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I get back from the game I leave you with this image from the Onion titled "Vinny Testeverde Touchdown Dance Hopelessly Out-Of-Date."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