Observation Deck: Bucs-Panthers review

The view from the "Observation Deck" this week is pretty clear after the Bucs beat the Panthers to improve to 3-1. Today I write about three big moments from Sunday's game, dish out game balls, take the temperature under Jon Gruden and tally up my predictions.

Let's take a break from the Carnell Williams and Luke Petitgout talk and embrace the fact that this Buccaneers team is 3-1 after the first quarter of the season and in control of the NFC South.

That is what head coach Jon Gruden would like you to do, anyway.

"I'm just very proud of our football team," Gruden said on Monday. "I want to focus my comments today on this team and how they're rallying around each other. We have a lot of confidence in this team and we have to move on."

He's right. That's the nature of the NFL. Players get hurt. Sometimes players get hurt and are out for the season. The Buccaneers now must find a way to overcome that issue.

I won't dwell much on that today. I'm working on a special Observation Deck for Tuesday on the impact those injuries will have on the team. For the moment, here are three key moments from Sunday's game that propelled the Bucs to that 20-7 win over the Panthers.

First that opening drive was stellar. The Bucs have not set the tone like that on offense in a long time. They went 11 plays, the length of the field, converted a key third down and chewed up about seven minutes of clock. When Jeff Garcia popped into the end zone to end that drive, you could feel the Panthers' hopes of winning that game popping, too. There aren't many things more demoralizing than giving up that sort of drive that early in the game.

Second, the Bucs defense made that lead stick. The Bucs forced the Panthers three-and-out on the two of the first three drives, and forced punts on the first six. Any hope the Panthers had of bouncing back from that opening touchdown withered away by the end of the first half. That defense simply wouldn't allow the Panthers to get anything going offensively until it was way too late.

Third, the way the Bucs finished that drive after Williams' injury. The Bucs knew his season was done. That's why they all came over to the other side of the field to support him. That could have been a major turning point in the game. The Bucs were only up 7-0. While they were in Panthers territory thanks to Williams, the drive could have easily sputtered.

But the Bucs didn't let it. They scored on that drive and that was an important moment in the game, and perhaps the season. Maybe the momentum of that game changes if the Bucs are forced to punt instead of taking a 14-0 lead. Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference. But the Bucs sent a statement by scoring after Williams' injury that they won't fall apart if one of their key parts leaves the game.

That's a message that may resonate if the Bucs are able to overcome those injuries and continue their course toward a possible division title and playoff berth. But that's for another column. On to the rest of the review.

Game balls

LT Donald Penn: Came in with no warm-up and did a fine job replacing Luke Petitgout. Now let's see how he does against Dwight Freeney.

CB Phillip Buchanon : Six tackles and two pass breakups in place of Brian Kelly. He did the lion's share of work on Steve Smith in coverage.

QB Jeff Garcia : He certainly went a long way toward keeping the ship steady when Carnell Williams and Luke Petitgout went down.

RT Jeremy Trueblood : Held Julius Peppers without a sack. Has he given up a sack this season?

WR Ike Hilliard: We're taking this guy for granted. If Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall don't want the No. 2 job, fine. Give it to the guy that does. Hilliard is certainly playing like one.

The disappointments

RB Carnell Williams and LT Luke Petitgout : Not in them, for them. They were each on their way to very good seasons.

WR Maurice Stovall : I saw him in the locker room on Monday. First time I had seem him in ages.

Losing the shutout: I guess I'm just looking for things to quibble about at this point.

The Gruden Heat-O-Meter

Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden entered this season on the hot seat. Each week I'll take the temperature under that seat.

Last week: 4; Now: 2.

We're talking about Carnell Williams and Luke Petitgout now, and how their injuries will affect the team. We're not talking about how Jon Gruden needs to go. So far, whatever these guys did in the offseason seems to be working.

I doubt the heat will come up with a loss to Indy on Sunday, either. The Bucs don't need to win that game as much as they do at least two of the next four after that.

The Scorecard

I made 10 predictions before the game. How did I do? Let's check, shall we?

Offensive

1. QB Jeff Garcia will go his fourth straight week without an interception and clear 250 yards passing for the first time this year. Yes and no. Garcia didn't throw a pick, but he didn't even clear 200 yards, as the Bucs offensive line pushed around the Panthers front four all day to the tune of 182 rushing yards. The Bucs didn't need Garcia to go crazy.

2. RB Carnell Williams will rush for 75 yards on Sunday. More importantly, he won't fumble. Again, partial credit. He didn't fumble. But he left the game in the first quarter having gained 41 yards. It's a shame. The way the offensive line blocked, Williams could have had his first 100-yard day of the season.

3. WR Joey Galloway will take advantage of a soft Panthers secondary for his second 100-yard receiving game of the season, plus a touchdown. Galloway caught one pass. Ike Hilliard had the big day, catching seven passes for 114 yards. Those deep middles were open, just as I predicted.

4. RT Jeremy Trueblood will battle Panthers LE Julius Peppers to a draw, giving up a sack but reducing Peppers' impact on the game with consistent play. I'd declare Jeremy the winner here. Peppers had two tackles and no sacks. Trueblood kept him out of Garcia's grill all day.

5. The Buccaneers will lead from the beginning of the game and not fall behind, though the Panthers will likely tie the game at least once. Can I get full credit here? I said "likely tie." The Bucs led from their first drive and never lost control.

Defense

1. DE Patrick Chukwurah will have an immediate impact when he plays on Sunday, due to his speed and a lack of film the Panthers will have on the formerly injured end. Gruden singled him out. He had a sack and a nice special teams play — and he's not quite 100 percent yet.

2. The Buccaneers will get more pressure on Panthers QB David Carr than they did last week on Rams QB Marc Bulger, but it likely won't result in more than two sacks. Partial credit. The pressure was there on Sunday, but the Bucs actually sacked David Carr three times. From a pass rush standpoint, it was the front four's best game so far.

3. But, the pressure will yield two interceptions by Carr, one of which will be returned for a touchdown. Nope. Carr only threw one, to Jermaine Phillips, and he went to the ground to catch it.

4. The Bucs secondary will take a hit on Sunday, as the talented Steve Smith will catch a deep one for a touchdown. Wrong again. The Bucs limited Smith to five catches for 32 yards. He's never been that much of a non-factor in a Bucs-Panthers game — unless he was injured.

5. The Buccaneers will allow Panthers RB DeShaun Foster no more than 85 yards rushing. Correct. And I was a bit surprised. Foster only gained 64 yards. The Bucs limited the ground game to 99 yards. They could have used more production to take the heat off of Carr.

Prediction

I had the Bucs winning 23-16. The final was 20-7. I'm 3-1 this season in picking the winner (twice the Buccaneers. I took Seattle in the season opener).

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.


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