Bucs 14 Eagles 33 - the game report
Josh Johnson did indeed get better in his second NFL start — as Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris had predicted he would — but the bottom line for the Buccaneers’ 2009 campaign did not. Tampa Bay fell to 0-5 on the season after dropping a 33-14 decision to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

Johnson was far from flawless, and his own bottom-line 53.8 passer rating was the result of second-half turnover problems. But the second-year passer also threw for 240 yards and two touchdowns on 26-of- 50 passing and moved the team well despite constant Eagle blitzing and approximately a half-dozen dropped passes by his receivers. The nimble Johnson also ran for a team-high 40 yards and frequently bought time for big gains downfield by scrambling out of pressure.

Johnson thus accounted for 280 combined rushing and passing yards in a game that was nearly even between the two teams in total yardage, 325-303 in Philly’s favor. However, Tampa Bay had the game’s only three giveaways, all Johnson interceptions, and were one-of-three on fourth-down tries, all in Philly territory.

Johnson and Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson countered Philly’s frequent blitzes with hot reads, many of them in the direction of dynamic tight end Kellen Winslow. Winslow was Johnson’s favorite target on the day, catching nine passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first 100-yard receiving day by a Buccaneer this season.

It was far from enough, though, as Eagles QB Donovan McNabb returned from his fractured rib with a vengeance. After missing two games, McNabb came back to throw for 264 yards and three touchdowns on just 21 tosses, 16 of which were complete. Though Buccaneers DE Jimmy Wilkerson recorded a career-best three sacks, McNabb had ample time to throw on most of his dropbacks and he used it to look downfield to rookie WR Jeremy Maclin. In his first career start, Maclin caught six passes for 142 yards and two scores.

The Buccaneers had a time-of-possession edge of 34:33-25:27 but that was largely because the Eagles’ potent offense was able to strike so quickly. Philadelphia had three two-play scoring drives on the day, and only one of them started in Buccaneer territory. Philadelphia also tried a handful of Wildcat plays with Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and others, but to little effect. Vick played several times during the game and late in the fourth quarter and completed one of three passes for one yard while rushing four times for 10 yards.

Tampa Bay’s defense allowed just 76 yards on 21 carries, it’s best performance against the run all season. RB Brian Westbrook, also back after missing time due to injury, gained just 18 yards on six carries, though he did score on a seven-yard run in the second half. The Eagles also frequently hurt themselves with 10 penalties for 111 yards.

Despite some very promising signs, things just continue not to click for the Buccaneers, as was painfully demonstrated in the game’s first three minutes. Tampa Bay’s first play from scrimmage was a deep pass down the left sideline to WR Michael Clayton that had a shot, as Clayton had gotten behind the Eagles’ coverage. However, Clayton could get just one hand on the ball and the Bucs’ first drive went three-and-out. In stark contrast was McNabb’s first pass of the game, a perfect 51-yard strike to rookie Maclin on Philadelphia’s second snap. CB Elbert Mack had coverage on Maclin but couldn’t quite keep him away from the football.

On the other hand, things were very much clicking for both teams during the last five minutes of the first half, when the Eagles scored twice and the Bucs came within nine yards of matching them. After FB Leonard Weaver’s 20-yard TD catch at the five-minute mark made it 14-0 in favor of the home team, Johnson directed what was probably the team’s most impressive drive of the young season. Johnson completed four of four passes on the march for 75 yards, culminating in his precise nine-yard TD pass to Winslow in the back of the end zone.

McNabb needed just two plays and 21 seconds to answer back, hitting Maclin again for a 40-yard score. Johnson and the Bucs stormed right back, helped immensely by Derrick Ward’s 28-yard run on third-and-15. This drive, too, got down to the nine — it was T Donald Penn who got it there on a surprisingly nimble catch-and-run on a deflected pass - with 10 seconds to play. Before bringing on the field goal unit, the Bucs took two cracks at the end zone and the second one was tipped and deflected by CB Asante Samuel.

The Eagles scored the only points of the third quarter on Westbrook’s run, and added a David Akers field goal early in the fourth period. The Buccaneers answered with another extended drive led by Johnson, this one finishing in another touchdown strike to Winslow. On fourth-and-goal from the nine, Johnson fired it high and hard over the middle and Winslow came down with it.

Wilkerson led the Bucs’ defense with those three sacks plus six tackles, a tackle for loss, a pass defensed, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. S Tanard Jackson, playing his first game of the season, pitched in with three solo tackles.

The Eagles got the ball to start the second half but Tampa Bay’s defense got a much-needed three-and-out, thanks to a tackle of Westbrook and a pass deflection by Wilkerson. Tampa Bay’s drive showed a bit more promise but catches of 12 and five yards by Williams and Winslow wasn’t enough thanks to a holding penalty in the middle. Dirk Johnson’s punt traveled only 31 yards before going out of bounds, but Wilkerson’s second-down sack and forced fumble helped force another three-and-out.

Forced into a third-and-nine on the ensuing drive, the Bucs gave it up when Johnson was pressured into an errant throw. The pass floated over the head of Sammie Stroughter and was easily picked by Samuel, who returned it to the Bucs’ 27. McNabb then found Westbrook for a gain of 20, as Westbrook adjusted to an underthrown ball and found it before covering LB Barrett Ruud did. Westbrook finished off the drive on the next play, running seven yards for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead.

Johnson alertly called a release up the middle by Winslow against a blitz on the next drive and LB Chris Gocong had to interfere to break it up. The penalty took the ball out to the Bucs’ 48. A stunning scramble down inside the Eagles 10 by Johnson was erased by offsetting penalties but Johnson moved the chains with a quick pass to Stroughter on third-and-two. On third-and-10, Johnson threw a sharp 18-yard pass to Clayton and DE Victor Abiamiri was flagged for roughing the passer.

The result was a first down at the Philly 12. A fade to Clayton on first down was overthrown and a second-down pass was batted down at the line. Johnson tried to throw an out to Clayton on third down as protection broke down but it was errant and intercepted by Sheldon Brown at the Philadelphia nine.

McNabb came out throwing and got away from the Philly end zone with completions of 13 to Maclin and 10 to LeSean McCoy. Wilkerson collected his third sack a few plays later to make it second-and-17, but Celek made a nine-yard catch over the middle to lead to a manageable third-and-eight as the third quarter expired. After the teams switched sides, McNabb converted the third down with a 16-yard pass to Maclin. The Bucs held after that but David Akers added to Philly’s lead with a 44-yard field goal.

Johnson engineered another long drive to follow, kick-started by his own 29-yard scramble around left end. That converted a third down, as did his 10-yard strike to Winslow down to the Philly seven moments later. Two failed plays from there made it third-and-goal from the nine, and a third-down pass to Bryant was batted down at the line. Trailing by 24, the Bucs elected to go for it and great protection gave Johnson time to find Winslow for a leaping touchdown catch.

The Bucs then pulled off a successful onside kick, getting the ball back at their own 40. Abiamiri sacked Johnson on first down for a loss of nine, though the quarterback recovered his own fumble. Finding no one open on second down, Johnson managed to scramble for a yard to make it third-and-18, and a ball tipped at the line pushed it to fourth down and forced a punt.

The Eagles brought in Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb to finish the game at quarterback and the Eagles quickly faced a third-and-nine. Vick converted that third down by scrambling around right end for a gain of 11. Three plays later, Vick missed TE Brent Celek downfield but S Sabby Piscitelli was flagged for holding, making it first down at the midfield stripe.

On the next third down, Vick tried to find McNabb’s favorite target, Maclin, in the end zone but it was broken up by Elbert Mack. Unfortunately for the visitors, the ensuing punt took a stunning bounce sideways to go out of bounds at the one. Two plays later, Williams was trapped in the end zone by Darren Howard for a safety that finished the scoring.