23 Points. That is how much the Bucs have won their five games by. Total. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued their mastery of winning close games Sunday with a thrilling 38-35 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Josh Freeman was at the center of things again, leading the team back from a 4th quarter deficit after letting a comfortable lead slip away in the second half. It was a topsy-turvy affair as both teams set their highs for points scored this year. Both teams had plenty of chances to win the game, but the Bucs survived and now hold a share of first place in the NFC South. Let's take a look at how each side of the football performed as the Buccaneers moved to 5-2 on the season.
Clearly the unit's best game of the season. In addition to the 24 points they put up on the board, they amassed 407 yards and 19 first downs, most of which came after a pretty dormant first quarter (if you want to call 3 three-and-outs dormant). Freeman looked outstanding and did everything you could ask in your quarterback. He spread the football around, completing a pass to 10 different receivers. He threw 2 beautiful bombs that led to touchdowns. He was able to make plays all across the field while limiting his mistakes. This was his third straight game without an interception, and still just has three on the season. There is only one quarterback in the NFL with fewer interceptions while starting every game so far this season, and that would be Peyton Manning. The offensive line struggled mightily to create holes or protect the passer. Freeman was only sacked twice, but the line should hardly get credit for this. He did a nice job of moving around and buying time for his receivers. The real star of the day was clearly LeGarrette Blount. He has become a household name for Buccaneers fans and Sunday he showed how much of an impact he can have for the offense. He had a pair of touchdowns in addition to his bruising running style that certainly punished the Cardinals defense. Having a weapon like this can only help the development of the entire unit.
The Bucs now lead the NFL in interceptions with 14, following their feast on Max Hall and Derek Anderson Sunday afternoon. Other than their 4 picks, two of which were returned for scores, the defense again struggled in a number of areas. The pass rush improved slightly, but only slightly. They still only have 6 sacks in 7 games this year, ranking dead last in the NFL. Because of this, our average secondary is getting exposed on a consistent basis. Steve Breaston in particular torched the Bucs defense on a number of different plays. Larry Fitzgerald had a pair of easy touchdown receptions, the first of which came as a result of Cody Grimm biting on the play-action fake. The run defense performed well, holding Beanie Wells in check and only allowing 1 long run to LaRod Stephens-Howling. Grimm made a couple nice plays in run support, a sign that he is beginning to be comfortable on the football field. The Bucs allowed almost 400 yards to a Cardinals offense that had ranked dead last in yards per game on the season. Ouch.
Special Teams: D
Penalties, a muffed punt, and a blocked field goal. That pretty much sums up the day for the Bucs special teams, which I'm sure will have coach Rich Bisaccia tearing out what's left of his hair this week. This unit is used to being one of the best in the NFL, but 2010 has been sub-par to say the least. They have yet to have a kick or punt return over 40 yards this season, leaving the Bucs offense in poor field position for the majority of the season. Thankfully, the coverage units have been effective enough to the point of it not killing the team, but the high standards that have been set for the special teams have to be met if the team is going to continue to be in close games.
Another week, another exciting win for our Buccaneers. The same problems exist (mostly along the lines and in coverage), but one of our larger ones may have a solution. Blount looked like he was ready to be the feature back, and will definitely be the guy going forward. The offense is showing signs of coming to life in a big way, after being below average for a number of years. Although they were playing in a hostile road atmosphere, it felt like a good team would have found a way to put the game away at 31-14. However the team was able to pull out the victory after throwing away their largest lead since 2006 against the Philadelphia Eagles. They will find out next week if they have made sufficient progress on both sides of the ball, because they take on their third quality opponent of the season, the Atlanta Falcons.