Another sharp effort by starting QB Brad Johnson was a bright spot in a sloppy evening in St. Louis
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers absorbed an ugly, 26-16 defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Rams Monday night, a loss we'll allow you to write off under one condition: Did you keep your head about you during the Bucs' impressive 2-0 start to the preseason?
In the grand scheme of things, Tampa Bay's first loss since their last appearance on Monday night football, last December against Pittsburgh, matters little, as did their preseason-opening wins over the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins. As usual, the details are as important as the final result in the preseason – a statement that is most definitely not true during the regular season, which starts in just 19 days.
Unfortunately, not many of the details were overly encouraging for the Bucs, either.
On the plus side, starting quarterback Brad Johnson was sharp once again, though Tampa Bay failed to score on either of his two drives. Johnson drove the Bucs into St. Louis territory to start the game but saw that possession cut short by an ill-timed false-start penalty. On Tampa Bay's next drive, Johnson had just passed the visitors back over midfield when WR Keyshawn Johnson fumbled at the end of a nine-yard reception.
"We moved the ball," said B. Johnson. "We got some first downs. We got it going a little bit. We were really happy with the protection but the turnover hurt our momentum on the second drive. Overall, I was pleased with our first two series. We did a great job identifying the fronts and the coverages to make a few plays."
That turnover, forced by S Adam Archuleta, did much more than kill the Bucs' momentum, however. The loose ball was picked up by S Kim Herring and returned 59 yards for a touchdown, the only TD during the Rams' 16-point first half. One could gain encouragement that St. Louis' other three drives into Buc territory in the first half were stopped short of the end zone, resulting in a trio of Jeff Wilkins field goals, but the lead was still 16-0 at the half.
QB Shaun King took over for the Bucs early in the second quarter and directed two more drives that were marred by penalties. The yellow flags were perhaps the most discouraging part of the evening for Tampa Bay, which committed eight infractions in the first half alone (two others were declined) and 12 on the game for a very damaging 124 yards.
By the end of the first half, Head Coach Jon Gruden was not pleased with what he was seeing.
"We are not playing very well," said Gruden. "We have had poor field position, and the penalties and our return game have been disappointing. We had one turnover and a lot of bad penalties. We need to get a lot better."
It didn't happen. The Bucs scored just once in the second half and had trouble moving the ball, finishing with just 226 yards of offense. Tampa Bay didn't have a play over 18 yards or a completion over 13 until just before the two-minute warning, when rookie QB Chris Simms hit WR Charles Lee on a 26-yard completion.
The Rams didn't light it up, either, gaining 241 total yards but benefiting from Buccaneer miscues again and again.
However, St. Louis' famous pair of quarterbacks were admittedly masterful in the first half. Former league MVP Kurt Warner was perfect during his quarter-long stint, completing seven of seven passes for 55 yards and moving well in the pocket to find time for improvised throws. Marc Bulger, who was so effective in relief of an injured Warner last year, made his own case for the starting job by completing all six of his first-half throws for 82 yards. Both passers showed an affinity for WR Torry Holt, who caught six passes for 52 yards, all in the first half.
In fact, the Rams' first incompletion of the game was on Bulger's first pass of the third quarter.
Simms helped the Bucs momentarily get back into the game after taking over to start the second half. After being sacked on two of his first three plays, Simms marched the team 54 yards on 10 plays on the next drive, culminating in a perfect lob pass to WR Charles Lee for a nine-yard touchdown. Simms hit Lee again on the two-point conversion to cut the Rams' lead in half.
Simms played into the early part of the fourth quarter but had to be briefly relieved by Shaun King after he jammed a finger on his left (throwing) hand. The rookie came back into the game on the Bucs' next drive and later in the fourth quarter led another touchdown march in the game's waning seconds. Simms completed six of six passes for 57 yards on the 72-yard march, including a tough, fourth-down toss to TE Daniel Wilcox and a bullet of an eight-yard touchdown pass to WR Fabian Davis.
Simms finished with 10 completions on 13 attempts for 86 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Lee was the Bucs' leading receiver with three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown.
An unintentionally squibbed kickoff by new K Rob Bironas and a return of the Bucs' penalty problems helped the Rams answer Tampa Bay's first touchdown with a 47-yard touchdown drive ending in RB Arlen Harris' seven-yard touchdown run. The Rams added one more field goal in the fourth quarter at the end of a 75-yard drive, this one helped by a third-down pass-interference penalty on rookie CB Hirchel Bolden.
RB Thomas Jones, acquired in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals in June, was another bright spot for the Buccaneers, leading all ball-carriers with 47 yards on just nine carries. Jones slashed through holes quickly, showed an ability to break tackles and even contributed in the passing game, catching a fourth-down pass from Simms on the touchdown drive.
The Bucs running game, after accounting for exactly 152 yards in each of the first two preseason contests, was good for 95 yards on 23 carries in St. Louis.
LB Nate Webster was very active for the Buccaneers' second-team defense, leading the team with five tackles, two behind the line of scrimmage, and disrupting a potential touchdown pass in the third quarter. However, Tampa Bay uncharacteristically failed to produce a turnover and allowed St. Louis 20 first downs.
The Bucs dropped to 2-1 during the 2003 preseason, while the Rams evened their record at 1-1. Tampa Bay's next game is in just five days, as they play their first home game of the summer against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday.
Notes: Second-year player Mitch White made his first start at right tackle, as both Kenyatta Walker and Cornell Green were ruled out with ankle sprains. … WR Joe Jurevicius was not one of the Bucs' official game-day scratches, but he didn't play in the game due to sore legs. Jurevicius was not otherwise injured and would have played had it been a regular-season game. … The Buccaneers clearly wanted to take a serious look at WR Jacquez Green for the kickoff return job, giving him the first three runbacks of the game. Green averaged 20 yards on three runbacks, though his best return, on the third kick, was mostly erased by a holding penalty. Green also returned one punts for 15 yards. … Rookie WR Fabian Davis had the game's longest kick return, a 39-yarder on a second-half kickoff. … Rams DE Tyoka Jackson had two of the Rams' four sacks. Jackson played for the Buccaneers from 1996-2000. … Monday's game was just the second preseason contest between the Bucs and Rams. The other game was the very first contest in Buccaneer franchise history, a 26-3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on July 31, 1976. … Shortly after 4:00 p.m. CDT, three hours before kickoff, QB Jim Miller spent roughly 20 minutes testing out the strength in his surgically-repaired right shoulder. Miller, who will throw again at Wednesday's practice back in Tampa, tossed a variety of passes with trainers Todd Toriscelli and Scott Trulock, ranging up to 40 yards.
Injury Updates: CB Dwight Smith sustained a mild ankle sprain in the third quarter. QB Chris Simms jammed a finger on his left (throwing) hand in the fourth quarter. FB Jameel Cook sprained his right thumb in the second half and did not come back into the game.
Quarter Reports: During Monday's game, Buccaneers.com 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
Both team's starting offenses looked sharp in the first quarter, but the Buccaneers' opening drive was derailed by an ill-timed penalty while the Rams were able to convert theirs into a field goal. St. Louis had a 3-0 lead when the quarter came to an end, but the Bucs had moved back into Ram territory as the quarter came to an end. Rams QB Kurt Warner was particularly sharp, completing seven of seven passes on the quarter's only scoring drive.
As the coin-toss winners, the Bucs received the opening kickoff, with WR Jacquez Green getting his return back to the 23-yard line.
On first down, QB Brad Johnson audibled into a quick slant to WR Keyshawn Johnson, a good call that resulted in a 12-yard gain underneath soft coverage. B. Johnson threw on the next snap as well, hitting RB Aaron Stecker in the left flat for a gain of nine. RB Thomas Jones then moved the chains with a four-yard gain around left end. The handoff went to Jones on a complicated misdirection, and the back was nearly caught in the backfield, but he stepped out of the tackle to get around the end.
Johnson overthrew a wide-open Keenan McCardell after a perfect play-action fake, but Leonard Little was flagged for defensive holding and the Bucs had a new first down at the Rams' 47.
The next snap was the Bucs' most uncomplicated one of the drive to that point, a simple Michael Pittman run through left guard that was wonderfully blocked and good for seven yards. After a false start made it second-and-eight, B. Johnson tried to hit K. Johnson on a skinny post, but CB Travis Fisher made a brilliant play to knock it away at the last minute. Johnson was then forced into an underneath throw to Pittman on third-and-eight and the back was tackled three yards short by Fisher. Johnson was hit hard by Little just after he got the throw off. The Bucs punted from the 40 but netted only 20 yards when CB Corey Ivy just missed catching it at the one.
Warner came out firing for the Rams, hitting WR Torry Holt on a quick post that was good for 17 yards, with S John Lynch just missing a crushing hit on Holt. Warner tried to hit Holt again on a quick slant and CB Ronde Barber was flagged for interference while knocking the ball away.
From the Rams' 43, RB Lamar Gordon went up the middle for three yards into the grasp of LB Shelton Quarles. A scrambling Warner kept the second-down play alive long enough to find TE Brandon Manumaleuna 13-yards downfield for a first down at the Bucs' 41. Three plays later, on third-and-three from the 34, Holt caught another pass in the right flat, but Holt was tripped up by CB Brian Kelly a yard short. The Rams chose to go for it on fourth down and got it when Gordon slipped through a near tackle by Lynch in the backfield and surged ahead to the 29.
Gordon found a big hole up the middle on the next snap and picked up six more, but another good tackle by Kelly on Isaac Bruce made it third-and-one at the 20. Warner hit Holt for the fourth time on the drive for two yards and a first down.
After a fumbled snap, Warner sensed a blitz and threw a quick slant to Holt that picked up 13 of the needed 14 yards, down to the nine. The Rams surprisingly ran a toss-sweep right with Gordon, a poor move against the Bucs' defense as LB Derrick Brooks sliced through the tacklers to catch Gordon for a loss of five. The Rams settled for Jeff Wilkins' 33-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The Bucs' next drive started at their own 27, with the starting offense still on the field. Pittman turned a toss-sweep left into a gain of five by slicing between two potential tacklers near the line of scrimmage. On third-and-five, Johnson threw to Pittman running laterally towards the right sideline, and this time the back powered through an Adam Archuleta tackle to get just enough for a first down.
A play-action fake worked beautifully on the next snap, setting up a 10-yard pass to a wide-open Mike Alstott. A five-yard pass to WR Keenan McCardell ended the first quarter with the Bucs at St. Louis' 48.
Second Quarter Update
Though the competing offensive numbers remained fairly close - 169 yards for the Rams to the Bucs' 112 – the home team continued to dominate the scoreboard. Scoring on a long fumble return and two field goals, St. Louis took a 16-0 lead into the intermission.
The Bucs opened the second quarter with a second-and-five at the Rams' 48 and appeared to get off to a good start with an apparent conversion on third down. However, the play quickly turned into a disaster.
Just before taking a hit from DE Leonard Little, QB Brad Johnson got off a throw across his body to a wide-open Keyshawn Johnson. Johnson picked up nine yards down to the Rams' 39 but had the ball stripped by S Adam Archuleta. S Kim Herring picked up the loose ball and sprinted 61 yards for a touchdown. T Roman Oben gamely gave chase but was blocked away at the 10. The Rams took a 10-0 lead on the play.
The bad times continued for the Bucs, who committed a clipping penalty on the kickoff return and had to start their next drive at the 12. The Bucs brought on several second-team players for the drive, including Shaun King at quarterback. King courted disaster on second-and-ten but was able to get off a swing pass to FB Jameel Cook, who found open field in front of him. Cook lowered his shoulder at the end of the play to get three extra yards on a 13-yard catch.
Three plays and two penalties later, the Bucs faced a third-and-five at the 29 and tried to convert it with a quick slant to WR Charles Lee, but CB Jerametrius Butler knocked it away. The Bucs had to punt and a perfectly-timed hit by CB Corey Ivy meant no return for RB Arlen Harris from the Rams' 20.
The Rams kept much of their first-team offense in for the next drive, with the notable exception of QB Kurt Warner, and the Bucs came in with their second-team defense. RB Lamar Gordon was stopped for no gain on first down by LB Nate Webster, but Gordon avoided a line-of-scrimmage hit on the next play's swing pass and picked up nine yards. On third-and-one, Gordon moved the chains with a seven-yard carry, dodging a flying tackle attempt by penetrating LB Jack Golden.
Bulger found Warner's favorite target on first down from the 36, hitting WR Torry Holt on the right sideline for a gain of 13. S Jermaine Phillips intercepted a deep pass by Bulger on the next play, but DE Ron Warner was flagged for roughing the passer and the result was a first down for the Rams at the Bucs' 36.
Two plays later, Bulger hit WR Kevin Curtis at the 11 and the receiver held on despite S Dwight Smith's hard hit. Making partial amends for his penalty, Warner shot around tackle John St. Clair on the next play and sacked Bulger for a loss of nine. The Rams ran twice, and though Gordon's second carry on a draw play picked up 11 yards down to the five, St. Louis had to settle for Jeff Wilkins' 23-yard field goal. The score improved the home team's lead to 13-0.
Tampa Bay's next drive began at their own 26 and quickly hit third-and-10 after a Thomas Jones run for no yards and an incompletion. However, King used a pump fake and his speed to scramble for 12 yards on third down, absorbing a big hit from Archuleta at the end.
A holding penalty on the Bucs dug a second-and-14 hole just before the two-minute warning, but a delayed handoff to Jones got half of it back. On third-and-seven, after the timeout, King tried to move up as he felt the pocket collapse, but was unable to escape former Buc Tyoka Jackson, who recorded a three-yard sack. After the punt, the Rams started again at their own 21.
A good run by Gordon got better for the Rams when the Bucs were flagged for hitting him out of bounds. The resulting line of scrimmage was the Rams' 44, and the ball quickly crossed midfield on Bulger's 11-yard completion to Troy Edwards. After a completion to Harris gave the Rams a first down at the Bucs' 33, a false start penalty erased the Rams last timeout with 17 seconds left on the clock.
Bulger had one more excellent play in him, a 19-yard completion to WR Mike Furrey, who got out of bounds at the 19, allowing for Wilkins' 37-yard field goal and a 16-0 Rams lead at the half.
Third Quarter Update
The Bucs and Rams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, and though Tampa Bay topped its score with a two-point conversion, the home team was still comfortably ahead at the end of three periods, 23-7. With one quarter to go, the Bucs had just 160 yards of offense, while the Rams had just 209.
A fine tackle by RB Aaron Stecker forced St. Louis to start the second half at its own 21, and a backfield tackle by DE Ron Warner on second down quickly made it third-and-12. QB Marc Bulger, enjoying a long stay in the pocket, found WR Troy Edwards open over the middle, but Edwards dropped the potential first-down pass. A booming, 57-yard punt by former Buc Sean Landeta and a 15-yard return by Jacquez Green put the ball at the Bucs' 37.
Rookie QB Chris Simms came in to start the second half for Tampa Bay and was immediately sacked by DE Tyoka Jackson for a loss of seven yards. RB Thomas Jones shot up the middle for a gain of 11 on second down, but Simms was sacked again on third down by LB Courtland Bullard for a loss of 13.
Tom Tupa's 60-yard punt and Fabian Davis' tackle managed to push the Rams back to that same 21-yard line. The Rams got nowhere as LB Nate Webster made a tackle for a loss of one on RB Arlen Harris on first down and Bulger couldn't find WR Shaun McDonald on a deep out on third down.
The Bucs' next drive start at their own 46 and moved into Rams territory on Jones' 18-yard run up the middle. Jones hit the hole with impressive quickness and split several defenders before going down at the Rams' 36. Three plays later, on third-and-three after a Buccaneer timeout, the Bucs tried Jones on a sweep to the left but the Rams stopped him after a gain of one. Before the fourth down play, Simms called another timeout, then hit RB Thomas Jones, who was split out wide left, on a quick stop route for a first down.
Simms' next pass, on second down, was nearly intercepted by LB Scott Shanle, but the rookie moved the chains on third down by scrambling out of trouble and finding TE Todd Yoder on the left sideline for a gain of 11. Jones took a first-down carry up the middle from the 11 to the nine, and the Bucs finally cracked the scoreboard on the next play. Simms tossed a perfect lob into the back right corner of the end zone for WR Charles Lee, who jumped over CB Kevin Garrett for the touchdown catch. After a Ram penalty erased the first two-point try, Simms and Lee hooked up again for the two-pointer after a great play-action fake to Jones.
New Buc kicker Rob Bironas mis-hit the resulting kickoff and Rams S Steve Bellisari covered the bouncer at the Bucs' 47. Harris immediately picked up 10 yards on a run up the middle, but Bucs DE Dewayne White followed with a tackle of Kevin Curtis for a seven-yard loss on an end-around. Unfortunately, the Bucs were then flagged for a late hit on the next play, giving the Rams a first down at the 24. After TE Cameron Cleeland dropped an apparent touchdown pass over the middle, Harris was caught for a loss of two on the next play by LB Ryan Nece. Perfect blocking by the Rams' front line gave Bulger an enormous amount of time on third-and-12 and he found WR Dane Looker for a gain of 19 down to the Bucs' seven.
Two plays later, Harris worked his way out of a tangle in the middle of the field, broke an ankle tackle and walked into the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown. The Rams led, 23-8.
Rookie WR Fabian Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to just over midfield, but the Bucs followed with a three-and-out. On third-and-six, Davis got behind the defender and Simms tossed another perfect lob, but Davis couldn't hold on. The resulting punt went into the end zone for a touchback.
Two plays finished the quarter, a six-yard run by Harris around left end and another Harris carry that was good for just one yard before LB Ryan Nece made the tackle.
Fourth Quarter Update
The Bucs finished the game on a high note, with rookie QB Chris Simms leading his second touchdown drive of the second half, but it wasn't nearly enough to erase the Rams' big lead. St. Louis took home a 26-16 victory to move to 1-1 on the preseason, while the Bucs fell to 2-1. Neither team put up big offensive numbers, with the Rams holding a 241-226 edge in total yards.
The first play of the fourth quarter was a Marc Bulger pass on third-and-three, but the throw was too high for WR Shaun McDonald and the Rams had to punt from their own 27.
The Bucs' first drive of the final period started at their own 26 but moved backwards on a false start penalty and a hard tackle of RB Travis Stephens by LB Scott Shanle. Simms was then sacked for a loss of eight yards by DT Jimmy Kennedy, leading to a third-and-25, which became third-and-30 after a delay-of-game infraction.
Shaun King came in to relieve rookie QB Chris Simms due to Simms' injured finger, but the play was a handoff that resulted in Stephens' nine-yard gain. P Tom Tupa broke off another long punt, a 58-yarder that pushed the Rams back to their own 31.
Well ahead, the Rams brought in third-string QB Kirk Farmer and ran the ball three times, with Arlen Harris getting two and six yards but picking up nothing on third-and-two thanks to S Jermaine Phillips.
The Bucs adopted the same strategy from their own 10 with almost identical results. Stephens ran for six yards and then three but was stopped for no gain up the middle on third-and-one.
The next back given a chance to chew up the clock was Rams rookie Joffrey Reynolds, who got nine yards on his first carry off left guard but was stopped for no gain on second down by DT Buck Gurley. On third-and-one, Reynolds found a seam underneath the left tackle and got five yards for a first down at the Bucs' 43.
Ryan Nece's penetration on first down tripped up Reynolds in the backfield for a loss of three, which the back's second-down carry regained to the 43. On third-and-10, Farmer put it up down the right sideline for WR Kevin Curtis, and rookie CB Hirchel Bolden committed pass interference to set up a first down at the Bucs' 15. Reynolds got around right end on the next snap for a gain of 12 down to the three.
Reynolds got two cracks at the end zone up the middle but gained nothing and lost one yard on the two plays. After an incompletion in the direction of FB Brian Natkin, the Rams increased their lead to 26-8 on Jeff Wilkins' 22-yard field goal.
Obviously unaffected by his finger injury, Simms came out firing on the next drive, hitting WR Charles Lee over the middle for a 26-yard gain on first down. Another 10-yard completion to Lee and a one-yard run by Stephens brought the Bucs to the Rams' 35 and the game clock down to two minutes.
After the break, a scrambling Simms hit TE Daniel Wilcox for a gain of eight, bringing up third-and-one. A screen to Stephens was sniffed out by Shanle, who made a tackle for a loss of six. With the clock ticking down to below a minute, the Bucs lined up on fourth and seven and Simms hit Wilcox in the middle of the field for a first down at the 22. Simms then spiked the ball with 29 seconds to go. The Rams were flagged for having 12 men on the field, which gave the Bucs five yards and kept it on first down.
A roughing-the-passer penalty moved the ball down to the nine, from where Simms zipped an impressive throw through traffic to Davis at the front edge of the end zone. The Bucs went for two again and Simms found Heller for the deuce. The score was thus 26-16 with just 19 seconds left on the clock. The Rams easily killed the clock after one last kickoff.