The Buccaneers took the field yesterday hoping to improve on their dismal 3-13 record a year ago. The team, in front of a crowd of only 47,000 and no one watching in the Bay area (thanks to the blackout) began the season on a high note with a 17 to 14 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Quarterback Josh Freeman returned after missing three weeks with a fractured thumb and completed 17 of 28 passes for 182 yards, including two touchdowns and one interception. Freeman looked confident in the pocket, delivering strong passes all over the field and moving around the pocket as well (he also rushed two times for 34 yards). The Bucs are glad he is healthy and he seems poised for a solid year.
The Buccaneers rushing attack was quiet this game though, putting more pressure on Freeman to deliver. Cadillac led the way with 22 carries for 75 yards. Earnest Graham had 6 carries for 10 yards and one fumble. It is interesting to note that neither Kareem Huggins or LarGarrette Blount had a carry in this game. Huggins had a huge preseason and Blount is considered the power runner for the Bucs now, but neither were a factor in this game. The Bucs will have to get the ground game going if they want to continue to win.
The Bucs receivers did not have a big game, but turned in a solid showing. Michael Spurlock led the way with 2 catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Kellen Winslow had a nice game, four catches for 32 yards (he also got to taunt his former team by waving a Bucs flag around, glad his knee didn’t break as he joked around). Sammie Stroughter had 2 catches for 32 yards, filling in for Maurice Stovall. Mike Williams had 5 catches for 30 yards and his first career touchdown (how did his guy fall to us in the 4th round!). Cadillac also chipped in with 2 catches for 23 yards. It is interesting to note that Arrelious Benn, the Bucs second round pick, was nowhere to be seen out there, no catches. He needs to step up and get into the mix.
Special teams had a nice game as well for the Bucs. New Punter Chris Bryan had seven punts for an average of 41.1 yards, including a long of 57 yards, and two inside the Browns 20 yard line. Kicker Connor Barth was also solid, connecting two for two on extra point attempts and nailing a 49 yard field goal.
The defense had a solid showing, despite the early touchdown in which it seems Tanard Jackson and Sean Jones got confused about who was in coverage. Geno Hayes led the way with 7 tackles and Barrett Ruud (decided to get physical and play inside the box) had 7 tackles as well, included a forced fumble. E.J. Biggers, who gave up a touchdown (filling in for Aqib Talib), had 5 tackles and an interception. Even Ronde Barber had an interception, including two tackles. Gerald McCoy had 3 tackles on the day, and despite the low stats, was a force inside and provided constant pressure. And finally site favorite, Cody Grimm, had one tackle.
Overall, it was a nice win for the Bucs. A lot of the young players stepped up and the team seems to be coming together, despite the youth and inexperience at many positions. The Bucs will learn from this game and will work hard to improve at many areas (pass coverage, running the ball, etc.) and hope to continue to build as the season begins.