What a win! Coming into Sunday many around the NFL saw the Bucs as a flukey 2-1 team that got exposed by the Pittsburgh Steelers going into their bye. But in a testament to the coaching staff and the organizational message that Tampa Bay is preaching, the 2010 Bucs responded to adversity by coming out of the bye week focused and earning a gritty road win against the Cincinnati Bengals. Make no mistakes about it this was a quality win for the Buccaneers, who had been knocked for notching its only wins against the Browns and Panthers prior to this. It may not have been the sexiest win, but style points don’t matter in the NFL. A win is a win, and this one lends the Bucs an air of legitimacy.
More than anything else though this win demonstrated the resiliency and fight of the Buccaneers. When challenged, this Bucs team fought back time and time again. After going down 7-0 at the beginning of the game it was the rookie Cody Grimm, a Bucs scapegoat just two weeks ago, who read a Bengals passing play perfectly and stepped in front of a Carson Palmer pass for a pick-six. Down 21-14, with just over two minutes remaining the defense made another play, this time with Aqib Talib wrestling a pass away from Terrell Owens. Josh Freeman wasted no time in leading the Bucs down the field and finding Mike Williams for a beautiful 20 yard touchdown strike.
Then, once again this team refused to die and the defense again found a way to intercept Carson Palmer to give the Bucs offense a shot. This time it was the oft-derided Sabby Piscitelli who was there to snag a deflection and give the Bucs offense a shot inside of a minute to win the game. Again Freeman played well, finding Michael Spurlock on a controversial sideline catch to set up the winning Connor Barth field goal.
It was an amazing ending, a truly impressive trademark win for the Bucs. This is the type of win that builds a team’s confidence moving forward. The Bucs couldn’t have found a better way to come out of their bye week than with a strong performance, character-building win on the road against a good team. Let’s break it down a little more.
Josh Freeman Growing Up
Josh Freeman was 20-33 for 280 yards, a touchdown and a pick. But that stat-line doesn’t tell the real story of Freeman’s game. Once again, Bucs fans saw what a warrior Freeman is. From his ability to buy time and make plays on third-and-long to the fact he stood up and played on his head when the Bucs needed him to at the end of the game, there’s a lot to like about the way he’s developing.
For starters, Freeman continues to demonstrate that he possesses that “it” factor that so few quarterbacks seem to have. Freeman just has that knack for escaping the clutches of a pass-rusher or finding some wide open receiver 30 yards down the field long after the play has broken down. He continues to be a little rough around the edges as all young quarterbacks are. But you can’t deny the kid has “it.”
There was no better demonstration of that than his play in the final two and half minutes Sunday. Freeman managed to drive the Bucs down the field for a quick touchdown strike on a downright impressive play by Mike Williams in the back of the end-zone. Then, on the biggest play of the game for Tampa he found Michael Spurlock perfectly on the sideline to put Connor Barth comfortably in field goal range. To put it roughly, that’s ball’s, man.
What Changes to the Running Game?
Remember all the talk about changing up the rushing attack during the bye week? Yeah… what happened to that? LeGarrette Blount and Kareem Huggins combined for just 5 carries, Cadillac Williams had 11 attempts for just 33 yards (which is actually up a half yard from his typically robust 2.5 yards per carry) and once again Ernest Graham seemingly ran the hardest (and certainly had a great run from the Bucs’ own goal-line) but was still ignored as a ballcarrier for the greater part of the day.
We’ll talk about the Bucs ground game later in the week, but for now, this is hardly sufficient. The long Graham run will help inflate the numbers, but once again the Bucs run game was anemic rendering the offense to be fairly one-dimensional. This has to get better if the Bucs want to sustain any kind of success for the rest of the season. Here’s a hint too, Ernest Graham got three touches yesterday. On one he punched in a touchdown and one was a big run. Graham is hardly a sexy option, but he’s a fighter, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guy with more fight in him on the whole roster.
Defense Stands up When it Counts
The defense was highly opportunistic, forcing three interceptions that made a huge impact on the outcome of the game. So far this year the defense has been fairly prolific in forcing turnovers. You can’t deny how profoundly turnovers can affect a game so it’s nice that this Bucs D is back to creating them.
The first pick was undoubtedly the best. Cody Grimm really didn’t need to apologize to anyone after last week, a rookie getting schooled in his first start is pretty commonplace. But he definitely made amends early on agaisnt the Bengals. With Carson Palmer and the Cincy offense backed up into their own end zone Grimm read the Bengal play-call perfectly and picked off a Palmer pass in stride, returning it for an easy score. I’ve watched that replay more than a few times. That isn’t a play a rookie is supposed to make. Great play.
Then Aqib Talib and Sabby Piscitelli got in on the act. Talib’s pick came first, on a pass to Terrell Owens, when he managed to wrestle the ball away from Owens and gain possession. It was another tremendous play that really just shows how underrated Aqib Talib is around the league. It was already his third pick in four games and this one saw him make a great break on the ball, snag it and then wrestle it from a very physical, future hall of fame receiver. All that talk from TO about ‘when the ball is in the air, it’s my ball.’ Yeah, not around Aqib Talib it’s not.
Sabby’s pick was great just because he didn’t drop it. I’m not being cruel, but on a deflected ball it seems like the hardest thing to do is actually concentrate and catch it. How many times have you seen that ball dropped? Not only did it stop the Bengals from driving to win, it set up the Bucs with a shot to win it for themselves. Piscitelli probably wouldn’t have even been in the game if Sean Jones hadn’t hurt his back in the first quarter, but the Bucs are glad he was.
We’ll have more all week, but you can’t help but feel good about the Buccaneers’ win yesterday. Nobody else in the national media is really going to talk about it. Already NFL Network is running stories about what’s wrong in Cincy as opposed to what’s right in Tampa. Even the Bengals weren’t willing to give Tampa Bay their due.
“We’re a 2-3 team, and it’s not a good team,” safety Chris Crocker said. “We gave it away.”
But I doubt anyone inside the Bucs locker room cares. They know they’re 3-1. And they know there’s still a lot to work on going into the game against the Saints this Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, but for now, this win definitely makes Monday a little sweeter.