Monday, November 13, 2006

Alias Smith & Johnson do in the Bucs again

Panthers 24, Bucs 10
MY PICK: Panthers 24-17


This game was lost for the putrid-but-pesky Bucs early in the first quarter when Tampa Bay had a chance to take a 7-0 lead on a long touchdown pass to Joey Galloway. The only problem was that QB Bruce The Rocket Gradkowski overthrew the speedy old wideout by about two yards right near the Panthers end zone and the ball fell as harmlessly as the Bucs playoff hopes have this season. That play epitomized both Gradkowski's struggles taking the reins of the offense from Chris Simms and the way the Bucs season has gone so far this year; their theme music would be "My Eyes Adore You"-" close, so close and yet so far..."

The Bucs (2-7) played a spirited contest- at least for a half- especially on defense, where they were without 3 starters, but in the end it was the ineptitude of their offense that led to this soul-crushing defeat. Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski had three turnovers on his own (2INTs, 1 fumble), missed some open men and had at least 4 more balls dropped (do the Bucs lead in that category? I gotta Google that. Imagine if they had drop-ball king T.O.D. back there, too.) Throw in a Cadillac Williams fumble caused by teammate Dwayne White's backside and it was an ass-backward kinda night for the boys in the pewter pants.

After the missed opportunity to Galloway the Bucs punted twice before the defense made a big play. And I don't like to pat myself on the back (he says as his arm cracks), but it was Ronde Barber who forced former teammate Meshawn Johnson into fumbling the ball at the Carolina 48. Four plays later Gradkowski hit Ike Hilliard, who ironically wears Meshawn's old number, for a 6-yard touchdown that made it 7-0 Bucs. It was only the second touchdown the Bucs have scored in the first quarter all year (outscored 48-14 now in the opening frame), and it was the first TD allowed by Carolina in the first quarter all season. Hmm, talk about the law of averages.

The teams traded futile drives, with Ronde playing like a man possessed and nearly intercepting a Jake Delhomme (22-34, 240yds, 2TDs, 1INT) pass and the makeshift Buc defense doing a good job of harassing Delhomme and stuffing the run. But right before the half the Bucs blew another opportunity to add to their lead. After picking up a couple of first downs and driving to midfield Gradkowski again went for Galloway deep right out of the two-minute warning, only this time the pass didn't fall incomplete. This one went into the arms of S Ken Lucas at the Carolina 1, and it was a momentum-swinging play, the last time it would appear that the Bucs were in the game. Although Ronde did get an interception of Delhomme right before the half, an unsportsmanlike call for team celebrating nullified the good field position. By the time the Bucs knew what happened Gradkowski tossed another pick, this time on a deep pass intended for Michael Clayton, and with 3 picks in 1:17 it was "Are You Ready for Some Halftime."

During the break the Panthers must have taken a look at their god-awful stats (98 total yards, 24 rushing yards, 3 first downs), realized they were playing against a kiddie core of defenders in place of the injured Rice, Quarels and Wyms, and decided to force the issue a bit. Plus they knew the Bucs offense is more bumbling & incompetent than Borat so they could afford to take a few chances. Like the 43-yard bomb to Steve Smith on 3rd & 6 that led to a 28-yard field goal just two minutes into the 2nd half. And the 4-yard TD to Meshawn (6 catches, 37 yds, 1TD, 1 Emmy-worthy acting job on a penalty) just 3 minutes after the Panthers D forced Gradkowski to fumble the ball at his own 44 on an attempted scramble. The big play on that drive was a 21-yard reception to Smith, who despite puking his guts out on the sidelines all game due to a virus, torched the Bucs to the tune of 8 catches for 149 yards & a score. In his last 2 games against Tampa Bay the diminutive receiver has 15 catches for 261 yards (17/YPC) and a TD.
In the blink of an eye the Panthers had the lead, 10-7, and they would add to it courtesy of Dwayne White's ass. Three plays later Carolina native Brad Hoover scored his 2nd career TD, it was 17-7, and that was left was the excuse making. Smith added insult to inability when he broke free along the sideline for a 36-yard score late that made the final margin, which sent the fans to the exits and the Bucs into the abyss of a lost season that still has 7 possibly horrific games yet to be played.
"Boy, can you believe how bad we suck?"

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