TE John Gilmore's first touchdown as a Buccaneer opened the scoring early in the first quarter
A trio of firsts helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a commanding 17-3 halftime lead over the Atlanta falcons.
Career-first interceptions by rookie CB Aqib Talib and second-year S Sabby Piscitelli led to points, and TE John Gilmore's first touchdown grab as a Buc, set up by Talib's pick, was the initial score of the day.
The Bucs got off to a hot start on defense, thanks to rookie Talib. A Matt Ryan pass went through the hands of his intended target and landed squarely in the lap of Talib, giving the Bucs excellent field position on their first possession of the game.
QB Brian Griese, starting in place of Jeff Garcia, gave the Bucs an early 7-0 lead, threading a nice pass from seven yards out right into the hands of Gilmore.
Veteran RB Warrick Dunn made one of the early highlight-reel plays of the 2008 campaign against his former club early in the second quarter. After a holding penalty and a false start moved the Bucs back to the Atlanta 17 in a goal-to-go situation, Dunn dipped and dodged his way on a draw all the way to the end zone, reaching out with his full wingspan to get the ball across the goal line. The extra point made it 14-0 Bucs with just over 11 minutes left in the half.
Another splash play on defense led to points for the pewter and red as Piscitelli's notched his own first pick. Ryan's pass was behind WR Michael Jenkins and Piscitelli was waiting, snagging the errant pass and taking it back to the Atlanta 17. The Bucs' offense stalled, however, but K Matt Bryant's 33-yard field goal gave the Bucs' a three-possession lead, 17-0, with just over nine minutes to go.
Only a late field goal by Atlanta kicker Jason Elam kept the Bucs from tallying a clean sheet in the first half, but an outstanding performance in all phases allowed the Bucs to head to the locker room up 17-3.
The Bucs defense allowed Atlanta only 106 total net yards, including only 29 yards through the air. Griese missed a few open receivers, but still looked sharp in his 2008 debut, completing 12-of-22 passes for 89 yards and one touchdown.
- Atlanta called tails and won the toss, electing to receive. RB Jerious Norwood fielded K Matt Bryant's kick and returned it to the 23-yard line. Rookie QB Matt Ryan's first-down pass toward the sideline was overthrown and incomplete. Ryan rolled right on second down, but WR Roddy White was unable to get two feet in bounds, setting up third-and-10. With the Buccaneers faithful at full roar, the Falcons then backed up five yards on a false start penalty. Facing third-and-15 at the 18, rookie CB Aqib Talib snagged his first career interception on a tipped pass, giving the Bucs the ball at the Atlanta 19. * RB Earnest Graham was wrapped up for a loss of one on first down and QB Brian Griese overthrew TE Alex Smith on second down for what would have been a sure touchdown. But Griese hooked up with WR Joey Galloway on third down for 13 yards, setting up first-and-goal at the seven. Graham darted ahead for a gain of two on first down. Griese then threaded the needle on a nice pass to TE John Gilmore for a seven-yard touchdown. Bryant's extra point gave the Bucs an early 7-0 lead. * Bryant's low line drive kick bounced through the end zone for a touchback, setting Ryan and the Falcons up at their own 20. RB Michael Turner was bottled up on first down for a gain of only one, then Norwood ran ahead for five yards on second down. On third-and-four, DE Gaines Adams jumped offside, giving the Falcons five free yards and moving the sticks. Turner took a pitch to the left for two yards, then Ryan was flushed from the pocket and ran ahead for three yards up the middle on second down. Facing third-and-five at the 36, Ryan scrambled again up the middle and was tackled short of the marker, but a holding penalty in the Bucs' secondary gave the Falcons another first down. On first down from the 43, Turner broke two tackles on his way to a 17-yard gain. Now in Bucs' territory at the 39, Turner picked up another three yards on a run to the left but was then smacked down in the backfield on second down for no gain. On third-and-seven at the Bucs' 36, S Tanard Jackson very nearly came up with the Bucs' second interception of the day, but the Falcons were still forced to punt. P Michael Koenen's kick was fair caught by WR Ike Hilliard at the 10-yard line where the Bucs' offense took over. * RB Warrick Dunn got a carry on first down, but was spun down for a loss of three. Griese looked for Dunn on second down on a quick pass to the left, but the ball bounced off Dunn's fingertips and fell incomplete. On third-and-13, Griese found Hilliard over the middle for a 13-yard gain and a first down. Dunn was stuffed up the middle on first down after a gain of one, but was stopped in the backfield on second down for a three-yard loss. On third-and-12 at the 18, Griese found WR Michael Clayton, but the pass was good for only eight yards, bringing P Josh Bidwell on to punt. WR Adam Jennings fielded a huge boot from Bidwell and was promptly wrapped up at the Atlanta 28. * Turner was stopped on first down for no gain by S Jermaine Phillips, then the Falcons dropped back five yards after being penalized for having 12 men in the huddle. White then dropped a pass from Ryan, setting up third-and-15. Norwood took a draw up the middle for seven yards, but the Falcons were forced to punt. WR Dexter Jackson watched as the punt was downed at the 34, but an illegal procedure foul on the Falcons tacked on an extra five yards and the Bucs' offense began at their own 39. * A false start moved the Bucs back five yards before Griese hit Galloway on a slant for a gain of five. The two very nearly hooked up again on a deep ball over the middle, but the ball was just barely overthrown. On third-and-10 at the 39, Hilliard came up clutch once again, taking a pass from Griese and getting just enough yardage to move the sticks. Graham then found a hole through the right side and picked up four yards. Griese hit FB B.J. Askew on the right sideline on second down for a gain of only two, setting up third-and-four at the 45 as the first quarter drew to a close. Hilliard once again got the call, catching a pass over the middle for nine yards and yet another first down. Now at the 34 of the Falcons, Graham burrowed ahead for four yards. Griese then found TE Alex Smith, who put a nifty juke on an Atlanta defender on his way to a 10 yard gain. Griese was pressured on the next play and threw incomplete over the middle. On second-and-10 from the 20, Griese threw to WR Antonio Bryant who had position on the defender, but the ball was poked away incomplete. The third-and-10 play saw Griese dump a shovel pass to Dunn who sprinted ahead for the necessary yards. Now facing first-and-goal at the six, Graham ran right for a score but the play was called back on a holding penalty. Griese then threw incomplete, and on second-and-goal at the 18, a false start penalty backed the Bucs up five more yards. Dunn picked his way ahead for six yards, setting up third-and-goal at the 17. Dunn then showed an amazing array of jukes, darting all the way to the goal line and reaching out for an outstanding 17-yard score. Bryant's extra point made it 14-0 Tampa Bay. * Norwood returned the ensuing kickoff to the 22-yard line. Ryan's first down pass was high, sailing incomplete. A deep pass on second down was very nearly intercepted by CB Phillip Buchanon over the middle, setting up third-and-10. Ryan then threw behind his intended target and S Sabby Piscitelli was waiting, snagging his first career interception and returning it to the Atlanta 17. * Graham slipped one tackle on first down before being tackled after a gain of two. Askew caught a short pass to the right but was immediately dragged down for no gain. On third-and-eight at the 15, Griese was hit as he threw and Bryant was unable to reel in the pass. Bryant came on for a 33-yard field goal attempt which sailed through the uprights, giving the Bucs a 17-0 lead with 9:07 left in the half. * Norwood ran the kickoff back for a decent return, but a block in the back moved the Falcons all the way back to their own 11. Turner was spun down for no gain on first down and Norwood then took a pitch right on second down for three yards. Facing third-and-seven at the 14, Ryan overthrew White down the right sideline incomplete, bringing Koenen on to punt. Jackson fielded the kick but went immediately to the turf at the Atlanta 46, where Griese and the offense took over. * Griese very nearly hit a wide-open Smith for nine yards on first down, but the ball short-hopped the tight end for an incompletion. Griese and Smith then missed connections again on second down, as it looked like there was some miscommunication between the two. On third-and-10 at the 48, Bryant broke free behind the secondary but was overthrown by Griese, bringing Bidwell on to punt and Jennings fair caught the kick at the Atlanta 13. * Turner found little room to run on first down, going down after no gain. Ryan finally tallied his first completion to White for nine yards, setting up third-and-one at the 22. WR Harry Douglas motioned into the backfield and took a handoff left for 33 yards. Turner then picked up another six yards on first down. On second-and-four at the Bucs' 39, Turner was stuffed by DE Gaines Adams for no gain, setting up third-and-four. On the play, Buchanon had excellent coverage down the right sideline on Jenkins and nearly picked off the pass, bringing Koenen on to punt once again. Hilliard called for a fair catch at the Bucs eight-yard line with four minutes left in the half. * Graham picked up five yards on first down and another yard on second down as the Bucs kept the clock moving. On third-and-four at the 14, Griese found Dunn, but he was immediately tackled after picking up only three as the clock wound down to the two-minute warning. Bidwell's punt was returned by Jennings all the way to the Bucs' 23-yard line with 1:46 to go. * Ryan hit Norwood on first down for an eight-yard completion, then was flustered in the pocket and threw a backwards pass, but the ball bounced harmlessly out of bounds before the Bucs could recover it. On third-and-13, Ryan evaded an all-out blitz from the Bucs and found White over the middle for 19 yards. On first-and-goal at the seven, DT Jovan Haye forced Ryan out of the pocket, where he threw it away incomplete. On second down, Adams beat two blockers and sacked Ryan for a loss of seven. The Falcons then burned their first timeout. Facing third-and-goal at the 14, Ryan was again forced out of the pocket but threw way too high for White in the end zone, bringing K Jason Elam on for a 32-yard attempt. The Bucs called their first time out, and Elam's attempt was good, making it 17-3 with 12 seconds left in the half. * After a touchback on the next kickoff, Griese took a knee and the teams headed to the locker rooms for halftime.