The question of the weekend is can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers restore the glory and magic of this season after the devastating loss in Atlanta last week? The answer is (as Rev. Lovejoy of Simpsons’ fame put it once) short answer no with a but, long answer yes with an if.
The short answer is no the Buccaneers can’t fully restore the magic of this season but it’s the Panthers of Carolina. But that’s also the reason the magic won’t be restored Sunday; the Panthers aren’t what one would define as an impressive win. Not too many out there would hang their hat on a win against the Panthers. Then again a win is a win. The long answer is yes the Buccaneers can restore the magic of this season if Josh Freeman explodes inside Raymond James Stadium tomorrow and the offense lights up the stat sheet and the scoreboard. It’s the Carolina Panthers, not only are they rivals, they’re going nowhere this year. The only saving grace in Charlotte is the defensive secondary is ranked 5th in the league. However Josh Freeman is a lit dynamite stick waiting to explode. He is averaging 235.6 yards in his last five games and he has the fourth fewest interceptions in the NFL. There is also the Mike Williams factor; Freeman has connected deep with Williams scoring on passes of 40 yards or more two weeks in a row. For football aficionados this is very reminiscent of the early 2000’s where Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss connected deep multiple times on what seemed like a weekly basis. Not a bad thing for Tampa Bay.
As for the run game? LaGarrette Blount has sparked this Buccaneers running game and given Freeman something he can fall back on. Is it fully matured? No, but Tampa Bay managed to put up nearly 100 combined rushing yards last week against the 8th best rushing defense in the NFL. Only 3 other teams put up 100 rushing yards or more against Atlanta and Blount scratched out 46 yards against a defense that held new sensation Peyton Hillis under 30. Carolina is no Atlanta; their rushing defense is ranked 26th in the league and have given up two 100-yard games this season. Blount is quickly becoming a legitimate threat out of the backfield and has the chance to further solidify his presence should he have another monster game against Carolina.
Defensively it looks like the Bucs are in for a good game, at least it looks that way on paper. The Panthers have the league’s worst passing offense and it will be matched up against Tampa Bay’s top 15 secondary. The wild card is the running game of the Panthers. Their running game is only ranked 26th in the NFL, but it’s going up against a Buccaneers run defense ranked third worst in the league. This is the perfect opportunity for guys like Gerald McCoy, Stylez White, and Geno Hayes to step up and it gives leading tackler Barrett Ruud the perfect stage to further prove he is the leader of this young corp of guys.
The defense is steadily raising. Although it gave up over 27 or more points the previous two weeks, it’s hard not to imagine this unit salivating over the prospects of padding their stats against a rookie quarterback they gave no confidence to in week two. Tampa Bay had 4 sacks that day and you can expect them to try and improve on that this time around. Also look for the secondary to force a lot of action. Aqib Talib is leading the team in interceptions with 6, and is going up against a quarterback who had a passer rating of 28.5 in a 8/18 for 47 yards and 1 interception relief performance last week against the Saints. One can probably bet that Defensive Backs Coach Jimmy Lake has taken note that Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen hasn’t had a completion percentage above 54% all season. The lack of depth at the Wide Receiver position in Carolina has probably also played into the way the game will be called defensively. The Panthers really don’t have very many weapons or options on offense and are thus pretty predictable. This should lead to a very productive day for the Buccaneers defense.
Overall the chances the Buccaneers win on Sunday is very high. But the team is looking for more than just a win, rather what Sunday can bring. What it can bring is a confidence builder for a young team. If the stats run high on Sunday the confidence and swagger of this team will raise dramatically. Not only will this team further gel together, this young team may just be able to spark a productive fire that has the chance to burn red hot the rest of the season and into possibly the post-season.