Observation Deck: Bucs-Falcons review

From the Observation Deck, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' playoff aspirations are no longer shrouded in mystery. The Bucs are in. In this game review, go inside who won the key matchups, which of my predictions came to pass and why Micheal Spurlock's kickoff return fits right in with this surprising season.

I saw that hole open up and thought, ‘Gosh that's awful big.'

I mean, big enough for a slightly overweight sports writer to run through, much less a 23-year old quarterback-turned kickoff returner named Micheal (yes, Micheal) Spurlock.

And has he ran down the field I, like Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden, just assumed something would happen to deny the Buccaneers a kickoff return for a touchdown for the 1,865th time.

Someone would catch him.

Someone would push him out of bounds.

Spurlock would accidentally step out of bounds.

Spurlock's pants would fall down around his ankles.

Anything.

"We're a little snake-bit on that play," Gruden said later.

But there was no karmic interference. There was no magnificent special teams play by Atlanta.

Just the greatness of one of football's most exciting plays — the kickoff return for a touchdown — finally happening to the Buccaneers.

1,864 returns.

140 returners.

Countless blockers. Untold disappointment.

Oh, yeah, and a division title. The third for the Bucs in six years, the fifth for Gruden in eight years (if you count Oakland, and you do).

The Bucs are playoff bound again, and this team looks more primed than the 2005 outfit, emboldened by a insane number of unknowns, bench warmers and third-stringers that have suddenly become household names.

Earnest Graham? On his way to 1,000 yards rushing.

Donald Penn? Yeoman's work in place of Luke Petitgout at left tackle. Gruden likes him. How do I know? He keeps saying he doesn't want to praise him. Tell-tale sign Chucky likes somebody.

Greg White? Tied a team record with seven forced fumbles this season. Here's a question — does he still get his Best Buy employee discount?

Jovan Haye? More like "Jovan Who" in July. Now Jovan "Can't live without him" in December.

Barrett Ruud? If there's justice, he becomes a Pro Bowler on Wednesday.

Phillip Buchanon? A revelation, and Brian Kelly's job-stealer.

Gaines Adams, Arron Sears and Tanard Jackson? This is turning into one of the better rookie classes this team has seen.

Gruden must look around sometimes, mystified by what has transpired. He used a quarterback that lost his voice on Sunday for illustration.

"It was funny. We were going to put Luke McCown in the game today and he lost his voice; he had laryngitis," Gruden said. "It's always been something that's unexpected and yet someone has been able to step up for us and it's been a collaborative effort from a lot of guys that believe in one another. That's hard to find in any team sport."

From worst to first to worst to first. How many teams have done that?

WON'T HAPPEN REDUX: Remember when I told you last week that the Bucs would not get the No. 3 seed?

Can I take that back? Just a little?

At the time, I assumed the red-hot Seattle Seahawks would remain red-hot and I assumed the Bucs would lose this weekend in San Francisco.

Well, the Seahawks lost to Carolina on Sunday, putting them back into a tie for the third-best record in the NFC with the Bucs.

Now, I'm still not a believer in this team going out west and winning, just because they have absolutely no track record in doing so (one win out of however many regular-season tries it is). But the fact is that the third seed is now a possibility, realistically speaking.
Of course, Seattle still has Baltimore and Atlanta left, not exactly a daunting schedule. The Seahawks could run the table and stay the No. 3 anyway (they have the tiebreaker over Tampa Bay).

But the Bucs won't stop pushing until it's certain, and they shouldn't. You never know when one extra win could mean an extra playoff home game.

CHOREOGRAPHY BY WHITE: So, remember that "choreographed celebration" penalty DE Greg White drew in the second quarter after forcing Warrick Dunn's fumble? That was a 15-yard penalty that might have taken the Bucs out of touchdown range.

White apparently engaged in some high-and low-fiving with Gaines Adams, among others. So, was it choreographed?

"No. Not at all. Did it (look choreographed?)." White said. "You know, sometimes with these defenses come together, they just come together."

I thought the penalty was a little excessive. It's not like White and Adams did an excerpt from Riverdance or something. Choreographed implies the pair planned it. That looked a little too simple to have to plan.

GAME BALLS

CB Ronde Barber : His interception for a touchdown on the game's third play set the tone for the entire game defensively. Are the Pro Bowl votes in yet?

DE Greg White : In the locker room I said to him, "Another week, another forced fumble." He just smiled. He's in a serious groove.

RB Earnest Graham : Carried the offense on his back on Sunday. Another ho-hum 119-yard day in total offense. Honorable mention to Michael Pittman and Michael Bennett, who also had strong outings and need to be used more.

RB Jerious Norwood: The one Falcon who seemed to play with some pluckiness on offense.

DE Gaines Adams: Four tackles and a sack give him six sacks, right on the first-year average for a defensive end picked in the Top 10 of the last 15 drafts. He's made real progress the last six weeks.

KR Micheal Spurlock: I don't have to explain why, do I?

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS

The Falcons : I expected more pluck from them, even after a horrible week emotionally. But there was nothing there after Spurlock's kickoff return.

QB Chris Redman : To paraphrase Dean Wormer from "Animal House," Mr. Redman, you have no passer rating. Seriously, Redman had a 0.0 passer rating after going 4-of-15 for 34 yards and 2 interceptions.

Bobby Petrino : Hope you enjoy slop.

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 LT DONALD PENN VS. FALCONS DE JOHN ABRAHAM: Abraham had a sack and one hurry, but it was his only tackle of the day. So Penn did solid work keeping Abraham from inflicting further damage.

BUCS RB EARNEST GRAHAM VS. FALCONS MLB KEITH BROOKING: Give it to Graham. He had 119 total yards and the offensive line just punished the Falcons front seven. They had nothing left by the fourth quarter.

BUCS WR JOEY GALLOWAY VS. FALCONS CB DEANGELO HALL:

Hall wins. Galloway had one catch for seven yards and dropped a couple of others. Hall also picked off Garcia in the second quarter.

FALCONS LT QUINN OJINNAKA VS. BUCS DE GREG WHITE: White forced a fumble and recorded a hurry. No sacks, though. Ojinnaka played better than in the last meeting. Slight edge to Ojinnaka.

BUCS LINEBACKERS VS. FALCONS RB WARRICK DUNN: Dunn had about as many rushing yards on Sunday (32) as he did in the last meeting. Plus, he had the fumble. Bucs win.

FALCONS WR RODDY WHITE VS. BUCS SECONDARY: Yep, White must hate playing the Bucs. He had one catch on Sunday. Bucs win.

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 140 yards or more on Sunday. How about 190 yards? The Falcons were defenseless by the fourth quarter. That's what this offensive line can do when it's really rolling.

2. Jeff Garcia will not throw an interception or commit a fumble. He did throw a pick to Hall, but when the Falcons turn the ball over two plays later, it really doesn't mean much. Garcia looked fine in his return, even though he really had little to do.

3. Ike Hilliard will play. He did, but he only caught one pass. Again, this was not the day to have any of the passing weapons for the Bucs on your fantasy team.

4. The Bucs will convert better than 40 percent of the third-down opportunities. The Bucs were 9-of-19 for 47 percent. A productive ground game, along with Hilliard, helped. Michael Clayton pitched in a conversion catch, too.

5. Joey Galloway will make a statement. Nope. One catch for seven yards is not a statement. He wasn't even in the locker room after the game.

DEFENSIVE PREDICTIONS

1. The Falcons will rush for less than 100 yards. Actually, the Falcons rushed for 106 yards, mostly from Jerious Norwood, who broke off two big runs.

2. Greg White will not have two forced fumbles. That's correct. He only had one.

3. Roddy White will catch a touchdown pass. Not even close. One catch for 4 yards.

4. Ronde Barber will pick off a pass. What I forgot to include was that he would return it for a touchdown. What a week to stop predicting that.

5. The Bucs will force three turnovers. The Bucs actually forced four.

PREDICTION

I picked the Bucs to win, 34-14. I was fairly close to the 37-3 final. I improved to 7-6 in picking the winner, and improved to 6-3 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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