Gameday: Panthers @ Bucs

No Sticks preview this week because 1) this is basically an exhibition game, and 2) I'm exhausted from mountain biking all day yesterday. I have muscles I wasn't even aware of which are sore.

The Bucs are wise to rest almost all their starters this week. Just look at the Giants last night who played their starters the entire game, only to lose in the closing minutes of the game. New York will very likely come out flat against the Bucs next week for two reasons: 1) teams tend to play flat after an emotional game, and 2) the Giants have to go on the road. I understand the Giants were playing for pride last night but that decision will likely come back to bight them in the ass.

Anyway, I off to the game which in all likelihood will be even uglier than last week's San Francisco debacle. Until I get back from the game I leave you with this image from the Onion titled "Vinny Testeverde Touchdown Dance Hopelessly Out-Of-Date."

This game had a definite exhibition game feel to it, there wasn't close to as much energy as the crowd would normally have, or will have for next week's playoff game against the Giants. On offense the backups all started at quarterback, runningback and receivers. On the defensive side of the ball the second stringers received starts at middlebacker and strong safety. And about the time the Panthers pulled away from the Bucs Gruden was playing mostly second- and third-stringers.

No POSITIVES/NEGATIVES for this week for the same reason as last week, this was little more than an exhibition game. But I think we need a new definition for Clayton:

Clay - ton
1. A first round draft pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (noun)
2. To come up big when it does not matter (verb)

With the exception of his rookie season when the Bucs were headed for a losing season Michael Clayton has failed to produce. And today Clayton didn't play well until the Bucs had almost certainly lost. Clayton had 3 catches for 45 yards after Carolina scored their final touchdown, putting the game out of reach.

Since I don't want to leave this post on an entirely negative note I will also give praise to Alex Smith, who made only one catch but made it the best catch of the day. With four defenders half a second from hitting him Smith went up and caught a hanging ball from McCown that should have been intercepted. Considering the injuries in the receiving corps Gruden will likely use his tightends in the receiving game often, which should give Smith a chance to excel in the playoffs.


Gameday: Bucs @ 49ers

You know the deal, you can find the Sticks Buccaneer preview here.

I would be expecting the Bucs to come out flat based on their recent performance on the West Coast but I'm sure Jeff Garcia has a chip on his shoulder and will put up big stats (220 yards, 3 TDs). It looks like the Bucs will have some favorable weather (50's, slightly cloudy) so they have no excuse, this is a game they should win.


Today's game was ugliness personified, and had more mistakes than the Spears family. I guess when I pretty much guaranteed a victory I probably should have considered that Gruden wasn't going to play the starters for most of the second half. The Bucs came out flat, which was to be expected as the team flew some 3,000 odd miles.

I'm skipping POSITIVES/NEGATIVES for this week but Michael Clayton was a huge negative this week despite his 5 receptions for 71 yards. Given a chance to shine with Galloway out Clayton dropped passes and made a dumb mistake at the end when he landed with his foot out of bounds while catching the 2 point conversion which would have tied the game. With the exception of his rookie season Clayton has been a colossal bust who shows no signs of becoming a reliable receiver.


Why No Buc Was Snubbed (and other useless info)

I have a bit of catching up to do seeing as how the real world has kept me busy the last few days so let's get right to it...

- The Pro Bowl rosters have been released and not a single Buc has been named to the starting or reserve roster. For those expecting a homer response look elsewhere, 'cause I have no problem with the lack of local representation heading to Hawaii. The Pro Bowl is an individual honor not a team honor so it doesn't matter that the Bucs have the second best defense in the NFL. Just look up the road at Waffle House USA aka Jacksonville where not a single Jaguar made the Pro Bowl. About a month ago I made an argument for a few Bucs to make the Pro Bowl, notably Jeff Garcia, Joey Galloway, and Ronde Barber. Garcia has been banged up the last few weeks so his stats don't compare to Hasselbeck's, whose Seahawks have the same record as the Bucs. Ditto for Galloway sans the injury. The best argument can be made for Barber who should at the very least should have been the reserve over Terrance Newman, who has been injured for much of the season.

Additionally, one of the things which bothers me the most with snubs lists is that the people who write them never mention who should NOT have made it to the Pro Bowl. This happens every year where people talk about who was should have gotten in but then don't mention who should be taken out. A Pro Bowl nomination isn't like your 3rd grade tee ball awards, not everyone gets one.

- I mispelled Micheal Spurlock's first name in the previous post and for that I offer a million apologies to Spurlock. I am an idiot.

- It now looks like the Bucs will play either the Giants or the Vikings for their first playoff game, based on these rough stats from Sports Club Stats (via Buc 'Em). Between the two I'm still not 100% sure who the better matchup is for the Bucs although I'm leaning towards the Giants based on their recent playoff failure under Eli Manning. The Bucs typically play better against passing offenses (i.e. the Giants) which their defense is designed to stop. Adrian Peterson and that outstanding Vikings offensive line would have me concerned if I was the defensive coordinator facing them, even if Minnesota has no passing game.


Who Is Michael Spurlock?

Our longtime local sports nightmare is finally over, after 1884 attempts the Bucs finally returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Much like their former losing streak in cold weather games this was a streak which haunted the Franchise in every game they played as announcers felt obliged to rub it in the fan's faces. There is even a website dedicated to the former streak. And Tampa Bay has the the formerly unknown Michael Spurlock to thank for finally erasing that historic streak.

But who is Michael Spurlock?

If you do a Google search for "Michael Spurlock" the first result turns up this guy, a Doctor of Nutrition at Iowa State.

And the second result turns up a slightly closer although still wrong result, a former linebacker for the Memphis Tigers. While the Bucs kick returner may not be the best known Michael Spurlock on the intertubes he is certainly one of the best players to come out of the state of Mississippi.

The Buccaneers Michael Spurlock played quarterback at Gentry High School in Indianola Mississippi, a town of 12,000 whose claim to fame is that is was the hometown of B.B. King. During his high school career Spurlock passed for a state class 5-A records of 3,348 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2000. Spurlock also set a state record for points in a game when he three for 9 touchdowns, ran for 2 touchdowns AND kicked all of his team's extra points...accounting for all 71 of his high school's points in the game. He also lettered in basketball and baseball, and was voted the baseball team's MVP and Best Defensive Player three times.

Spurlock started out playing quarterback at Ol' Miss, and in 2003 was behind Eli Manning on the depth chart. He started seven games at quarterback in 2005 before being moved to, and starting at, runningback for the last game of his college career. Spurlock was recuited by former Ol Miss assistant Richard Bisaccia, who is now the Bucs special teams coach.

Spurlock went undrafted out of college and was signed by Arizona last season. Spurlock played in only one game for the Cardinals and caught four passes, in addition to spot kick return duties.

Spurlock started the season on the Bucs practice roster and was not promoted to the active roster until the week of the Cardinals game, which was the first week of November for those keeping track at home. Spurlock returned kickoffs for the Bucs that Week 10 but up until last weekend's game at Houston was splitting kickoff return duties with Michael Clayton and Phillip Buchanon.

Before this week's game local newspaper Florida Today interviewed Spurlock and asked him about the possibility of returning a kickoff for a touchdown. Spurlock's response was an uninterested, "I don't see why not. We'll see what happens." It was not even a sure thing Spurlock would be active for today's game, although credit Stephen Holder of the Times for arguing the Bucs should make room on today's roster for Spurlock.

So kudos to Michael Spurlock for being the First Player in 32 years of Tampa Bay Buccaneer history to return a kickoff for a touchdown.

Gameday: Falcons @ Bucs

As usual, you can find my Sticks preview here.

The Falcons are like that crazy ex-girlfriend who at one time was a catch but has let herself go and is an absolute mess now. Sure she has potential and could be a winner but more likely than not she will self-destruct.

Huge line for this game as the Bucs are favored by 13 points. I'm not 100% sure that's the biggest line of the year for the Bucs but it's damn close. I'm expecting Graham (who has quietly had an outstanding season) to put up big stats today.





And Tampa Bay didn't even get a good game from Garcia or Galloway, which bodes well for the team going into the playoffs. Tampa Bay may be the team nobody wants to play this postseason, they have the best defense in the NFC and a balanced offensive attack.

+ Michael Spurlock, 1883 kickoff returns w/o TD before Spurlock made History (HT to BS)
+ I'm 90% sure Trueblood leads the league in fights started, this is a borderline positive
+ Ronde Barber making a very strong case for both Hawaii this season and Canton eventually
+ Clayton with some tough catches
+ Greg White
+ Earnest w/ his 2nd game as both the Bucs leading rusher AND receiver
+ Gaines Adams finely getting comfortable, racks up a sack and a forced fumble

- the second fight w/ about 4 minutes left, completely unnecessary
- Garcia who looked rusty today

Run To Freedom Mr. Spurlock! Run To Freedom!


Vegas Knew It Was a Trap

I briefly mentioned before kickoff that the Texans game had the whiff of a trap game to me, and it appears Vegas figured this out well before I did. From Dr. Z's power rankings today comes this bit of info...
On Sunday evening, the week before the game, I set my logical price at Bucs favored by three. They had beaten New Orleans on the road, Houston had lost to Tennessee by eight. The first line posted by Vegas, the opening line Sunday night, was Texans favored by one. It varied from mine by four, so it was a slam dunk formula pick. Go their way and take Houston because Vegas obviously is begging for Tampa Bay money. Sure enough, the opening line, also known as the "outlaw line," stayed up very briefly, and was quickly bet up to Bucs minus 3 ½. Vegas caught a lot of fish when the Texans won.
I had to read that twice just to fully comprehend what it meant, but essentially the Casinos knew this was a trap game for the Bucs and purposely set a low line to fool bettors into losing money on it. Which they promptly did even though, as the Football Outsider guys point out, the Bucs mostly outplayed the Texans during the game.

What is the lesson learned? Beware the trap road games the week following divisional road games. Especially when the opponent has Andre Johnson.


Not A Good Time To Be A Falcons Fan

First, Vick goes to Federal-Pound-You-In-The-Ass Prison.

Then, your team loses on national television (even though nobody watched the game).

And now your coach is leaving for the Arkansas job.

I'm taking the ESPN report with a grain of salt, they have a history of getting these things wrong (just look at supposed Miles to Michigan rumors before the SEC Champ Game). If this is true, how much egg does Arthur Blank have on his face after telling the MNF Crew that he had Petrino's back through thick and thin?

A Few Updates:

- Upon further reflection, what does this say about the Falcons job that Petrino finds a job where the previous coach had to deal with fans who sued to make his cell phone calls public, spread rumors about his infidelity, and generally chased out of town a coach who averaged 8 wins a season and just last season was in the SEC Champ Game? Are the Falcons really in that bad of a position to make dealing with the Arkansas faithful the more appealing alternative?

- I should have mentioned this before but Roddy White has to be the front runner for next year's Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year right? I mean if making a weak show of support for a former teammate who has admitted his own wrong doing doesn't qualify as a heroic act what does? The guys at KSK have an excellent take on Roddy's heroism.
(Also, file this under "shit to random to believe" but the Falcons Director of Marketing is also named Roddy White)

Comment of the Day

Not from this blog with its barren field of non-comments but from the St Pete Times Rays blog in discussing the proposed Rays stadium...

How dare the Rays try to develop two severely under-used parcels of downtown land! I love parking lots and barren, sun-scorched vacant lots! Walk down 1st Av South next to the Trop! So alive! So vibrant! So livable! I can't understand how it has failed to create a real ballpark district! It will be ruined by mixed-use, walkable development! Plus, Steinberg & Co are from the NORTH, and therefore untrustworthy!

If we try to build a new stadium, it needs to be off the interstate in a field in Tampa, defended by AT LEAST 20,000 parking spaces! I want to get out of my air-conditioned car and walk right into an air-conditioned stadium! Who cares about making downtown a functional, possibly even livable place! I love yelling!

Starting right now the Times is having an online chat with Rays prez Matt Silverman on the new stadium, which based on the comments (which the above one mocks) is sure to raise the mis-informed ire of Tampa Bay's best and brightest.

I am still waiting to hear a rational reason why the City should NOT approve a new stadium.

NFC South and Conference Playoffs Recap

TAMPA BAY: 8-5 (DIV) 4-0
NAWLEANS: 6-7 (DIV) 3-3
CAROLINA: 5-8 (DIV) 2-3
ATLANTA: 3-10 (DIV) 1-4

While the Bucs have not yet technically clinched the division you might as well wrap up the division title in Christmas paper for the Bucs. All Tampa Bay needs is a win against one of three losing teams: Atlanta, San Fran or Carolina.

DALLAS: 12-1

(* - outside looking in)

Five of the six NFC playoff spots are pretty much locked up leaving only the last wild card spot up for grabs with the Vikings in the driver's seat for that spot. Although based on the way recent NFC playoff races have worked out I'm sure we will see a dark horse team come out of nowhere to sneak into the playoffs a la Washington in '05 which won it's last five games to barely get into the playoffs.

Maybe this should be colored under wishful thinking but I'm starting to think the four seed will work better for the Bucs than the three seed. The Bucs matchup better against the Giants than the Vikings. And assuming the Bucs win their home playoff game they would travel to Dallas instead of Green Bay. As over-hyped as the Bucs record is in cold weather there is some truth to the statistic, the team is not designed to play in cold weather especially the speedy defense.

With Reggie Bush likely out for the season and the Saints still in contention for the playoffs we can expect to see Drew Brees throwing the ball early and often. Which is great if you have Brees on your fantasy team but turns the Saints into a one dimensional offense. It doesn't bode well for the NFC that there is only one playoff team which isn't one dimensional, i.e. the Cowboys. Every other team either depends on their passing game (Green Bay, Seattle, Tampa Bay, New York) or their running game (Minnesota).

This may sound crazy but if I'm Jacksonville I would draft Tim Tebow in two years (assuming he's available in the draft). I think Tebow, much like Vince Young in Tennessee, would be a great fit for a defensive team with a run first mentality. I know Garrard is having an excellent season but he strikes me as more of a place holder a la Trent Dilfer on the Ravens.


Gameday: Bucs @ Texans

My Sticks preview can be found here.

Just saw on ESPN that Luke McCown is the starter for the Bucs today. Which may not be a bad thing considering the way Luke played last week. Plus it gives Jeff Garcia another week to get fully healthy.

This has the smell of a trap game for the Bucs as they are going on the road following a big division game. It also doesn't help that this is the second straight road game for the Bucs.


We didn't learn much about the Bucs today we didn't already know. They need Jeff Garcia to have a chance in the playoffs. And even in the playoffs they would be lucky to win a road game (the Bucs have a 3-4 record on the road this season). With more time I would dig into the stats but the Bucs seemed more mistake-prone when they are on the road, with the Detroit loss and today's game serving as the best examples of their weak play on the road.

+ Greg White was a beast w/ 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles (although his aggressiveness led him to overplay a few runs)
+ Graham & Galloway again having solid games for the Bucs w/ 193 total yards & 2 TDS between them

- Luke McCown, it's difficult to fault the backup quarterback for being average but I will do so anyway, there were plays he could have made (missing a wide open Galloway for a TD) but failed to
- Bucs secondary, which continues to struggle against big, physical receivers


NFC South Recap

TAMPA BAY: 8-4 (DIV) 4-0
NAWLEANS: 5-7 (DIV) 2-3
CAROLINA: 5-7 (DIV) 2-3
ATLANTA: 3-9 (DIV) 1-3

Yesterday's win pretty much locks up the division for the Bucs even if it won't be official for another two weeks or so. The bigger question for the Bucs for the next month is which seed they finish with in the NFC. I think #1 and #2 are out of reach but the Bucs have a legit shot at passing Seattle to move into the #3 seed. It hurts that Seattle has the same record as the Bucs AND own the head-to-head tiebreaker.

It is good to see the 49ers (whom the Bucs still have to play) are more down on their luck than the Missouri football team (who got absolutely robbed by the BCS). Interesting side note to this game, it started two quarterbacks drafted by the Bucs over ten years ago (Testeverde and Dilfer). Which really just goes to show you that the Bucs have featured a lot of very lousy quarterbacks during the franchise's history.

Why is it I get the feeling Petrino is playing for a top pick only to draft Brian Brohm with the third overall pick?


Gameday: Bucs @ Saints

My Sticks preview can be found here.

A quick reminder, the Bucs game has been moved to the late afternoon (4:15) start time.

As of 1:45 I have still seen no definitive word on if Jeff Garcia is starting or not. He did practice on Friday but since the practice was closed to the media there is no word on how many reps he received if at all. If Garcia can not go Luke McCown will get the start.


The Bucs must have made winning ugly their new philosophy because there was no reason the score had to be so close. The Bucs had 466 total yards to the Saints measly 246, and if not for a few extremely bone-headed plays by Luke McCown this game would have been a blow out. But in the end and most importantly the Bucs get out of New Orleans three and a half games up in the division (since the Bucs would own any head-to-head tie breaker).

+ great play calling by Gruden, especially on the last drive
+ outstanding job by the defense limiting the Saints offense, which has proven weak against the Tampa Two
+ Earnest Graham will another quiet but impressive performance, 106 yards & 1 TD
+ w/ an exception or 2 good to see the Bucs playing aggressive to the point of getting in the Saints faces after plays
+ Joey Galloway again making plays en route to 159 yards
+ it looks like Gaines Adams is finally getting comfortable, 4 tackles and a sack
+ promising performance by Luke McCown in relief of Garcia, 313 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
+ 10 different receivers all caught balls today
+ nice catch by Stevens at the end to win the game

- McCown's game management: gave New Orleans a safety, a TD and failed to manage the clock at the end of the 2nd quarter
- Michael Clayton w/ a late personal foul which erased an impressive run by Graham


Cautiously Optimistic

I know it is blasphemy to talk about the Rays while we're in the middle of the Bucs season but forgive me for the transgression, I feel like the recent developments finally make the Rays worthy of NFL midseason discussion.

For ten years I’ve been looking for reasons to get excited about the Rays and until the last few weeks the closest the Rays have come to raising my expectations was the ill-fated Hit Show. But with more arms in the rotation and bullpen, and plans for a new stadium the Rays are finally giving me a reason to be optimistic.

The New Stadium

For the past few years I’ve been telling anyone foolish enough to listen to me that Al Lang Field would be the perfect spot to build a new open air stadium, so it is no surprise that I fully support the Rays’ plans for a stadium there. I have not met one person who would even rank the Trop as an average MLB stadium, much less a top ten one. Additionally, the new stadium would do so much to add new development to a downtown St Petersburg, more so than the current stadium ever did. Obviously I have no hard evidence to back this up but it has been my opinion that BayWalk did more to revitalize down town than the Trop ever did, mostly because BayWalk is actually in downtown as opposed to the Trop. Placing a new stadium along the water front would almost certainly have a similar effect but on a bigger scale as BayWalk.

The biggest complaint about the stadium (at least based on comments left on the Times article) centers on the Rays building the new stadium with revenues generated from taxes on new development where the Trop currently is. These complaints are fairly absurd when you think about it since 1) it’s a fact of life that new stadiums are built using tax payer money, 2) the proposed taxes would not even be generated unless the Rays move out of the Trop. Before the Rays made their announcement Wednesday I had assumed the city’s portion of the cost for a new stadium would likely be born by the business which would benefit from the new stadium, i.e. the hotels, restaurants, etc. which are downtown. Considering that the only new taxes the city would have to enact would be on new development in Tropicana which would not even exist unless the Rays moved further downtown I think St Pete is getting a pretty sweet deal here.

There are some legitimate complaints leveled against the new location, the two most important being parking and state funding. While it’s great to see our boy Charlie supporting the new stadium the state legislature is most likely hesitant to approve money for the Rays when you have other teams (Marlins, Bolts, Magic, etc.) who have made or are going to make similar demands. It will have to take a pretty convincing lobbying effort by the Rays to gain the support of state legislators for a new stadium, something which the Rays have stumbled with coming out of the gate. Parking is a lesser concern but still worth noting as parking is already starting to be a problem downtown. I honestly don’t know if they are comparable crowds but it is impossible to find parking on 4th of July or New Year’s Eve downtown.

The New Faces

My more cynical side paints the Troy Percival signing as little more than a PR move, bringing in a big name closer in a half-hearted effort to convince skeptical St Pete residents that this team is serious about contending. (Something the team will need to do to convince legislators to support a new stadium.) After all Percival is 38 and has already “retired” once because of injury problems. But then again, Percival did play well last season sporting a 1.80 ERA and 36 strikeouts through 40 innings. Most importantly Percival should strengthen a bullpen which looked atrocious last season.

Additionally, the Rays picked up one of the better young arms in the league and all they had to give up was one of their 25 outfielders. Rays Index has a wealth of information on the Delmon Young for Matt Garza trade, but in the end trading a bat (which the Rays have plenty of) for an arm (which they badly need) should be a huge gain for the team. I don’t like to see Young go, he was the one guy (even more so than Pena) that struck me as the closest thing the Rays have to a power slugger but Young and Carl Crawford were their two best outfielders so at the very least they kept Crawford and still gained a good arm for the rotation.

There are still plenty of question marks around this team’s future, can they develop the young talent, will the new stadium be approved, will the team even stay in St Pete? But at the very least the rays and their new ownership are finally giving fans a reason to be optimistic about the team’s future.


The Sean Taylor Memorial

As many of you know I live in Skins territory, in fact I work not to far from Redskin Park. This morning I stopped by the makeshift Sean Taylor Memorial which has emerged outside of the Skins training facility and headquarters. Here are some of the photos I took.

A quick note, I am hesitant bestow Sainthood on Sean Taylor the way many people, especially in the Washington area, have been so quick to do. He was by no means perfect and one of his worst transgressions on the field occurred at Ray Jay against the Bucs two years ago. That being written by most accounts Taylor was turning a new leaf with the birth of his daughter, and had become a leader on the team.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was the multiple news trucks parked outside. Sean Taylor has been the leading news story since Monday in all local media outlets.

Sean Taylor's 21 painted into the grass next to the memorial.

Even though it was 10:30 in the morning there were at least a dozen fans there coming and going while I was taking pictures. Almost all had Skins gear on.

The most striking thing about the memorial is the number of flowers and personal mementos left by fans. Few cities embrace their NFL franchises the way the DC area does. In Tampa Bay the Bucs are the talk of the town, but in the DC area the Skins are not just the talk of the town they are the common bond of the city.

A cork board signed by a number of Skins fans.

A Sean Taylor jersey with a personal sentiment written on it.

Another Taylor jersey with a number of personal sentiments written on it.

A hat with a message from one father to another in Sean Taylor.

A yard sign for Sean Taylor.

And on the back of the sign a quote from Sean Taylor.


NFC South Recap

TAMPA BAY: 7-4 (DIV) 3-0
NAWLEANS: 5-6 (DIV) 2-2
CAROLINA: 4-7 (DIV) 2-3
ATLANTA: 3-8 (DIV) 1-3

We didn't learn much from the NFC South last week that we haven't known for the at least the past month. It will come down to the Bucs (who are the clear favorites) and the Saints (playing the role of the lovable underdog). The Bucs appear to be a lock to make the playoffs considering the soft schedule in front of them, and the only remaining question is will they have a playoff game at home or not?

The Saints on the other hand are a dangerous opponent next week for the Bucs, they are like the wounded lion. They have the potential to be one of the more dangerous offenses but have been struck by a case of bi-polarism. One week they look unbeatable, the next fallible. Missing Deuce McAllister has exposed the offenses biggest weakness, Reggie Bush can not run up the middle. When Deuce was in the game defenses had to prepare for both Deuce running the ball AND Brees passing to the receivers. Reggie Bush never had to be the power runner at USC (he had LenDale White for that) so he has never established himself as someone who can bang bodies for 4 quarters.


And even if the Saints win this week the Bucs would still be the favorites to win the division. The Saints have two losses in the the division while the Bucs have zero losses. Assuming the Saints win they would still be a game behind and would lose the tiebreaker if the teams somehow finished with the same records (a highly unlikely situation). What am I getting at? No matter the outcome of next week's game the Bucs will be in the driver's seat for the division.


Gameday: Skins @ Bucs

You can find my Sticks preview here.

I'm hearing a good deal of chatter that the Skins are an upset special. Which is incredibly fair when you consider the Skins were a Jason Campbell interception away from beating the Cowboys last week. The Skins have been doing their best Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impression this season, and there is no guarantee which Skins team we will see today.

The Bucs, on the other hand, have been the model of consistency with Jeff Garcia at quarterback. While they have not been a top scoring team the Bucs have regularly moved the chains even without Cadillac Williams, Luke Petitgout, Michael Pittman and Alex Smith. Which means that while the Bucs are the smart pick the Skins are the sexy pick to win here.

I am off to the game but I will be back with a recap after the game.


Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. The Bucs needed every one of the six turnovers forced by the defense today, especially with Jeff Garcia out most of the game with back problems. It's scary to think what would happen if Garcia was out for an extended period of time after Bruce Gradkowski's cheap imitation of a quarterback today.

+ Greg White w/ 2 forced fumbles and a sack
+ Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly getting back in the act w/ an INT each
+ Earnest Graham with some very tough running against a defense expecting the run
+ BJ Askew opening up those holes for Graham

- Gradkowski who looked out of synch w/ his receivers
- sure Josh Bidwell punted well but what ever happened to the corner punt out of bounds?
- defensive play calling on the last drive which should have included a few more blitzes


Vote Early, Vote Often

Pro Bowl balloting has been open for about two weeks now and there are several Bucs who deserve to receive a free vacation to Hawaii this year....

The two obvious choices coming out of the NFC are Brett Favre and Tony Romo. Both of whom are leading the NFC in the poorly understood quarterback rating as well as leading the two best teams in the conference.

There are about four quarterbacks to choose from for the last spot: Jeff Garcia, Jon Kitna, Matt Hasselbeck, and Donovan McNabb. McNabb has suffered his yearly injury, which means you can fully expect the Eagles to make another playoff run without McNabb playing. Hassselbeck could be the darkhorse in this race seeing as how the Seahawks could be forced to throw the ball more often with Shaun Alexander out. Kitna will continue to put up impressive yardage and touchdown totals as long as Mike Martz is coaching that offense. Let's take a look at 3 of the quarterbacks stats so far.....

Jeff Garcia: 7.6 yards per completion, 11 TDs, 3 INTs, 96.6 QB rating
Jon Kitna: 7.8 yards per completion, 12 TDs, 11 INTS, 90.2 QB rating
Matt Hasselbeck: 7.2 yards per completion, 17 TDs, 8 INTs, 91.3 QB rating

Our boy Garcia has fewer touchdowns but he also has dramatically fewer interceptions (all of which came in the Jags game oddly enough) which explains his superior QB rating. Kitna and Hasselbeck will both finish the season with superior passing yardage and total touchdowns but that does not mean Garcia is any less vital to his team's success than Hasselbeck or Kitna. Anyone who has watched the Bucs recognizes that the key to their success has been Jeff Garcia, which is why Garcia deserves a trip to the Pro Bowl this year.

If Cadillac was still healthy he would have likely been the clear cut favorite to be the NFC's third representative at runningback for the Pro Bowl. After Adrian Peterson and Brian Westbrook there is a clear dropoff in backs. I voted for Clinton Portis as the 3rd NFC Back based on the excellent rebound season he is having (802 yards, 6 TDs) even while splitting carries with Ladell Betts. I also considered voting for Marion Barber simply because he is one of the most exciting players to watch right now.

After Terrell Owens there is a log jam for the last 3 receiver spots. For the hell of it I will list the contenders and their stats although I expect you to vote for ol' man Galloway anyway.

Larry Fitgerald: 904 yards, 13.7 y/c, 4 TDs
Torry Holt: 755 yards, 12.4 y/c, 5 TDs
Marques Colston: 754 yards, 12.4 y/c, 5 TDs
Bobby Engram: 744 yards, 12.4 y/c, 3 TDs
Kevin Curtis: 722 yards, 16.0 y/c, 4 TDs
Roy Williams: 719 yards, 13.1 y/c, 5 TDs
Joey Galloway: 711 yards, 17.8 y/c, 6 TDs
Bernard Berrian: 709 yards, 13.9 y/c, 2 TDs

If you're looking for a reason to elevate Galloway above everyone else on this list his yards per catch is the best reason. Galloway has done an excellent job of taking a 12 yard reception and turning it into a 30 yard touchdown.

As Mike Alstott has taught us these honors typically go to the players with the most name recognition. There are no reliable stats to measure their performance and the best players are the ones who are rarely recognized.

With Luke Petitgout out for the season the Bucs best lineman has probably been guard Davin Joseph although I could easily be persuaded to pick another Bucs lineman as the best. BJ Askew has also done an excellent job filling in for first Mike Alstott and then Michael Pittman. Maybe this has more to do with Gruden's offense since I've seen Alstott and Pittman do the same thing out of the fullback position but I have been impressed by Askew's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and turn it into a big gain.

D-tackles, like every position on the defense, are more difficult to rank based on their stats. The Football Outsiders made an interesting observation that we often judge offensive players by how well they perform on the field but judge defensive players on how their teams perform when without them. For example, the FO guys look at how Tennessee has struggled without Albert Haynewsworth in the lineup. For a more local example just look at how the Bucs failed to generate a pass rush last season when Simeon Rice was injured.

Anyway, that's a long way of saying you should vote for Chris Hovan at defensive tackle since he has been the lynchpin for the Bucs d-line as they have rotated players in and out. Hovan is the one player the Bucs d-line could least afford to lose.

At outside linebacker even though he has slipped a bit Derrick Brooks is still deserving of a Pro Bowl nod. He has the fourth most tackles among NFC outside linebackers, and more importantly is the leader of the best defense in the NFC. The linebacker nominations typically go to the players on the best defense and it doesn't hurt that Brooks is a well known name. Cato June is a bit more of a question mark as he has played better than Brooks but is not as well known. At the very least one of the two deserves to get to the Pro Bowl.

Barrett Ruud definitely deserves a Pro Bowl nomination, even among a deep field of inside linebackers. He has been the key to the Bucs defensive renaissance, playing the most difficult position in the Tampa Two defense.

Phillip Buchanon has been a pleasant surprise since the Bucs picked him up in the middle of last season. All that was expected of Buchanon was to help out on special teams and maybe be the fourth corner. Instead Buchanon has exceeded expectations and has filled in for the oft-injured Brian Kelly. That being written Ronde Barber is the corner more worthy of the Pro Bowl nod, although I'm willing to hear arguments to the contrary.

No question both Jermaine Phillips and rookie Tanard Jackson deserve Pro Bowl berths. It's amazing how much better the safeties are playing this season. The Bucs are much better at shutting down the run this season and both players have been brought back memories of John Lynch in the Pewter and Red.


NFC South Recap

TAMPA BAY: 6-4 (DIV) 3-0
CAROLINA: 4-6 (DIV) 2-2
NAWLEANS: 4-6 (DIV) 1-2
ATLANTA: 3-7 (DIV) 1-3

I mentioned in week 2 that the Football Outsiders Statistical Predictions had the Bucs winning the NFC South. Those same predictions had the Saints finishing last in the division. When you take into account that Atlanta and Carolina both lost their starting quarterbacks for the season (which as the Bucs learned last year) their respective season's went down the tubes, the predictions by FO appear amazingly prescient despite the fact that the FO guys did their best to explain away these computer results.

In other words, the NFC South is once again the Bucs division to lose, the way it has been since the division has existed (even if the division has only existed for five years).

While I was not as opposed to the Mario Williams over Reggie Bush move as most people, I still believe Houston made a mistake not drafting a runningback. Personally I have avoided the Reggie Bush bandwagon for the same reason I warned people against jumping on the Saints bandwagon....all hype and no substance. Sure Bush gained a 100+ total yards in the game but look closer at his stats, he gained only 34 yards on 15 carries against a less than impressive Texans defense. Additionally he had a key fumble on the goal line when he tried try to run up the middle. Mario Williams, on the other hand, had a sack a forced fumble.

Of concern to me is a Saints team which just got back the Next Terrell Owens (in a good way). Andre Johnson has that extremely rare combination of size and speed that only two other receivers in the NFL have (the third being Calvin Johnson). The Bucs have excelled at shutting down opposing offenses but outside of Washington it looks like Houston poses the next biggest test on the Bucs schedule.

I mentioned it last week but it's worth repeating, the Panthers will be scary next season. Assuming they get Jake Delhomme back they should have a slew of draft picks on the defense, in addition to a number of developing players on the offense and defense already. This was the Bucs blue print for success this season and assuming Petrino figures out how to coach an NFL team (admittedly a big if at this point) the NFC South could be very competitive next season much the same way the AFC South is this season. Notice how I leave the Saints out of this equation.


Bucs 31, Falcons 7

Now that was the kind of dominating performance I was hoping we would see from the team. Sure it was against a team which has given up and for some odd reason started Byron Leftwich at quarterback. (For all the hype about Petrino being a great offensive mind he has made some highly questionable moves on the offense. Starting Leftwich over a luke warm hand in Joey Harrington. Giving Warrick Dunn more carries than Jerious Norwood. Either Petrino is angling for a high draft pick or he just doesn't care anymore.)

Anyway, to be honest my attention shifted from this game during the first half and I changed the channel at halftime. Quite simply, this was a game the Bucs should have won and they did so.

+ Galloway, who has become a frequent occupier of this space
+ Bucs D, which except for a garbage TD would have shut out the Falcons offense
+ Ronde Barber, w/ his 11th career TD
+ Earnest Graham w/ 100 plus yards rushing and a TD
+ Chris Hovan w/ a sack and the rare d-line INT
+ Alex Smith providing some much needed plays in the receiving game

- I'm sure if I looked for something wrong I could find it but in a blowout win on the road there is little to complain about


Just For The Hell Of It: 2nd Half Predictions

Call me a broken record but I just don't understand how people can continue to pick the Saints over the Bucs for the NFC South, especially after the Saints got crushed by a previously winless Rams team. For those who missed PTI today (one of my favorites sports shows) both Kornheiser and Wilbon picked the Saints to make the playoffs and ignored the Bucs. Now for as much as I enjoy his DC local radio show Kornheiser knows nothing about football despite broadcasting the sport. Wilbon, on the other hand, watches a good number of the games so it was a slap in the face to see him pick the Saints to win the NFC South.

To that effect here are my predictions for the NFC playoff teams:
  1. Green Bay
  2. Dallas
  3. Tampa Bay
  4. Seattle
  5. Detroit
  6. New York
A lot will come down to the Green Bay versus Dallas game which will be in Dallas. I'm going with Green Bay in that game since the Dallas secondary can't stop anyone while the Green Bay D can at the very least slow down the Cowboys offense.

The Bucs have a game and a half lead on the Saints and just as easy as a schedule down the road. Both teams only play one more team which currently has a winning record; Washington for the Bucs and Tampa Bay for the Saints. Throw in a feisty Eagles team the Saints play in Week 16 and the schedules are about equal.

The NFC West is garbage. It's a shame the Bucs didn't play the Seahawks later in the season because the Bucs team which lost in Week 1 to Seattle is completely different from the current team. Ruud's increased level of play is a perfect example of that.

I am very tempted to pick the Skins over the Giants but the way Gibbs is coaching that team right now I just can't rationalize it. I would also love to pick a darkhorse team to make a late run but I just can't rationalize any team making that kinda run out of the NFC. Philly always makes late runs when Donovan McNabb gets hurt but they don't have Jeff Garcia this season (suckers) and still have to play New England, Dallas and the Giants.

And now some predictions....
  • MVP - Tom Brady, this is a "no shit Sherlock" pick so I take no credit for it
  • ROY - Adrian Peterson, see above about "no shit Sherlock"
  • Defensive POY - James Harrison, this is the most wide open race so far with Harrison, his teammate Ike Taylor, Antonio Cromartie, Osi Umenyiora all good canidates. Truth be told I'm probably forgetting some people as well but I'm going with Harrison since he is playing on the best defense in the NFL right (Steelers)
  • Offensive POY - Brett Favre, this award should prob end up going to Brady but Favre has a slight lead in passing yards over Brady (71) and the media love fest for the Something About Mary star will help
  • Comeback POY - Randy Moss, although seeing as how Moss is viewed as the anti-Favre (despite being just as self-centered) I wouldn't be surprised to see some else (like Clinton Portis) get this award.
  • Super Bowl Champions - Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ok not really. The Lombardi is New England's to lose at this point and I see no reason to pick against them (as much as I want to)


NFC South Recap

TAMPA BAY: 5-4 (DIV) 2-0
CAROLINA: 4-5 (DIV) 2-2
NAWLEANS: 4-5 (DIV) 1-2
ATLANTA: 3-6 (DIV) 1-2

Good news for the Bucs, they moved up in the division on a bye week. Although that isn't the first time that has happened in the NFC South. The Panthers moved to the top of the division after their bye in week 7.


During my criticism of the Saints I forgot to include one very important point- the Saints defense can't stop a passing team. I touched on this before the season but New Orleans secondary is the best reason not to pick this team to repeat as division champs. All of the talent is on the d-line, which works well when you are trying to stop the run but in passing situations offenses can go to max protect to negate the Saints rushers.

The Panthers are this year's version of the '06 Bucs, a team with a ton of talent a quarterback unit which resembles a triage unit. With their starting quarterback (Jake Delhomme) out for the season and David Carr also injured the 44 year old Vinny Testeverde got the start. I hereby nominate the Panthers for biggest turnaround next year seeing as how they get Delhomme back and then add some talent on the defense through the draft, a la what the Bucs are doing this season.


Even More Bucs Ecetera (You Didn't Even Have To Ask)

If I learned anything from Swingers it's that LA has the best parties (that and always double down on eleven). Which is why it makes perfect sense for THE OFFICIAL TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS BYE WEEK PARTY to be in the City of Angels. To make things even better everyone's favorite Buccaneer Donald Penn is hosting the soirée, which guarantees Dwight Freeney and Dewayne White can get right in.

(and a big tip o' the ol' hat to Gordy McBlum for tha story)

On a slightly different note, the Saints bandwagon has been filling up at an increasingly alarming rate. Don Banks prediction that not only will the Saints win the NFC South but that they will make the Super Bowl is a perfect example of this. I like Banks and think he is typically spot on but this is the perfect example of over rating a team based on: A) preseason expectations and, B) their last game. People are overlooking the Saints two losses in the division compared to zero losses for the Bucs in the NFC South. It's unlikely the Bucs early December game at New Orleans will decide the division even if the Saints win. Instead it will likely come down to the Bucs last game against Carolina in Tampa Bay.

More importantly, the Saints offense has been exploited by defenses designed to stop the pass. Stats based on passing defense rankings do an excellent job of bearing this out:

Indy - #3 - L
TB - #2 - L
Tenn - #12 - L
Carolina - #16 - L
Seattle - #25 - W
ATL - #15 - W
SF - #14 - W
Jax - #26 - W

With the exception of the Carolina game, which was a narrow win for the Panthers, the Saints have been defeated by quality pass defenses. It's no secret that with Deuce McAllister out the Saints have to throw the ball most of the time, for all the hype Reggie Bush is still nothing more than a poor man's Brian Westbrook aka a receiver disguised as a back. The Saints, much like our Bucs, are fortunate they have a soft schedule down the home stretch with only two teams posing a challenge, the Bucs and Bears. The Tampa Two defense has proven to be the Saints kryptonite. Still I have a tough time buying the Saints as a Super Bowl team much less NFC South champions.


More Essential Bucs History (and a rare midday post)

To piggyback off my post from yesterday there has been some conversation on what the largest spread ever has been for a game as the Pats are playing the Jets (revenge for Spygate) and 'Phins (who are just plain bad) later this season. The Pats have seen a 17 point spread a few times this season (against Buffalo, Cleveland and Miami) and have covered each time. In fact the Pats are perfect against the spread for the season (although technically they pushed on the 4 point spread against the Colts). Which leads to the question, will we see the highest spread ever in the NFL this season?

First off, we need to know what the highest spread ever has been. Apparently this honor belongs to the '76 Bucs, who were 24 point underdogs to the defending Super Bowl Champion Steelers. For the record Steve Spurrier's team lost to Pittsburgh by a score of 42-0. Kudos to Dr. Z at SI for figuring this out. For all the grief BucStats gives him, the guy is one of the more knowledgeable NFL guys out there.

Anyway, I doubt we will see a spread that high this season. I could see 21 points but even that is getting into rarely seen levels for the NFL. Which means Steve Spurrier and his 0-14 Bucs team will likely keep at least one record for mediocrity this season.


Bucs Bits

There has been a good deal of hub bub about the Pats run at the '72 Dolphins perfect record but there is another perfect record which could go unchallenged. The Bucs perfect losing season of '76. Since the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970 the very first Bucs team is the only team to lose every single game it played. (The '82 Baltimore Colts went 0-8-1 in a strike shortened season but technically that doesn't count.) This years 'Phins team is making a serious run at that Bucs record.

Only two teams are winless so far, the Phins and the Rams. Considering their best players have returned from injury (Bulger and Stephen Jackson) and they still get to play the Cards, Falcons and 49ers St Louis is bound to win a game eventually. Miami, on the other hand, has lost their best player for the season (Ronnie Brown), their quarterback could be done with his career (Trent Green), and traded away their best receiver (Chris Chambers). Miami's best chances are at home against the Jets and Bengals, and I'm willing to bet Miami will be an underdog in both.

Steve Spurrier and the '76 Bucs better watch their backs this season.

On a slightly different note, Sports Illustrated released their list of best NFL stadium experiences with the Ray Jay coming in at #17. Typically I stay away from lists since they are purely arbitrary but this list attempts to quantify the stadium experience. One of the better points raised by the break down of Tampa Bay is in the Accessability part, which addresses the horrific road situation after games. 'Cause of whatever misguided reasoning the police shut down certain rods which would clearly alleviate traffic. I experienced this two weeks ago at the Jags game when my family tried to get to 275 only to be forced to go in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go and then cut through a neighborhood. How is having a massive amount of traffic cut through neighborhoods better than keeping traffic on the main roads?


NFC South Recap

TAMPA BAY: 5-4 (DIV) 2-0
CAROLINA: 4-4 (DIV) 2-1
NAWLEANS: 4-4 (DIV) 1-2
ATLANTA: 2-6 (DIV) 1-1

First off, the Bucs Midseason Recap is up at the Sticks. Many thanks to Scott from BucStats and John from BoltsMag for making that happen.

It's official, the Saints are back. I was bullish on the "Saints are back" story considering they had won against mostly bad teams with the exception of a primetime win at Seattle. But as the Bucs learned last week the Jags are a tough team with a very good defense. I caught most of this game and the Saints had little trouble moving the ball against the Jags. On the bright side for Tampa Bay the Jags defense is focused more on stopping the run while the Bucs Tampa Two defense is better designed to stop a passing team like the Saints.

This game was in no way shape or form as close as the score indicates. I fail to understand how David Carr, who has experience throwing to an elite receiver in Andre Johnson, can not get the ball to Steve Smith.

Neither one of these teams won in October. If they had not played each other they very likely would have gone all of November without a win between them.


Tampa Bay 17, Arizona 10

This game was much closer than it should have been. The Bucs dominated the first three and a half quarters but failed the scoreboard again failed to reflect the statistical advantage the Bucs had over their opponent. I have harped on this before but the Bucs offense lacks playmakers (with the obvious exception of Galloway) who can get into the end zone on a consistent basis.

+ Galloway AGAIN disproving the notion that old people can not contribute to society
+ Tanard Jackson has turned out to be the steal of the draft, coming up w/ an INT
+ Earnest Graham didn't do anything all that special but he was consistent
+ Bucs secondary limiting one of the best passing attacks
+ Maurice Stovall on punt returns

- Jeff Garcia running the ball, would it kill him to throw it away and avoid injury?
- going against an immobile qb in Kurt Warner the Bucs failed to ring up a single sack
- not to pile on but come one Alex Smith, that was an easy touchdown catch
- followed by a miss on an easy field goal by Matt Bryant
- Trueblood flipping his shit again and trying to start fights


NFC South: Recap

CAROLINA: 4-3 (DIV) 2-1
TAMPA BAY: 4-4 (DIV) 2-0
NAWLEANS: 3-4 (DIV) 1-2
ATLANTA: 1-6 (DIV) 1-1

First off, I am awesome. I have been participating in a blogger picks league organized by the SportsFrog and after an 11-2 week I am tied for the lead with The Mirl, who if memory serves is a Ravens fan. So the way I see I might as well be on a Mission from God to beat the Fan of God's Linebacker. (Although my memory is almost always hazzy so take the above with a grain of salt.)

It would be hypocritical to criticize the Panthers for getting humiliated by the Colts after something similar happened to the Bucs but I will do so anyway. The Panthers have yet to win a game at home and it is an absolut travashamockery that this team has a winning record. Sure they have lost Jake Delhomme for the season but Steve Smith's disappearance from this offense has been mystifying. For all his shortcomings at least Delhomme was skilled at getting the ball to Smith, something which Tesetverde and Carr have failed at.

Sure the Saints have won three straight but I would hesitate to say they are back. It helps when only one of those teams has a winning record (Seattle). I will give New Orleans this, out of all the teams in the NFC South they have the most potential to challenge the Bucs for the division title. The offense has apparently gotten back on track but the defense is still a mess, and it will be interesting to see how they fair against Jacksonville this weekend.


Gameday: Jags @ Bucs

Sticks game preview can be found here.

I like the Bucs in this game for the same reason as the rest of America, Garrad is injured and the Jags are starting a former PRACTICE SQUAD RECEIVER in Garrad's place. It doesn't help Quinn Gray that this is his first start at quarterback ever.

In response to Garrad's absence I'm sure the Jags will pound the rock even more so than usual which means we will see plenty of Fred Taylor and possibly injured Maurice Jones-Drew. The key for the Bucs will be their ability to stop the run.

Reason #195 the NFL is Retarded
There is only one early game on in the Tampa Bay area....the sure-fire blowout Giants game. I am in Tampa Bay this weekend for the Bucs game which means no Sunday Ticket for me. To be fair I have no idea if the NFL is to blame, more likely than not the TV networks are to blame. But the NFL makes a much more convenient target for my wrath, so screw you Roger Goodall.

JAGS 24, BUCS 23
Close does not begin to describe how today's game played out. The Bucs had multiple opportunties to win the game but failed to take advantage of those opportunities. This was a game which came down to a few plays which could have gone either way.

+ Ronde Barber had a few big plays including a 4th down tackle behind the line
+ Old Man Galloway bouncing back w/ 115 yards and a TD
+ Bryant has been quietly reliable w/ 3 field goals in this game
+ BJ Askew catching the ball, shades of the A-Train when he caught the ball
+ Ruud who came up strong against a Jags team which consistently pounded the rock
+ safeties Jackson and Phillips who did an excellent job of plugging holes in running lanes
+ was that a Maurice Stovall sighting? 5 catches for 47 yards plus a blocked punt
+ Jeff Garcia running the ball in the 1st quarter, which was the Bucs ONLY offense

- Jeff Garcia throwing the ball, yes he had 267 yards and a TD but he also had 3 INTs and under threw Hilliard (?) on the last drive for what would have been a first down
- Garcia again for his first INT for a TD, swear to God I called Galloway for a hook before the play which goes to show you there is a certain amount of predicatability there
- Galloway returning punts, he let a punt go over his head in the 4th which cost the Bucs at least 30 yards
- officiating, I normally hate to single out the refs but they missed some calls including a spearing against Garcia


NFC South Recap

CAROLINA: 4-2 (DIV) 2-1
TAMPA BAY: 4-3 (DIV) 2-0
NAWLEANS: 2-4 (DIV) 1-2
ATLANTA: 1-6 (DIV) 1-1

With a bye week the Panthers pass the Bucs for first place in the division. Shame the Panthers don't have a bye every week.

In case you have not seen wide receiver and worst player in Madden Mark Jones is out for the season. Which makes Jones the fourth player on the offense to suffer injuries knocking him out for the season. And while Jones' absence at the receiver position will barely be felt his loss will impact the kick return game. The Bucs primary kick and punt returner the Bucs will have to turn to some combination of Ike Hilliard, Phillip Buchanon, and/or Torrie Cox. I don't like using Ike Hilliard as the punt returner, he's not very effective and is far too important to an offense which is already thin at receiver. (Speaking of receiver depth, where the hell has Maurice Stovall been? He was supposed to blow up this season but has been a bust.)

Side note: I know every team suffers injuries but it seems like the Bucs are suffering a good deal of injuries this season and an especially high number of season ending injuries.

New Orleans 22, Atlanta 16
I'm not sure the Saints are back as I am certain that the Falcons are really, miserably bad. I had soured on Reggie Bush this season since I think he is vastly over rated for a few big plays while his flaws are over looked. (Maybe I would have more reason to doubt myself if the sports media didn't have the habit of over rating players similar players, see Vick, Michael and Hall, Dante.) Bush makes a few big plays but he typically does so by running to the outside as opposed to a back like Maurice Jones Drew who gets his big plays by running up the middle of the defense and breaking tackles. It seemed to me like Bush had shied away from contact which didn't bode well for his future. But then his tough touchdown run against the Falcons made me doubt my theory so now I'm back on the fence on the USC back.


That Was Ugly

By every single statistical measurement the Bucs should have won today's game. Instead the Bucs committed a litany of mistakes and gave the game to an inferior Lions team. Let's count the way things went wrong.
  1. Fumble by Jeff Garcia which was fortunately reversed
  2. Lions block Josh Bidwell punt
  3. Garcia fumbles AGAIN, this one was not over turned
  4. Garcia fumbled a third time, this time at the goal line
  5. Bucs defense allows Calvin Johnson to run 30 yards on reverse for a TD
  6. A total of 6 penalties on the offensive line including 3 on Jeremy Trueblood
It's painful to focus on the Calvin Johnson play since he was so close to being a Buc but that 30 yard run touchdown really stands for me as the difference between the Lions and the Bucs. Obviously if Megatron does not get that touchdown the Bucs win the game but more imporantly it points out the lack of play makers on the offense for the Bucs. With the exception of Mr. Grey Beard aka Joey Galloway the Bucs don't have an offensive weapon who can turn the game around a la Calvin Johnson. Chris Collinsworth commented on NBC's over produced Football Night in America that the Bucs reminded him of the Jets, a team that dinks and dunks but does nothing outstanding. (Tiki Barber disagreed with that sentiment but then again as Eli Manning pointed Tiki's opinions aren't worth the paper they're printed on.) Garcia has been effecient but with the loss of Cadillac, Michael Pittman, Alex Smith and now Michael Clayton the Bucs don't have a lot of play makers left on the offense.

+ Earnest Graham making a surprising showing as a receiver w/ 13 receptions for 99 yards
+ Ike Hilliard, whom the Lions went w/ the unusual strategy of leaving uncovered
+ the Bucs D which did well limiting the Lions offense to 23 points
+ on side kick #1: 1st time i've seen that kick formation and surprisingly it worked

- everything i listed above
- where was Joey Galloway? only 5 catches for 46 yards

I'm heading down to Tampa for the Jaguars game next week, a matchup I'm not feeling at all confident about the Bucs chances to win.


Welcome Michael Bennett

With little depth at the position the Bucs traded for Chiefs back Michael Bennett. BucStats speculates that at the most the Bucs gave up a fourth rounder since that was Minnesota's asking price for Mewelde Moore. Which is not a bad deal for the Bucs as Bennett has the speed and hands to compliment Earnest Graham's power running.

And while Bennett appears to be a replacement for Michael Pittman for the next six or seven weeks, the new addition could end up taking over Pittman's duties for the long term. The two have very similar skill sets and fill the team's role as third down backs. Pittman has done an excellent job in that role for the Bucs but in the NFL all it takes is one injury to loss your job.


NFC South Recap

TAMPA BAY: 4-2 (DIV) 2-0
CAROLINA: 4-2 (DIV) 2-1
NAWLEANS: 1-4 (DIV) 0-2
ATLANTA: 1-5 (DIV) 0-1

If there has been any kind of a consistent theme in this space it has been the criticism directed towards "Offensive Genius Gruden" for failing to upgrade the offense, which is why it warmed my heart (and possibly cockles) to see the emminently readable BucStats take up the same cause. Just looking at the stats the offense has been stagnant if not regressive since Gruden took over. The best explanation I can find for this is that the offensive talent has not been there at the same level that it has been since the Dungy days. Yes, Gruden has invested draft picks on the offense (Clayton, Simms, Joseph, Trueblood, Buenning, Sears, Cadillac, Alex Smith, Stovall) but the Bucs have also lost a number of players on the offense through either free agency/being cut (Keyshawn, McCardell, Griese, Thomas Jones, Warrick Dunn) or injury (Simms, Alstott, Griese again, Joseph, Cadillac, Pittman, Petitgout, Buenning).

What am I getting at? The Bucs are about even, if not worse off, than they were under Dungy when you only consider offensive talent. The line has been slightly upgraded, as has the quarterback position. But the runningback position (even when Cadillac was healthy) and the receivers are worse under Gruden than when Dungy was in town. Which is no fault of Gruden since with the exception of the Griese release the moves have made sense or not been his fault.

Point of the story?

Gruden is deserving of a pass when you take a look at the offense. The play calling is clearly superior to when Mike Shula was in town, and The Garcia Renaissance is in full effect. The offensive line is young and talented and on its way to gelling into the dominant line Gruden had in Oakland. Anyway, if you're going to go after Gruden for anything, criticize him for his questionable drafting.

The $8 Million Dollar Man proved that you can rebuild him, you can make him stronger. In the battle of two former Bucs quarterbacks Rattay lost and Testaverde won. Which begs the question, does anyone really win when you have to watch these two quarterbacks play?

Was that a Drew Brees sighting Sunday night? In notching their first win of the season the Saints further laid claim to the tenet that the NFC is garbage by laying waste to a reeling Seahawks team. It remains to be seen if the Saints are back or if Sunday was an aberration (I'm banking on the latter).

We're six games into the season and already the Falcons have given up on their coach. And Petrino doesn't have Vick to take the blame, although I'm sure the fans in Atlanta will find a way to make Vick the scapegoat for this season's woes. Atlanta is horrible and if they some how beat the Bucs this season I may have to commit seppuku.


Gameday: Titans @ Bucs

Sticks preview can be found here.

Despite the commonly held belief I'm not a big fan of Vince Young, he's not nearly developed enough as a quarterback to pick apart defenses with his arm. What I would be worried about if I was Jon Gruden is the Titans defense, which is vicious, like sid vicious. I think the Titans have the better defense and what with the all the backs Gruden has been losing Jeff Garcia will have to carry the offense.

Brian Kelly is doubtful to play. Kelly has been struggling with injuries all season, but thankfully Phillip Buchanon has been a diamond in the rough for the Bucs.

It doesn't show up in the stats but Earnest Grahams having a really good game. On the last drive before half time he did a good job of reaching behind him to grab a bad pitch by Garcia when the play could have easily been a turnover in the Titans favor. He also made a very nice catch where he got hit as soon as he caught the ball. The Titans defense has done a great job of getting to Graham at the goal line which has limited his rushing yards but if Graham plays like this the rest of the season the Bucs will be in good shape.

Where has Joey Galloway gone? He has only two catches for 14 yards, and has disappeared from the offense the last few weeks.

Bucs 13, Titans 10
Today's game was a great rebound win for the Bucs, especially considering how close it was the entire time. Credit the Titans defense for limiting a tough running Earnest Graham while constantly putting pressure on Jeff Garcia. But today's game is why Gruden wanted Garcia so badly in the offseason, if that had been Chris Simms or Bruce Gradkowski back there the Bucs would have lost today's game.

+ Jeff Garcia w/ season high 274 passing yards & a HUGE game winning drive at the end
+ Matt Bryant, who has quietly been making game winning field goals
+ Bucs defense which swarmed a Titans team which loves to run the ball
+ Tanard Jackson doing his best John Lynch impression
+ Joey Galloway making the Titans secondary his bitch
+ Phillip Buchanon making people forget about Brian Kelly
+ Ronde Barber putting himself in position to make plays

- Ronde Barber THRICE failing to make the above mentioned plays
- Alex Smith's ankle injury on an offense which was already injury plagued
- Bucs defense on the Titans last touchdown drive
- Pass rush is a STILL a mess, Bucs sacks have all been coverage sacks


This is why you don't get drunk in Tijuana (or possibly Ybor)

Good to see Vince Young is not disproving that Wonderlic score.

(HT: fanIQ.com)

NFC South Recap

TAMPA BAY: 3-2 (DIV) 2-0
CAROLINA: 3-2 (DIV) 2-1
NAWLEANS: 1-3 (DIV) 0-2
ATLANTA: 1-4 (DIV) 0-1

Sometimes you hit the road and sometimes the road hits you. Sunday's road trip to Indianapolis would qualify as the latter. The Colts, even without Addai and Harrison, were the model of efficiency. Frequent commenter t.k. sums it up the best...
The Colts just dinked & dunked the defense to hell, and the key stat of [the Colts was their ability] to complete 75% of their third-down plays shows it. 12 of 16, and the four they didn't make were followed by field goal, punt, fourth-down conversion, and field goal. We played it totally clean but even that's not enough against these guys. Aiyiyiyiyi...
I'm not so sure what that last aiy... part was about but I agree with the above sentiment; the Colts with Peyton Manning are an offensive juggernaut. The Bucs secondary played well but the front four have to do a better job of pressuring the quarterback. A good number of the Bucs sacks or qb hurries have been because the secondary is blanketing receivers, not because the defensive lineman have been getting to the quarterback quickly enough. The key to the Tampa Two is the ability of the front four to get to the quarterback, something which the Bucs have struggled with this season. Gaines Adams has been a dissapointment and is clearly not ready to play in the NFL. He has all the physical skills to be a top tier defensive end but looks uncomfortable playing the position.

If the Bucs pass rush is hurting then the run game is on life support. The Bucs only chance to beat the Colts the was to establish the run, something which they failed miserably to do. The first four runs all lost yards and the Bucs finished the game with only 17 yards rushing. On the flip side the passing game was efficient (Garcia went 18 for 23) but with Michael Pittman now out 2 months the Bucs are going to be in trouble if they can't find a run game (or a runningback).

If the Bucs have any competition for the division title it will come from Carolina, although right now the Panthers don't look like much in the way of competition. I don't believe David Carr is a big step down from Jake Delhomme but at least Delhomme was on the same wave length with Steve Smith. Smith is the Panthers only offensive weapon, but he has struggled since Carr became the starter.

The Falcons had a very good chance to win this game at the end but as has been their MO this season they failed to capitalize on the opporutnity. With about 2 minutes left in the game the Falcons had the ball in the red zone and couldn't score a touchdown to tie the game. Bringing in Byron Leftwich at the end was a horrible move and if I didn't know better I would have thought Petrino was trying to throw the game. On the bright side, this game gave me a lot more faith in the Bucs chances against the Titans next week.


Gameday: Bucs @ Colts

My Sticks preview is here.

If Addai is really out then I like the Bucs to upset the Colts. Both teams have been bitten by the injury bug but the Colts have been hit harder, especially on defense. With Bob Sanders (and to a lesser extent Rob Morris) out the Colts will have a difficult time stopping the run. Hopefully Gruden will not repeat his mistake from New York last season when he forced the pass when it was to his advantage to run the ball. I like Graham up the middle and then Garcia working off the playaction to Galloway deep.

I'm in Arizona today so my access to the internet (and possibly the game) will be limited. Might have to wait until late tomorrow for a recap.


Better Know a Potential Draft Pick

Facing the very likely possibility that Cadillac Williams' career could be over, I figured now would be a good time to introduce a new gimmick here at the BBB. Throughout the season we will take a look at college players playing a position of need for the Bucs. First up, runningbacks which it now looks very likely to Bucs will have to draft on the first day.

164.3 yds/game, 6 TDs
The manbeast. If you haven't seen McFadden yet you are missing out on one of the best players in college football. He's a lock for a top five draft pick which would put him out of the Bucs reach as well as they have been playing.

STEVE SLATON (West Virginia)
111.2 yds/game, 9 TDs
Overlooked coming out of high school, Slaton fell to West Virginia. An undersized runner with an extra gear Slaton can also catch balls out of the backfield. Slaton's 54 yard performance against South Florida is a little discomforting but then again he was limited to 13 carries for 4.2 yards a carry against a very good Bulls defense.

124 yds/game, 5 TDs
RYAN TORAIN (Arizona St)
102 yds/game, 5 TDs
I have not seen either on of these guys play but Phil Steele is high on them and rates them as the #3 and #4 backs in college football. Maybe if ESPN has decided to play the Cal/Oregon game on the east coast I would have some more info on Stewart. Torain, good luck getting on the east coast until you play USC and their shut down defense.

117 yds/game, 9 TDs
The only Pac-10 back I've seen, Forsett is another speedster. Impressively, Forsett had his best game (156 yards, 1 TD) against a very good defense in Tennessee.

MIKE HART (Michigan)
152.2 yds/game, 7 TDs
An Emmitt Smith type back, Hart has excelled despite less than impressive physical attributes. Not the fastest back or the biggest, Hart has exceptional vision and patience. He has been Michigan's only offensive weapon and leads the NCAA in carries by a signifact margin, 157 to the next closest of 139.

RAY RICE (Rutgers)
132 yds/game, 9 TDs
A similar back to Hart, Rice has been the engine for the Rutgers resurgence machine. He is a better athlete than Hart and, again, very similar to Emmitt Smith.

With the obvious exception of McFadden there is no back that jumps out at me as an obvious selection. I was high on Slaton until his game against USF, although USF was very lucky to get out to an early lead in that game thus negating Slaton as a back. Whomever the Bucs potentially select I hope they draft a back who can catch the ball. Pittman has done a good job filling in obvious passing downs but the Bucs need a back who stay on the field no matter the down. In Gruden's west coast offense it would help if the back could be involved in the passing game.

There might be a few guys I add onto this list, and a few I take off as the season progresses. Additionally, I will take a look at other positions in the college football realm.