September MVP: WR-Preston Parker
Parker didn’t put up outrageous numbers, but if he doesn’t fill in for the injured Sammie Stroughter the way he has then the Bucs don’t comeback against the Vikings and he doesn’t draw coverage away from other aspects of the Bucs offense in Week 3 and Tampa isn’t 2-1 at the end of the month.
The Buccaneers didn’t start out the opening month of the 2011 season they way they had hoped, but they didn’t give up and closed out September on a high note and started October the way September should have started.
Week 1 saw the Bucs open the season at home, but the Detroit Motor City Kitties got the best of the Bucs in their first win of an undefeated month. The Bucs weren’t impressive at all in any aspect other than slightly on defense. Aqib Talib got his first interception and first defensive touchdown of the season but that and the pre-game fly-over were about the only highlight for the Bucs on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Josh Freeman connected with Mike Williams at the end of the game but it was too little too late to over power the Lions.
Week 2 saw an even more atrocious start as the Bucs fell behind 17-0 to the Minnesota Vikings. What followed was the spark that began a run for the Bucs that is reminiscent of last season. Josh Freeman commanded a 24 point second half and the defense stifled Adrian Peterson as Tampa came from behind to get their first win 24-20. It was the second half of this game that got the gears moving for all aspects of the Bucs game from Freeman’s leadership to the defense’s confidence at stopping big-time playmakers.
That confidence was highlighted the following week as the Bucs welcomed the Atlanta Falcons to the Ray J. Despite allowing the Dirty Bird’s top two receivers to got over 110 yards receiving, the Bucs secondary held them out of the endzone and it resulted in pressure being applied to Matt Ryan. Even though Matty Ice went wild, the Bucs found a way to contain the Falcons offense and beat them for the first time in the Freeman-Morris era in Tampa. The game was won on a 4th and 1 where Josh Freeman beat the Falcons with his mind, drawing them offsides to get a fresh set of downs which allowed the Bucs to run out the clock.
The Bucs look good heading into the month of October with their only loss coming against a team that has yet to lose and looks deadly impressive. October won’t be an easy month and come November we should have a pretty good idea of what kind of a Bucs team we’re dealing with. Just about everyone of the Bucs three October matchups left are key games as all come against teams with winning records. Just as the Colts game was a different story at game-time than it was when revealed on the schedule, the road game in San Francisco is now a very intriguing matchup with both teams sitting at 3-1. After that the Bucs come back home for their first game against the high-powered Saints and then its off to London for the game against the Chicago Bears. All three teams have tough defenses and offenses that can punish you if they catch you sleeping. If the Bucs can end the month of October 5-2, they will be sitting pretty. But with a tough November ahead of them with games against the Saints, Packers and Texans, having as much breathing room in the NFC South as possible will pay off in the long run.
But for now, the Bucs are looking very impressive and have a legitimate shot at a playoff spot and possibly a division title.
Stats Leaders (As of 9/30/11):
Passing: Josh Freeman – 27/106, 682yds, 2TD-4INT
Rushing: LaGarrette Blount – 42car, 167yds, 2TD, 0Fum
Receiving: Preston Parker – 11rec, 153yds, 0TD
Tackles: Mason Foster – 22tkls, 16solo, 6asst, 2.0 sacks
Sacks: Mason Foster – 2.0 sacks
Interceptions: Aqib Talib/Ronde Barber – 1INT
Kicking: Connor Barth – 6/6 FG, 6/6 XP
Punting: Michael Koenen – 12 Punts, 573yds 3 Punts In20
Kick Return: Preston Parker – 4Ret, 94yds, 0TD