The Bucs defense, which was much maligned after two bad playoff outings against the Eagles, did a much better job of containing the Eagles offense, especially quarterback Donovan McNabb -- giving up just one big scoring play. Tampa Bay's defense was victimized by two short field drives that resulted in 10 Philadelphia points after turnovers by the offense.
The Buccaneers offense misfired the entire day with only a field goal to show for their effort. In three trips to the Vet in as many years, the Bucs have yet to score a touchdown on offense. Not only did the Eagles defense shut the Bucs out of the end zone, they were able to knock out Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson with 13:55 left in the game. Johnson left the contest with badly bruised ribs after a costly interception at the Bucs' 42.
Buccaneers quarterbacks were sacked six times for 27 yards in losses and were constantly hurried by the blitz packages of Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Tampa Bay ran off 65 plays and amassed a paltry 207 total net yards of offense. The Pewter Pirates converted a meager 3-of-13 third downs and head coach Jon Gruden was not a happy camper after the loss that dropped the Bucs to 5-2 that put them a game behind the NFC South division leading New Orleans Saints.
"To say the least our offense was ineffective today," Gruden said. "That was especially the case on third down. It could have been a real effective Philadelphia defense. Physically and structurally they give you a lot of looks. We have to do a lot better to ever beat the Philadelphia Eagles. We have got to make some plays on offense."
The offensive misery started early for Tampa Bay. On the Bucs' second play from scrimmage, Johnson hit fullback Mike Alstott with a swing pass in the right flat on a second-and-10 from their own 34-yard line. As Alstott tried to head upfield from the Tampa Bay 32-yard line, Eagles cornerback Bobby Taylor punched the football out of his grasp. The pigskin was scooped up by middle linebacker Barry Gardner who returned in 12 yards to the Bucs' 14-yard line giving Philadelphia the first big break of the game.
The Bucs defense rose to the challenge and held the Eagles to two yards in three plays forcing the Birds to settle for a 30-yard field goal by kicker David Akers to put the Eagles up 3-0 at 10:29 of the opening quarter.
Tampa Bay could only convert one first down on their next possession after a 23-yard kickoff return by cornerback Dwight Smith put the Pewter Pirates in business at their own 32-yard line. Punter Tom Tupa dropped a 41 yarder on the Philadelphia 6-yard line where it was downed by Smith pinning Philadelphia within the shadow of their own goal line and that would be a huge play in the near future.
After an initial Eagles first down, the Birds were facing a third-and-11 at their own 24-yard line. McNabb was sacked from behind by Simeon Rice, an old high school teammate, and knocked the ball out of his grasp. After the pigskin rolled around on the turf for what seemed to be an eternity until it was gathered in by weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks at the Philadelphia 11-yard line. Brooks broke a tackle by running back Brian Westbrook at the 5-yard line and took it to the house to score his fourth defensive touchdown this season, which tied an NFL record. That score gave the Bucs a 7-3 lead in the first quarter.
The Buccaneers had a chance to extend the lead when cornerback Brian Kelly intercepted a McNabb aerial on the first play of the ensuing drive by the Eagles. Kelly stepped front of a pass intended for tight end Chad Lewis at the Bucs 38-yard line and returned it into Philadelphia territory. The big return though was negated by a clipping penalty on Smith and the Bucs were forced to punt after three plays.
The Eagles re-claimed the lead at 10-7 with 2:29 left before halftime and give Philadelphia credit for being perseverant. After a 29-yard return by running back Brian Mitchell of a 45-yard punt by Tupa, the Eagles set up shop at the Tampa Bay 45-yard line. On first down, McNabb ran a play action fake and wanted to go for it all. He was forced to scramble before he could spot a receiver and gained three yards, but ran the exact same play on second-and-7 from the Bucs 42-yard line.
This time McNabb had the time to spot Pinkston on a fly pattern down the right sideline. Free safety Dexter Jackson took a bad angle on the throw and the ball sailed over his head into the right corner of the end zone.
The Buccaneers avoided total disaster on the kickoff when Smith returned it 17 yards and was stripped of the football by Philadelphia strong safety Michael Lewis. Eagles wide receiver Dameane Douglas had a clear path to the ball for an easy scoop and score touchdown at the Tampa Bay 9-yard line, but was pushed off his path by the alert rookie safety Jermaine Phillips, who was also able to recover the pigskin as well and keep the Bucs within striking distance at halftime.
The Eagles stretched the lead to 13-7 midway through the third quarter with another Akers field goal from 36 yards out. The 11-play drive was the McNabb and Staley show with at least one of those two players being involved in every one of the Eagles plays. McNabb was 2-of-5 for 33 yards but was sacked on third-and-4 at the Tampa Bay 9-yard line by rice and defensive tackle Warren Sapp and end Ellis Wyms. Staley ran four times for 25 yards and two first downs.
Tampa Bay answered the call with a field goal of their own on their next possession to cut the deficit to 13-10 with 2:39 left in the third quarter. Gramatica blasted one through the uprights from 48 yards away and the Bucs were back in the game.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, Tampa Bay took over at their own 16-yard line. Five plays later, the entire complexion of the game changed. Johnson tried to hit wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson on a deep out. Cornerback Al Harris stepped in front of the aerial to make a questionable, juggling interception on the left sidelines giving the Eagles excellent field position at the Bucs 42-yard line. Gruden challenged the interception, but the call on the field stood, which meant that the Bucs head coach was 0-2 on his challenges on the day.
The Eagles made the Bucs pay for that transgression 10 plays later. McNabb, on a third-and goal from the Buccaneers 1-yard line, faked to Staley and rolled out to the right for a touchdown run. Akers successful PAT put the Birds up 20-10 midway through the final period.
The Bucs had one last chance with reserve quarterback Rob Johnson at the helm. Subbing for the injured Brad Johnson, Rob moved the Bucs down the field in a little over four minutes. It was all for naught as Gramatica missed a 29-yard, chip-shot field goal and the life went out of the Bucs' defensive sails.
On the next series, Staley had six rushes for 69 yards and the backbreaker, an 11-yard lead play right up the middle on a third-and-nine from the Eagles' 21-yard line. After that, Staley ripped off a 57-yarder down to the Bucs' 11-yard line and the Eagles were content to run out the clock from there leaving Tampa Bay, which saw its five-game winning streak get snapped, on the short end of the score in Philadelphia for the third-straight time.
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