QB Chris Simms threw for 264 yards in his first start of the season but was sacked five times and turned the ball over three times
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden cautioned all who would listen this week that the San Francisco 49ers were better than their NFL rankings – 31st on offense, 32nd on defense – would indicate. However, the Buccaneers' 15-10 loss in San Francisco Sunday probably had more to do with Tampa Bay's own failings.
The Bucs had no aesthetic goals in mind for the game, despite the 49ers' supposed shortcomings, and would have happily flown home with an "ugly win." However, the loss, which dropped the Bucs to 5-2 on the season and into a three-way tie for first with Atlanta and Carolina in the NFC South, will cast a harsher light on such problems as a stalled running game, continued penalty problems and little impact in the return game.
Of most concern, though, will be the up-and-down performance of the offense behind third-year QB Chris Simms, who was making his first start of the season. Simms is at the helm due to a season-ending knee injury to Brian Griese, and the Bucs had expected their offense to continue operating efficiently under his direction. Instead, Tampa Bay gained just 270 yards against the 49ers' beleaguered defense and turned the ball over three times. The first two turnovers, interceptions by Shawntae Spencer and Brandon Moore in the third quarter, led to San Francisco field goals on short drives, providing the eventual margin of victory.
The 49ers, in fact, never got particularly close to Tampa Bay's end zone. They scored on drives of five, two, four and four plays, none covering more than 29 yards. Overall, Tampa Bay held the 49ers to 208 yards of offense and only one incursion into its red zone. Unfortunately, veteran K Joe Nedney hit on five field goals, from 45, 47, 46, 41, and 28 yards before finally missing from 39 yards in the closing minutes.
Simms completed 21 of 34 passes for 264 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He distributed the ball to eight different receivers and finished with a passer rating of 71.2.
However, Simms was also sacked five times and may have contributed to the protection problems by holding the ball for an excessive period on some plays. Twice Simms directed impressive drives into or near the 49ers' red zone, only to have critical sacks kill the touchdown opportunities and make for long field goal attempts. Matt Bryant converted on a career-long 47-yard kick just before halftime but missed from 52 yards early in the fourth quarter. Later, with the Bucs trailing by five with two minutes to play, Simms was sacked by DT Bryant Young and fumbled the ball away on the first play of the Bucs' last real hope.
It simply wasn't the Buccaneers' day. If that wasn't obvious by the time Spencer's interception set up Nedney's third field goal, it certainly became clear a few minutes later when a Simms pass bounced off the head of Umpire Darrell Jenkins right to Moore. That pick set up Nedney for a 46-yard field goal and a 12-3 San Francisco lead.
WR Joey Galloway, clearly the Bucs' best offensive player on Sunday, kept the team into the game. With the Bucs stuck in that 12-3 hole five minutes into the final quarter, Galloway took a short pass from Simms, looped around CB Bruce Thornton and simply outran S Mike Adams to the sideline and up the field. The result was a 78-yard that accounted for almost a third of the team's total yardage on the day. Galloway finished with 149 yards on eight catches.
That long touchdown, coupled by the ankle injury that had knocked starting QB Ken Dorsey out of the game early in the fourth quarter, gave the Bucs hope. With rookie first-rounder Alex Smith inactive due to a knee injury, second-year man Cody Pickett came on to lead the offense, and it seemed as if the 49ers were content to run the ball and drain the clock. However, Pickett's first pass was a critical, 10-yard strike to WR Brandon Lloyd on third-and-eight, taking the ball down to the Bucs' 40 as the clock ticked inside five minutes to play. It was reminiscent of the play Jake Delhomme made on his only pass of the game in a 23-20 Buc loss at New Orleans in 2002 , before Delhomme went to Carolina and became one of the league's most successful starters.
No one expects Pickett to graduate into the starting role in San Francisco, as that spot is reserved for 2005 first-overall draft pick Alex Smith. In fact, Pickett was utilized on punt coverage Sunday and actually made a tackle minutes before he entered the game for starter Ken Dorsey, who had suffered an ankle sprain in the fourth quarter. Both passers saw action against the Bucs because Smith was out with a sprained knee, suffered in last week's 52-17 49ers loss at Washington.
Dorsey didn't produce much against the Bucs' swarming pass defense, completing just seven of 18 passes for 40 yards, but he wasn't sacked once and he never turned the ball over. Meanwhile, RB Kevan Barlow gained 101 yards on 26 carries as the 49ers gained 158 rushing yards against what had been the league's top-ranked rush defense. Barlow's biggest run of the day was a 29-yarder near the end of the first half that turned a simple run-out-the-clock opportunity into a sneaky three points on Nedney's 47-yard field goal.
The Bucs had hoped to give Simms a strong running game off which to create plays, too, in his third career start, but rookie back Carnell Williams, back from a layoff of nearly a month, couldn't get untracked in the first half. He had just 19 yards on nine carries at the break and finished the game with 20 yards on 13 carries. As a team, the Bucs gained a season-low 43 yards on 20 carries.
Unlike the banged-up 49ers, the Bucs were relatively healthy coming off their bye week. Only free safety Dexter Jackson was forced to sit out the game due to injury. However, Tampa Bay lost another starter on defense prior to the game when right defensive end Simeon Rice was sent home to Tampa. Rice was one of eight players deactivated by the Buccaneers, a surprise move prompted by an undisclosed issue involving team discipline. Without Rice, the Bucs did not record a single sack against the 49ers, who were playing with a backup left tackle in Anthony Clement.
With neither offense clicking behind their new quarterbacks, the first quarter turned into a field position battle, with each of the six drives in that period ending in punts. The Bucs' first three possessions, in fact, resulted in just 59 net yards.
The pattern continued well into the second quarter. After 10 possessions, each team had punted five times and the Bucs had 67 yards to the 49ers' 66. It became 12 drives and six punts each before the 49ers finally broke through, though it wasn't the result of any sudden offensive prowess. A penalty on a punt return by the Bucs and a short punt a few minutes later gave San Francisco possession just into Tampa Bay territory. A late hit by DT Ellis Wyms gave the 49ers 15 critical yards on the first play of the drive, and that's all they needed to get in position for Nedney's 45-yard field goal.
The Bucs also got untracked on their next drive, moving quickly downfield on a dazzling, 19-yard sideline grab by Galloway and a 24-yard catch-and-run by rookie TE Alex Smith. A successful quarterback sneak on third-and-inches gave the Bucs a first down at the 18, but a false start and a sack by CB Derrick Johnson forced Tampa Bay to try a 47-yard field goal. Bryant nailed it to tie the score.
The tie didn't last long; 18 seconds, to be exact. A kickoff return to the 42 and that tackle-breaking, 29-yard run by Barlow improbably put San Francisco in position for a 47-yard field goal attempt. The strong-legged Nedney was true again and the 49ers took a three-point advantage into the break.
The Bucs allowed only 101 more yards of offense after the intermission, but continually set the 49ers up for short scores, thanks in part to the turnovers and in part to eight more penalties for one of the league's most penalized teams.
Defensively, Tampa Bay was led by Derrick Brooks (nine tackles) and Ronde Barber (eight tackles, one pass defensed. LB Ryan Nece added six tackles, including one for a seven-yard loss on Barlow early in the game.
The loss drops the Bucs to 2-2 on the road this season, and 5-2 overall. It marks their first defeat against an NFC team and drops them into that tie with the Panthers and Falcons. The 5-2 Panthers, big winners over Minnesota on Sunday, will come to Raymond James Stadium next Sunday to take on the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay's first intra-divisional contest of the season.
Game Notes: Sunday's loss extended the Bucs' struggles in San Francisco. The Bucs have lost their last seven road games against the 49ers, with their last win in San Francisco coming on October 26, 1980. Overall, Tampa Bay is 1-10 in road games against the 49ers.] … The Bucs opened in their "Rocket" backfield on offense. Both RB Carnell Williams and RB Michael Pittman were behind QB Chris Simms, though Pittman eventually shifted out to wide. Pittman replaced FB Mike Alstott in the starting lineup. … WR Michael Clayton caught an eight-yard pass in the first quarter that proved to be the 100th catch of his career. Clayton had 80 receptions as a rookie in 2004. … One quarter later, WR Joey Galloway hauled in his 500th career reception on an impressive sideline grab of a tipped pass for a gain of 19 yards. … WR Joey Galloway's 78-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter stands as his 11th touchdown in his last 12 games, dating back to the final five games of 2004. The play also was QB Chris Simms' longest career completion, surpassing a 75-yarder to WR Michael Clayton in last year's season finale at Arizona.
Inactives: The Bucs named the following eight players inactive prior to Sunday's game: S Dexter Jackson, FB Rick Razzano, T Chris Colmer, C Scott Jackson, TE Nate Lawrie, WR J.R. Russell, DE Simeon Rice and designated third quarterback Tim Rattay.
San Francisco also declared eight inactives before the game: WR Otis Amey, CB Willie Middlebrooks, CB Ahmed Plummer, LB Saleem Rasheed, T Jonas Jennings, WR Arnaz Battle, DT Ronald Fields and designated third quarterback Alex Smith.
Injuries: The Bucs reported no injuries during the game.