Buccaneers Running Game Doesn't Get Off The Ground
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune, published 8 October 2007

Lacking the offensive balance Tampa Bay fans have grown accustomed to in recent weeks, the Bucs quickly found themselves tumbling out of a carefully crafted game plan Sunday. The lack of a credible ground attack proved disastrous as Tampa Bay failed to register a first down on five of their first six possessions in a 33-14 loss to the Colts that was even more lopsided than the final score suggests.

After running for 182 yards against St. Louis and 189 yards at Carolina, the Bucs were outgained 147-17 on the ground, despite the absence of injured strong safety Bob Sanders. The Colts stuffed Tampa Bay's first four rushing plays for negative yardage and defensive tackle Raheem Brock spent much of the day grazing in the Bucs backfield.

'They did everything we expected ... but they did it very well,' said second-year right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. 'We knew they weren't very big on defense, but it's hard to get ahold of them. It's discouraging because this is a team we thought we could run against.'

In the 12 games Sanders missed last season, the Colts yielded an average of 175.6 rushing yards. Opponents averaged only 96.3 yards on the ground when the dynamic hard-hitting safety was the starter.

Despite a raucous RCA Dome crowd that made communication difficult, the pass protection was decent in front of Jeff Garcia. Brock and Dwight Freeney shared the game's only sack, but the Bucs couldn't generate anything on the ground.

Tampa Bay gained only 19 yards on seven first-down rushing attempts. And without Earnest Graham's 9-yard run in the fourth quarter, the Bucs might have finished with their lowest rushing total since a 1989 game at Washington. That was four head coaches ago.

'We knew we had to keep Peyton Manning off the field, but we kept getting ourselves into second-and-long or third-and-long situations,' said tight end Alex Smith, who caught a pair of 3-yard scoring passes from Garcia. 'They were very quick on defense and it was particularly tough with all that noise.'

Garcia never stopped battling, posting a 121.6 passer rating before being pulled for Bruce Gradkowski in the final moments. He has thrown 113 passes this season without an interception. 'We just weren't able to get it going,' Garcia said. 'We're a good football team and today we went up against a really good football team.'

The Bucs had an opportunity to reel off four consecutive regular-season games with at least 20 points for the first time in Jon Gruden's tenure, but Indianapolis proved more aggressive in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Overlooked during Tampa Bay's 10th setback in its last 12 road games was some effective work by left tackle Donald Penn in his first pro start for injured Luke Petitgout.

Freeney, one of the league's premier pass rushers, showed Penn every spin move and bull rush in his vast repertoire, but he was neutralized most of the day. The Bucs occasionally gave Penn help with the tight end or a running back helping to block Freeney. 'Give that man his due,' pleaded Greg Spires. 'Donald Penn played his butt off today.'

Penn, a 24-year-old undrafted free agent, wasn't about to get ahead of himself. 'It was OK,' he said. 'We didn't win, so it wasn't good enough.'