Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Lost in the Desert

Despite not allowing a touchdown, the Bucs finished their season on a down note in Arizona, falling 12-7 due to four turnovers and a string of familiar miscues…Tampa Bay finishes the 2004 season 5-11

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QB Chris Simms threw his first career touchdown pass but was also picked off twice in the loss to Arizona

So much happened, much of it bizarre and very little of it good for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Not during the 2004 season but on one play during the Bucs' season-ending 12-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. The play late in the first half did effectively sum up Tampa Bay's 2004 struggles, however, and it included a crushed quarterback, an interception by a 301-pound defensive tackle, a helmet ripped violently off a head, a fumble that bounced about 30 yards downfield and a Buccaneer recovery that somehow didn't count.

The Bucs dropped to 5-11 with the loss, ending the season with a four-game losing streak that mirrored the first month of the campaign. QB Chris Simms, filling in for an injured Brian Griese (foot) looked sharp at times in his second career start but could muster only one scoring drive while turning the ball over three times.

The unusual of events before halftime started with Simms, who was hit hard by rookie LB Karlos Dansby as he threw. Another rookie, DT Darnell Dockett, snatched the resulting pop-up out of the air and started down the right sideline with his first career interception. T Kenyatta Walker then ripped off Dockett's helmet on a tackle attempt, and WR Joe Jurevicius came up behind Dockett and poked the ball out of his arms. The fumbled football shot 30 yards downfield, where it was recovered by a hustling Michael Pittman. However, a personal foul penalty on Walker resulted in a rare ruling. The second turnover on the play was erased and the ball was given to Arizona near midfield. The Cardinals kicked a field goal a few plays later to push their halftime lead to 6-0.

That might be the most unusual moment of the season for many teams. For the Bucs, who have lost a string of games in frustrating fashion. it was business as usual.

Well before the above sequence, the game looked ugly, in fact. The Buccaneers committed false starts before two of their first three plays and had to punt despite gaining 11 yards on three Michael Pittman yards. The Cardinals followed with a 47-yard field goal drive to open the scoring seven minutes into the first quarter. Neither team scored again until the closing seconds of the first half, with the Bucs repeatedly killing their own chances.

For instance, a drive that reached Arizona's 25-yard line in the second quarter turned into a punt thanks to a third-down sack by Pro Bowl DE Bertrand Berry. Two minutes before halftime, the Bucs squandered field position inside Cardinal territory when a 22-yard punt return by Joey Galloway was erased by a 12-men-on-the-field penalty against Tampa Bay. The infraction, one of eight on the day for the Buccaneers, gave the Arizona offense enough yardage for a first down at their own 26. Then, after an interception by Dwight Smith moments later, a taunting penalty on former Cardinal S Dexter Jackson pushed the ball back to midfield and Dockett's interception erased the scoring threat.

Tampa Bay did take a brief lead in the game thanks to one of the things that has gone very well for the team this year, the development of rookie WR Michael Clayton. Late in the third quarter, Clayton turned a simple five-yard stop into a career-long 75-yard touchdown catch, slicing through the secondary and eventually fending off CB Duane Starks as he tight-roped the last seven yards down the sideline.

Clayton, who finished the game with two catches for 86 yards and the team's only score, put an exclamation point on one of the best rookie seasons by a receiver in NFL history. He finished with 80 catches for 1,193 yards, the fifth and fourth-highest totals, respectively, in league annals by a rookie. He made a clean sweep of the Bucs' rookie records and put up the fifth-most receptions and third-most receiving yards in franchise history among all players.

Even Clayton's effort wasn't without an unfortunate moment, however. With the Bucs facing fourth-and-two deep in their own territory at the two-minute warning, Clayton found a wide-open spot in the middle 20 yards downfield but dropped a perfect pass, ending the Bucs' second-to-last comeback chance.

The one-point lead afforded by Clayton's long play didn't last long. Arizona took the ensuing possession 56 yards to set up a 39-yard field goal by Neil Rackers, his third of the game in four tries.

The Bucs' offense had four more tries to retake the lead, but suffered a series of miscues and never got back out of their own territory. One of those miscues was a fumble by RB Michael Pittman at the Bucs' 19, setting up Rackers' fourth field goal, a 31-yarder. LB Derrick Brooks deflected a third-down pass to keep Arizona from converting the turnover into a touchdown, but the Cardinals still increased their lead to five points.

Simms, in only his second career start, had an up-and-down game, completing 16 of 32 passes for 224 yards. He often scrambled effectively to buy time, but he also took four sacks. He got eight different receivers involved but missed a ninth, RB Earnest Graham, on a wide-open pass down the left sideline in the fourth quarter that would have been a go-ahead touchdown. Besides the pop-up on Dansby's hit, none of his passes were intercepted until his last one, a pick on a deep pass over the middle by S Adrian Wilson that killed the Bucs' last chance. He also missed on a pair of critical short throws to running backs, including a third-down play on the Bucs' final drive that would have moved the chains. Clayton's drop followed on the next play.

Simms also fumbled a snap in Bucs' territory in the third quarter, leading to a scoring chance that the Bucs dodged when Rackers missed a 41-yard field goal. That gave the Bucs three giveaways on the day, balancing only one takeaway. Over the last four games, all losses, the Bucs turned the ball over 15 times and surrendered 37 points on the resulting returns or drives. In those same four games, they forced just two turnovers. The end of Sunday's game was emblematic of the difference. After turning the ball over on downs at the two-minute warning, the Bucs had a chance to get it back when S Dexter Jackson forced a fumble by Emmitt Smith, but three Bucs failed to cover it up before it bounced out of bounds.

The Bucs did get the ball back when Rackers missed a 47-yard field goal, but Simms put it in Wilson's territory on the first play from the Bucs' 38, with a minute left.

Tampa Bay's defense finished a game without allowing a touchdown for the third time in the last seven games. They held an opponent under 250 yards of offense for the sixth time in 2004 and constantly swarmed to the ball on passing plays. Buccaneer defenders broke up 10 passes on the day, with several other passes defensed going uncredited. S Dwight Smith had his second straight inspired effort, recording eight tackles, an interception and three passes defensed, while CB Brian Kelly was all over the field, breaking up four passes to go with five stops. The Bucs did not record a single sack on the day, however.

The Bucs' 5-11 record is their worst since 1993. They finished 1-7 on the road in 2004, their worst road effort since a 1-7 mark in 1996.

Notes: Rookie TE Nate Lawrie made his first career reception in the first quarter on Sunday. Lawrie caught a short pass in the right flat and turned it into a 15-yard gain. Later, in the second quarter, recent free agent signee TE Billy Baber made his first catch as a Buccaneer, a seven-yarder … S Dexter Jackson made his first start as a Buccaneer since Super Bowl XXXVII, in which he was named MVP. Jackson played the 2003 season for the Cardinals but was released off injured reserve midway through the 2004 season and signed by the Buccaneers. Jackson has seen periodic work at free safety since rejoining the Bucs, but he made his first start of the season on Sunday, replacing John Howell at free safety. Jackson finished with six solo tackles and a forced fumble. … First-year tackle Anthony Davis saw his first regular-season action on Sunday, replacing injured left tackle Derrick Deese on the last play of the first half. ... WR Michael Clayton's 75-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter tied for the 11th longest in franchise history. It was the longest ever by a Buccaneer rookie receiver, though rookie tight end Tyji Armstrong had an 81-yard touchdown catch against the Los Angeles Rams in 1992. … The Bucs had a one-point lead entering the fourth quarter but lost, 12-7. That marked just the second time this season and the sixth time in the last five years that the Bucs had lost a game in which they led going into the fourth quarter. They are 36-6 in that scenario from 2000-04.

Injuries: T Derrick Deese sustained a left knee sprain late in the first half and did not return. Safeties Dexter Jackson and Dwight Smith each missed portions of the game with cramps.

Inactives: The Buccaneers named eight players inactive for Sunday's game: FB Greg Comella, RB Ian Smart, DT Keith Wright, G Matt O'Dwyer, WR Charles Lee, TE Dave Moore and DE Bryant McNeal and designated third quarterback Brian Griese.

Quarter-by-Quarter Reports: During the game, Buccaneers.com provided updates of the action after each quarter. Those reviews of each period are below, providing a closer look at how the game unfolded.

First Quarter Review

Arizona scored the only points in a sloppy first quarter at Sun Devil Stadium, as the Cardinals took a 3-0 lead. The yardage was almost identical – 50-48 in the Bucs' favor – but each team hurt its own progress with three penalties.

Bucs' ball…

Tampa Bay won the toss but had to start at their own 20 when Neil Rackers booted the opening kickoff well into the end zone for a touchback.

RB Michael Pittman got the carry on first down but his toss-sweep right gained only a yard. After a false start pushed the ball back five yards, Pittman got the Bucs back to the 21 with a five-yard run off left tackle. Another false start reversed the ball again, Pittman got the ball again and once again got back to the 21.

P Josh Bidwell followed with a booming, 52-yard punt and CB Corey Ivy tripped up return man Karl Williams at the Arizona 30.

Cardinals' ball…

The Cardinals started in a three-wide alignment and QB Josh McCown fired an eight-yard sideline pass to WR Anquan Boldin to start the drive. The Cards tried to move the chains with an Emmitt Smith run, but LB Derrick Brooks stopped him after a gain of one. On third-and-one, FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo took an underneath handoff and bounced it back out to open field on the left side for a gain of 23 to the Bucs' 38.

On first down, McCown found Boldin on the left sideline again and the play gained 11 yards to the 27. TE Freddie Jones dropped a pass over the middle and Emmitt Smith's second-down run gained four yards, setting up third-and-six. The Cardinals went for it all, sending WR Larry Fitzgerald into the end zone on a straight fly, but CB Brian Kelly stayed with the rookie and broke up the pass at the last moment. Arizona settled for a 41-yard field goal try and Rackers nailed it for a 3-0 Cardinal lead.

Bucs' ball…

Chris Simms' first pass of the game was intended for WR Michael Clayton but behind the receiver and incomplete. Clayton was the target for the next pass, as well, but he couldn't hold on to a quick square in thanks to a hard hit. On third-and-10, Simms threw a shovel pass to Pittman that worked like a charm, with the back gaining exactly 10 yards for the Bucs' initial first down.

Simms faked a handoff on the next play and had to absorb a big hit to deliver a pass in the flat to TE Nate Lawrie, who gained 15 yards to the Bucs' 45. Simms had to throw his next pass away, and a Pittman run off right tackle lost two yards. On third-and-12, however, Simms scrambled away from pressure and found Pittman wide open for a short pass that became a 20-yard gain to Arizona's 37.

After trading penalties with the Cards, the Bucs were back to first-and-10 at the 37 minutes later, but Simms had to call a timeout before the play clock ran out.

After the break, Simms overthrew Clayton, which was fortunate since the receiver had broken upfield and a Cardinal defender was right in the path of the throw. Pittman worked hard to turn a pitch left into a one-yard gain. On third-and-nine, Pittman picked up a blitzing linebacker, which gave Simms time to throw, but CB Duane Starks broke up a hard pass just before it got to Clayton's hands. The Bucs punted with Williams making a fair catch at the Arizona 15.

Cardinals' ball…

On first down, McCown threw what was technically a lateral down the line to Fitzgerald, but Kelly figured out the play immediately and hit Fitzgerald as he caught the ball, resulting in a five-yard loss. Smith then tried to get around the left end but was caught by S Dexter Jackson for no gain. On third-and-15, McCown scrambled into the end zone and completed a 19-yard pass to Boldin, but a holding call brought it back.

On third-and-20 from the five, McCown tried to hit RB Josh Scobey underneath, but the pass was low and incomplete.

Bucs' ball…

After the punt, the Bucs started at their own 49 but lost eight yards on the first play when Simms was sacked by Russell Davis. After a three-yard run by Pittman, Simms had to throw his third-down pass away under pressure. The Bucs punted and former Buc Karl Williams took his return well into Buc territory, but a holding call brought it back to the Arizona 28.

Cardinals' ball…

A run and a catch by Smith gained a total of six yards and ended the first quarter.

Second Quarter Review

The Cardinals scored the only points of the second quarter, just as they had in the first. A field goal with three seconds left in the half – following a bizarre string of turnovers in the closing minutes – made it 6-0. Arizona had the lead despite gaining only 103 yards of offense. The Bucs had only 127 yards and had turned the ball over once while committing six penalties.

Cardinals' ball…

The Panthers faced a third-and-four at their own 34 to start the second quarter. DE Simeon Rice's rush forced QB Josh McCown to scramble and CB Brian Kelly eventually dived to bat away a short sideline pass intended for WR Bryant Johnson.

Bucs' ball…

The Bucs started at their 29 and got a one-yard gain on a toss-sweep by RB Michael Pittman. QB Chris Simms went deep over the middle on second down, hitting WR Joey Galloway over the middle for a gain of 22 to Arizona's 48.

On first down, Pittman swept right again for four yards. On second-and-six, Simms fired a sideline pass to FB Mike Alstott, who broke a tackle to get past the sticks and gain 12 yards to the 32. TE Billy Baber grabbed a seven-yard sideline pass on the next snap, but Alstott lost a yard on second down. On third-and-four, Simms was sacked by DE Bertrand Berry for a loss of 10 yards, taking the Bucs out of field goal range. Josh Bidwell came on to punt and his kick just a bit into the end zone for a touchback.

Cardinals' ball…

From the 20, the Cards got four yards on a run by FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo and six more and a first down by a quick screen to WR Larry Fitzgerald that was technically scored as a run. McCown was nearly sacked on the next play, but got off a screen pass to RB Emmitt Smith that gained 11 yards.

From the Arizona 41, McCown just slipped a pass over CB Ronde Barber into Fitzgerald's hands for a gain of seven. Ayanbadejo was tackled by S Dwight Smith a yard short of the sticks on second down, but the fullback got one more yard on the next play for a first down.

A holding penalty moved the Cards back 10 yards. After Emmitt Smith gained four yards on a run, a pass over the middle to TE Freddie Jones fell incomplete. On third-and-16, the Cardinals reacted to a corner blitz by throwing quickly out to WR Anquan Boldin, but the pass was high and nearly deflected into the hands of S Dexter Jackson.

Bucs' ball…

After a fair catch of the punt by Galloway at the Bucs' 20, Berry tipped away a pass intended for Pittman. However, Simms took a three-step drop and hit Galloway over the middle for a gain of 14 on the next play.

Simms was forced into a throwaway on the next play, and LB Karlos Dansby sniffed out a shovel pass and grabbed Pittman for no gain. Simms had to scramble on third down and tried to run, but gained just two yards and the Bucs had to punt.

Cardinals' ball…

A booming, 51-yard punt and a holding penalty pushed Arizona back to its own 15 with three minutes to play in the first half. Rice's pressure forced an errant throw on first down, but a rollout pass to Ayanbadejo on second down gained six yards. On third down, LB Shelton Quarles followed Barber in on a blitz and leaped to deflect a pass.

The Cards had to punt, but a 12-men-on-the-field penalty on the Bucs gave the home team five yards and a first down at the 26.

On the play that brought on the two-minute warning, Emmitt Smith swept left and gained two yards. After the break, Rice tipped away a second-down pass at the line. McCown scrambled and threw wildly on third down, and the pass was easily intercepted near the right sideline by S Dwight Smith.

Bucs' ball…

A taunting call against Dexter Jackson cost the Bucs' 15 yards back to their own 49, but Simms immediately completed passes to Joe Jurevicius and Galloway for a total of 20 yards. From the Cardinals' 31, Simms found Jurevicius again for seven more.

The next play, however, was unbelievably bizarre. Simms was hit as he threw by a blitzing Dansby, and the ball popped into the air and was intercepted by DT Darnell Dockett. As he began to return the ball up the right sideline, Dockett had his helmet ripped off by T Kenyatta Walker. Moments later, Jurevicius poked the ball out of Dockett's hands and it bounced well downfield, towards the Bucs' end zone. Pittman recovered for Tampa Bay at the 17, but Walker was flagged for a personal foul on the helmet removal. The officials brought the ball back to the spot of the foul, gave it to Arizona and enforced the penalty, out to the Bucs' 39.

Cardinals' ball…

After an incompletion, McCown hit Fitzgerald on a crossing route and the receiver just got away from Quarles to gain 13 yards. After a short pass to Ayanbadejo lost a yard, McCown took two cracks to the end zone, but both times Dwight Smith broke up a pass intended for Bryant Johnson.

Arizona settled for a 45-yard field goal by Neil Rackers, pushing their halftime lead to 6-0.

Bucs' ball…

After a touchback, the Bucs had to kneel once to end the half.

Third Quarter Review

The Bucs took a one-point lead in the third quarter thanks to the game's single biggest play. A 75-yard touchdown reception put the Bucs up 7-6 heading into the final period. The Bucs also had a 254-172 edge in total yardage but had turned the ball over twice to the Cardinals' one giveaway.

Cardinals' ball…

Arizona started the second half at their own 29, and RB Emmitt Smith shot through a seam at right guard to gain seven yards. LB Ian Gold caught Smith for no gain on the next play. On third-and-three, QB Josh McCown was pressured by DT Chartric Darby, and his pass over the middle to WR Larry Fitzgerald was broken up by S Dexter Jackson, who was hurt on the play.

Bucs' ball…

The Bucs' first drive of the second half started at their own 17, with RB Michael Pittman taking a pitch left for two yards. Pittman cut back into a seam on second down and made it into the secondary for a gain of 17, out to the Bucs' 36.

Pittman's next two runs were quick-hitters, too, as he gained seven and 12 yards to give the Bucs a first down at the Arizona 45. After a fifth straight run was stopped for no gain, QB Chris Simms faked another one and rolled right and threw an 11-yard pass to WR Michael Clayton for a first down at the Arizona 34.

Pittman lost a yard trying to get around left tackle. On second down, Simms nimbly escaped a near-sack by Dansby, spinning to his right and trying to hit Clayton deep downfield. CB Duane Starks broke the pass up at the goal line. Simms escaped pressure again on third down but missed on a short pass to Pittman that would have moved the sticks.

Cardinals' ball…

From their own 10-yard line, the Cards ran Smith to the right and got five yards. A slow-developing square-in by WR Bryant Johnson picked up seven yards to the 22. A false start made it first-and-15 at the 17, but Smith got a big push up the middle on the next snap for six yards. The Bucs brought a big blitz on the next play but McCown got the ball off to TE Freddie Jones for 14 yards and a first down at the 37.

CB Ronde Barber made an acrobatic break-up of a pass intended for WR Karl Williams on first down, and CB Brian Kelly did the same thing on the next snap to make it third-and-10. Arizona tried a screen to Jones, but the play came up well short of a first down and the Cardinals had to punt.

Bucs' ball…

The Bucs committed a false start from their own 16, then got four yards back on a Pittman run. On the next play, the snap got away from Simms and DT Darnell Dockett recovered for Arizona at the Bucs' 19.

Cardinals' ball…

Smith got the carries on first and second down, gaining a yard and having his second run erased by a holding penalty. On second-and-19 from the Bucs 28, a short pass to Johnson gained just two yards. A draw play to RB Josh Scobey gained eight yards, leading to a 35-yard field goal that Neil Rackers pulled to the left, no good.

Bucs' ball…

The Bucs needed only one play to take the lead. Simms threw a short pass to rookie WR Michael Clayton with the corner giving a five-yard cushion. Clayton took off towards the middle of the field and weaved through the secondary to get to the opposite sideline. CB Duane Starks tried to push Clayton out of bounds at the 15, but the receiver got around him with a stiff arm and danced the last eight yards to the pylon for the longest play of his young career. The extra point gave Tampa Bay a 7-6 lead.

Cardinals' ball…

The Cardinals started anew at their own 23, with McCown absorbing a big hit as he threw incomplete to Jones. However, Smith rushed off left guard for six yards and Karl Williams caught an eight-yard out to move the sticks. The third quarter came to an end before another play could be run.

Fourth Quarter Review

Arizona scored the only points of the fourth quarter on a pair of field goals and left with a 12-7 victory. The Bucs had three chances to come back after Arizona went ahead 9-7, but turned the ball over twice and lost another drive on downs. The Bucs actually outgained Arizona, 249-227, and allowed only 115 passing yards. However, they turned the ball over four times, suffered four sacks and committed eight costly penalties. The Bucs fall to 5-11 to finish the 2004 season, while the Cardinals move to 6-10.

Cardinals' ball…

Arizona had a first down at its own 37 to start the fourth quarter and got five yards on RB Emmitt Smiths' gash off left guard. QB Josh McCown then hit WR Anquan Boldin on a quick slant for 12 yards out to the Bucs' 46.

A sideline pass to WR Larry Fitzgerald gained 16 more yards, and Smith cut back to the right for another six to the Bucs' 24. It was third-and-two after a two-yard run by Smith, and DT Chartric Darby then stuffed FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo on a run up the middle. The Cardinals took a 9-7 lead on a 39-yard field goal by Neil Rackers.

Bucs' ball…

A 44-yard kickoff return by Torrie Cox put the Bucs at their own 42, but their first two plays got nothing. QB Chris Simms had to throw the ball away on first down after stumbling back from center, and Pittman's run up the middle was stopped for no gain. On third-and-10, the Cardinals' line stunted and DE Bertrand Berry came through free to sack Simms for a loss of 12 yards. The Bucs had to punt, and a short kick gave it back to the Cardinals at their own 38.

Cardinals' ball…

The Cardinals ran three times to try to move the chains and drain the clock, but couldn't gain a first down. Smith got one yard on first down and seven on second down, but Ayanbadejo was again stopped by Darby on a third-and-two run. The Cardinals punted and a holding call pushed Tampa Bay back to its own nine.

Bucs' ball…

Pittman took a first down carry off right guard and gained three yards but fumbled at the end of the play, forced by DT Russell Davis and recovered by S Robert Tate at the Bucs' 14.

Cardinals' ball…

CB Brian Kelly broke up a pass near the goal line intended for WR Anquan Boldin, but Smith bounced his second-down carry around left end for a gain of six. On third down, McCown sprinted right and tried to throw in the end zone, but LB Derrick Brooks leaped to bat it in the air and McCown caught his own pass for a loss of five yards. Rackers followed with a 31-yard field goal to pump Arizona's lead up to 12-7.

Bucs' ball…

Another good return by Torrie Cox brought the ball out to the Bucs' 36. A quick pass to FB Mike Alstott gained three yards on first down. On second down, Simms had RB Earnest Graham wide open behind the defense down the left side but overthrew him. On third down, he tried to sidestep a sack by DT Darnell Dockett, but Dockett got an arm on him and brought him down for a seven-yard loss. A 28-yard punt was fair caught at the Cardinals' 40.

Cardinals' ball…

The Cardinals again went three-and-out. Smith ran twice for a total of four yards before McCown tried to hit Boldin on a slant. CB Mario Edwards broke that one up and the Cardinals had to punt.

Bucs' ball…

Tampa Bay got the ball back at its own 14 with 3:20 to play. A short pass to TE Ken Dilger gained three yards, and Joe Jurevicius picked up five more on another short pass. Simms then missed Alstott on a short out that would have picked up the first down, and chose to go for it on fourth-and-two from their own 22.

Simms had time to throw on fourth down and found rookie WR Michael Clayton wide open over the middle. However, the rookie had a very rare drop and the Bucs turned the ball over on downs.

Cardinals' ball…

Smith lost a yard on first down and two yards on second down, stopped both times by Dexter Jackson. Jackson also forced a fumble on the second run, but the ball bounced off Edwards and went out of bounds. After a false start, the Cardinals tried to throw to WR Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone but it was well out of bounds. Arizona then tried a 47-yard field goal but Rackers missed it to the left.

Bucs' ball…

That gave the Bucs' one more chance, starting from their own 38, but Simms' first pass, deep over the middle, was easily intercepted by S Adrian Wilson and returned to the Bucs' 40.

Cardinals' ball…

The Cardinals kneeled twice to end the game.

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