Observation Deck: Bucs-Cards review

Davin Joseph said it's the perfect time for the bye week. Jon Gruden said he may not come back. Find out why this bye week is big for the Bucs. Plus, check out my game balls and a review of my predictions for Sunday's game. How many came true? Find out in this premium feature.

A television reported tried to get Bucs guard Davin Joseph to say the Bucs might want to consider playing this Sunday instead of taking the bye. The win gives the team momentum, the reporter reasoned.

Joseph didn't buy it.

"I think we're going into the bye at the right time, compared to last season," Joseph said. "This bye week is timed right for us. Getting some guys back out onto the field is going to be great for us. And getting some rest, too. We've played nine straight games. We need a rest."

This team needs a week off. Everyone knows it.

"I need the bye," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. "I may not come back from the bye. It's really been absurd ¬— that's the best word that I can use — of all the guys that have come and gone in the first half of the season."

The Bucs have 12 players on injured reserve. Even with the returns of Brian Kelly and Alex Smith on Sunday, there are a half-dozen players that are still nursing injuries.

The hope for this team is that they can get most of them back for the Atlanta game on Nov. 18. The only potential absence could be defensive end Greg Spires, whose calf injury appears to be serious enough to keep him out for a few weeks.

But Patrick Chukwurah? Michael Pittman? Quincy Black? Gruden wants them all back for Atlanta, and he's willing to amend his schedule this week to do so.

If the players can earn it, there will be only one workout on Wednesday during the bye week.

"You got to be sharp," Gruden said. "You got to be sharp. The guys have to be attentive, got to be enthusiastic. This is a reward system that we work on in this league. You play good you get paid well, usually. You don't play good and you're out of the league, coaches, players, all of us. We like to give our guys some incentive to have an upbeat, above the neck meeting and an enthusiastic practice. Our players deserve some time off.

On one hand, there are a bushel of missed opportunities for this team. They could easily be 7-2 right now, considered one of the best teams in the NFC. But they failed to take care of the football against Detroit and Jacksonville, committing five turnovers and losing by eight points.

Certainly injuries have affected the continuity of this team. But they've shown plenty of resiliency, too. Their last two wins — while in the throes of this injury meltdown — have come by seven points or less.

The difference between winning and losing has been a slim one, and getting some of those injured players back to full strength may give the Bucs a larger margin for error in a tight NFC South race.

"I think the resiliency of this team is spectacular and we just keep fighting and finding ways to do it," quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "It doesn't look pretty. I wish that this game could have been more dominant on our behalf, but this is the NFL and nothing comes easy."

By the time the Bucs play Atlanta, they will likely be in a first-place tie with New Orleans, which plays winless St. Louis next week. Of course, the Bucs beat the Saints earlier this season, but New Orleans looks like a much different team now. Their game, on Dec. 2 in New Orleans, will go a long way toward deciding the NFC South title.

But Gruden won't look ahead. He needs to get his team well first.

"We just look at each game, honestly, because the Saints have won four games in a row and are playing as well as anyone in the league," Gruden said. "There are some real surprises going on in pro football during the first half of the season and that means there will probably be some in the second half of these season and we'd like to be one of those surprise teams.

RUNNING IT IN: The Bucs have nine rushing touchdowns after nine games this season. Last year they had six rushing touchdowns the entire season.

DRIVE NOTE: If the Bucs had scored on that 11 minute, 59-second drive in the third and fourth quarters on Sunday, it would have been the longest touchdown drive in Bucs history by nearly a minute. And it would have iced the game.

PHILLIPS NOTE: Jermaine Phillips appeared to be out of bounds on his fourth-quarter interception on Sunday. But because the Cardinals were out of time outs, they couldn't challenge the call. But the pick was Phillips' third of this season, matching his career high.

ONE MORE NOTE TO PONDER: The Buccaneers are 16-0 when they run the football 35 or more times in a game under head coach Jon Gruden. What about that West Coast offense, again?

GAME BALLS

C John Wade : We don't talk about his steady play much. But his ability to recognize Arizona's exotic blitzes and stunts was invaluable in keeping the young offensive line in the right protections and run blocking schemes. Everyone pointed that out after the game.

RB Earnest Graham : He's proved he can shoulder the load. Now let's get him some help.

S Tanard Jackson and S Jermaine Phillips : Combined, they only had four tackles. But they defended seven passes — Jackson had five of them — and doled out a season's worth of big hits against a physical group of receivers. Jackson said afterward that was the plan all along.

QB Jeff Garcia: He needed to have a bounce-back game and he did.

WR Michael Spurlock: The Bucs dropped this guy into a kick-return role on four days' notice and he returned two kicks for a 28.5-yard average. Plus, he didn't fumble. That's always a plus when you play for Jon Gruden.

WR Maurice Stovall: He made two great special teams hits and downed a Josh Bidwell punt at the Cardinals 4-yard line. A terrific day on special teams.

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS

Bucs pass rush : Yes, they applied some pressure. But no sacks. That's how you get to Kurt Warner. You have to hit him and there wasn't enough of that.

RB Edgerrin James : How much does he miss it in Indy now?

TE Alex Smith: The Bucs drive 12 minutes and the length of the field and he drops the TD pass that would have iced the game? He has to make that catch. It doesn't matter if he's rolling around on the ground.

PK Matt Bryant: Normally reliable, he missed a 26-yarder that would have iced the game.

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: 3.5; Now: 1

Keep it at a simmer, because that's the way Gruden likes it. But this team deserves a lot of credit for overcoming all of its injuries and remaining in the NFC South race. But that's a hollow victory in a sense, because the Bucs really should be 6-3 or even 7-2 right now. The Bucs need the bye to get healthy and need to win the next two games — Atlanta and Washington — before facing New Orleans in the Big Easy in what could be the NFC South title game. This is turning into one of his best coaching jobs during his tenure in Tampa Bay.

THE MATCHUPS IN REVIEW

I highlighted six key matchups entering Sunday's game. How did they turn out? Check it out in this quick review:

BUCS RG DAVIN JOSEPH VS. CARDS DT DARNELL DOCKETT: Dockett had 10 tackles and two sacks. Joseph didn't do so well on his own, though he's partly responsible for Earnest Graham's great rushing day. So it's not a total loss.

BUCS WR JOEY GALLOWAY VS. CARDS DB ROD HOOD: Galloway beat CB Terrance Holt for his touchdown. Hood only had two tackles and didn't break up a pass.

BUCS RB MICHAEL BENNETT VS. CARDS WLB KARLOS DANSBY: Bennett carried five times for 12 yards. Dansby didn't play. I'll be doing some soul-searching now.

CARDS RB EDGERRIN JAMES VS. BUCS MLB BARRETT RUUD: James had 15 yards on nine carries, though one was for a touchdown. Ruud only had one tackle, but that was more Arizona's offensive design, as they went to the air frequently after James became a non-factor.

CARDS WR LARRY FITZGERALD VS. BUCS CB RONDE BARBER: Fitzgerald had a fine day statistically, catching four passes for 95 yards. But he never sniffed the end zone. Barber had two tackles and a pass breakup.

CARDS LT MIKE GANDY VS. BUCS DE GAINES ADAMS: Adams had two pressures and nearly picked off a pass. One of those pressure came late in the game when he flat out beat Gandy in a one-on-one set. Adams showed he could apply some pressure when the matchup is at least an even one, and that's progress.

THE SCORECARD

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

OFFENSIVE PREDICTIONS

1. Tampa Bay will rush for 125 yards or more on Sunday. Earnest Graham had 124 on his own. The team finished with 162 yards. I felt the Cards' interior defense was soft, and I was right.

2. Jeff Garcia will throw one interception. Wrong. Garcia was his efficient self, throwing 28 passes without a pick.

3. The Cards' Darnell Dockett will not get a sack. Ugh. Dockett had two sacks. He's just plain good. Is he a free agent next year? The Bucs could use him.

4. Ike Hilliard will have another sub-par game on Sunday. Nope. Hilliard had a nice bounce-back game with seven catches for 70 yards. Two of them were critical third-down catches.

5. The Bucs will go for it on fourth down and move the chains. There was no need on Sunday for those dramatics. The Bucs were a tidy 12-of-21 on third down for the game.

DEFENSIVE PREDICTIONS

1. Arizona will rush for 100 yards or more. The Bucs sold out to stop the run and did, limiting the Cardinals to 23 yards. Superb job, and a bit unexpected, frankly.

2. Kurt Warner will throw two interceptions. Yes sir, though the Bucs only turned those turnovers into three points. That has to improve.

3. Ronde Barber will have first interception of the season and it will go for a touchdown. Nope. He had another one slip through his fingers.

4. The media will want to talk to Gaines Adams after the game. We did. He had a solid game, frankly. Nothing spectacular, but he showed flashes of the player the Bucs want him to be.

5. Tanard Jackson will have an off game. He had an interception and laid some vicious hits in the secondary. If that's an off-game, I'm not sure anyone in an opposing uniform wants to see an on game.

PREDICTION

I picked the Bucs to win, 23-17. I improved to 5-4 in picking the winner, and improved to 4-2 when I pick the Bucs.

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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.


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