WR Joey Galloway scored his sixth touchdown in the last four games but the Bucs couldn't counter Jake Delhomme's four TD tosses
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were finished before they started on Sunday.
A victory by New Orleans at Atlanta formally eliminated the Buccaneers from the NFC playoff hunt, but Tampa Bay's larger aspirations continue to have a bigger problem: the Carolina Panthers. The Bucs have now lost four consecutive games to their heated division rivals, and for the fourth straight time it went down in frustrating fashion.
This time, however, it wasn't particularly close. QB Jake Delhomme threw four touchdown passes, two of them to Pro Bowl WR Muhsin Muhammad in the first half, and the Panthers capitalized on several ugly Buccaneer mistakes. A 321-yard passing game by Tampa Bay QB Brian Griese, one that showed the potential potency of a receiving threesome of Michael Clayton (four catches for 66 yards and two touchdowns), Joey Galloway (9-98-1) and Joe Jurevicius (6-66-0), went to waste. It's worth noting: Griese has three 300-yard passing games this season and the Bucs have lost them all.
"I'd just like to apologize to our fans and thank the fans that did stay," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "We're obviously disappointed in defeat. We're disappointed because we feel like we had multiple opportunities to make plays tonight."
This time it was sloppy play that frustrated the Bucs, rather than the typical last-minute loss. It began on he first play of the game, when Griese slipped after making a play fake, resulting in an 11-yard sack. The disheartening game was summed up by one bizarre string of events just before halftime. An extremely rare dropped pass by stud rookie receiver Clayton, a holding call, a dropped ball by the punter and two long Carolina passes in 15 seconds turned a potential game-tying touchdown drive by the Bucs into a field goal for the Panthers and a 10-point halftime lead.
Gruden, who along with Buccaneer fans has seen a maddening string of unusual occurrences in Buc losses, was particularly mystified by P Josh Bidwell's drop, describing it as the first such occurrence in Bidwell's very good five-year career.
"We might lead the league in 'first-time happenings' this year," said Gruden wryly.
Later, in the third quarter with the Bucs in the middle of an impressive drive, a botched play-fake ended up in a fumble by Griese that Carolina recovered at midfield. At the time, the Bucs were in the middle of a rally, having scored on their previous drive, forced a three-and-out and emerged from a hole at their own four-yard line with an impressive drive. It was all for naught thanks to the fumble, which was recovered by DE Al Wallace; worse, Carolina turned that possession into a 49-yard touchdown drive and a 16-point lead with 12 minutes to play (the extra point was missed). In another example of how the day went for the Buccaneers, Delhomme actually completed that drive by tossing a two-yard touchdown pass to a tight end, Mike Seidman, who was lying on his back in the end zone.
The Bucs, who committed eight giveaways in their previous two losses, were on the losing end of the turnover battle again. Two turnovers near midfield resulted in Carolina touchdown drives and a third giveaway scored directly, as 285-pound DT Kindal Moorehead returned a one-handed interception 17 yards for Carolina's final points. Over the past three games, Buccaneer opponents have scored 38 points either on returns of turnovers or the drives that immediately followed a giveaway.
The Bucs had difficulty getting to Delhomme, sacking him just once and forcing only five incompletions in 24 attempts. Delhomme threw no interceptions, had a passer rating of 143.4 and led a Carolina attack that was both potent and mistake-free. RB Nick Goings ran the ball 32 times and gained 127 tough yards, including a 17-yard run that set up Seidman's touchdown catch.
The Panthers scored first as a result of the first turnover. DT Brentson Buckner hit QB Brian Griese as he threw, causing a wobbler that was easily intercepted by S Colin Branch at the Panthers' 45. The Panthers took the resulting possession 55 yards in six plays, ending in a dazzling one-handed catch by Muhammad for a 15-yard touchdown.
The Bucs tied it up immediately, however, driving 76 yards on nine plays on the following possession. Griese was 6-for-6 for 70 yards on the drive, converting two third downs, including one on the scoring play. Facing third-and-four at the Panthers' 22, Griese threw a short crossing pass to rookie WR Michael Clayton. Clayton found open field in front of him to the two-yard line, where he bounced off CB Ricky Manning and flew akimbo into the end zone.
Griese finished the game with a 99.7 passer rating despite the two interceptions, thanks to 30-of-41 passing, 321 yards and three touchdowns. The Bucs came out throwing in the belief that it could get a number of big plays against the Panthers' blitz-happy defense. The passing numbers were there at the end of the game – 299 net yards to just 46 on the ground – but it was the Panthers who made the big plays.
"It's a credit to Carolina and their style," said Gruden. "They've done a great job this second half of the season with multiple blitzes from multiple defensive packages. They have a very good defense."
The tie from Clayton's catch didn't last long, as the Panthers immediately drove 61 yards on 10 plays to take a one-touchdown lead again four minutes into the second quarter. Delhomme repeatedly looked for Muhammad and finished the drive with a third-down, six-yard scoring pass to his favorite target. The drive nearly ended on the first play of the second quarter when S Dwight Smith forced a Muhammad fumble, but the ball bounced off S John Howell right back to Muhammad.
Muhammad, who finished the day with eight catches for 115 yards, also caught a 20-yard pass at the Bucs' eight with five seconds to play in the first half, setting up John Kasay's 26-yard field goal and the Panthers' 17-7 lead. That drive was the result of Bidwell's mishandling of a fine punt snap, which led to a block by Karl Hankton and possession for the Panthers at the Bucs' 44.
Any hope of a second-half comeback for the Buccaneers was essentially put to rest by Carolina's opening drive of the third quarter. With Delhomme repeatedly escaping sacks and still getting off precision throws, the Panthers marched 70 yards on 10 plays, eating six minutes off the clock and taking a 24-7 lead. The Panthers faced only one third down on the drive and scored on a first-and-goal pass to WR Keary Colbert from the four. Colbert, a promising rookie for the Panthers, scored three touchdowns in his two games against Tampa Bay this season.
The Bucs did keep fighting, however. CB Torrie Cox returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards to the Carolina 38 and the Bucs drove the rest of the way on seven plays to close the score to 24-14 with six minutes left in the third quarter. WR Joey Galloway, who had season highs in both receptions and receiving yards and scored his sixth touchdown in the last four games, made a dazzling, 20-yard catch just off the turf to get the ball to the 18, and Griese found Clayton in the back of the end zone on a second-down play from the six to finish the drive. The play was challenged by Carolina and Clayton was indeed close to putting his second foot out of bounds, but replay showed the foot just missing the back line.
After Seidman's touchdown, the Bucs again drove the length of the field, marching 78 yards on eight plays in four minutes. Griese hit Jurevicius for gains of 15 and 20 yards, then dropped a perfect, 14-yard lob over the middle to Galloway for his third touchdown pass of the game. Griese stayed on the turf for several seconds after the play, thanks to the massive hit he took while delivering the pass.
LB Derrick Brooks led the Bucs defense with 14 tackles and a pass defensed Smith was all over the field, making 11 solo tackles, breaking up a potential touchdown pass and forcing two fumbles (both recovered by Carolina). DE Greg Spires had Tampa Bay's only sack of the game.
With only the season finale left in Arizona next weekend, the Bucs fell to 5-10. They had a 4-4 record at home in 2004.
Notes: WR Michael Clayton's 22-yard scoring catch in the first quarter allowed him to tie the Bucs' rookie record for touchdown receptions. It was Clayton's fifth TD of the season, equaling the mark set by Kevin House in 1980. Then, in the third quarter, Clayton scored again and took sole possession of the record. Earlier in the season, Clayton broke the team rookie records for receptions and receiving yards. … RB Michael Pittman played in his 100th career game on Sunday. Forty-four of those 100 games have come in a Buccaneer uniform. … DE Greg Spires's second-quarter sack gave him a streak of three straight games with at least one sack. He is second on the team with eight sacks, a career high.
Injuries: The Buccaneers reported no injuries during the game.
Inactives: The Buccaneers named eight players inactive for Sunday's game: FB Greg Comella, TE Billy Baber, DT Keith Wright, T Anthony Davis, G Jeb Terry, WR Charles Lee, DE Bryant McNeal and designated third quarterback Brad Johnson.
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
The first quarter ended in a 7-7 tie. The Panthers scored first, driving 55 yards off a Buccaneer turnover, but Tampa Bay responded with a 76-yard touchdown march on the next possession. The Bucs had 94 yards of offense in the first period to the Panthers' 69, but they missed out on a golden chance for a takeaway just before the period ended.
The Buccaneers won the toss and got the ball at their own 30 when DE Dewayne White returned a short kickoff nine yards.
The drive got off to a poor start when QB Brian Griese tripped while executing a play-action fake, leading to a free, 11-yard sack for DE Mike Rucker. Griese then hit WR Tim Brown for eight yards on first down and WR Joe Jurevicius over the middle for 10 yards on third down, but that was three yards too few and the Bucs had to punt.
After Josh Bidwell's punt rolled to a stop at the Carolina 23, the Panthers started with two runs by RB Nick Goings. The first gained three yards but the second lost two when S Dwight Smith knifed through the line to hit Goings in the backfield. On third-and-nine, QB Jake Delhomme tried to fit a pass through coverage to TE Kris Mangum but the pass fell incomplete. Todd Sauerbrun's punt was a similar low roller that stopped at the Bucs' 27.
Griese threw on first down, finding WR Joey Galloway on the left sideline for a gain of 11 yards and a new set of downs. Griese was hit as he threw by DT Brentson Buckner on the next play, leading to an easy interception for S Colin Branch at the Panthers' 45.
Goings took it on first down again, taking a pitch just around left tackle and gaining four yards. Goings got the next handoff, too, and side-stepped a run-blitzing Derrick Brooks. That gave Goings an open field, and he gained 18 yards before S John Howell knocked him out of bounds.
From the Bucs' 33, Goings took a pitch to the right side but Brooks got him this time after a gain of just two. Delhomme then fired his first completion of the game, a 13-yard strike to WR Muhsin Muhammad.
Goings ran up the middle for three more yards, then Delhomme put the ball in the end zone on the next play. The Panther QB looked for Muhammad again and was rewarded with a touchdown when Muhammad made a dazzling, one-handed stab of a pass near the left sideline. That put Carolina up, 7-0 with seven minutes left in the first quarter.
The troubles continued for the Bucs on the ensuing kickoff, as a nice return by CB Torrie Cox was partially erased by a holding penalty. The Bucs started at their own 24 and gave it to RB Michael Pittman, who ran around right end for a gain of four. Griese then threw a precision slant pass to WR Michael Clayton that the rookie receiver turned into a 17-yard gain and a first down at the Bucs' 44.
A flat pass to TE Ken Dilger on the right sideline was good for five yards and Pittman's run up the middle picked up two more. On third-and-two from the Carolina 48, Griese found a wide-open Jurevicius for 10 more yards and a first down. Then, a pass over the middle to Galloway with the rush closing in on Griese gained 10 more yards.
A play-action pass to Galloway on the left sideline gained six yards, making it second-and-four from the Carolina 22. After Pittman's sweep left gained nothing, the Bucs faced third-and-four. They converted that and scored at the same time, as Clayton caught a short crossing route and found open field in front of him. Accelerating to the two, the rookie then jumped and bounced off a hit by CB Ricky Manning, Jr. to just get into the end zone.
A good kickoff return by Ricky Proehl gave the Panthers' a starting point of their own 38, and Delhomme hit Muhammad again on first down. S Dwight Smith actually stripped the ball from the receiver as he was going down, but the loose ball bounced off S John Howell right back to Muhammad, who was prone on the turf. After a Goings run got nothing, Delhomme hit Proehl for a six-yard gain and a first down on the last play of the first quarter.
Second Quarter Review
Carolina took control of the game in the second quarter, scoring the only 10 points of the period to go up 17-7. The Bucs were threatening to tie the game at 14-14 near the end of the half, but their two-minute drive stalled and the resulting punt went awry, setting up a field goal drive for the visitors. At the half, Carolina had 176 yards to the Bucs' 134.
Carolina had a first down at the Bucs' 48 when the second quarter began, and they tried to get a big play right away. QB Jake Delhomme threw deep down the right sideline to rookie WR Keary Colbert, but CB Brian Kelly stayed with Colbert and knocked the pass away at the last second. However, on second down, Delhomme found WR Muhsin Muhammad over the middle for a gain of 14.
RB Nick Goings tried to sweep right on first down from the Bucs' 34 but DE Greg Spires stopped him after a gain of just one. Goings caught a pass on a scrambling, broken play on the next snap and cut left across the field for a gain of 22 yards and a first down at the Bucs' 11.
Delhomme escaped quick pressure for the second straight play on first down and threw to Goings for a gain of two. FB Brad Hoover got the next carry and gained three yards, making it third-and-five from the six. The Panthers lined DE Julius Peppers wide to the left on the next play but Delhomme went back to Muhammad for a six-yard touchdown over the middle. That made the score 14-7 in Carolina's favor with 11 minutes to play in the first half.
Starting from the Bucs' 22, QB Brian Griese scrambled for a gain of three, then threw a six-yard sideline pass to WR Joe Jurevicius. On third-and-one, FB Mike Alstott slammed over right guard for two yards and a first down at the 33.
The Bucs nearly got a big play on the next snap with a well-designed play that had TE Ken Dilger open in the middle of the field, but the pass went off Dilger's fingers. After a five-yard run by Pittman, Griese had to settle for a dumpoff pass to Alstott and the play failed to gain a yard.
Starting at their own 19, the Panthers got a quick nine yards on a short pass to wide-open FB Brad Hoover. Goings couldn't get the first down on the next play, as S Dwight Smith and DE Simeon Rice combined on the stop. Goings got it on the next play, however, blasting up the middle for two yards.
Delhomme's first-down pass found Goings on the left sideline but he was knocked out of bounds by LB Ian Gold after a gain of four. Goings broke several tackles on a five-yard run to set up third-and-one, and the resulting play was a major disappointment for the Bucs. A misdirection pitch to Hoover worked for a gain of 11 yards, but Smith stripped the ball and recovered for Tampa Bay at the end of the run. Unfortunately, the play was erased by an offside call on DT Chartric Darby, resulting in a first down at the Carolina 44.
DE Greg Spires broke through for a seven-yard sack on the next play, and a quick stop of Hoover by LB Derrick Brooks allowed only one yard on second down. Good downfield coverage on third-and-16 forced Delhomme to settle for a sideline pass to TE Kris Mangum and CB Mario Edwards made a solo tackle eight yards short of the sticks. Todd Sauerbrun's punt went into the end zone for a touchback at two-minute warning (1:52).
The Bucs began their two-minute drill at the 20, starting with a nine-yard slant to WR Joey Galloway. Griese tried to hit Galloway a bit deeper on the next play and CB Chris Gamble was flagged for pass interference at the Bucs' 41. Griese completed a sideline pass to Alstott on the next snap and Alstott had room to run, gaining 17 yards to the Panthers' 42. The Bucs called a timeout with 1:22 left in the half.
After a five-yard sideline pass to Jurevicius, Griese was sacked viciously by blitzing LB Mark Fields. Fields had to use Griese's facemask to bring him down, however, resulting in a personal foul that gave the Bucs a first down at the Carolina 33.
Griese found Galloway on the sideline for a gain of four but had to throw the ball away to avoid a sack on second down. A holding call made it third-and-16 from the 39 and Griese again was forced into a desperation incompletion. The Bucs then brought on the punting unit with 30 seconds to play, but P Josh Bidwell dropped the snap and had his eventual kick blocked, with Carolina recovering at the Bucs' 44.
Carolina took the ball back with 20 seconds to play and moved into scoring range with passes over the middle to Mangum (16 yards) and Muhammad (20). With five seconds left at the Bucs' eight, the Panthers elected to kick and John Kasay nailed a 26-yard field goal to make the halftime lead 17-7 in Carolina's favor.
Third Quarter Review
Each team scored once in the third quarter, which wasn't too helpful for the Buccaneers, who entered and left the period in a 10-point hole. WR Michael Clayton set a new team record for touchdown receptions by a rookie on his second scoring catch of the day, but the Panthers had the ball at the Bucs' 25 when the quarter came to an end. Carolina had a 282-231 edge in total yards through three quarters and, more importantly, had secured the game's only two takeaways.
Carolina got the ball first at their own 30 but lost a yard when DE Simeon Rice stayed home on an end-around by WR Muhsin Muhammad. RB Nick Goings' six-yard, second-effort run made it third-and-five, and the Bucs brought a blitz. Somehow, QB Jake Delhomme got off a pass to Muhammad with S Dwight Smith hanging on his back for a gain of 23 yards to the Bucs' 42.
An incompletion down the left sideline to WR Keary Colbert made it second-and-10, but Muhammad again escaped a sack and got off an 11-yard pass to Goings. From the Bucs' 31, Goings got two handoffs, one for no yards and one for 11.
After another two-yard Goings, the Panthers ran a nice misdirection play, with Muhammad hitting TE Mike Seidman for a gain of 14 yards. On first-and-goal from the four, a fade pass to Colbert worked perfectly for a touchdown and a 24-7 Carolina lead.
Desperately needing a spark, the Bucs got one when CB Torrie Cox ran the ensuing kickoff back 50 yards to the Carolina 38. However, QB Brian Griese's first down pass was incomplete in RB Michael Pittman's direction. A rollout pass to TE Dave Moore did work beautifully, but the gain was erased by an illegal block downfield.
It was thus still second-and-10, but the Bucs moved the chains when WR Joey Galloway made an impressive catch just off the grass of a 20-yard pass. From the 18, Pittman swept right and gained six yards, then got six more on a short pass as he juked one defender to get past the sticks.
On first-and-goal from the six, Griese tried to hit TE Ken Dilger in the end zone but Dilger couldn't quite get to it with his dive. On the next play, Griese rolled right and eventually found WR Michael Clayton in the back of the end zone for Clayton's second TD of the game. The play was challenged by Carolina and reviewed, but replays showed that Clayton's second foot came down in bounds by about an inch. The Bucs closed the gap back to 24-14 on the play.
Carolina started again at their own 28, but backed up five yards on a false start. A draw play to going gained seven yards, and Goings's second-down run picked up two more. On third-and-six, the Panthers went back to a misdirection pitch play that worked earlier, but DE Simeon Rice was in the way and Goings had to cut back to the middle, gaining just three yards. Unfortunately, Todd Sauerbrun followed with a 61-yard punt that was downed at the Bucs' four.
A false start cost the Bucs two yards, after which Pittman gained four yards to the six to make it second-and-eight. Griese then threw a shallow out to FB Mike Alstott, who turned upfield, broke a tackle and gained 20 yards for a first down at the 26. A rollout pass to Dilger tacked on 11 more.
Griese rolled out again on the next play after faking a handoff and found a wide-open Galloway for a gain of 14 more to the Panthers' 49. A deep pass down the left sideline was incomplete, and the drive ended in disappointing fashion on the next snap. A botched handoff, or perhaps a play fake went awry, ended up in a fumble that DE Al Wallace recovered for Carolina at the Bucs' 49.
Goings swept left on first down for a gain of five, then got two more up the middle on second down. On the final play of the third quarter, Delhomme hit Muhammad again for 17 more yards down to the Bucs' 25.
Fourth Quarter Review
Carolina closed out its seventh victory of the season with a defensive touchdown, finishing a 37-20 win over the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. The yardage totals in the game were nearly identical – 348-345 in Carolina's favor – but the Bucs turned it over three times to the Panthers' none. The Buccaneers, who got a 321-yard, three-touchdown effort from QB Brian Griese, fall to 5-10 and have been eliminated from the playoff hunt.
With a first down at the Bucs' 25, the Panthers gave it twice to RB Nick Goings, who gained seven and one yards to make it third-and-two. Goings escaped a pack and found a seam on his next run to get the ball down to the one, with his dive coming up just short as S John Howell pushed him out of bounds.
Goings first try from the one failed as he was tripped up by LB Shelton Quarles for a loss of one. The Panthers then tried a fade pass to WR Muhsin Muhammad, but S Dwight Smith managed to break up a perfect pass at the last second, knocking the ball out of Muhammad's outstretched hands. The Panthers converted on third down, as QB Jake Delhomme somehow threw a perfect strike to TE Mike Seidman, who was lying on his back in the end zone. K John Kasay missed the extra point, making it 30-14 in Carolina's favor.
From the Bucs' 22, QB Brian Griese delivered a seven-yard pass to TE Ken Dilger, and RB Michael Pittman ran four yards to move the sticks. After an incompletion, Griese found WR Joe Jurevicius for a gain of 14 to the Bucs' 48.
Pittman caught a two-yard pass on first down, followed by a marvelous toe-dragging catch by Jurevicius that was erased by an ineligible-man-downfield penalty. On second-and-13, Griese found Jurevicius again for a 20-yard completion over the middle. The next play was just as good, a delayed slant by Clayton that gained 21 yards when Griese hit him in stride.
From the Carolina 14, Griese stood in and took a crushing hit, delivering a touchdown pass over the middle to Galloway. The Bucs went for two and failed, making it 30-20 with eight minutes to play.
A 36-yard kickoff return by Jamal Robertson put the ball at midfield. The Panthers gained a first down despite two unsuccessful plays, as Goings's one-yard run was followed by a tripping penalty.
From the Bucs' 39, Goings tried to sweep left but Smith shot in from behind the play to catch him for a loss of three. A false start cost Carolina five more yards. After a three-yard run by Goings, Delhomme scrambled left and tried to hit Muhammad in the middle of the field, but LB Derrick Brooks came up to break it up. The Panthers punted and Galloway made the fair catch at the 11.
Tampa Bay got the ball back with five minutes to play and Griese hit Galloway over the middle for a gain of 10. On the next snap, DT Kindal Moorehead intercepted a short pass intended for Pittman and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown.
From the Bucs' 36, Griese hit Pittman for a gain of five yards. On the next play, Griese looked for Clayton over the middle but threw it high and CB Chris Gamble made a diving interception after Clayton tipped it into the air. However, the play was overturned by a replay challenge, making it third-and-five at the 41. A completion to Galloway that would have moved the chains was erased by a holding penalty. On third-and-15, Griese tried to hit Galloway on a deep square-in, but CB Ricky Manning, Jr. came up to knock it away. The Bucs punted with four minutes to play and it rolled to a stop at the Panthers' 25.
After a first-down run by Goings gained three yards, Delhomme moved the chains with a naked bootleg around right end. Goings found a seam on the next play and ran through it for 17 more to the Bucs' 43. Two more Goings runs gained a total of six yards and brought on the two-minute warning. After the break, Goings was stopped on a two-yard run and the Panthers punted down to the Bucs' eight.
The Bucs ran out the clock with three Pittman runs for a total of 19 yards.