1) Yes, this was a game against a team - Kansas City - that was clearly worse than the Bucs currently are right now. The Chiefs were coming in with a backup QB - Brady Quinn - who never lived up to his First Round draft status. This was a blowout in the end, yes it was, but against a team that is currently in the running for the Geno Smith Consolation Prize in next April's draft. But the good news for Bucs fans is that this game was NOT a Bad Win. It was a Good Win: where the team clearly improved in things such as a deep passing attack, a balanced defense that played smart, and a punting unit that... that... KOENEN! YOU BREAKA MAH HEART! Ahem. This was a Good Win.
more after The Jump
2) Coming into this game, the Bucs were facing serious questions: QB Josh Freeman was showing serious regression in the first four weeks; CB Aliq Talib was just suspended on Saturday, losing the top talented cornerback out of a secondary that has questionable depth; the running game was stalling with rookie Doug Martin not breaking loose and LeGarette Blount exiled to the Keshawn Johnson Memorial Doghouse. By game's end, Freeman racked up 300 plus yards with 3 TDs by going back to his strength as a deep ball thrower; the defense was more than able to handle things without Talib in the backfield; and Martin and Blount combined for 137 total rushing yards with both of them well over getting 5 yards per carry. Again, this was arguably against a bad Chiefs team, but the performances do speak well towards the Bucs' overall improvement as this season progresses.
3) Player of the Game: in a Good Win game, there are several names worth bringing up. But all props must first go to a defense that kept the Chiefs well under 300 total yards, and from there major props to the player who led in tackles (tied with another at 8), tackles for loss (2), and garnered his first career INT: Rookie Safety Mark Barron. He's had decent games before this year: this is his first great game. May there be many more.
3a) The guy who tied with Barron for tackles was fellow rookie LB Lavonte David. The defense has been vastly improved in terms of overall tackling and pursuit to the ball-carrier, especially on run plays, to where the last 4 years' vulnerability to the run is long gone. David is the key reason for that. I hoped from last April's draft that this year's crop of rookies - with Barron, Martin and David at the top - would be the best we've had in ages. David is making a strong case for defensive rookie of the year right now.
3b) The other part of the rookie trifecta - Doug Martin - finally had a good running day since his first week. He also caught a few passes for good yardage as well, for an impressive receiving day for the first time. The coaches still had him make a lot of runs up the middle for most of the game, but in the Fourth Quarter they started pitching run plays to the outside, and Martin cut loose. He still ended up with 5.8 yards per carry. With luck, the coaches will start using him in run plays inside the 20 more often and he'll garner more fantasy value... ;-)
3c) Josh Freeman opened up on his first drive with a poorly thrown easily-picked off INT. He got a little bit better as the game progressed: first half wasn't too bad, second half was tons better. We've seen this before though: even during his good year in 2010, Freeman would be quiet in most first halfs and explosive in the second halfs. It'd be nice to see him good for both halfs of a game: it's been so rare I can't recall a game where he was good all four quarters...
3d) The big reason Freeman's having fun again is because he and WR Mike Williams are finally back on the same page. Freeman tossed up a pass for Williams to snag in a leaping effort (ahhh, 2010) which Williams took in for a touchdown and the first score of the game. There were several more big pass plays between the two, ending with Williams having a 4-reception 113 yard 1 TD day. Not shabby. Having Williams as the Number Two WR clearly helps.
3e) And it clearly helps having a Number One WR in Vincent Jackson who can make solid catches as well. Keeps the opposing defenses a bit more honest, ya? There were still a few pass plays where Freeman and V-Jax weren't on the same page, but when they were it worked. Jackson ended with 4 catches, 66 yards and two TDs.
3f) The moment the game truly turned in Tampa Bay's favor was on the second INT our defense snagged. Early in the Second Half, just after we'd gone up 14-3 and the Chiefs were struggling to get back into the game, a pass got broken up by Barron (hello again), but while the players were on the ground the ball was still bouncing about live... easy picking for The Old Man Of The D Ronde Barber to scoop up and carry back 78 yards for a Pick 6 TD. His 15th career pick 6. RONDE BARBER THERE'S THE DAGGER.
3g) In the best sign that the coaches are learning (and/or forgiving), RB Blount came out in the Fourth Quarter. When we need a power back to chew up yardage and clock time, operating with a clear lead, the Bucs called on Blount (it'd be nice if they called on him more often to free up Martin for Third Down duties, but I digress). While he didn't chew up clock time, Blount certainly chewed up yardage and added on a clinching TD late in the Fourth Quarter, finishing with 7 carries 58 yards and a very nice 8.3 yards per carry. Now if the offensive coordinators can agree on putting Blount out there on First Downs and trade in Martin for Second and Thirds, we might see even better rushing numbers...
4) Goat of the Game: it breaks my heart to do this, it really does. But after 18 games of singing our punter's praises, I can no longer call Michael Koenen a GOD AMONG MEN. Not after he makes the foolish mistake after a blocked punt of trying to make a play... such as a punter making a terrible passing attempt that's easily picked off and turned into the only touchdown Kansas City would earn all game. YOU BROKE MY HEART, MICHAEL, YOU BROKE MY HEART...
5) Stat of the Game: out of 15 total receptions, the Bucs garnered 328 passing yards. With a 21.9 yard per completed pass. This speaks to a deep ball passing attack powered by both Mike Williams (28 YPC) and by reacquired WR Tiquan Underwood (34 YPC with an impressive 62-yarder of his own). The Bucs do not seem to have a passing game with mid-yardage numbers in mind: even the RB Martin and FB Lorig garned long-yardage receptions. The only exception was Third Down back DJ Ware who got 1 catch for 5 yards. Considering Martin got 2 catches for 55 yards (both of them well downfield: no passes were screens), this would suggest keeping Martin in on Third Downs from now on, but again I digress. The stats of 21.9 YPC looks nice... but it begs the question if our offense can handle a stifling defense that would force only mid-range throws and no deep throws...
5a) Josh Freeman's QB Rating: 124.7. Don't think he's had that high a rating since 2010...
5b) Chiefs rushing offense: 80 total rushing yards. With their primary back Jamaal Charles, who had been averaging 110 yards PER GAME this season until now, stuck at 40 yards on 12 carries. Charles was the first true RB threat the Bucs had to face this year. That the front D-line and LB corps proved they can shut down a great running attack is a great moment for the defense: the porous, run-vulnerable D of the last 3.25 years is officially gone.
5c) Zero sacks for the Bucs. Partly due to the Bucs not blitzing like madmen this game, which was due to the Bucs' secondary not called on to blitz since Talib was out; partly due to the Bucs' D-line hurting with Clayborn out of the lineup and the Chiefs having a decent O-line. I don't mind the lack of sacks this game: the INTs and stopping the Chiefs on more than half their drives (Kansas City's Third Down efficiency was 6-out-of-17) more than compensates. But I can't wait to see Bowers come back healthy...
6) In other NFL News: THE TEBOW ABIDES.
6a) The Atlanta Falcons may be 6-0, but they are the least impressive unbeaten team I've seen in years. They're winning more on luck and last-minute drives than anything else.
6b) After getting stomped on early in the season, the Buffalo Bills now look pretty good...
6d) The Patriots played in Seattle for the first time in the Tom Brady era, and the good news for Brady is that it's statistically hard for him to be forced to play again in Seattle for the rest of his career. New England does not look good at 3-3 right now.
7) In baseball news, it sucks for the DC-Baltimore metro that the Nationals and Orioles are out of the postseason. But still, felt good to make it into October, didn't it?
7a) In a not-so-rough position to root for the Detroit Tigers over the hated Yankees. Not a problem.
7b) Not entirely sure who to root between the Giants and the Cardinals. I know there are Giants haters out there,but personally I'm not emotionally invested one way or another here. Whichever team matches up best vs. Detroit, I suppose. If it's Yankees, I'm more inclined to see the Cards face them (the Cards have the next most World Series wins, yet are NOT as evil an empire as the Pinstriped Ones).
8) In college football news, DAMMIT SPURRIER WHY YOU GOTTA LOSE TO LSU BEFORE THE BIG GAME IN THE SWAMP! /fume
8a) BCS Rankings are out: Alabama at 1., Florida at 2. Look, I know the SEC is good, has a great reputation and all that, but c'mon rankers show a little diversity in the BCS pool will ya? Make it 1. Florida and 2. Oregon and then we'll be happy. >;-)
9) In NHL news, hockey fans are enjoying watching the Detroit Tigers in baseball postseason.
9a) If any sport needs a fanbase getting on Kickstarter to fund up their own rival league, it's hockey. Hockey fans in Canada, c'mon open up those wallets and start up a 12-team league in your big cities (plus Detroit): you don't need the greedhead owners screwing up the pro level anymore.
10) Next up: New Orleans comes acallin' to Tampa Bay for a determined divisional matchup. I'd like to attend in-person, but I gotta find a ride there and back I REFUSE TO PAY $25 FOR A G-DD-MN PARKING SPOT.
NOTE: OMFG THE POLLING'S BACK! VOTE NOW!