Bucs Fall to Rams, 26-16

WR Charles Lee hangs on for a touchdown

Rookie quarterback Chris Simms, veteran punter Tom Tupa and new kick return man Fabian Davis shined Monday night as the Bucs tasted defeat for the first time since December 23rd.

The Bucs starting team got off to a slow start as the offense was only able to move the ball to the Rams 40 before being forced to punt. Quarterback Brad Johnson completed three of four passes on the drive for 26 yards including a 12 yard pass to wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson on the game's opening play.

The Bucs defense got off to just a slow of a start, unable to stop quarterback Kurt Warner until the Rams were inside the red zone. Warner completed all seven of his passes for 55 yards. Once inside the red zone, however, the Bucs defense got tough. On third and one from the Bucs 9 yard line, Warner pitched the ball to running back Lamar Gordon who was stuffed in the backfield by linebacker Derrick Brooks for a loss of five, resulting in a 33 yard Jeff Wilkins field goal.

Brad Johnson returned for the Bucs second series of downs and looked a lot more comfortable, completing four of five passes for 29 yards. On third and five, Johnson completed a short pass to Keyshawn Johnson who ran upfield for nine yards and an apparent first down, before being hit by strong safety Adam Archuleta. Archuleta knocked the ball loose, which was recovered by free safety Kim Herring and returned 59 yards for a Rams touchdown.

Fifth year quarterback Shaun King came in the lead the Bucs on their next drive and looked comfortable in the pocket, completing his first two passes for 18 yards. On third and two, King's pass to wide receiver Charles Lee was thrown into too much traffic and landed incomplete. On fourth down, punter Tom Tupa booted a 46 yard punt to return man Arlen Harris, who for some reason failed to call for a fair catch. Harris was drilled by cornerback Corey Ivy

On the Rams ensuing drive, Rams second string quarterback Marc Bulger dropped back to throw a long bomb which was intercepted by safety Jermaine Phillips. Unfortunately, the play was called back due to a roughing the passer penalty against defensive end Ron Warner. Warner redeemed himself three plays later by sacking Bulger, powering his way around tackle John St. Clair. The Rams were forced to settle for a 23 yard Wilkins field goal.

The only bright spot in the Bucs next drive was a 12 yard run by King on third and ten to keep the drive alive. However, a holding penalty called against tackle Roman Oben and a sack by former Buccaneer defensive end Tyoka Jackson forced the Bucs to punt again.

On the next drive, Bulger led an effective drive, using the clock wisely, resulting in a 37 yard Wilkins field goal to give the Rams a 16-0 halftime lead.

Following the second half kickoff by newly signed kicker Rob Bironas, the Rams had to immediately call a timeout as they seemed to have forgotten what they discussed during halftime. Their first three plays resulted in two incomplete passes and a run for a loss of two yards.

After a Rams three-and-out, rookie quarterback Chris Simms entered the game and was rudely greeted by the Rams defense. Simms was sacked twice in his first three plays. The bright spot in the Bucs series was an eleven yard scamper by running back Thomas Jones. Tupa's punt following the three-and-out sailed for sixty yards.

The Rams offense continued to sputter, leading to another three-and-out. On third down, Bucs cornerback Tim Wansley shadowed Rams wide receiver Shaun McDonald, and Bulger had no choice but to throw the ball away.

The Bucs next possession started with a bang as running back Thomas Jones pounded his way up the middle on first down to gain 18 yards. But, on a third and three inside the Rams' 30 yard line, Jones was unable to pick up the first down. Gambling on fourth and two, Simms completed a short pass to Jones for a first down at the Rams 24 yard line. Two plays later, Simms nearly had his pass to Charles Lee picked off by linebacker Scott Shanle. Simms' next pass was complete to tight end Todd Yoder for 11 yards to pick up another Bucs first down. Two plays later, Simms hit Lee in the right corner of the end zone to finally get the Bucs on the scoreboard. The Bucs went for the two point conversion. Simms' pass to wide receiver Fabian Davis was broken up by cornerback Kevin Garrett, who was called for pass interference, giving the Bucs another chance. The Bucs faked Jones up the middle and Simms hit a wide open Lee in the left side of the end zone to cut the Rams lead in half, 16-8.

Starting their next drive with great field position following a botched kickoff, the Rams offense looked as it was continuing to struggle as wide receiver Kevin Curtis was tackled for a loss of seven. The following play, Curtis caught a pass for five yards. Corey Ivy was called for taunting on the play to give the Rams a first down on the Bucs 25 yard line. On third and 12, Bulger's pass to wide receiver Dane Looker was completed for a first down inside the Bucs 10. Bucs coach Jon Gruden challenged the call that Looker was in bounds. The replay showed that Looker's second foot did land out of bounds, but he was pushed out by cornerback Tim Wansley, giving the Rams a first and goal from the Bucs seven. Two plays later, tailback Arlen Harris pounded his way up the middle in an Alstott-like run with missed tackles from linebacker Nate Webster and cornerback Corey Ivy to give the Rams a 23-8 lead.

Bucs kick returner Fabian Davis made a great return giving the Bucs the ball across mid-field. Three plays later, a wide open Davis dropped a Simms pass that would've taken the Bucs near the red zone. Instead, it resulted in a Bucs three-and-out.

The Rams took over on the twenty yard line, but were forced to punt after a three-and-out, which included a great tackle by linebacker Ryan Nece. On the Bucs next possession, offensive rookie guard Sean Mahan missed a blocking assignment which allowed Scott Shanle to barrel into the Bucs backfield to nail running back Travis Stephens for a two yard loss. The next play, Simms was sacked by defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy for a loss of eight, and appeared to injure his hand on the play. On fourth and 21, Tom Tupa continued to make a statement that the punting job is his, as he booted a 58 yard kick.

The Rams returned to the field with Kirk Farmer at the helm. After two Arlen Harris runs gave the Rams third and two, safety Jermaine Phillips stuffed Harris in the backfield to force the Rams to punt.

Simms returned to the game after it was learned his finger was ok. Travis Stephens rushed twice to give the Bucs a third and less than a yard, but was stuffed on third down, forcing the Bucs to put. Tupa's next punt wasn't nearly as good as his previous two, traveling just 38 yards.

On their next drive, the Rams went to the running game in an effort to run out the clock. On one play, it nearly backfired as running back Joffery Reynolds was tripped up and fumbled the ball. However, a lucky bound put the ball right back in Reynolds' hands. Two plays later, Farmer's pass to Curtis was broken up by cornerback Hirchel Bolden. Bolden was called for interference, giving the Rams a first down at the Bucs 15 yard line. The drive ended with a 22 yard Wilkins field goal to extend the Rams lead to 26-8.

In the Bucs final drive, and out of timeouts, Simms quickly led the Bucs into the Rams red zone. A roughing the passer penalty gave the Bucs first and goal on the nine. Simms hit Davis in the end zone on the following play to give the Bucs one last score. A two point conversion (Simms to tight end Will Heller) cut the score to 26-16.

Inside the numbers: Brad Johnson completed 7 of 9 passes for 55 yards. Shaun King was 3 for 5, 21 yards. Chris Simms completed 10 of 13 for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Monday night's leading rushers included Thomas Jones (47 yards on 9 carries), Travis Stephens (17 yards on 6 carries) and Michael Pittman (12 yards on 3 carries). Leading receivers included Charles Lee (45 yards on 3 receptions, one touchdown), Keyshawn Johnson 21 yards on 2 receptions) and Daniel Wilcox (19 yards on two receptions). Punter Tom Tupa averaged 49.3 yards on seven kicks. Linebacker Nate Webster led the defense with five tackles. Brian Kelly, Ryan Nece, Jermaine Phillips and Derrick Brooks each had four tackles. Ron Warner had the Bucs only sack. Fabian Davis averaged 32 yards on two kickoff returns.

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