Sunday, September 10, 2006

Bucs blindsided by Baltimore & McNair

McNair aired it out as the Ravens bombed the Bucs

It was an ugly day today in Tampa Bay, and I don't mean the weather. No a different system blew into Ray-Jay, bringing with it swirling linebackers, heavy hits, and plenty of destructive "Air" currents. As in Steve "Air" McNair, the Titan castoff who found a spiritual home with the Ravens, a team in desperate need of a quality veteran QB and a QB in desperate need of a quality veteran team.

From the looks of their first game together it's a match made in Raven heaven. McNair & Co. jumped out to an early 7-0 lead thanks to an 80-yd, 9:00 minute opening drive that culminated in a Jamal Lewis 4- yd TD. Then at the beginning of the 2nd Q, with the Bucs near midfield, Chris Simms (17-29, 133yds, 3INTs) dropped back and zipped a pass towards the sideline but didn't see Chris McAllister, who stepped in front of the receiver and returned it 60-yds for a score to make it 14-0, and the grumbling was already starting.

By this time the Bucs offense had been doing a spot-on imitation of its 2005 self, i.e. dropping passes, running in place and going 3 & out on nearly every drive. Their best drive of the half, when they ran Caddy twice for 7 yds each (he ended up with 22yds on 8 carries) and Becht caught a 1st down pass on 3rd & short (why was Gruden passing on 3rd & 3?) ended up stalling on a holding call, the end of the 1st Q, and then the McAllister INT/TD. It was all downhill from there.

Simms also had a familiar malady strike him again- the batted ball- as the Raven defenders were doing their best imitations of Misty May & Kerry Walsh, swatting the ball back in the Bucs faces with glee. He had at least 4 passes batted down, and the most gruesome version occurred when the Bucs were mounting a drive at the end of the half. After 4 plays they had the ball at the B'more 42 and looked like they might get at least 3 out of it. But then came the shot block, ball tipped and recovered by 400 lb nose tackle Haloti Ngata, who shook the whole stadium as he returned it 60 yards to the TB 9. The Ravens had to settle for a FG, but the play took all the wind out of the Pirate Ship's sails, and the whole 2nd half was basically window dressing. The Bucs tried to mount drives, only to be turned away by a frothing Raven "D", led by a rejuvenated LB Ray Lewis, who was a strong advocate of signing McNair and has a lot to prove after 2 down seasons.

But McNair, Lewis and the rest of the hungry Ravens proved a lot today with an impressive, dominating statement win over a team many, including yours truly, had pegged as a playoff team. It's abundantly clear now that without some serious redesigning of the game-plan, this team won't even sniff the post-season. They need to find a way for Simms to get the ball over the hands of the line (which they tried all preseason, obviously to no avail), find a way to get Caddy some touches & room to operate, and to regroup on defense as the unit allowed 271 yds, 2 TDs & 2 FGs. Not gonna cut it against the cream of the crop. And after today, the cream is rising by the Harbor in Baltimore.

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