Observation Deck: Bucs-Titans review

Why was Sunday's win so big for Tampa Bay? What Titans player should the Bucs go after in free agency next spring? Who earned game balls and who were disappointments on Sunday? Find out in my "Observation Deck" premium game review of Tampa Bay's 13-10 win over Tennessee

Give these Buccaneers credit. They're certainly a resilient bunch.

I doubt most football observers would have blamed the Bucs for tucking into a fetal position after consecutive weeks in which they lost RB Carnell Williams, LT Luke Petitgout and RB Michael Pittman. After their lost to Indianapolis, these Bucs looked like they might be on their way.

But give them credit for gutting through a 13-10 win over Tennessee on Sunday under duress. The Titans defense gave the Bucs offense all it could handle. Titans backup Kerry Collins played a nice game in relief of Vince Young. The Bucs pass rush could have been better. The Bucs running game could have been A LOT better. The Bucs offense put the defense in bad positions, and for the most part the defense responded.

Seems like old times, eh?

"We knew it was going to be tough," Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway said.

In fact, anyone that say Tennessee's win over Atlanta last week knew it was going to be tough. But the Bucs needed this win for two reasons:

First, for the confidence factor. Tampa Bay had not won a close game yet this season. Sure, if the run game had produced more, or the pass rush had been a little more productive, it might not have been as close. But the fact is the Bucs were tied 10-10 with a little over a minute left and calmly put together a two-minute drill that led to a game-winning field goal.

It's the kind of finish that can send a team's confidence level through the roof.

"It's real high (confidence), real high," Bucs defensive tackle Jovan Haye said. "Four and two sounds a lot better than three and three."

That's especially true on a day when the Carolina Panthers — with Vinny Testaverde starting at quarterback — beat Arizona to keep pace with the Bucs.

Second, the Bucs are in a crucial stretch of the season — I think I've said this before. Next week the Bucs go to Detroit, a tough but winnable game. The following week they host Jacksonville, a tough but winnable game. Then, it's Arizona at home. They're tougher than you think. But that one's winnable, too.

After the Bucs started 3-1, I said if the Bucs were 6-3 at the bye, they should be happy about that. That was before all the injuries. Now, if the Bucs can get to 6-3 at the bye they should be ecstatic. The fact that the Bucs were able to win under such pressure-filled circumstances on Sunday bodes well for the rest of the season.

These are exactly the kind of games the Bucs won in 2005 when they won a division title.

It's important to see what sort of character this team is made out of," quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "When the going gets tough, how will this team respond? How will we fight through adversity? How do we keep it together as a team and plays 60-plus minutes, potentially? Today was one of those days where, offensively, it was tough all day long."

What are these Bucs made out of? Tougher timber than anyone expected when the season began. Sunday was the proof.

One quick note: If the Bucs don't make a play for Titans DT Albert Haynesworth in the offseason, there's something wrong with Bucs management. He'll be an unrestricted free agent, and he'll cost them some coin. But after watching him for two games he could be the Buccaneers' answer at under tackle. He's disruptive against the run and pass and, up until he re-aggravated his ankle injury early in Sunday's game, he was nearly unblockable. The Titans will certainly want to pay him. But I'm sold on Haynesworth. He can be Tampa Bay's next Warren Sapp. He has all the tools they're looking for.

News and notes

WR Ike Hilliard started his 100th career game on Sunday. … TE Jerramy Stevens actually started on Sunday, as the Bucs began the game with a two-tight end set. It was his first start as a Buc.

Record book

PK Matt Bryant is now seventh in team history in scoring. He now has 203 points and trails TE Jimmy Giles (204) for sixth place. … WR Joey Galloway's third quarter touchdown catch was his 26th as a Buc (including one punt return). He is now tied with RB Warrick Dunn for sixth in team history in total touchdowns. … The receiving TD also moved Galloway into fourth place in team history in receiving TDs (25).

Career firsts

DE Gaines Adams recorded his first career sack, touching down QB Vince Young in the first quarter. … DE Patrick Chukwurah made his first career fumble recovery in the second quarter.

Career and season-highs

FB B.J. Askew tied a career long with his 17-yard reception in the first quarter. He also tied a career high with three receptions. … PK Matt Bryant's 43-yard game-winning field goal was his longest of the season. … WR Michael Clayton's 39-yard catch in the second quarter was his longest of the season. He also had a season-high in receptions (2) and receiving yards (53). Clayton also surpassed 2,000 receiving yards (2,010). … QB Jeff Garcia's 69-yard TD pass to Galloway tied for Garcia's season-long completion. He hooked up with Galloway on a 69-yard TD against New Orleans.

Defensive notes

Tampa Bay has yet to allow a first-half point in three home games this season. … CB Phillip Buchanon's second-quarter interception was his second of the season and 15th of his career. … DE Kevin Carter recorded his 99th career sack in the fourth quarter. … DT Jovan Haye recorded his team-leading third sack in the fourth quarter.

Offensive notes

QB Jeff Garcia has a streak of 164 attempts without an interception, dating back to last year in Philadelphia. It's the longest current streak in the league and the longest of Garcia's career. Garcia has had streaks of 163 and 150 attempts without an interception previously. … The offensive line did not yield a sack for the third time this season.

Game balls

CB Phillip Buchanon: Why did the Raiders and Texans let this guy go? He's definitely grown into a terrific Cover 2 corner. Keeping Buchanon may go down as one of the Bucs' savviest offseason moves.

QB Jeff Garcia : Don't keep asking yourself, "What would the Bucs be like if they had signed Garcia in 2003?" It'll just depress you. Six games with no turnovers and, statistically, Sunday was his best game against a solid Tennessee defense.

WRs Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard : God should patent Galloway's legs and charge prospective wide receivers a fee for its use. Imagine the mansion that patent could fund? Hilliard is his perfect counterpoint, a possession receiver with a nose for first downs and clutch situations.

DT Jovan Haye : How difficult is it for a defensive tackle to get 10 tackles in a Tampa Bay defense? Haye became the first to do it this season on Sunday.

DE Kevin Carter: He had his best game this season, notching a sack and two hurries, along with four tackles.

The disappointments

The running game : I don't care how good Tennessee's run defense is. The Bucs have to do better. The offensive line didn't get much of a push on running downs, and Earnest Graham didn't show that much explosiveness the few times he did find holes.

DE Patrick Chukwurah : Just a fumble recovery on a day when his pass rush would have meant something. Then he got hurt.

WR Maurice Stovall: We'll see the Magician, as Gruden calls him, in 2008 during training camp. His chance to make an impact offensively has passed.

Third-down defense: Last week the Colts were 12-of-16. This week the Titans were 9-of-16, and these weren't 3rd-and-1 either. It's a disturbing trend for a defense that has played well all season.

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: 2.5; Now: 1.5

That was a big win against a tough football team. Even if the Bucs had lost, I don't think I could have turned up the heat much on Gruden. But the fact that his team came through with a last-minute drive and field goal, despite the offensive struggles in the second half, is a reflection on him and the staff. This game could serve as a springboard for the next three contests, two of which look winnable (I'm not sure about Jacksonville being winnable now).

The Scorecard

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

Offensive predictions

The Buccaneers will rush for 90 to 100 yards on Sunday, thanks to a stout Titans run defense led by Albert Haynesworth. Earnest Graham will lead with about 50 yards on 18 carries. What's that smell? Thirty yard, the total rushing yardage for Tampa Bay on Sunday. Graham had 28 yards of it. The Bucs better hope that improves.

Jeff Garcia will go a sixth straight game without throwing an interception, even though the Titans defense averages more than an interception a game this season. Yes sir. No picks for Garcia. In fact Garcia hasn't thrown a pick since facing Dallas on Christmas Day last year, a span of nine games, including playoffs.

Left tackle Donald Penn will take a step back in pass protection, as Titans end Kyle Vanden Bosch will take advantage of Penn, who might still be amped up after blocking Dwight Freeney last week. Vanden Bosch will have a sack and three pressures. Somehow, the Bucs didn't allow a sack and only gave up six quarterback hurries, though Garcia was knocked around quite a bit. Call it a draw. Penn held up his end of the bargain.

The Buccaneers will find a way to break big plays in the passing game, most notably to Joey Galloway, who will have a reception of 40 yards or more for the first time in three weeks. You did see the 69-yard touchdown pass, right? But, I said plays, not play. Outside of that catch, the Bucs didn't have another really big pass play.

Alex Smith will continue to get key looks in the red zone, as he'll catch his third touchdown pass of the season. Sadly, Smith was hurt on his only catch of the day. The Bucs entered the red zone one time, netting a field goal.

Defensive predictions

The Buccaneers will goad Vince Young into two interceptions on Sunday, one of which will lead to a score. Only one pick, and it didn't lead to a score. But that pick was a big one by Phillip Buchanon. It saved a touchdown.

Rookie end Gaines Adams will record his first sack of the year, as he has the speed to track down Young and has a favorable matchup in an inexperienced left tackle for the Titans. Correct, but with an asterisk. Adams got the sack because Young ran into LenDale White and fell down behind the line of scrimmage. Adams touched Young down, and by rule, that's a sack. He might have sacked Young anyway because he had a good angle, but Adams doesn't have a TRUE sack yet.

3. Tampa Bay will hold the Titans to less than 100 yards rushing. Yes. 96 yards for the Titans run game.

4. Tanard Jackson will have another big hit on Sunday, likely on one of Tennessee's young receivers. He had two, actually. He met White head on in the backfield for a loss, plus made a great open field tackle on the Bucs' final kickoff of the game.

The Bucs will not allow Vince Young a run of more than 15 yards, limiting his effectiveness. Yes. Three carries for six yards. Oddly, I thought Tennessee did little to get him in the open field, where Young is at his best on the run or on the pass.

Prediction

I was so close. I picked 17-13 Bucs. The final was 13-10. I'm 4-2 in picking the winner this year (three times that winner being the Bucs)


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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