Bucs 6 Seahawks 10
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 20 September 2004

The Bucs fought back from a 10-point deficit with strong-armed second-year QB Chris Simms at the helm but failed to get the ball into the end zone and lost 10-6 to Seattle The last time Tampa Bay welcomed Seattle to Florida, it was the end of an era for the Buccaneers. Sunday’s game, eight years almost to the day, could be the beginning of another one. Both games were losses for Tampa Bay, unfortunately, as Seattle opened a 10-0 lead on Sunday and held on for a 10-6 lead. A Buccaneer rally came up short for the second time in two weeks, but the story in this game was the player who led that rally.

On September 22, 1996, the Bucs lost their fourth consecutive game to start the season, as Seattle rallied from a 13-3 deficit in the fourth quarter to win 17-13. After one more loss, the Bucs began a late-season run, ending 1996 with six wins in 11 games and winning their first five in 1997. Five playoff seasons in seven years followed. On Sunday, Tampa Bay fell to 0-2 for the first time since 1998 by losing their third consecutive home opener, but not before second-year QB Chris Simms relieved starter Brad Johnson and did his best to rally the Bucs to victory. There is no official indication, of course, that Simms’ relief effort will lead to an immediate hold on the starting job, but the 2003 third-round pick clearly seems to be the franchise’s quarterback of the future.

“I’m proud of our team,” said Jon Gruden, who declined to name next week’s starter after the game. “They competed very hard today. I’m disappointed obviously in the outcome. We made a quarterback change today to give our team a lift. I thought Chris did some good things in the game. We were looking for a spark. We felt Chris could come in and give us a different perspective, and he did.”

If Sunday was the beginning of a Simms era, it was an impressive if ultimately unsatisfying debut. Simms completed 21 of 32 passes for 175 yards but was unable to rally the Bucs to victory. Though Simms’ impressive arm strength was on display for three quarters – the crowd even cheered a deep pass over the middle that was well overthrown – he couldn’t quite get the Bucs into the end zone as they failed to score a touchdown on offense for the second straight week. An extended drive on Simms’ second possession netted a field goal, as did a similar march in the fourth quarter. Both drives reached first-and-goal situations before Seattle denied the end zone.

Simms and the Bucs’ offense had one more shot to win the game, down 10-6 and 88 yards away from Seattle’s end zone with 2:31 to play. Three penalties helped get the Bucs into Seahawk territory, including one roughing-the-passer call that erased an interception. However, Simms made a youthful mistake with his final pass, trying to throw as he was sacked and delivering the ball directly into the arms of S Michael Boulware.

The Bucs’ offense battled poor field position most of the day, with an average drive start of their own 23-yard line, but that issue was not the work of Tampa Bay’s defense, which turned in an inspired effort against a very strong Seattle offense. The Bucs held the Seahawks to 182 total yards, including just 56 on the ground, after giving up 166 rushing yards to Washington last week. Seattle converted just one of 14 third downs and QB Matt Hasselbeck was sacked four times RB Shaun Alexander, who had 135 yards and three touchdowns last week against New Orleans, was held to 45 yards on 17 carries. Two of the Bucs’ four sacks were recorded by DT Anthony McFarland, who is now playing the under tackle position long manned by Warren Sapp. McFarland posted his first two-sack game since a 2.5-sack effort against Detroit on September 17, 2000, his first year as a starter. McFarland finished with four tackles to go with his two sacks.

Simms came into the game with 10:32 left in the first half and, on his second drive at the helm, led the Bucs’ 71 yards on 14 plays for a field goal that cut Seattle’s lead to 10-3. Simms was met with a huge ovation from the Raymond James Stadium crowd and he returned the enthusiasm by motioning to the crowd after a 12-yard scramble got the ball down to the Seattle three. Unfortunately, a fumbled exchange on third-and-goal forced the Bucs to settle for Martin Gramatica’s 24-yard kick and a seven-point halftime deficit. That drive covered 71 yards, as did a Simms-led march in the fourth quarter that reached a first-and-goal at the Seahawks’ six. A sack by Rocky Bernard killed that touchdown opportunity and the Bucs chose to take Gramatica’s 27-yard three-pointer. That cut the lead to 10-6 with four and a half minutes to play.

Tampa Bay’s defense held on a third-and-one two minutes later, stopping Alexander inches short of a first down and forcing a punt. The Bucs had one last chance with 2:31 to play, starting at their own 12 but Simms’ first career interception came with just over a minute left in the game. Overall, Tampa Bay’s offense shook off a slow start to look much more effective than it did in the season opener, when it was held to 169 total yards by Washington. With RB Charlie Garner gashing for 75 yards on 13 carries, the Bucs gained 92 yards on the ground 62 more than last week) and 271 yards overall. WR Tim Brown led the team with seven catches for 49 yards and rookie WR Michael Clayton followed up his impressive debut (7-53 against Washington) with six more grabs for 61 yards despite fighting second-half cramps.

The Bucs also lost the turnover battle for the second week in a row, giving the ball away three times while forcing one takeaway. Brad Johnson’s last pass of the day was intercepted early in the second quarter by CB Marcus Trufant and returned 41 yards, setting up the only touchdown of the game. Simms had two turnovers, as he lost a fumble midway through the third quarter. After the Bucs started with good field position for virtually the only time in the game, they failed to capitalize when due to the turnover. A sack by Shelton Quarles forced Seattle to punt from deep in its own zone and Brown called for a fair catch at Tampa Bay’s 44. However, three plays later on third-and-one, DE Grant Wistrom sacked a scrambling Simms and forced a fumble, which DT Rashad Moore recovered at Seattle’s 41. Though the Buc defense then forced a three-and-out, the Seahawks were able to pin Tampa Bay at the Bucs’ four on the ensuing punt.

Seattle built its lead early, scoring on two short drives in the first half to take a 10-0 lead. A 24-yard field goal drive from midfield led to K Josh Brown’s game-opening score, a 44-yard kick, and Seattle pushed its lead to 10-0 just three minutes later. The second score was set up by Trufant’s interception and return on the final play of the first quarter. Two plays later, QB Matt Hasselbeck fooled the Bucs’ secondary with a pump-and-go, hitting WR Koren Robinson wide open on the left sideline for a 27-yard touchdown.

Derrick Brooks, who helped organize a relief effort for Hurricane Ivan victims in his hometown of Pensacola before the game (see notes below), brought early relief to the Bucs when he intercepted a deflected pass on Seattle’s first series. The Bucs wouldn’t score off that turnover, but Brooks continued his strong play, making seven tackles and breaking up a pass. DE Greg Spires also had a fine afternoon, notching five tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. Spires now has 13 stops in two games, an outstanding number for a defensive end. CB Brian Kelly broke up three passes and DT Chartric Darby recorded six tackles and a forced fumble.