There really aren’t many ways to find a silver lining after suffering a 27-point loss. Holding the league’s leading rusher under the century mark could be one positive. Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew did have a pair of touchdowns Sunday but the Buccaneers defense did hold him to a 3.17 yard per carry average. The front four produced an effective pass rush early on in the game Sunday. Both Brian Price and Albert Haynesworth hurried QB Blaine Gabbert at different points. Adrian Clayborn had a sack and forced fumble to go along with a QB pressure that led to an interception. Da’Quan Bowers cooled off a bit after a pair of solid games. He still had two tackles and a hurry.
Michael Bennett returned after a two-week absence and had a tackle for loss among his three tackles. He looked a bit shaken up on a tackle late in the fourth, although no word on re-aggravating his injury has been noted.
John McCargo saw action, including on one of Jones-Drew’s touchdown runs (he was the guy on his back on the ground). Roy Miller filled in at spots with little impact.
As noted in the defensive line assessment, the Bucs DID hold MJD in check in the running game. The Jags reeled off 41 points Sunday (the most against Tampa since an October 9thloss to San Francisco) but much of that was the result of seven turnovers. The linebackers were not great against Jacksonville but the group did look improved over the past two weeks.
Mason Foster snagged his first career interception in the second half, thwarting a Jags scoring drive. Foster added five tackles, although he did draw a personal foul penalty (on a facemask) late in the loss. Much-criticized Quincy Black had six tackles but was also a victim of the MJD train on a touchdown run. Dekoda Watson combined with Clayborn on the blitz that led to Gabbert’s first interception. Geno Hayes added a pair of tackles.
With top corner Aqib Talib out with an injury, E.J. Biggers got the start. And Biggers had his share of moments Sunday, few of which turned out to be good memories. Biggers had a personal foul penalty that ended up saving a dead drive (and would result in a MJD touchdown three plays later) and a defensive holding call. He was also beaten repeatedly on the quick slants that Jacksonville used effectively in the second half.
The other corner, veteran Ronde Barber, had a day quite the opposite. Barber peeled off coverage to make a nice interception on a ball Gabbert threw across his body. He also made tackles all over the field and was often the cleanup man following the missed tackles of others. As usual, Barber was the dependable defender. Unfortunately, the Bucs only have one Ronde.
Safeties Tanard Jackson and Sean Jones combined for 11 tackles. Jones was beaten badly in coverage once on a 62-yard pass play to Marcedes Lewis. Jones bit on the Gabbert head fake, giving Lewis just enough time to clear the defense. Elbert Mack and Anthony Gaitor also saw considerable time in the loss.
In the season’s 13thgame, the Bucs special teams unit turned in its worse effort of the season – by far. Punt returned Preston Parker fumbled two kicks, one that was returned for a touchdown. Michael Spurlock took over return duties following the second botched return.
Punter Michael Koenen also struggled, averaging just under 33 yards on five punts. Kicker Conner Barth had two PATs clear the goalposts.
There are firsts to everything. This time will be the first time we grade a unit at 1/10. For a group that has performed so well all season, a showing like Sunday’s non-effort is completely disheartening.
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