Wow. Just wow. What a victory for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's hard to even gather thoughts about such an emotional fightback in a game that could obviously have gone either way. The team showed a lot of heart in scoring 10 points with under two minutes to play, which was their second come-from-behind win of the season. The Bucs now sit at 3-1 after the first quarter of the season, something I'm sure everyone predicted in training camp. Let's take a quick look at how each unit performed and what can be taken going into the big game against the 3-2 New Orleans Saints.
Same old story here. Josh Freeman made a lot of excellent throws, moved the offense down the field, and was able to punch the ball into the end zone when the team needed it. The interception was a bad decision as Winslow was not open on the play and the turnover killed the momentum the Bucs had at the time. Freeman has to understand the game management circumstances that were present right there. It was first down in Cincy territory after a huge play in the running game, and he has to make sure not to take points off the board. The running game was non existent (yet again), and Freeman was forced into a number of third downs where he had to make plays. Fortunately for our Bucs, it appears that Freeman is taking the next step of his development and is ready to be to strength of the offense. Mike Williams continues to make things happen and looks like he a playmaker, but has got to take care of the football. Carnell Williams simply does not have it anymore (running with that O-line doesn't help things), and it would be wise to split the carries between LeGarrette Blount (who can run over unblocked guys) or Kareem Huggins (who can make guys who aren't blocked miss) going forward.
Another inconsistent effort by the defense, especially in the ground game. If the Bengals didn't shoot themselves in the foot with drops, penalties, etc the Bucs may not have had the opportunity to get the win. However they were able to force Carson Palmer to make some mistakes and took advantage of them. At the end of the day that is all that matters. The Bucs played a lot of 2-deep in this game, in order to prevent the big play in the passing game. This almost worked, as Terrell Owens was able to shake off Aqib Talib for a deep score. However they went the rest of the game without allowing a passing play of more than 20 yards until the Bengals final drive. One thing that I was impressed when watching the game again was how the Bucs wrapped up tackles when defending the pass. The Bengals have physical receivers that are difficult to bring down at times, and it was good to see them limit the yards after contact. The Bengals really committed to the running attack in the second half, and it payed dividends. Benson ended up with 144 yards rushing on the afternoon and a key touchdown. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, the Saints rarely run the football and will do so even less with injuries to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Playing bend but don't break pass defense will be vital against Drew Brees and company.
Special Teams: C+
Another mixed effort from the special teams on Sunday. Geno Hayes made a nice play on the punt deflection, and the punt and kick coverage was solid as usual. Chris Bryan made up for a 15 yard punt with a few efforts that pinned the Bengals inside their 10 yard line. Michael Spurlock had a costly fumble in the kickoff return game, which allowed Cincy to take a 7 point lead. The Bucs have to find a solution in the punt game (I have one, but I doubt management cares), or they will lose the field position battle on a consistent basis. Props to Bryan for getting the snap down and to Conor Barth for making the clutch kick to win the game.
Overall: Any time you can get a victory on the road against a solid team like the Cincinatti Bengals, then that an accomplishment in itself. Considering the manner in which the team pulled this one out, combined with the clear growth and maturity that is occurring in that locker room right now, hopes are high going into the game with the New Orleans Saints. It was also positive to see the team overcome their mistakes, which clearly cost the team points early on. The safety situation remains a big problem and will continue to bite the Buccaneers and limit the overall potential of the defense. However it now appears that the offense is ready to step up and overcome these limitations. This seems like a concept from a parallel universe for Bucs fans, but the team finally has a clear identity. His name is Josh Freeman.