Key mistakes by the Bucs kept the score from ending up 24-10 or worse. Case in point was a second half drive that ate up about 10 minutes on the clock but ended in a third-down incompletion off the hands of TE Alex Smith and a missed chip-shot FG by Matt Bryant.
The Bucs offense controlled the ball, owning time of possession with over 40 minutes to less than 20 for the Cardinals.
QB Jeff Garcia did not turn the ball over, but quite a few of his throws were inaccurate. Garcia had a decent excuse, as the Cardinals mounted a pretty decent pass rush. Garcia wasn't on his A-game with respect to accuracy but did everything else up to standard. RB Earnest Graham had his first day rushing over 100 yards as a professional, toting the rock 34 times for 124 yards. Enjoy the whirlpool tomorrow, Graham.
Despite its trouble mounting an effective pass rush this year, the Bucs' defense suffocated the Cardinals for most of the game. How did they do it? First, they stopped the run. Edgerrin James picked up just 15 yards on 9 carries. Second, they rushed the passer well enough to force Kurt Warner to adjust. Rookie Gaines Adams had a number of pressures. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the back seven--especially safeties Tanard Jackson and Jermaine Phillips--hit like speedy little Mack trucks. A number of well thrown passes went incomplete because of great hitting in the Tampa Bay secondary. Jackson and Phillips share the game ball from me; fittingly each recorded an interception in the game as well.
Matt Bryant missed a chip shot field goal, as mentioned above, as well as an attempt from about 60 yards in the first half. Other than that, special teams were solid and wideout Maurice Stovall made a momentum-sustaining hit on Arizona's punt return man late in the game. Stovall split the blockers to hit Steve Breaston in the chest just after he fielded the punt. The play help draw the home crowd back into the game after a troubling offensive series.
Home field crowd
Looked like quite a few no-shows from where I was sitting, and many did not feel like making noise today. One fan in my section never made a peep except to criticize the performance of the home team after the least successful plays. He objected to other fans making noise by pounding on seats in his row because it caused him to vibrate. Good grief. Sell your ticket to a real fan and watch the game on television.
At 5-4, the Bucs stay in the driver's seat in the NFC South ahead of slumping Carolina and resurgent New Orleans. Given Tampa Bay's injury woes, New Orleans probably has the inside track. The Bucs figure to have an easier schedule, however, so they might as well play the games to determine the winner.