Bucs 20 Raiders 30
Rich Gannon never got a chance to erase his five-interception performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. Luckily for the Oakland Raiders, Kerry Collins had Gannon’s back. A near-controversy was kicked up in Oakland over the offseason when the Raiders signed Collins to a fairly lucrative contract. However, Gannon held onto the starting job, making Collins one of the league’s most experienced backups. That commodity came in handy for the home team on Sunday night, as Collins completed 16 of 27 passes for 228 yards, one touchdown and one interception, leading Oakland to a 30-20 victory.

CB Phillip Buchanon put the game away five minutes into the second half when he intercepted Brad Johnson’s sideline throw on a dead run and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown and a 23-6 Oakland lead. Incredibly, it was Buchanon’s seventh touchdown return in a little over a year in the NFL. Tampa Bay’s defense, ranked third in the league after two weeks, struggled against the run and gave up a string of medium-range completions to Collins as Oakland racked up 399 yards of offense, 251 by halftime. Collins’s 19-yard touchdown pass to WR Ronald Curry – an inspired call against an all-out Buc blitz on third down – gave Oakland a 13-6 lead, which they would not relinquish. On that 84-yard touchdown drive, Collins completed six of six passes for 72 yards.

A late charge by the Buccaneer offense allowed the visiting team to nearly match Oakland’s output, with 389 yards, and Tampa Bay broke a long drought by scoring two offensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter. However, a failed onside kick and a missed field goal – the first misfire by Martin Gramatica in six tries this year – left another Buccaneer rally short in the end. Gannon’s day ended early when he was hit hard by LB Derrick Brooks at the Bucs’ five-yard line on the last play of Oakland’s first drive. He was taken into the locker room for examinations on his back, and he did not return.

Tampa Bay ran into its own injury problems on offense - again - and the results could be longer-lasting for the beleaguered Buccaneers. RB Charlie Garner suffered a right knee sprain on a second-quarter run and had to be carted off the field. He did not return, though there was no immediate report on the long-term effects of the injury. If Garner is lost for any length of time it will be another blow to the Bucs’ G-Men, the skill-position players brought in over the offseason to give Tampa Bay’s offense more explosive possibilities. WR Joey Galloway was knocked out in the season opener with a groin injury and may not return for another six weeks.

It’s safe to say that the many former Bucs and Raiders now playing for the opposite team were fired up for this game. Before he was hurt, Garner, a Raider from 2001-03 took a first-quarter screen pass 31 yards up the right sideline, the big play in the Bucs’ game-opening field goal drive. Garner might have picked up a few more yards had Oakland DT Warren Sapp, a Buc from 1995-2003, not shown impressive hustle by tracking him down the sideline and tripping him up from behind. Sapp also played several snaps on offense, including a third-quarter series inside the 10 that resulted in Tyrone Wheatley’s two-yard touchdown run.

But it was Tim Brown, a Raider from 1988-2003, who may have had the biggest moment of any of the returning players. Brown’s 16-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter was the 100th scoring grab of his Hall-of-Fame career, a fact that the stadium management immediately put on the videoboards. The Oakland crowd followed with a classy bit of sustained applause for the man they used to call Mr. Raider.

Unfortunately, Brown’s touchdown, the first offensive score of the season for Tampa Bay, wasn’t nearly enough to counter Oakland’s second-half explosion. A close first half gave way to an onslaught in the third quarter that temporarily brought up uncomfortable memories of the Bucs’ last trip to Oakland. In 1999, Tampa Bay came to Oakland riding a franchise-record six-game winning streak but was overrun by Jon Gruden’s Raiders, 45-0. Oakland scored 17 points in just over seven minutes in the third quarter, with Buchanon’s touchdown following close on the heels of the third of Sebastian Janikowski’s three field goals. Tampa Bay’s rally in the final minutes kept the game within reason, however.

Martin Gramatica’s 36-yard field goal at the end of the Buccaneers game-opening drive gave Tampa Bay its first lead in a game this season. However, it lasted only six minutes as Janikowski answered with a 23-yard field goal after Gannon’s injury. Each team tacked on another field goal in the second quarter before Curry’s touchdown made it 13-6 at halftime. The 2003 Buccaneers had trouble denying big plays at the end of close games. This year’s team has reversed the problem, struggling against the run at the beginning before tightening up considerably, at least during the first two weeks.

The Bucs have played three games and allowed an average of 45.3 yards per carry on the opposition’s first run of the game. Washington’s Clinton Portis scored on a 64-yard jaunt early in the season opener, and Seattle’s Shaun Alexander ripped off a 12-yarder to begin the home opener last weekend. When Oakland’s Tyrone Wheatley broke several tackles near the line of scrimmage and raced up the left sideline for a gain of 60 yards, it was the big play that led to Oakland’s first score, a 23-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal. Those are three of the 93 runs the Bucs’ three opponents have run this year. On the other 90 carries, Tampa Bay has allowed just 259 yards, an average of 2.9 per run. Unlike Washington or Seattle, however, the Raiders continued to run the ball effectively, sending Wheatley up the middle time and again. The 399 yards that Oakland picked up, including 251 in the first half, was keyed by a 173-yard rushing output.

Tampa Bay’s offense moved the ball well at the beginning of the game and near the end, enough to pick up a season high yardage total. The running game was mostly shelved during the comeback effort, gaining just 92 yard son 22 carries, but QB Brad Johnson threw for 309 yards on 22 of 36 passing. Johnson’s favorite target on the evening was WR Bill Schroeder, who got the start at Joey Galloway’s split end position after Charles Lee drew that assignment last week, turned in the Bucs’ longest pass play of the season, leading to a game-tying field goal in the second quarter. Schroeder slipped behind the Oakland defense and caught a Johnson lob in the middle of the field, eventually getting down to Oakland’s 16. Tampa Bay’s red zone woes continued, however, and the team could net only Gramatica’s 30-yard kick. Late in the fourth quarter, Schroeder got deep again, making a remarkable, diving catch of a deep pass over the middle for a 41-yard touchdown. The Bucs’ two-point conversion after the score cut the Raiders lead to 30-20, but the ensuing onside kick attempt failed. Overall, Schroeder had 126 yards on four catches.

If the Bucs lost another of their offensive imports in Garner, at least they rediscovered one of their long-time weapons. Fullback Mike Alstott assumed most of the rushing load after Garner’s injury and ran with his usual tackle-breaking style. He gained 65 yards on 12 carries and caught four passes for 30 more yards. That 95-yard combined total was Alstott’s best since a big outing against Atlanta on December 8, 2002.

Despite Oakland’s high yardage total, several Buccaneer defenders had strong games. Brooks’s hard hit on Gannon was just one of his game-high 11 tackles on the afternoon, as he made plays all over the field. Kelly spent most of the day in a spirited battle with WR Jerry Porter and came away with five tackles, one interception and four passes defensed. The Bucs did not sack either Oakland quarterback, however, until Collins safely slid into a Simeon Rice sack late in the fourth quarter.

The Bucs’ special teams, which looked sharp in the season’s first two games, took a step back on kickoff coverage against the Raiders. Return man Doug Gabriel averaged 29.0 yards on five returns and repeatedly gave Oakland good starting field position. Gabriel, in fact, took the Bucs’ first kickoff 64 yards to the Bucs’ 25, a bullet the visitors dodged when rookie S Will Allen forced a fumble and LB Ryan Nece recovered for Tampa Bay. The Bucs also looked strong on kickoff returns, however, with second-year CB Torrie Cox filling in for the injured Frank Murphy. Cox rang up 144 yards on six returns.