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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Jagged Edge

Tampa Bay’s 17-10 loss in Jacksonville, keyed by an outstanding performance by Jaguars WR Jimmy Smith pushes the Bucs to the brink of playoff-race elimination


RB Thomas Jones' five-yard touchdown run tied the game in the second quarter but the Bucs wouldn't crack the end zone again

Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith got into one exclusive club together Sunday night. Smith and the Jacksonville Jaguars then knocked McCardell's Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of a more important one.

Fittingly, on a night in which Smith caught his 700th career pass just minutes before McCardell did the same, it was the ultra-prolific Jacksonville receiver that delivered the knockout blow in the Jaguars' 17-10 victory. By sending the Bucs to their seventh defeat of the season, the 3-9 Jaguars took the defending league champions out of prime playoff contention.

The loss doesn't officially end the Buccaneers' playoff hopes, but it certainly puts them in a very deep hole at 5-7. There are eight other NFC teams with better records heading into Week 14, including three to which Tampa Bay has already lost. The Bucs had hoped to build on an inspiring Monday night win over the New York Giants but six days later couldn't muster anywhere near the same effort on offense or defense.

Jacksonville, behind rookie QB Byron Leftwich's hot hand, out-gained Tampa Bay, 359 yards to 221. That marked the Bucs' lowest offensive output of the season and the third-most yards they have allowed all year.

Leftwich, who was not sacked, used outstanding protection to complete 20 of 34 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The killing blow, as far as the Bucs were concerned, was a 48-yard touchdown bomb to Smith at the beginning of the fourth quarter, with the receiver diving across the goal line to make the catch. CB Tim Wansley, covering on the play, pulled up with a hamstring strain near the play's end and was lost for the rest of the game.

The Bucs had two opportunities to drive for the tying score, but one march ended with a punt just into Jacksonville territory and the other was lost on downs when mammoth DT John Henderson knocked down third and fourth-down passes at the line of scrimmage near midfield.

They almost got a third. Jacksonville tried to slip Smith deep one more time with three minutes to play and CB Ronde Barber appeared to make an incredible, leaping interception. However, Jags Head Coach Jack Del Rio challenged the ruling and the replay official ruled that the ball had shifted slightly in Barber's hands when it hit the ground, making it nothing more than an incompletion. Jacksonville held onto the ball, gained two more first downs and iced the game.

Smith and McCardell were both central figures in the game. Smith joined the 700 Club before McCardell, catching three of Leftwich's first four completions on the game-opening drive, two of which converted third downs. That drive failed to produce any points, but Smith caught five of Leftwich's first six completions and finished the game with 10 catches for 136 yards and the deciding touchdown.

McCardell joined his old running mate in the second quarter. The 12th-year veteran caught two critical passes on the Bucs' 56-yard scoring drive, including a nine-yarder over the middle on third-and-eight from the Jaguars' 14. McCardell finished the game with eight receptions for 74 yards, both team highs. McCardell virtually had to produce for Tampa Bay's passing attack, which played without starter Joe Jurevicius, who suited up but couldn't take the field due to right knee soreness. Charles Lee started in his place and caught six passes for 47 yards.

Playing with a short deck, Bucs QB Brad Johnson had one of his more inconsistent games of the season. He completed 21 of 38 passes, but none for longer than 18 yards. The Bucs gained just 144 net passing yards and Johnson failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time all season, snapping a team-record 11-game streak in that category.

Gruden played the game as if there was no time left to waste on shaky performances. After tackle Kenyatta Walker was flagged for holding in the first quarter, he was replaced at right tackle by Cornell Green to start the second period. Walker did return to start the second half but Green was on the field for two second-quarter scoring drives.

Plagued by penalties all season, the Bucs were flagged seven times for 80 yards. With five more penalty yards next season, Tampa Bay will set a new single-season record in that category.

The Bucs were fortunate to be tied, 10-10, at halftime given that the Jaguars had gained 208 yards of offense to Tampa Bay's 69. Tampa Bay's defense which had allowed an average of 15.4 first downs per game through the first 11 contests, had surrendered 13 by halftime and allowed Leftwich to complete 15 of 22 passes for 157 yards. Leftwich was not sacked before halftime, and he used an excellently maintained pocket to find Smith repeatedly.

However, a failed fourth down and a missed field goal thwarted Jacksonville's first two forays into Buc territory. On their third, a drive that began at Tampa Bay's 40 thanks to LB Mike Peterson's interception, the Jags finished it off, marching those 40 yards on seven plays. Leftwich's 20-yard pass to WR Kevin Johnson on third-and-nine was the big play, and a 10-yard strike to TE Kyle Brady finished it off.

The Bucs tied the game five minutes later. McCardell's 700th catch led to Thomas Jones' five-yard run, a tough carry up the middle on which Jones extended the ball just over the plane of the goal line as he hit the ground.

Tampa Bay took its first lead three minutes later on a short field goal drive set up by Brady's fumble. LB Derrick Brooks forced the turnover by flipping Brady with a low tackle, and CB Tim Wansley recovered for Tampa Bay at the Jacksonville 39. Six plays later, Martin Gramatica popped a 47-yard field goal high and just over the crossbar.

Jacksonville tied the game just before halftime with Seth Marler's 28-yard field goal. Leftwich had Johnson open in the end zone on third down from the five but threw well behind his man. The Jags almost uncovered one more unlikely scoring chance before halftime when Marler's kickoff with 10 seconds left, intended to be a low, hard squib, shot directly into S David Gibson's stomach and bounced out. A first-down pass to WR Kevin Johnson would have given the Jags one last crack at an end zone pass or long field goal, but Johnson dropped it.

After getting the lead, the Jaguars turned the ball over to RB Fred Taylor, who finished the game with 118 yards on 29 carries as Jacksonville out-rushed the Bucs, 135-77. The Bucs did a good job of bottling up Taylor in the first half, allowing him just 45 yards on 16 carries, an average of 2.8 yards per tote. Many of his early runs were stopped by hard tackles near the line of scrimmage. In the end, however, Jacksonville was able to stick to the ground game and capitalize in the late going.

Bucs RB Michael Pittman did turn 10 carries into 60 yards, but Tampa Bay was playing catch-up much of the day.

Linebackers Shelton Quarles and Derrick Brooks had 10 tackles each, and Brooks added a forced fumble. DE Simeon Rice, the NFL's co-sack leader coming into the game, did not drop Leftwich but did nearly intercept two of his passes.

The Bucs dropped into third place in the NFC South, which they won last year with a 12-4 regular-season record. Tampa Bay is one of five NFC playoff teams from 2002 that currently has a record below .500.

Notes: The Bucs extended their rather lengthy streak of consecutive games with at least one takeaway to 53 with Tim Wansley's fumble recovery in the second quarter. That streak is the longest current one and the second longest in the NFL since 1983; the longest is Philadelphia's 71 from 1985-90. … RB Thomas Jones scored the Bucs' first touchdown with a tough, five-yard run in the second quarter. Jones also scored on a one-yard run on Monday night against the New York Giants. That marked the first time since the third and fourth weeks of 2002 that the Buccaneers have scored rushing touchdowns in two consecutive regular-season games (they scored on the ground in all three 2002 playoff games.) … P Tom Tupa played in his 200th career game on Sunday night. Tupa punted five times, averaging 36.6 yards per kick.

Injury Updates: CB Tim Wansley left the game early in the fourth quarter with a left hamstring strain and did not return. WR Joe Jurevicius was active for the game but did not play due to soreness in his right knee.

Quarter Reports: During Sunday night's game, provided game updates at the end of each quarter. Those updates follow to offer a closer look at the game's key plays.

First Quarter Update

The first quarter sped by with neither team scoring, but the Jaguars controlled the action and kept the ball in Tampa Bay's end for virtually the entire period. Jacksonville blew two scoring chances on a missed field goal and a failed fourth down, but had the ball near the Bucs' red zone again when the quarter came to an end. In the opening period, Jacksonville rang up 97 yards of offense to the Bucs' three.

Jacksonville won the toss and elected to receive, with David Allen deep to field the opening kickoff. Allen got the ball out to the 25 to start Jacksonville's first drive.

QB Byron Leftwich started out in the shotgun but threw his first pass incomplete in WR Troy Edwards' direction. RB Fred Taylor got the carry on second down but was tripped up quickly by LB Derrick Brooks after a three-yard gain. Leftwich converted the third-and-seven, however, with a 10-yard out to WR Jimmy Smith on the left for a first down at the 38.

Taylor's second run, around left tackle, picked up six yards. Smith lined up on the right side this time and caught another out for a gain of 11 to the Bucs' 45. S John Lynch stopped Taylor dead in his tracks with a hard hit on first down, and LB Ryan Nece made a nice stop on a second-down pass to Taylor to make it third-and-six. Smith converted that one, too, with a quick slant on the left that was good for nine more.

The Jags were quickly in another third-down situation after a two-yard Taylor run and a four-yard pass to the same man. Jacksonville tried to convert with a Taylor sweep to the left but he was stopped a yard short by LB Shelton Quarles. The Jaguars decided to go for it on fourth down and the Bucs finally snuffed the drive with good coverage on Leftwich's rollout to the right, which ended in an incompletion in Smith's direction.

The Bucs' drive started poorly, as QB Brad Johnson slipped in the pocket and was touched down for a seven-yard sack by Marcus Stroud. A second-down pass in RB Michael Pittman's direction was low and incomplete, and a draw play to Pittman only got the ball back to the 20, where it was fourth-and-14. Tom Tupa got off a nice, 55-yard punt, but Allen returned it 28 yards to the Bucs' 47.

Leftwich and Smith hooked up on a 17-yard pass over the middle on first down and, after a two-yard loss on a sweep by Taylor, did it again for 14 more. From the Bucs' 18, Taylor ran up the middle for five yards, but he lost two of them back on second down when DT Warren Sapp caught him in the backfield. On third-and-seven, a big blitz by the Bucs rushed Leftwich into a throwaway that became intentional grounding. The loss on the play was 13 yards, which made Seth Marler's field goal try a 46-yarder, and Marler missed it to the left.

Tampa Bay thus took over at its own 36, but a holding penalty quickly made it first-and-20. RB Thomas Jones run around left end picked up four yards, and Pittman bashed up the middle for three more. On third-and-13, Johnson's pass zipped straight into the hands of LB Mike Peterson for an interception.

The Jaguars had excellent field position again and, from the Bucs' 40, picked up four yards on a quick pass over the middle to Taylor. Another out by Smith worked against sagging Buc coverage for a gain of nine and a first down at the 27. A fine tackle by Quarles held Taylor to just one yard on a first-down carry, and that play ended the quarter.

Second Quarter Update

The Bucs and Jags each scored twice in the second quarter, playing to a 10-10 halftime tie. Each team also capitalized on a single turnover by the other. However, Jacksonville's offense looked much healthier than Tampa Bay's before the break, ringing up 208 yards to the visitors' 69. Rookie QB Byron Leftwich had a hot hand, completing 15 of 22 passes for 157 yards and one touchdown.

The Jaguars opened the second quarter with a second-and-nine at the Bucs' 26, but Leftwich overthrew a seam pass to WR Jimmy Smith on the first play. However, Leftwich got good protection against a blitz on third-and-nine and easily completed a deep out to WR Kevin Johnson for a gain of 20.

From the Bucs' six, RB Fred Taylor tried to get around right end but was dumped for a loss of four by DE Greg Spires. On second-and-goal, Leftwich threw a dart to TE Kyle Brady just inside the end zone for the game's first score.

A short kickoff and a personal foul gave the Bucs a drive start of their own 44, and QB Brad Johnson's first pass was a seven-yard completion to WR Charles Lee. A swing pass to RB Michael Pittman got two more yards to make it third-and-one from the Jaguars' 47. Pittman's carry up the middle left the Bucs just inches short, but Johnson snuck it up the middle himself on fourth down to move the chains.

Johnson then got the Bucs deep into Jacksonville territory with a quick strike over the middle to WR Keenan McCardell that was good for 18 yards. A pass to RB Thomas Jones and a run up the middle by Jones earned another first down at the 16. After a first-down incompletion under heavy pressure, the Bucs used their first timeout of the half.

After the break, the Bucs pitched it to Jones around left end for a gain of two. On third-and-eight, Johnson fired it to McCardell over the middle for a gain of nine and a first down at the five. McCardell held on despite S Donovin Darius' hard hit. The Bucs scored on the next play, as Jones picked his way up the middle and stretched the ball over the goal line as he hit the ground. Jones was credited with a five-yard touchdown run.

The Jaguars' next drive started at their own 31, but a first-down run by Taylor failed to gain a yard as LB Ryan Nece made a quick tackle. Leftwich found Brady again on the next play, but LB Derrick Brooks dislodged the ball by flipping the tight end over, and CB Tim Wansley recovered for Tampa Bay at Jacksonville's 39.

The Bucs also started on the ground but had more success as Pittman got four yards up the middle. Johnson enjoyed a well-formed pocket on second down and had time to find McCardell over the middle for a gain of 13. From the Jags' 22, Johnson dropped back and looked left before settling for a quick toss over the middle to Pittman, but LB Mike Peterson broke it up. Jones lined up alone in the backfield on second-and-10 but Darius quickly invaded the backfield to drop him for a loss of seven. On third-and-17, Johnson was chased out of the pocket and had to throw the ball away. The Bucs settled for Martin Gramatica's 47-yard field goal attempt, and the kicker just snuck it over the crossbar for three points.

Allen's next kickoff return got out to the 30, and the Jags got a quick nine yards on a pass down the line of scrimmage to Smith. On second-and-one, Leftwich ran a play action and looked deep, but eventually chose to scramble up the middle, picking up six yards and a first down at the Jacksonville 45.

Leftwich came out of the game for one play, but backup David Garrard simply handed off to Taylor for a gain of nine up the middle. With Leftwich back in, the Jags gave it again to Taylor, who danced around left end for a gain of six. Leftwich's next pass, on a rollout right, was incomplete, but Brady made a sliding, 16-yard catch on second down.

That play brought on the two-minute warning, with Jacksonville at the Bucs' 24. After the break, Taylor bounced his next run around the left end and got down to Tampa Bay's 11. DE Simeon Rice stood Taylor up on his next carry up the middle, allowing only two yards, and a second-down run was stopped by Brooks at the five. On third down, Leftwich had Johnson open in the end zone but missed him. Jacksonville tied the game on Seth Marler's 23-yard field goal.

The Jaguars tried a low squib kick on the ensuing kickoff, but the ball shot right into and out of S David Gibson's stomach. Jacksonville recovered at their own 43 and had time to run two plays. Fortunately, Johnson dropped a pass well into Buccaneer territory on first down and a 14-yard completion to WR Troy Edwards drained the last five seconds off the clock.

Third Quarter Update

A sloppy third quarter ended the same way it began, with the Buccaneers and Jaguars tied, 10-10. Each team missed on a field goal try from beyond 40 yards. When the period came to an end, Jacksonville had the ball in Tampa Bay's half and a 257-169 edge in total yards.

The Bucs got the ball to start the second half and Reggie Barlow got the opening return out to the 25. A first-down pass to WR Keenan McCardell over the middle picked up nine yards, and RB Michael Pittman went over left tackle for one yard and a first down. From there, QB Brad Johnson hit WR Charles Lee, who broke a tackle and picked up 15 yards to midfield.

Johnson took it himself up the middle on first down for a gain of four. Johnson rolled right on second down but everyone was covered and the result was a five-yard sack for DT Marcus Stroud. Johnson's third-down pass to Pittman was incomplete and the Bucs had to punt. Tom Tupa hit his punt off the side of his foot but it still rolled down to the Jags' 15.

The Jaguars threw a quick pass down the line to WR Troy Edwards on first down, but CB Tim Wansley and LB Derrick Brooks combined to stop the play after a gain of three. After a second-down incompletion, DE Simeon Rice nearly intercepted QB Byron Leftwich's next pass, but at least knocked it down to kill the drive.

A long punt, good coverage and a personal foul on LB Vinny Ciurciu forced Tampa Bay all the way back to its own 22. A 15-yard run by Pittman, however, got the drive off to a good start. From the 37, Johnson hit Lee again for five yards over the middle, but Jones lost a yard on second down thanks to CB Rashean Mathis' backfield penetration. On third-and-six, Johnson was hit as he threw, forcing an incompletion and a punt. Tupa's fine first punt, down to the Jags' nine, was erased by a penalty, and the makeup kick bounced the wrong direction back to Jacksonville's 36.

DT Anthony McFarland tripped up RB LaBrandon Toefield at the line on first down, but Toefield broke through for a gain of nine on second down. FB Chris Fuamatu Ma'afala busted over right guard for a gain of five and a first down at the midfield stripe. A delay-of-game penalty helped put Jacksonville into a second-and-15, but RB Fred Taylor made it around left end for a gain of 25 down to Tampa Bay's 30 on the next snap.

McFarland's pressure helped force a first-down incompletion, and Wansley broke up a short pass to Jimmy Smith on second down. A delayed handoff to Taylor worked well but was stopped three yards short of the stick. Jacksonville brought on K Seth Marler for a 41-yard field goal try and Marler missed it.

Tampa Bay got the ball back at their own 31. Johnson tried to hit FB Jameel Cook on first down but DE Lionel Barnes leaped to knock it away. On second down, Pittman sliced over right guard for a gain of 10 yards out to the Bucs' 41. After a deep pass to WR Keenan McCardell was just out of reach, Johnson hit Lee on a short slant for eight yards. A false start made it third-and-seven, but Johnson just got a pass off to McCardell for a gain of eight into Jacksonville territory.

Pittman ripped off what would have been a 21-yard run, but a downfield holding penalty on Lee erased all but four yards of it. On the next play, Johnson just slipped a sideline pass over the hands of Mathis into those of Jones and the back danced up the left sideline for a gain of 14. An attempted screen was batted down at the line on first down, and a short pass to McCardell made it third-and-seven. Lee got open on a pump-fake on third down, but Johnson just overthrew him. The Bucs brought Martin Gramatica out to try a 45-yard field goal but the kicker hooked it wide left.

RB Fred Taylor picked up four yards up the middle on first down, but Wansley was inexplicably called for pass interference on the next snap. Jacksonville thus got a new set of downs at its own 49, then got four yards on a Taylor run to the left.

Fourth Quarter Update

Jacksonville scored the only points of the fourth quarter on an amazing diving catch by WR Jimmy Smith. When the Buccaneers couldn't score on either of their subsequent drives, the Jaguars left with a 17-10 victory. Jacksonville out-gained the Bucs by a wide margin, totaling 359 yards to the visitors' 221. Smith was the game's star, catching 10 passes for 136 yards and the deciding score. Tampa Bay drops to 5-7 with the loss, tied for the ninth-best record in the NFC.

The Jaguars had a second-and-six at Tampa Bay's 47 when the fourth quarter began. RB Fred Taylor tested the middle on second down but was stopped by DE Ellis Wyms after a gain of just one. The Jaguars tried Taylor on a delayed handoff on third-and-five but CB Ronde Barber alertly jumped on the back after a gain of just two. Mark Royals' punt bounced into the end zone for a touchback.

WR Keenan McCardell caught a short pass on the right side on first down and tripped trying to turn it upfield, still getting 12 yards and a first down. An outlet pass to FB Jameel Cook picked up four yards, and RB Thomas Jones pushed through a pile on a sweep left to get five more. On third-and-one, the Bucs tried a short pass to TE Ken Dilger but CB Rashean Mathis made the tackle for no gain.

After the punt, Jacksonville took over at its own 26. A pass interference penalty on S Dwight Smith on the first play gave Jacksonville a first down just over midfield. Smith defended on the next play, helping force an incompletion in WR Kevin Johnson's direction. However, on the next play, WR Jimmy Smith made a fabulous, diving catch of a deep pass by QB Byron Leftwich as he crossed the goal line. That 48-yard catch, Smith's eighth of the game, gave Jacksonville a 17-10 lead with 10:23 to go.

Thomas Jones' fine return of a short kickoff got the Bucs out to their own 38. A short pass to RB Michael Pittman was good for four yards, but Mathis made a diving breakup of a middle pass to McCardell on second down. A pass interference penalty on CB Fernando Bryant gave the Bucs a new set of downs at the Jacksonville 48, and Pittman shot up the middle for six yards on the next play. Cook's second-down catch got just enough yards to move the sticks again.

QB Brad Johnson tried to hit McCardell on first down from the 38, but it was incomplete. A second-down pass to Dilger was off the mark, make it third-and-10. Johnson's next pass was just too low for Reggie Barlow to dig it out, as confirmed on a replay challenge called by the Buccaneers. Tom Tupa angled the resulting punt out of bounds at the Jacksonville nine.

A quick out to WR Troy Edwards picked up seven yards on first down, and Taylor powered over left tackle for four yards and a first down at the 20. Taylor sidestepped a tackle at the line on first down and pushed forward for five yards. LB Derrick Brooks kept Taylor's next run to just one yards, and Wyms leaped to knock down a third-and-five pass intended for Smith. The Jaguars punted and the Bucs started again at their own 33 with 5:12 remaining.

Johnson got off a first-down pass under pressure to Lee for five yards, then hit the same man on a square-in for seven yards and a first down at the Bucs' 45. Pittman took a toss right and got four yards, though the Bucs had to use a second replay challenge to prove that he didn't fumble at the end of the play.

On second-and-six, Johnson threw a shallow out to McCardell for a gain of two, making it third-and-four. The Bucs had to go for it on fourth down when Johnson's next pass was batted down at the line, and the exact same thing happened again.

Jacksonville took over at their own 49 with 3:11 remaining. Taylor's first run was stopped by LB Shelton Quarles for no gain and the Bucs called a timeout with 3:05 left. The Jaguars then tried to burn Tampa Bay with a deep pass to Smith, but CB Ronde Barber made an unbelievable diving interception at the Bucs' 32. Or so it seemed. A replay challenge by the Jaguars succeeded in overturning the call.

A nine-yard out to Smith and a leap over the middle by Taylor gained Jacksonville another first down at Tampa Bay's 40. A four-yard run by Taylor brought on the two-minute warning, and Taylor broke free for 12 yards up the middle after the break. Two kneel downs ended the game.

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