Bucs Game Grades

November 17 - Tampa Bay defeated Carolina Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, 23-10. The huge win put the Bucs in sole possession of first place in the NFC South Division, tied Green Bay for best record (8-2) in the NFC and set a new record for best start in franchise history. Which players fared well? Which players didn't? PewterReport.com has distributed grades to the Pewter Pirates based on their performance against the Panthers on Sunday.

QUARTERBACKS
Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson had an impressive outing against Carolina on Sunday. A lot of Johnson's success came due to his offensive line's ability to protect him for a good portion of the game. Johnson pulled off a perfect play-action pass on fourth-and-goal in the beginning of the second quarter. Johnson faked the handoff and threw a perfect strike to WR Keyshawn Johnson for a touchdown, which tied the game at 7-7. Several of Johnson's completions came right as he was drilled by Carolina defenders, but Tampa Bay's starting quarterback still managed to remain poised in the pocket. Johnson completed 22-of-40 passes (55 percent) for 253 yards and threw two touchdown passes.

*The Bucs converted 7-of-16 passes (44 percent) third downs Sunday, which helped the Pewter Pirates control the time of possession, 35:53 to 24:07.

GRADE: B


RUNNING BACKS

Tampa Bay's running game failed to get on track against Carolina's No. 3 ranked defense. Bucs running back Michael Pittman had over 20 carries for the first time this season on Sunday, but he could only rush for 57 yards and averaged just 2.7 yards per carry. He wasn't really able to capitalize on his running opportunities, but he was somewhat effective in the passing game. He had a 17-yard catch on Tampa Bay's first drive of the game. Pittman finished the game with four catches for 21 yards. Pittman had a costly fumble on Tampa Bay's 32-yard line with 7:47 remaining in the second quarter. Mike Rucker recovered the fumble for the Panthers. Pittman's fumble led to a Carolina field goal. Pittman also dropped a pass in the third quarter.

Carolina DE Mike Rucker caused Bucs RB Aaron Stecker to fumble his first carry of the game. Carolina recovered it, which stalled Tampa Bay's drive near Carolina's red zone. The Panthers took the ball down the field and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Stecker carried the ball just two times for -4 yards. Stecker caught two passes for 20 yards.

Bucs FB Mike Alstott wasn't involved much in Tampa Bay's game plan. He carried the ball two times for eight yards. He caught two passes for 13 yards.

*Tampa Bay rushed 29 times for just 67 yards (2.3 avg.) against Carolina. Both fumbles by the running backs led to 10 points for the Panthers.

GRADE: D


WIDE RECEIVERS:
Bucs WR Joe Jurevicius came up with a big 22-yard reception on Tampa Bay's first drive of the game. His second and last catch of the game came late in the second quarter when he grabbed a pass on a drag route and took it 16-yards upfield to put Tampa Bay on Carolina's 10-yard line. Jurevicius was a tough guy to bring down once he hauled in his passes, especially for a guy coming off of a sprained ankle/knee. He finished the game with two catches for 48 yards.

Bucs WR Keenan McCardell didn't put up the best numbers Sunday, but he certainly came up big when his number was called. McCardell did a nice job of fighting for a ball thrown by Johnson in the second quarter. Not only did he break up the interception, but he hauled in the pass for a first down. McCardell's route running was impressive. He drove Panthers CB Terry Cousin into an end zone on what Cousin probably thought was a flag pattern, but McCardell stopped dead in his tracks, which left him wide open and allowed Brad Johnson to hit him for the touchdown late in the third quarter. The score put Tampa Bay up 17-10. The score was made possible by Bucs CB Dwight Smith's interception. McCardell caught four passes for 56 yards and he scored one touchdown.

Tampa Bay WR Keyshawn Johnson caught seven passes for 76 yards and caught one touchdown against Carolina. He was flagged for a false start, which set the Bucs up with a third-and-13 deep in their own territory. The Bucs had to punt two plays later. But Johnson came up huge with 9:30 remaining in the second quarter when Tampa Bay went for it on fourth-and-goal on Carolina's 1-yard-line. Brad Johnson play-action passed and threw a perfect strike to Keyshawn Johnson on the left side of the end zone for a score. The Johnson-to-Johnson connection tied the game at 7-7. Johnson's next catch came in the second quarter when he hauled in an 18-yard pass over the middle of the field.

*The Bucs' wide receivers caught 13 of Brad Johnson's 22 completions.

GRADE: B+


TIGHT ENDS:
Tampa Bay tight end Ken Dilger was drilled in the first half of Sunday's game when he attempted to catch a pass thrown by Johnson. Dilger didn't catch a pass in the game. Bucs TE Rickey Dudley helped to move the chains when he hauled in a 21-yard pass over the middle of the field. It was Dudley's only catch of the game.

GRADE: C


OFFENSIVE LINE:
Tampa Bay's offensive line did a nice job of protecting QB Brad Johnson in the first half, but Carolina started to get to the Bucs' starting quarterback by blitzing often in the second half, especially on third downs. Bucs left guard Kerry Jenkins struggled against Carolina. Tampa Bay right tackle Kenyatta Walker did a pretty good job of blocking DE Julius Peppers on Sunday. The offensive line allowed Brad Johnson to get pressured often, but the Panthers only recorded two sacks. The offensive line opened up a few holes for Pittman, but he couldn't capitalize on them and Tampa Bay's running attack struggled overall on Sunday.

GRADE: C+


DEFENSIVE LINE:
Bucs nose tackle Chuck Darby, who started in place of DT Anthony McFarland, was flagged for a false start on Carolina's first drive of the game. It gave the Panthers a first down. Darby made a nice open-field tackle on RB Lamar Smith in the second quarter. It was Darby's only tackle of the game.

Tampa Bay left defensive end Greg Spires forced QB Rodney Peete to fumble with 1:00 remaining in the first quarter, which forced Carolina to punt. Spires was credited with a sack on the play. He recorded four tackles, including three solo.

Bucs DT Warren Sapp made a tremendous tackle on RB Lamar Smith after Pittman's fumble in the second quarter. Sapp did a nice job of bursting through a goal line formation and into the backfield for the tackle. Sapp, who almost didn't play due to back spams, recorded two tackles against the Panthers, but left the game late in the fourth quarter with those back spasms. He didn't return to the game.

Bucs DE Simeon Rice was very disruptive on Sunday. He came up big in the third quarter when he sacked QB Rodney Peete and forced him to fumble the ball. That play allowed Sapp to recover the ball at Carolina's 45-yard line. Rice came up with another sack with 2:40 remaining in the fourth quarter. It went for a 13-yard loss. Tampa Bay's defensive line struggled to get pressure on Peete, but after Rice recorded his first sack, Carolina's starting quarterback became noticeably uncomfortable in the pocket, which contributed to his four interceptions.

Bucs DE Ellis Wyms sacked Peete on Carolina's last drive of the fourth quarter. He bull-rushed the Carolina offensive lineman and wrapped Peete up, which secured the victory for the Bucs. Wyms had four tackles on Sunday.

*Tampa Bay's defense sacked Carolina QB Rodney Peete four times for a loss of 37 yards.

GRADE: A


LINEBACKERS:

Tampa Bay's linebacker corps had the tough task of stopping Carolina RB Lamar Smith, but they passed the test. The defense came out in the first half looking like they had come off of a bye week, which they had just done. But their tackling got better as the game went on. The majority of Smith's runs went to the weakside and middle of Tampa Bay's defense. Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks came up with some big tackles and recorded 12 on Sunday. Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles led the team in tackles with 13. Tampa Bay strongside linebacker Al Singleton recorded three tackles.

*Tampa Bay's defense held Carolina RB Lamar Smith to 46 yards on 15 carries (3.1 avg.). All 10 of Carolina's points came off of Tampa Bay turnovers.

GRADE: B


SECONDARY:
Carolina WR Steve Smith beat SS John Lynch to the sideline on the Panthers' first drive of the game. Smith made a leaping grab to pull in the pass for a touchdown, which put Carolina up 7-0. But Lynch came up big in the middle of the fourth quarter when he intercepted QB Rodney Peete inside Carolina territory. Lynch recorded just one tackle, but he came up with the interception and defended two passes.

Bucs CB Brian Kelly came up with a huge interception with 2:00 remaining in the second quarter. He did a nice job of turning around for the ball, which was thrown toward the sideline. His pick set Tampa Bay's offense up on Carolina's 44-yard line. Kelly also defended four passes and recorded four tackles.

Bucs CB Dwight Smith jumped a quick slant pass thrown to WR Steve Smith on third-and-10 with 2:25 remaining in the third quarter. Smith picked the pass off and set Tampa Bay's offense up at Carolina's 19-yard line. It eventually led to a Tampa Bay touchdown. Smith caused S. Smith to fumble with 3:26 remaining in the game, which allowed CB Ronde Barber to pick the ball up and dash down the sideline for a touchdown, which put the Bucs up 30-10. But the play was challenged by Carolina and it was overturned, which negated Tampa Bay's touchdown. Smith recorded three tackles and defended one pass.

Bucs FS Dexter Jackson recorded two tackles against the Panthers.

*Tampa Bay held Carolina to just 205 yards passing.

GRADE: A


SPECIAL TEAMS:
Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica's first field goal of the game was probably a little more exciting than it should have been. Gramatica's 19-yard attempt was blocked by Shane Burton, but the ball still managed to have enough juice on it to go through the uprights for a field goal. Gramatica's second field goal of the game was a 20-yarder and put the Pewter Pirates up 20-10. Gramatica's third field goal of the game came with 4:00 remaining. It was a 41-yarder. Gramatica was 3-of-3 on his field goal attempts, which was impressive, especially since there were 15-20 MPH winds at Ray-Jay on Sunday.

Bucs punter Tom Tupa only averaged 36 yards per punt, but he did an excellent job of directing his punts toward the sideline in order to avoid having Panthers PR Steve Smith fielding them.

Bucs CB Corey Ivy was called for holding on Carolina's first punt of the second half. The penalty pinned the Buccaneers' offense on its own 9-yard line.

Bucs TE Todd Yoder tipped a Panthers punt with 14:41 left in the fourth quarter, but the punt still went 29 yards.

GRADE: B


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