WR Joey Galloway scored the Bucs' only points on a four-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter
The 2006 season ended the same way it began, with a loss at Raymond James Stadium, but not before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed more of the late-season fight that characterized December and built optimism for 2007.
In falling to the Seattle Seahawks 23-7, however, the Bucs were foiled by some of the same problems that plagued them all season. TE Dave Moore's fumble near Seattle's goal line prevented the Bucs from potentially taking the lead in the second quarter, and FB Mike Alstott's fumble set up a Josh Brown field goal early in the third quarter. The pass defense proved susceptible to big plays, an unfamiliar problem for Tampa Bay before this season, and the offense had serious difficulty finishing drives.
However, the Bucs ran the ball very effectively, stopped the run while the game was close, provided outstanding pass protection and made good use of Joey Galloway's speed. All those things, too, have been earmarks of the team's recent mini-surge.
What may have impressed Head Coach Jon Gruden the most, though, was that fight that his team showed to the very finish of the campaign.
"It's been a very rough season," said Gruden. "I'm proud of our football team in spite of the record. These guys practiced and played hard for 16 consecutive weeks. There was a lot of adversity during the season; a lot of men went down. I commend them for that. A lot of people come unraveled in seasons like this but these guys stayed together. That's a real compliment. That's something this football team will hopefully never forget and will be able to build on in the future."
With RB Cadillac Williams out for a second straight week, RB Michael Pittman led the ground attack with another strong performance. After gaining 86 yards on 16 carries at Cleveland, the veteran back racked up 73 more on just carries Sunday, leading a 110-yard ground attack that got little chance to flex its muscle in the second half. On the other side, even with a healthy Shaun Alexander playing the entire game, the Seahawks were able to rush for just 32 yards on 15 carries in the first half. After building a two-touchdown lead in the second half, the Seahawks turned almost exclusively to the ground and eventually piled up 132 rushing yards.
Rattay was sacked just once and not at all in the first half against the league's eighth-best pass-rushing defense. That gave him time to complete 16 of 27 passes for 185 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Rattay compiled a 92.4 passer rating; that and the 5.2 yards per carry gained by the rushing attack suggested the Bucs could have fought back into the game in the second half. However, Seattle managed to hold the ball for 22 of the 30 minutes in the second half, giving the Bucs almost no time to rally.
Rattay's favorite target was Galloway, who caught eight passes for 118 yards, including a four-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Galloway finished the season with 1,057 receiving yards despite the team's difficulty getting the ball to him through much of the second half of the season.
The two fumbles, unfortunately, prevented the Bucs from erasing an early 10-0 deficit and the game took on a lopsided feel in the second half. Simply pounding away at the front seven and the clock, Seattle put together drives of eight and nine minutes in the third and fourth quarters to drain any potential drama. The second one, in fact, used up the final nine minutes of the game.
Buc fans looked for their end-of-season dramatics elsewhere, such as a runback early in the fourth quarter that CB Torrie Cox nearly broke for the first kickoff return touchdown in franchise history. And the fumbles by Alstott and Moore did little to dampen the fans' enthusiasm for the long-time Buc favorites, both of whom could be mulling retirement. Alstott is the Bucs' all-time touchdowns leader and second-leading career rusher, and Moore has played in more games for Tampa Bay than any player other than Derrick Brooks. The Raymond James Stadium crowd showed their enthusiasm for the pair of veterans often, beginning with the pregame introductions. At the end, as the players left the field, Alstott was surrounded by dozens of cameras, though his wife, Nicole, was able to get to him for an emotional kiss.
The crowd was momentarily stirred by an impressive Buc drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter, too. However, the Seattle defense mounted a successful goal-line stand, as the Bucs failed to punch it in on four tries from the four-yard line. Down 16, the Bucs went for it on fourth-and-goal from the three with nine-and-a-half minutes to play, but Rattay's quick pass to Galloway was broken up by a hard hit from S Ken Hamlin.
And with that, in essence, the Bucs' season came to an end, as Seattle followed with that nine-minute drive, almost all of it on the ground. Thoughts quickly turned to the coming season, and what of value can be taken from this lost campaign.
"There are a lot of things you can take away," said Gruden. "So many players played. Many weren't here to start the season. Experience is one of the great teachers, if not the greatest teacher that I know. It's not a coach, it's not a veteran player, it's experience. We had some bad experiences. We had some really great experiences. Clearly we have some things to address. We'll use the offseason to try to improve our football team with the players we do have.
"I'm confident. Sometimes you have to take a huge step backward in order to take a step forward. The playing field is about to get level for us in terms of acquiring players, drafting players and developing players. We're excited about the future and we'll prove that."
The Seahawks started the game with a full complement of starters and an obvious head of steam. After forcing a Buccaneer three-and-out to start the game, Seattle marched rather easily down the field, scoring the game's first points on a 44-yard field goal drive. Josh Brown kicked a 35-yarder to cap it, after the Bucs' defense stiffened in the red zone. CB Ronde Barber knocked away a third-down pass intended for WR D.J. Hackett to deny the touchdown.
The Bucs' offense seized the momentum right back with two straight big-gainers on the ground. First, Pittman bounced his first-down carry around left end and into the clear for a gain of 32, putting the ball just past midfield. On the next play, Rattay faked to Pittman and handed to Galloway, who then pitched to rookie WR Maurice Stovall on the reverse. Stovall gained 18 yards on his first career carry, at one point hurdling right over a Seahawks defender while on a dead run. The drive stalled there, however, and Matt Bryant's 44-yard field goal drive snuck just outside the right upright, leaving the score at 3-0.
The momentum didn't linger long on Tampa Bay's sideline, however. The Seahawks followed up Bryant's miss with another sharp drive, marching 66 yards for a touchdown. After a Jerramy Stevens catch on third-and-seven put the ball at the Bucs' one, Tampa Bay's defense fought hard for the goal-line stop, twice turning back Alexander on carries up the middle. However, Alexander angled his third-down run out past left tackle and made it around the edge for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead with three minutes left in the opening quarter.
Once again, the Bucs' offense made good work of its first two plays on the next drive. After Pittman burst up the middle for a gain of 15, Rattay faked a handoff and threw downfield to Galloway on a deep post. Galloway was shadowed by CB Kelly Herndon but he made a leaping catch in front of the defender and fell to the turf at the Seattle 21. Rattay then converted a third-and-six from the 17 with a quick seam pass to Galloway over the middle, putting the ball on the Seahawks' four as the first quarter expired. Galloway got the ball into the end zone, too, on a third-down pass from the four. Split wide left, Galloway jogged to the front of the end zone, waited for Stovall's clear-out route and then cut sharply inside to make the catch.
Unfortunately, Seattle needed just one play to get back into Buccaneer territory, thanks to a personal-foul facemask on LB Ryan Nece. Fortunately, DE Dewayne White ripped the ball out of Alexander's grasp on the next play and CB Phillip Buchanon recovered for the Bucs at their own 43. A 19-yard strike to Galloway and another 11-yard run by Stovall on an end-around put the ball at Seattle's 14, but Moore fumbled after trying to stretch his five-yard reception to the first-down marker and S Michael Boulware recovered for the Seahawks. Boulware eluded several tacklers, getting all the way out to the Seattle 37 before Moore caught back up with him for the tackle.
Three consecutive great defensive plays forced a punt. S Kalvin Pearson sliced through a sweep to drop Alexander for a loss of four and Buchanon caught up to a deep pass to Deion Branch down the left sideline to knock it away at the last second. Hasselbeck nearly converted the third-and-14 with a pass over the middle to Bobby Engram but Barber made a diving break-up.
However, Seattle mounted one more scoring drive before halftime, thanks largely to a 26-yard catch by Stevens. An apparent 32-yard touchdown catch by Hackett was overturned by replay – it was akin to Edell Shepherd's no-catch against Washington in the playoffs last year – but Hackett then caught a 21-yard pass on third-and-18 and a five-yard TD toss to cap it. The Seahawks thus took a 17-7 lead into halftime.
Game Notes: WR Joey Galloway eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark on the season with his 13-yard catch on the last play of the first quarter. With 118 total yards on the day, Galloway finished the year with 1,057 yards, making him the second player in franchise history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Keyshawn Johnson was the first to do so, in 2001 and 2002. … Seattle improved its all-time record against the Bucs to 7-1 with Sunday's victory. The Bucs' only win in the series came at Seattle in 1999. … RB Michael Pittman moved into the top five among the franchise's all-time leading rushers on Sunday. With 73 yards, he pushed his Buccaneer total to 3,076 and moved past Ricky Bell (3,057) and Reggie Cobb (3,061) into fourth place. Pittman trails only James Wilder (5,957), Mike Alstott (5,088) and Warrick Dunn (4,200). Pittman actually caught both Bell and Cobb on the same play, a six-yard run midway through the second quarter. On the previous carry, Pittman, who played four seasons with Arizona, crossed over 5,000 rushing yards for his NFL career. He now has 5,021 career rushing yards. … For the Buccaneers' pregame player introductions, the team had a special group on the field to form the tunnel of flags. Holding the Buc flags were the members of the Plant High School varsity football team, which recently won the Florida 4A state championship. … The Bucs sent their offense out during their introductions, but actually included 13 players rather than 11. In addition to the designated starters, the Bucs also introduced third wide receiver Ike Hilliard and tight end/long-snapper Dave Moore. Moore is concluding his 15th NFL season, and his 13th with the Buccaneers. The last player introduced was fullback Mike Alstott. … DE Greg Spires had the first sack of the game, a four-yarder of Matt Hasselbeck in the third quarter. Spires has recorded four sacks in his last three games.
Inactives: The Bucs named the following eight players inactive prior to Sunday's game: RB Cadillac Williams, RB Lionel Gates, S Donte Nicholson, DT Darrell Campbell, C Nick Mihlhauser, T Donald Penn, TE Alex Smith and designated third quarterback Luke McCown. Williams and Smith were out due to injury.
The Seahawks named the following eight players inactive: CB Marcus Trufant, DB Rich Gardner, FB David Kirtman, G Chris Gray, T Ray Willis, WR Darrell Jackson, TE Itula Mili and designated third quarterback David Green. Trufant, Gray and Jackson were all out due to injuries.
Injuries: For the Buccaneers, G Sean Mahan sustained a sprained ankle in the fourth quarter and did not return.
For Seattle, CB Kelly Herndon suffered a broken ankle in the first quarter and did not return. LB Leroy Hill suffered a concussion in the third quarter and did not return. CB Jimmy Williams injured his left knee in the third quarter and did not return.