By Leo Haggerty



The week commenced with a trip to One Buccaneer Place to observe practice on Wednesday and the Pewter Pirates threw us an audible.  Was suppose to have a chance to chat with both OC Byron Leftwich and DC Todd Bowles but that was changed.  Started out with HC Bruce Arians and then TE Rob Gronkowski plus P Bradley Pinion followed by Antoine Winfield.  Below are their responses to my questions.

LH : The Falcons didn’t look good on offense in their opening game.  Still, is there anyone that jumps off the film at you?

BA : A bunch of them.  You have Ridley, Pitts, Gage and Cordarrelle Patterson playing running back. They have weapons. A lot of teams didn’t look good in the first week for whatever reason. Don’t put any stock in that. We know how good the Falcons are.

LH : It was nice to start the season Thursday night with all the hype.  Is it nice to just getting back to a Sunday football game?

BA : Yeah but Sunday football at 1 o’clock is kind of gone but, yeah, it is. We’ll get into that rhythm until we go to Philly.  I’d much rather get into that rhythm now, yeah.

LH : It seemed like both of your touchdown catches last week were the same scheme.  Block, slow release, find the soft spot in the defense and turn around quickly.  Was that the case?

RG : Kind of, you know.  I would say they were similar in ways, definitely.  That’s what the position of the tight end is.  You can get creative and not just in the passing game but in the run game and the passing game combined.  That’s where it kind of was and that’s what makes up the tight end position.  That’s why I like blocking and receiving.  Sometimes the blocking game can get you open as easily as it was last week.

LH : What determines whether you do a normal spiral punt or the end over end one?

BP : It depends where you are on the field.  The end over end punt doesn’t go as far as the spiral punt but it will check back most of the time so it just depends on where you are on the field.  As you get closer to midfield, you’re going to that end over end punt more often or, if you’re facing some really good returners, sometimes you’ll hit it because it would be a fair catch more often.

LH : Just trying to hit a sand wedge right?

BP : Exactly, yup.

LH : Is there a bigger rush then running down The Hill at Death Valley?

BP : No, that’s the reason I went there.  I went on a recruiting visit and I ran down The Hill one time and I said all right, I’m sold, lets go.  It’s a really good rush.

LH : When you back home for your first family gathering and you dropped that Super Bowl ring on the table, what did your dad say?

AW : Oh, man, he was loving it.  He even put it on.  He was like, man, this is crazy.  It was awesome that you were able to do that.  Just to see the ring.  The ring is super nice.  He was excited.

LH : You talk about having a problem with communication.  Was that because of the fans and the noise level?

AW : Yeah, it was loud.  I’m not even going to lie.  Our first game with a packed house stadium and it was loud.  It was good to see that early.  Just knowing that’s what games are going to be like now having fans back.  It’s just a learning step and that’s something we are going to improve on.

LH : When did it hit you that Dallas is going to pretty much throw the ball every play?

AW : Yeah, I would say, after the first few drives.  They were driving on us.  We played a lot of plays on defense and he was airing the ball out and that’s when it kind of dawned on us that he’s going to throw and he threw it a lot.

LH : At the end of the third quarter, the Cowboys had the ball for just short of 30 minutes.  You had to be gassed, right?

AW : YES, It’s tough but that’s why we’re out here at practice.  That’s why we get paid the way we do.  We just have to be conditioned for those circumstances.

LH : Pitts offers a special challenge.  6’6″ with the speed of a wide receiver.  How do you deal with that?

AW : You got to cover him.  You got to get the job done..  You just have to do our best to be in good positions to cover him.

LH : And hope someone gets a piece of him coming off the line, correct?

AW : Yes, for sure.  That definitely helps.

So, that takes us to game day which, this week, is Sunday.  Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 pm at Raymond James Stadium, and as I must always add in August and September as well as with an occasional October home game, weather permitting but it was a beautiful sunny Chamber of Commerce day in Tampa.

Tampa Bay beat Atlanta by a count of 48-25 in a matchup of two NFC South division rivals.  The Bucs moved to 2-0 on the season and the Falcons fell to 0-2.

Looking at the final score, you would think that the Pewter Pirates blew out the Dirty Birds, right?  Read on, my loyal followers, and you will see that the contest was much closer than the final score would indicate until some huge turnovers caused by the Bucs..

The Buccaneers took the opening kickoff and dented the scoreboard at 12:22 of the first period.  QB Tom Brady (24-of-36 for 276 and 5 TD plus 0 INT) hit TE Rob Gronkowski (4 for 39 and 2 TD) with a 20 yard aerial to culminate a 75 yard drive that took 6 plays and 2:38.  K Ryan Succop booted the PAT and the Pewter Pirates had an early 7-0 lead.

After a Falcons punt, the Bucs drove deep into Atlanta territory but came away empty.  Brady was sacked by LB Dante Fowler and the pigskin was recovered by LB M Walker at the Dirty Birds 29 yard line to keep the score at 7-zip in favor of the Pewter Pirates.

After a failed fourth down sneak by Atlanta QB Matt Ryan (35-of-46 for 300 and 2 TD with 3 INT), Tampa Bay padded its margin at 14:07 of the second period.  Again, it was Brady to Gronkowski this time from just a yard out.  The score finished off a 1:54 drive that took five plays to go 46 yards. Succop again was true with the PAT and the Bucs moved out to a 14-0 advantage.

That score woke up the Dirty Birds offense and they put points on the board at 11:48 of the second stanza.  RB Cordarrelle Patterson (7 for 11 and 1 TD) swept right end and cut back to the middle to go virtually untouched into the end zone from 10 yards away.  That ended a 66 yard drive that lasted 5 plays and 2:19 seconds.  K Younghoe Koo converted the extra point and Atlanta cut the Tampa Bay lead in half to 14-7.

The Pewter Pirates found the end zone with just 43 seconds before intermission. For the third time, Brady found a receiver in the end zone and this time it was WR Mike Evans (5 for 75 and 2 TD)  with a three yard strike.  The drive took 3:31 to go 85 yards in eight plays and Succop split the uprights to move the Bucs out to a 21-7 advantage.

That left just enough time for Atlanta, with the aid of three penalties, to move down into scoring position.  Koo connected on a 36 yard field goal as time expired in the first half.  The drive lasted 43 seconds travelling 47 yards in 4 plays and that cut the Bucs margin to 21-10 heading to intermission.

At halftime, former DC Monty Kiffin was induced into the Buccaneers Ring of Honor.  Kiffin, along with HC Tony Dungy, was the architect of The Tampa Two defense that carried the Bucs to their first Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XXXVII.

After a tipped pass by DT Vita Vea was intercepted by LB Shaquil Barrett at the Atlanta 18 yard line, Tampa Bay wasted little time adding point to their total at 12:43 of the third period.  Again, it was Brady to Evans this time with a one yard toss.  The drive lasted 1:36 and traversed 18 yards in four plays.  Succop added the extra point and Tampa Bay extended its lead to 28-10.

Atlanta whittled away at the lead at 6:35 of the third stanza.  Ryan hit WR Calvin Ridley (7 for 63 and 1 TD) on a quick slant on 4th down that took 6:08 to go 75 yards in 12 plays.  Koo was perfect with the PAT and the Falcons clawed back to 28-17.

After The Dirty Birds forced a Tampa Bay punt, the Falcons put more points on the board with 1:45 left in the third period.  Ryan found Patterson (5 for 58 and 1 TD) on a seven yard catch and run that ended a six play drive that took 2:56 to go 46 yards.  Atlanta went for the two point conversion and was successful as Ryan dove into the end zone to move the Red & Black within a field goal at 28-25.

After an exchange of punts, the Pewter Pirates stretched their advantage at 9:18 of the final period.  Brady connected on his fifth TD this time finding WR Chris Godwin (4 for 62 and 1 TD) with a 12 yard pass.  That took 1:35 to go 43 yards in 3 plays.  Succop added the PAT and the Bucs increased their lead to 35-25.

Tampa Bay stretched it lead with a Pick 6 at 7:53.  S Mike Edwards stepped in front of a Ryan pass intended for WR Russell Gage (5 for 28) and took it 35 yards to the house.  The extra point was missed so the Bucs lead increased to 41-25.

As Yogi Berra would say, it was deja vu all over again with 4:01 left in the contest.  Edwards returned another interception for a touchdown.  This time #32 was in the right place at the right time when blitzing CB Carlton Davis batted back a Ryan pass.  The Bucs safety, who was also blitzing, cradled the pigskin as it came right to him almost 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage.  The Kentucky alum went 15 yards untouched in the end zone to make the final count 48-25 in favor of the Buccaneers.

Had a chance to catch up with HC Bruce Arians and a handful of players.  That included QB Tom Brady and WR Chris Godwin along with WR Mike Evans plus S Mike Edwards then LB Shaquil Barrett finishing with DL Rakeem Nunes-Roches

LH : Talk about the first drive.  It went off like clockwork.  Were they all scripted plays?

BA : Yeah, it was our normal 15.  We script 30 but it was a good script. We decided to take the ball, I didn’t know what the weather was going to do with the second half. So, we wanted to get the ball. Liked the script and it was executed perfectly. Then we go to sleep.

LH : The middle eight, the last four minutes of second quarter and the first four minutes of the third quarter, you score two touchdowns in that span.  How important was that?

BA :  Huge, that’s huge. The old double score. You don’t usually lose games when you get that double score. To start the game with a touchdown, end the half and then to start the third quarter, obviously were big. Big plays.

LH : Just when you think you’re seen everything in the NFL, your safety gets two Pick 6 interceptions and the second one was 15 yards in the Falcons backfield.  That’s kind of crazy, right.

BA : That was a great job by Carlton.  We had the blitz on and he jumps up and knocks it back to Mike who was in the right place.

LH : After all is said and done, you’re 2-0.  That’s where you wanted to be, right?

BA : Yeah, with a lot of room to improve and the majority healthy.

LH : When you have to pull the ball down and scramble, what’s going through your mind?

TB : I’m thinking, “Let’s throw it, let’s throw it, oh my God I can see really well. Who’s open? Let’s throw it. Oh my God, what am I doing out here.  Let me run forward and get on the ground as fast as I can.”  I feel like I’m looking partly backwards because I feel like people are gaining on me and looking ahead. It doesn’t come naturally to me, let me say that. That’s not one of my things – it’s much easier for me to stand in the pocket and throw the ball than it is to scramble for a first down – I wouldn’t even call it scramble. I’d say glide to a first down.”

LH : You’re wearing a Roberto Clemente jersey.  Does he hold a special place with you?

CG : Yeah, I have a lot of respect for him.  Sports is a great way of bringing people together.  He gave kids someone to look up to.  He inspired me.  He was always giving back.  He epitomizes that.  I figured to show that off.

LH : Take us through the touchdown catch.  What was the route and what were you thinking?

Just a corner route. I have outside leverage already so I’m just trying to get into position to make the play. Tom gave me a great ball, like he always does.  So for me, it is just go up and make the play. I’m pretty excited I was able to go up top there. That was pretty exciting at a big point in the game. It gave us a little bit of momentum.

LH : On the second interception, we you the most surprised guy in the stadium to see the ball coming toward you?

ME : Yeah, you have to be ready for the moment. I knew when I caught it, I had to score and take this one back too. Good feeling.  Great feeling.

LH : Looked like Coach Bowles dialed up a lot of back end blitzes today.  Was that the case?

ME : He’s just tries to keep the offense on its toes. Corner blitz and safety blitz, whatever.  Blitzing inside and outside.  A gap or B gap.  Just wants to keep offenses on their toes.

LH : First drive went off like clockwork.  Scripted plays.  Can that be a problem thinking it’s going to be that easy for the whole game?

ME : No, they did a great job of adjustments.  That’s an NFL team with some pretty good players over there and some pretty good coaches.  First drive we had prepped for and, in the second half, they switched it up and started playing us a little better so we had to adjust as well.  You just have to keep playing.

LH : When it got to 28-25, when you got in the huddle, was there a sense of concern or determination to go down and score?

ME : With this team, there’s no concern.  We want to be in those situations, late in the game, where we’re in position to win the game with the offense.  The defense did a great job getting stops at the end and scoring two defensive touchdowns. We want to be in that position.

LH : How nice was it to take the lead with a 7-0 lead?

SB : Oh, it felt good.  The offense had a problem getting started so we had a problem starting.  For them to come out and have what looked like an easy drive and it wasn’t easy believe me.  For the offense to be executing on all cylinder, it felt good to come out on to the field knowing that we had some space and some leeway.

LH : Def ense scores 14 points and gives the offense 2 or 3 short fields.  That’s a pretty good afternoon, isn’t it?

SB : Yeah, we did decent.  I mean, we’ll take it.  We finished strong like we always do.  We had pressure on the quarterback but couldn’t get him down and we just have to execute some calls a little bit better that we missed.

LH : They say luck is when opportunity meets preparation.  Was today an example of that?

RNR : Exactly.  We did all the film study.  We knew everything that was going to happen.  They didn’t do anything different than we had already seen.  We just allowed them to stay around.  We just need to understand that, for the whole game, we have to buckle down.  If we do that, we’ll see the results.

LH : I counted as least 3 or 4 deflected passes today.  Is that the most you have had in a while?

RNR : Oh yes.  Oh yes.  We figured out that he wasn’t allowing our rush to get there so get your hands up.  If you beat your guy, but you fully can’t get past him, get your hands up so we can see how we can help the secondary.