Bucs Game Grades

December 29 – Tampa Bay recorded its 12th win of the season by blanking Chicago in Champaign, Illinois on Sunday night, 15-0. Which players fared well? Which players didn't? PewterReport.com has distributed grades to the Pewter Pirates based on their performance against the Bears.

QUARTERBACKS
As expected, Tampa Bay starting quarterback Brad Johnson was the team's emergency quarterback against Chicago. Bucs backup QB Rob Johnson didn't play that well, but he did enough to help the offense move the ball downfield when it needed to and although he was sacked five times, he didn't turn the ball over, which proved to be the difference in this game. Rob Johnson didn't receive much time to throw behind the Bucs' offensive line, but he still took too many sacks. Johnson used his mobility to move the chains on a couple of occasions. He rushed three times for 29 yards, including a 21-yarder on a designed fake handoff and rollout on a third-and-1 play in the second half. Johnson completed 16-of-25 passes for 134 yards and he didn't throw a touchdown or an interception against Chicago. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden did a nice job of allowing Johnson to manage the game. While Johnson improved as the game went on, it's a good thing the Bucs had a potent running game and solid defensive performance tonight. They need Brad Johnson back.

*Tampa Bay converted 7-of-18 third downs against Chicago on Sunday night.

GRADE: C


RUNNING BACKS
Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman picked a good time to have a breakout game with the Bucs. He rushed the ball 21 times for a season-high 90 yards (4.3 avg.). While the Bucs' offensive line opened up some big holes for Pittman to run through, he displayed better balance, vision and cutback ability. Pittman was also productive in the passing game, where he hauled in two passes for 28 yards, including a 21-yard reception on a well-designed and executed screen pass.

Bucs fullback Mike Alstott also had a fine outing. He carried the ball 12 times for 42 yards (3.5 avg.). Alstott broke a couple of big runs, including a long of 14 yards. He also caught one pass for a 4-yard gain.

*Tampa Bay's ground attack produced a total of 161 yards on 36 carries (4.5 avg.). Because of its success on the ground, the Bucs dominated the time of possession on Sunday night, 37:29 to 22:31.

GRADE: A


WIDE RECEIVERS:
It's obvious that Rob Johnson feels very comfortable throwing the ball to wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, even when Keyshawn Johnson isn't open. Keyshawn Johnson led the team in receptions Sunday night with five for 41 yards, including a 12-yarder. Keyshawn Johnson played a critical role in helping the Bucs' offense move the chains via the passing game. Both Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius caught two passes each for a total of 23 yards. Although they didn't have a lot of balls thrown to them on Sunday night, the Bucs' receivers made the best of their opportunities.

GRADE: B


TIGHT ENDS:
Tampa Bay tight end Ken Dilger caught three passes for 32 yards, including a 16-yarder. Dilger came up with two critical first downs, which helped the Bucs keep possession of the ball. Dilger also did an excellent job in the running game, where he helped open some of those holes for Pittman and Alstott. Rickey Dudley only caught one pass for six yards, but that pass picked up a crucial first down as well.

GRADE: B-


OFFENSIVE LINE:
Tampa Bay's offensive line was inconsistent in pass protection, but they were impressive in the running game. The Bucs' offensive line sustained a good push in the trenches, which allowed the running game to take off. The Bucs rushed for a total of 161 yards on 36 carries thanks to some of the gigantic holes the line opened for both Pittman and Alstott. Rob Johnson was sacked five times, but not all of them were the O-line's fault. Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker was called for illegal hands to the face. Left tackle Roman was flagged for a false start.

GRADE: B-


DEFENSIVE LINE:
Tampa Bay's front four wasn't able to get much pressure on Chicago quarterback Henry Burris in the first half, but they did rattle him enough to move him out of the pocket. This unit also did an excellent job of stopping the Bears' running game.

Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp started the game despite being sidelined two practices last week with a sprained knee. Sapp led the team in tackles with seven and he also forced Burriss to fumble in the pocket in the first half. While he didn't record any sacks, Sapp had a very productive game.

Tampa Bay right defensive end Simeon Rice had a quiet night, but he played just as big of a role in grounding Chicago's running attack as any other defensive player. Rice recorded one tackle and he broke into Chicago's backfield on a couple of different occasions, which caused Burriss to scramble. Rice would have recorded at least one sack if he wasn't held on a couple of plays in the first half.

Ellis Wyms and Chuck Darby each rotated at the nose tackle position. They each recorded three tackles and did an excellent job of stopping the run. Wyms recorded Tampa Bay's only sack of the game and he also forced a fumble.

Tampa Bay left defensive end Greg Spires notched two tackles.

GRADE: A-


LINEBACKERS:
Tampa Bay weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks had a phenomenal outing in the team's regular season finale against Chicago. Brooks made a coupe of impressive tackles throughout the game, but his biggest play came near the end of the second quarter deep in Tampa Bay territory. Brooks jumped a Burris pass intended for WR Marty Booker and raced 44 yards downfield into Chicago territory. That critical play deflated Chicago's balloon in terms of momentum and it also led to three points for the Bucs. Brooks finished the game with six tackles.

Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles had four tackles and did a nice job of not allowing the Bears to pound the ball up the middle with success. Tampa Bay strongside linebacker Al Singleton recorded three tackles. Although Burriss wasn't very accurate, the Bucs' linebackers were in great position to defend short passes throughout the game.

GRADE: A


SECONDARY:
Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly came up huge for his team on Sunday night. Kelly came up with two interceptions against the Bears. Kelly recorded three tackles. He finished the regular season with a league-high eight interceptions and his confidence should be extremely high heading into the playoffs.

Tampa Bay free safety Dexter Jackson had a chance to grab two interceptions, too, but both fell just out of his reach. Jackson notched four tackles. Bucs strong safety John Lynch recorded five tackles and played a huge part in stopping Chicago's running game. But Lynch missed a tackle in the first half, which allowed Bears RB Adrian Peterson to gain 14 yards on the play instead of close to nothing.

Tampa Bay nickel corner Dwight Smith made a nice interception in the fourth quarter, which helped the Bucs put the game away. Smith recorded one tackle against Chicago. Bucs CB Ronde Barber had four tackles and was excellent in pass coverage. Barber was penalized for a pass interference call late in the game, but it didn't end up hurting the team.

*Tampa Bay held Chicago's passing attack in check. The Bears completed 13-of-29 passes for 137 yards and Burriss threw four interceptions.

GRADE: A


SPECIAL TEAMS:
Although Tampa Bay kicker Martin Gramatica scored all 15 of the Bucs' points on Sunday night, they were enough to win it. Despite a heavy and nasty wind in Champaign, Gramatica drilled five field goals on five attempts. Three of Gramatica's five field goals came after Tampa Bay's defense had hauled in an interception. Gramatica kicked three of those field goals in the fourth quarter. Gramatica's longest field goal was from 33 yards away.

Bucs free safety Dexter Jackson fielded a punt near the back of the end zone and only returned it to the 13-yard line, but a five-yard penalty helped bail Jackson out of the questionable decision to run the ball out of the end zone.

Tampa Bay punter Tom Tupa started the game with a horrible 27-yard punt, but he finished the contest with an average of 41.3 average.

GRADE: A


COACHING:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden did a nice job of playing it conservative in this one. Once the game tempo (a defensive battle) was established, Tampa Bay realized they would win this game as long as the offense didn't turn the ball over. Turnovers are what killed Chicago. Tampa Bay scored nine points off of Chicago interceptions. Gruden did a nice job of attacking Chicago's woeful run defense. Gruden showed some impatience with the running game at first, but he did a nice job of "pounding the rock" a total of 36 times on Sunday night, which helped move the chains and keep the defense off the field. Gruden came up with a handful of excellent play calls in a couple of short down-and-distance situations.

GRADE: A


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