The Bucs announced a sellout crowd of 62,422 at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.But one glance at the stands told you the actual number of fans on hand was much fewer - nearly 20,000 fewer. The Tampa Sports Authority, which manages the stadium, said the actual attendance was 42,847, a shockingly low number even for a winless team. On Thursday night, then-No. 21 USF drew an actual crowd of 55,073 for its loss to then-No. 8Cincinnati. The Bucs avoided a local television blackout for the game against the Panthers when they said Wednesday that all tickets would be sold. But team officials declined Sunday to discuss who had bought the tickets for all those empty seats or how they are meeting the NFL requirement to sell out their games 72 hours before kickoff. The news does not bode well for the remainder of the season. The Bucs have four home games left.
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'DIRTY' PLAY LEAVES SMITH SPEECHLESS
Bucs return man Clifton Smith was left with a concussion and could barely talk after sustaining a blow near his head on an illegal hit from the Panthers' Dante Wesley. The eighth-year cornerback launched himself into Smith before Smith had a chance to field a punt late in the second quarter, hitting the returner in the throat with his forearm. Wesley was called for an interference penalty and a personal foul and was ejected by referee John Parry, but not before the move incited a melee on the field. Bucs S Tanard Jackson called the hit "dirty." Others used language not fit for print. "It was a dumb play that was penalized," said Bucs coach Raheem Morris. "It was handled correctly. (Wesley) threw a punch at Aqib (Talib); he got kicked out. It was a cheap shot. We know that." Talib and LB Adam Hayward had to be restrained by teammates and officials after Wesley's alleged punch in the ensuing skirmish. "I'm a whack job," Hayward said. "When I saw he was on the ground laid out like that, I went over there to get No. 21 (Wesley). I'm probably going to get fined. But it's worth it. I'll eat that. You can't get away with that." Wesley probably won't. On top of his ejection, he can expect to be fined heavily, and a suspension will likely be considered by the NFL brass. "That's not even me," Wesley said afterward. "It just so happened I just hit (Smith). My prayers go out (to) him. I would never try to hurt anyone. I was just trying to make a play. The first time we punted the ball, he tried to do like a fake fair catch, and he caught it and ran anyway, and I was kind of slow reacting to it. ... I was just trying to make a play."
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Stroughter stands up
Rookie seventh-round draft pick Sammie Stroughter not only led the Bucs in receiving with three catches for 65 yards, but he also provided the biggest boost of the day under less-than-ideal circumstances. Asked to fill in for Clifton Smith after the return man was knocked out of the game by a vicious hit, Stroughter tied Smith's club record with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 2:17 left in the third quarter.
Stroughter credited Adam Hayward, Brian Clark and Maurice Stovall with key blocks, but he did plenty of work on his own, stepping out of attempted tackles by CB Richard Marshall and K Rhys Lloyd.
"I just remember (special teams) coach Rich (Bisaccia) telling me, 'You better not let the kicker catch you,' " Stroughter said. "I just kept hearing that repeating in my head." And he got other notable advice from WR Antonio Bryant: "Right before the kickoff, I went to Sammie Stroughter and told him, 'This is when playmakers make plays.' The guy plays with his heart."
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Three of a kind
For the third time in franchise history, the Bucs had a kickoff return for a touchdown. And it was the third in their past 25 regular-season games after having none in their first 497. Rookie Sammie Stroughter joined a select group with his runback against the Panthers:
Player......................Yds. ...Opp. ........Result, Date
Sammie Stroughter....97.....Panthers...28-21 L, Sunday
Clifton Smith.............97.....Chiefs.......30-27 W(OT), Nov. 2
Micheal Spurlock........90.....Falcons.....37-3 W, Dec. 16, 2007
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After Adams, Game 1
The Bucs played their first game without DE Gaines Adams, who was traded to the Bears on Friday for a 2010 second-round draft pick. Stylez White, left, started at defensive end in his place and had an impressive performance: one sack, two tackles for loss, eight tackles and two quarterback hits.
GM Mark Dominik said he initiated the talks with Chicago. "As a general manager, I think it's my responsibility to be in contact with all 31 other teams ... to have an opportunity to find out what's going on," he said. "If you don't know that Braylon Edwards is (worth third- and fifth-round draft picks), you're not doing your job. We'll call around to all the clubs and just talk about players, talk about what they have in terms of needs, talk about what we have. ... From there, we worked through the conversation with (Bears GM) Jerry Angelo to facilitate the trade."
Asked about Adams' time in Tampa, Dominik conceded it did not meet expectations.
"The bottom line is, you took a player with the fourth pick in the draft," he said. "It did not pan out the way you would hope it would. So what you end up with (by the trade) is a second-round pick, and it'll be on the organization to make sure that pick matters."
White said Adams' departure puts him under a spotlight: "My role obviously has changed, and I don't want to give it back. I feel like I have some type of weight on me, and I want to play well for the team and myself. Even though we lost, I hope I did well enough to go back out there and prove myself. I can only do what they ask me to do."
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DEFENSE COMES UP BIG ... SORT OF
The Bucs defense registered several game-changing plays, including two interceptions and a forced fumble that likely saved a touchdown.
The disappointing thing was the plays didn't come when they were most needed: on Carolina's winning drive, when the Panthers ran the ball at will.
The first turnover came when S Tanard Jackson forced a fumble from RB Jonathan Stewart at the Bucs' 3-yard line, stripping the ball loose as Stewart barreled toward the end zone. DT Ryan Sims recovered, keeping the score 7-7 with 9:55 remaining in the second quarter.
With 14 seconds left in the third quarter and the Bucs trailing 21-14, LB Barrett Ruud intercepted QB Jake Delhomme when LB Quincy Black deflected the pass. The drive got as close as the Panthers' 36 before an illegal motion penalty on fourth and 1 forced the Bucs to punt. Then, with 8:33 left in the game, Jackson struck again when he intercepted Delhomme (who had LB Geno Hayes in his face) on a pass over the middle and returned it 26 yards for the tying touchdown.
"I was just free, and he stared the receiver down the whole way," Jackson said. "I was just able to read his eyes and make a play on the ball."
But given the way the defense ended the game, it was all for naught.
"You can make all the big plays and do all the right things, but when it's time to get the stop and give our offense a chance to get the ball back, we didn't do that," Jackson said.
Afterward, Ruud said: "I forgot about those big plays already. I'm thinking about that one drive."
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The Panthers have two of the top rushing days allowed by the Bucs:
Sept. 17, 2006.......306...Falcons.....Warrick Dunn, 134...........14-3 L
Dec. 8...................299...Panthers...DeAngelo Williams, 186....38-23 L
Nov. 25, 1984........299...Rams........Eric Dickerson, 191..........34-33 L
Dec. 8, 1991..........296...Vikings......Herschel Walker, 126.......26-24 L
Nov. 20, 1983........273...Bears........Matt Suhey, 112................27-0 L
Sunday..................267...Panthers....DeAngelo Williams, 152....28-21 L