An offensive identity has officially been established in Tampa. The Buccaneers relied heavily on their offense to pull away to a 31-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday. Josh Freeman torched the Carolina secondary while the running game was effective enough to help the Bucs control the contest and move to 6-3 on the season. While it wasn't the most consistent performance we'll ever see, any time you can win by 2 touchdowns in the NFL it is an accomplishment. Let's wrap up Sunday's victory over the Panthers by taking a quick look at how each unit fared.
Very good day at the office for Josh Freeman and his friends. The team averaged 7.7 yards per play and looked quite comfortable moving the football down the field. The Panthers came into the contest with a solid defense, making this quite the impressive performance. Kellen Winslow had a big game, which was nice to see after a few weeks of inactivity. His touchdown catch came on an unbelievable(ly dangerous) throw from Freeman, and came at a critical part of the game. Overall, Freeman made some incredible throws while posting the best QB rating of his career. LeGarrette Blount got in on the action as well, especially on a very impressive second quarter drive that led to a touchdown. However after that Blount was a non-factor, only gaining 18 yards after that particular drive. He has to take better care of the football, because it appears the Bucs will ride Blount on a weekly basis. It was nice to see Cadillac Williams get rewarded for all his hard work in pass protection, scoring on a 45 yard scamper to put the game away. The offensive line should also get credit on this particular weekend, as they performed excellent in both the passing and the running games.
Another week, another 100 yard rusher allowed. Such is the life of a swiss-cheese run defense struggling to make improvements from week to week. This time it was Mike Goodson who was able to find lanes, as he ended up with an even century on the day. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen looked pretty comfortable and failed turn the football over, which is quite alarming from a Buccaneers point of view. Gerald McCoy finally contributed something to the team effort, forcing a fumble and doing a decent job of gaining penetration on a play by play basis. I don't even know why I type this every week, bhte the pass rush was unimpressive yet again, although they did reach Clausen for two sacks. Troy Smith and Frank Gore will be very confident about their chances next week. One positive thing the Buccaneers can take away from this game was how well they performed once Carolina got in the red zone. They were able to hold Carolina to 3 field goals and a touchdown in 5 trips. This is clearly where the Bucs won the game.
Special Teams: D
After last week's great performance against the Falcons it should have been expected that the special teams would take a step back, and that's exactly what happened. A crazy muffed punt, nothing to speak of in the return game, and some atrocious punting all adds up to nearly a failing grade for this unit. Special teams has often decided games between these two teams, but this was not the case Sunday. The Buccaneers were able to overcome these mistakes and get the win, mostly as a result of the offense. John Kasay now has hit 27 of 30 field goal attempts against Tampa Bay in his career, and appears that he will be playing until he is 50 years old.
Considering the penalties, miscues, and such, putting up 31 points is pretty impressive against a decent Carolina defense. However allowing 300 yards, 18 first downs (yikes), and 16 points to such an atrocious offense (could have been more) is again disappointing. This may come across as nitpicking, but not being able to dominate such a bad opponent yet again reveals how limited this team is. Yet, somehow they are 6-3 and have a reasonable chance of making the playoffs. They have doubled their win total from 2009 with 7 games to spare. Next Sunday's contest with the San Francisco 49ers could be a season defining game. A win would certainly make them serious contenders while a loss would put them at 6-4 and leave them in the middle of the pack in the NFC. One can hope, right?