The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Atlanta Falcons 16-13, Sunday evening. It was Raheem Morris’ first win over the Falcons and put the Bucs in a two-way tie with the New Orleans Saints for first place in the NFC South. It wasn’t always pretty, it wasn’t a statistical marvel, but the Bucs won a statement game at home against the Falcons and now the rest of the league will start to take notice.
Unfortunately this win sends the Falcons to 1-2, and with their record now comes the talks about whether they have slipped. But don’t buy into that, this Atlanta team will challenge for a playoff spot and will finish with a winning record. This was a big win for Tampa from a divisional standpoint and a psychological one. Last season the common gripe against the Buccaneers was that they didn’t beat any playoff teams, that was actually untrue because they knocked off the Seahawks and Saints to finish the season, but last year’s Bucs team was widely seen as a squad who won against a sub-par schedule.
That doesn’t look to be the case this year though. The Bucs beat last year’s NFC South champion on Sunday and heading into next weekend’s game with the Colts, their only blemish comes from the Detroit Lions in week one. Quick newsflash, that Lions team is 3-0 and looks poised for big things. So do the Bucs. Let’s take a look at some of the finer points from Sunday’s win.
Winning When it Counts
As I said yesterday evening on the Recap Show, Josh Freeman doesn’t have to be statistically impressive to lead the Buccaneers to a win. As counter-intuitive as that sounds, that’s one of the marks of a great quarterback. Freeman’s mere presence inspires in the Buccaneers offense (and defense) a confidence that no matter the situation they are almost never out of a game. It wasn’t any play or pass that Freeman made in the second half of the game to win it for the Bucs, it was drawing an offsides penalty to seal the deal.
Statistically Freeman was not the best quarterback on the field Sunday, he threw two picks, he looked off at points in the game. But even with some struggles, this Buccaneers offense has bought into their quarterback. If they have the ball at the end of the game they’ve got a shot and that sort of confidence is tough to build. You don’t think in the back of the Falcons mind yesterday at the end of the game, were images from their film study of Freeman leading the Bucs back just last weekend in Minneapolis?
Freeman may be young, but he’s developing a league-wide reputation that once the 4th quarter starts and the game is on the line, he’s money. You can toss out stats, toss out precedents, when the scoreboard his quarter four Josh Freeman hits another level. Yesterday he started the 4th by getting a pass tipped for an interception. Not an auspicious start and it’s at that point that a lot of quarterbacks would have been in for a bad finish.
Freeman went out and completed four of his last five pass attempts, he added some yardage on a scramble and drew a big penalty on the final possession which let the Bucs run the clock out. You don’t always win with 400 yards passing a five touchdowns, a lot of times it just comes down to smart play and efficiency and Josh Freeman was nothing if not efficient over the last quarter of the game Sunday.
This the Blount We Expected
LeGarrette Blount didn’t blow anyone away with his rushing average yesterday, but he was huge down the stretch for the Buccaneers. This is the type of running back that defenses hate, all six feet and 250 pounds of Blount battered the line 24 times including five times on the final drive as the Bucs offense milked the final seconds off the clock.
This is why I’ve continued to say that the Bucs would be remiss to make LeGarrette Blount into an every down back. Blount was fresh down the stretch against the Falcons and they could not stop in the 4th quarter. The man is a load and if you can keep him primed and ready to go for the 4th he will be a great closer for many years to come.
It’s also worth noting how far Blount has come in a year. Last season the Bucs lost to the Falcons in Atlanta when Blount couldn’t convert a 4th and goal late in the game and the Falcons were able to hold on for a tight win. This year in the teams’ first meeting Blount was far less polite. He only gained 81 yards, but as I’ve said it’s not all about stats it’s about impact and Blount’s impact is probably still being felt by the Falcons’ D-Line this morning.
The real MVP of yesterday’s game was the Buccaneers defensive front seven. Their secondary was solid in preventing the receivers from scoring, but still yielded over 300 yards. The front seven was not giving an inch though. The Falcons vaunted rushing attack managed just 30 yards on 15 attempts, Michael Turner was a non-factor and the team brought down Matt Ryan for four sacks. Toss in three forced turnovers and a huge stop inside their own redzone at the beginning of the 4th quarter and the Buccaneer faithful finally have something to be truly excited about on the defensive end.
Joel will be back with a full defensive breakdown later today or tomorrow, but it’s worth noting that the Buccaneers front seven dominated the line of scrimmage against a team I personally thought would give them fits. This isn’t stoning a bad offense, this is the team that won home-field advantage in the NFC last season and Tampa rendered them one-dimensional for an entire game.
Based on yesterday’s performance it’s time to stop calling this team the Baby Bucs. They played like men on Sunday.