LB Ryan Nece could be ready to return after the break afforded by the bye week
Early or late, September or November, the bye week always comes at the perfect time.
Since it takes just a few games to speckle the average NFL roster with nagging injuries, the bye week usually provides a handful of key players with some much-needed rest and recovery time. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are one of the four teams not scheduled to play this coming weekend, the bye will be particularly useful for Davin Joseph, Brian Kelly, Dave Moore and Ryan Nece.
Of course, there's also this: For the second straight season, the Bucs will be using the two weeks between games as a cram session for a new starting quarterback. Last year, Chris Simms studied overtime during the bye week to get up to speed after the season-ending knee injury to then-starter Brian Griese. This year, it's Simms who is out with an injury – he had a spleenectomy after Sunday’s game and is out for an indeterminate time – and rookie Bruce Gradkowski who will be Jon Gruden's shadow for the next two weeks.
Joseph, Kelly, Moore and Nece, on the other hand, just need time to heal. Joseph hasn't played yet in the regular season due to a practice-field knee sprain; Kelly has missed the last two contests with a confounding turf-toe injury; Moore hasn't played since suffering a rib injury in the opener; and Nece was deactivated on Sunday due to a knee ailment. All four could return against the New Orleans Saints on October 8, though their recovery times are likely to vary a little bit.
"Brian Kelly is hopefully going to be ready after the bye," said Gruden on Monday. "Davin Joseph will be close; whether or not he's ready for the Saints, I don't know. Dave Moore has a chance to return for the New Orleans game, as does Ryan Nece. We don't really have any other significant injuries to report from the [Carolina] game."
The rest started on Tuesday, the usual players' day off during an in-season week. The team will get some extra work in during the bye, but the players will have the majority of this week to use as they see fit.
The Bucs will practice for approximately an hour each on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. They will then get a three-day weekend before returning for a "bonus day" of preparations for the Saints on Monday. (During a normal week's schedule, Monday is a very light day to allow players to recuperate from Sunday's game.) After another off day on Tuesday, a normal in-season week will resume on Wednesday. The team travels to New Orleans on Saturday, October 7 in advance of its second road game of the season.
For the first time since the 2000 season, the Bucs head into the bye week after a loss. This is also the first time since 1996 that the bye arrived before Tampa Bay had its first victory of the season. That, coupled with the Simms' misfortune could lead the Bucs to be preoccupied during their down time, but Gruden believes his squad will continue to work as hard as ever.
"It's tough to lose, man," said Gruden. "It's tough to lose your quarterback. And it's easy to stand up here at 0-3 and feel really bad. And I do feel bad. But at the same time, today is another day. I am just going to keep coaching, and keep working. And our football team deserves a lot of credit for showing the resolve that they did to come back [against Carolina]. So, we'll move on."
A Shot Downfield
On Monday, Gruden was asked to describe the strategy behind the Bucs' last offensive play call of Sunday's game.
At the time, the Bucs were leading, 24-23, and facing a third-and-five at their own 25 at the two-minute warning. The Bucs had gotten the ball back at their own 20 with 2:33 left following a Carolina punt and had run Cadillac Williams up the middle twice. Those two plays gained five yards and cost Carolina one timeout and the last 33 seconds before the two-minute warning.
Often, teams will run in this situation, too, even though a third-down run against a team that is anticipating that call and loading up the front with defenders is a low-percentage play. The reluctance to pass is due to the fact that an incompletion will stop the clock, saving the other team some time on offense after the ensuing punt.
The Buccaneers chose to pass, with Simms trying to hit WR Joey Galloway deep down the left sideline. After the incompletion and the punt, Carolina started at its own 23 with 1:41 to play, from where they mounted the game-winning field goal drive.
What Gruden and the Buccaneers' sideline realized before making that play call was that even a run wouldn't drain the clock significantly. Carolina had one timeout remaining and would have used it to stop the clock before the punt. Assuming they stop the run, the Panthers would have gotten the ball back with almost two minutes to play. They would have been out of timeouts, but would have had plenty of time to mount the same drive.
In fact, the Panthers didn't use their timeout until just before the winning kick, and they allowed about 15 seconds to run off the clock before doing so. Jake Delhomme's fourth-down scramble got the ball to the Bucs' 30 with more than 30 seconds to play.
"We felt we had the right play called," Gruden explained. "We had an option to go either way. Galloway got a press coverage; we felt we could run by them, honestly. If we run the ball and don't make it then they are going to use their final timeout and really a 40-yard net on a punt is going to give them the ball on the 35-yard line with a minute and 50 seconds to go.
"We are going to give our offense a chance to make a first down. We wanted to be fairly conservative in terms of the protection. We didn't want to have a blitz or a free rusher. We wanted to take a shot at what we think is our best receiver and a safe throw, give him a chance to win the game. Fortunately for us we got a 52 or 53-yard net punt. We got a great bounce and they got the ball back with a minute and 40 seconds to go at their own 23-yard line and we weren't able to get off the field. It is a credit to them."
Tackling the Issue
Eight minutes into the second quarter of Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium, Jake Delhomme snapped the ball and threw a quick screen pass down the line to Steve Smith.
That's the kind of play that has hurt many a team on many a Sunday, with Smith making the first tackler miss and then streaking down the sideline for a huge chunk of yards. At this particular moment, however, Buccaneer linebacker Derrick Brooks knifed sideways through the congestion and caught Smith from behind, dragging him down for no gain.
It was at this same moment that the Buccaneer defense started to look like the one that finished first in the NFL in yards allowed in 2005 and somewhere in the top 10 for each of the last nine years.
Just minutes after the Bucs' first touchdown of the season, this fine play by Brooks started a defensive resurgence that led Tampa Bay back into what appeared to be another blowout in the making. During the next two quarters, the defense would force three turnovers leading to 17 points and a 24-23 Buccaneer lead at one point in the fourth period. Brooks' play was just one of many that turned the decibel level in Raymond James back to the deafening levels of previous seasons.
Still, by the end of the day, the Bucs had allowed 350 yards of offense after giving up 382 the week before at Atlanta. One of the problems was one that has not faced this particular defense often: Poor tackling.
"They made a lot of yards after breaking tackles or avoiding tacklers," said Gruden of Carolina's offensive performance. "That hurt us. They were able to get out of some really difficult holes. We pinned them back in field position a couple of times and they were able to get out from their 10-yard line, get out from their 18-yard line and get out from their 20-yard line. It changes the game and it changes field position. Missing tackles was a big part of that."
RB DeShaun Foster, who finished with 82 yards on 20 carries, had several of the tackle-breaking runs. The Bucs also missed a chance to drop the ballcarrier on the very first defensive snap of the game, a 31-yard touchdown catch by Keyshawn Johnson.
"We missed a tackle on the opening touchdown to Keyshawn," said Gruden. "Granted, these are talented players that can make people miss, but it hasn't been something that we have done a lot of here, missed tackles. What can I say? It wasn't up to the standards that we have for this place."