 29. That gave St. Louis a first down at the Tampa Bay 11, but the Rams were unable to sustain the drive and get into the end zone. With 11:31 left in the fourth quarter, the Bucs’ lead was cut to 10-3.

Tampa Bay made sure its lead would hold on its next possession by embarking on a six-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that consumed 3:35 off the clock in the fourth quarter. Jeff Garcia was 3-of-3 for the drive for 48 yards, hitting Ike Hilliard with a 17-yard pass to start the drive, followed by a pair of 15-yard tosses to Pittman. But Graham finished off the drive with a 20-yard run followed by an 8-yard touchdown scamper. With 7:56 left in the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay’s lead swelled to 17-3.

After a three-and-out by St. Louis, Jones returned a Donnie Jones punt 35 yards to set up Tampa Bay with great field position at the Rams’ 40-yard line. Three plays later, Graham ripped through the middle of the field on a tackle-busting, 28-yard touchdown run to increase the Bucs’ lead. With 5:00 left, Tampa Bay led St. Louis 24-3.

With 4:01 remaining in the fourth quarter, Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud recorded the team’s third interception of the day, picking off Bulger at the Tampa Bay 37 to silence the Rams’ last offensive possession.

IT WAS OVER WHEN…
Holding a 3-0 lead at the start of the third quarter, the Buccaneers had a great, 36-yard kickoff return out to the Tampa Bay 47-yard line from Mark Jones. Tampa Bay’s offensive line came out of halftime committed to running the ball in the second half, after producing just 38 yards on the ground in the first two quarters. Cadillac Williams rushed for 38 yards on the Bucs’ first drive of the third quarter with his 7-yard touchdown run giving Tampa Bay a 10-0 lead with 10:45 left in the quarter. The Bucs’ running game poured it on throughout the second half and pulled away in the fourth quarter, but when Tampa Bay took its 10-0 lead, the game was essentially over.

PEWTERREPORT.COM’S  PEWTER PLAYER OF THE GAME
After Cadillac Williams had his bell rung in the third quarter and fumbled the ball at the start of the fourth quarter, head coach Jon Gruden inserted “Mr. August” – reserve running back Earnest Graham – into the lineup. Graham, who typically leads the team in preseason rushing, became the Bucs’ feature back in the fourth quarter, rushing for a career-high 75 yards on eight carries. That effort allowed him to be recognized as PewterReport.com’s Pewter Player of the Game. Graham had a 20-yard carry to get going, then followed that up with big, tackle-breaking touchdown runs of 8 and 28 yards. Graham’s sensational play against St. Louis, combined with Williams’ average play, may lead Gruden to use Graham more as a ballcarrier as the season goes on. Coming in a close second to Graham for Pewter Player of the Game is fullback B.J. Askew, who had a sensational day as a lead blocker for Graham, Williams and Michael Pittman.

RECORDS, MILESTONES AND NOTES

In the third quarter, Bucs running back Cadillac Williams scored his 10th rushing touchdown, which tied him for ninth in team history. Williams now has three rushing touchdowns in 2007. The most rushing touchdowns he scored in a single season was six, which happened during his rookie campaign in 2005. Williams is halfway there with 13 games remaining.

Earnest Graham’s 8-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was his first TD in the NFL. He added his second on the day when he rambled 28 yards for a touchdown on the next drive. Graham had a career-high 75 yards on eight carries, including two touchdowns.

Tampa Bay has won two straight games in the young 2007 campaign. The last time the Bucs won back-to-back games was the contests against Cincinnati and Philadelphia last October.

STATS THAT COUNT
Bucs strong safety Jermaine Phillips recorded his first interception of the year, which was also the first by a Tampa Bay defensive back in 2007. The interception was Phillips’ fifth in six years in the NFL. … Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant missed his first kick of the 2007 season, a 54-yarder in the first quarter of Sunday’s game. Coming into the game, Bryant was 3-of-3 on the season. After Sunday, Bryant is now 4-of-5 on the year (80 percent). … Rookie defensive tackle Greg Peterson and veteran defensive end Kevin Carter split a sack against St. Louis. The half sack was Peterson’s first in the NFL and was also Carter’s first as a Buccaneer. … Just days after being named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week, Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud had yet another strong performance, this time against St. Louis. Ruud led all tacklers on Sunday with 11 stops (eight solo) and recorded his first career interception. … Linebacker Ryan Nece led Tampa Bay’s special teams with two tackles. … Cornerback Phillip Buchanon recorded his first interception of the season and his third as a Buccaneer. … Tampa Bay punter Josh Bidwell averaged 49.3 yards per punt with a 46-yard net average on three punts. One of his punts was downed inside the 20-yard line. … Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway led all Tampa Bay receivers with four catches for 42 yards.

BUCS’ STARTING LINEUPS VS. THE RAMS
Starting offense:

WR Joey Galloway
LT Luke Petitgout
LG Arron Sears
C John Wade
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Alex Smith
WR Ike Hilliard
FB B.J. Askew
RB Cadillac Williams

Starting defense:
LE Greg Spires
UT Jovan Haye
NT Chris Hovan
RE Kevin Carter
WLB Derrick Brooks
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Cato June
LCB Brian Kelly
FS Tanard Jackson
SS Jermaine Phillips
RCB Ronde Barber

Starting specialists:
K Matt Bryant
P Josh Bidwell
LS Andrew Economos

BUCS-RAMS INACTIVES
Bucs Inactives:
FS Will Allen,
DE Patrick Chukwurah,
OL Anthony Davis,
DT Ryan Sims,
G Dan Buenning,
MLB Jeremiah Trotter,
QB Chris Simms and
QB Luke McCown (emergency QB). Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski did not play.

Rams Inactives:
CB Tye Hill, RB Antonio Pittman, LB Pisa Tinoisamoa, G Richie Incognito, DT Louis Leonard, OT Brandon Gorin, TE Aaron Walker and WR Marques Hagans (emergency QB).

BUCS INJURIES
Tampa Bay defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (knee) didn’t play due to injury. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard suffered a sprained ankle during practice this past week, but started and played on Sunday. Rookie safety Sabby Piscitelli injured his right foot during the first quarter and did not return. He was seen leaving the stadium in a boot cast. Running back Cadillac Williams was hit hard and left the game with 5:47 remaining in the third quarter, but returned.

KICKOFF CONDITIONS

The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Rams game at Raymond James Stadium was 65,267 The temperature at kickoff was 86 degrees with 74 percent humidity. Although the game started under sunny skies, there was a brief downpour just before halftime and the rain continued into the third quarter.

UP NEXT
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) remain tied for the lead in the NFC South and will travel to Carolina to play the Panthers (2-1) at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, September 30 in a battle for division supremacy. Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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: [email protected]