1) Just a reminder, POLLS ARE BACK! So please do scroll down and make a selection for Player of the Game once you've tired of reading this junk. :)
2) This was a pleasant - and surprising - win. Minnesota was coming into this game having beaten established good teams like the 49ers, they had star talent like RB Adrian Peterson and WR Percy Harvin to score points, their defensive line was led by sack-monster Jared Allen, and the Vikings had every reason to win this game to stay in playoff contention among the other good NFC North teams (Green Bay and Chicago).
It turns out, however, that Minnesota is actually very much like Tampa Bay is right now: the young Quarterback still learning the game (Josh Freeman, Christian Ponder) with an explosive running back (Doug Martin, Peterson) and a serious deep threat speedster WR (Mike Williams, Harvin) on offense, and a defense with serious holes at key positions but overcompensating with a key veteran defensive player at a key position (Ronde Barber in the secondary, Allen on the D-line). And it turns out the Bucs were hungier for the win than the Vikings.
3) Player of the Game: welcome to the spotlight, kid. You had an honest-to-God nation stage Thursday night, the only pro football game on. Sure, you had the World Series competing against ya, and was on a cable channel that's not really in every home (yet). But the sports world had to sit up and take notice as you pulled out huge run after huge run, gashing the Vikings D for 20, 30 yard gains. With a capper of an awesome screen pass where you lined up behind your blocks, STIFF-ARMED TWO Vikings players trying to tackle you and without you even looking at them, before bursting off downfield for a 64-yard TD score. It was your game, Doug Martin. Your rookie season so far showed bits of the power and talent you can bring to the team: this game was where you finally cut loose for 214 total yards. You gained half of all the yards the Bucs earned; and two-thirds of what the entire Vikings team got all night. A performance like this gets you odds-on favorite not only for Rookie of the Week but PLAYER of the Week for the whole league.
3a) He forced two key fumbles early in the game, rattled QB Ponder with a couple of safety blitzes, and led the Bucs' D with 9 tackles (1 for loss). All Ronde Barber needed was an INT and we'd be talking about him making the All-Pro list at season's end.
3b) One of the other players rattling Ponder all night was DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. Racked up a sack (one of three for the night) that helped break the sack drought the Bucs had suffered the last 3 weeks, and was in the backfield nearly every pass play for Minnesota. He was on rookie OT Matt Kalil for most of the night, and that poor rookie wasn't even stopping him on some plays...
3c) WR Mike Williams: he is back to form as the leaping catching go-to guy for Freeman. If Doug Martin is one-half the reason why the Bucs' offense is now so very dangerous, having Williams back (and playing alongside equally-dangerous Vincent Jackson) is the other half.
3d) LB Mason Foster got both a sack and a recovered fumble. One of the best strengths of the Bucs' defense is now the linebacking corps: shutting down the run, forcing turnovers, making the occasional blitz package work (just occasionally, like a 5-man blitz. The full-on 8-man blitz is STILL inexcusable).
3e) Yes, Josh Freeman still makes the occasional bonehead play. Yes, we should worry when Freeman stands too long in the pocket. But tonight his skills and growing poise, as well as growing confidence in the offense he's got, shows that QB Freeman can be the guy leading this offense. It's just he's gotta work on rolling out of the pocket and getting that extra second to find an open guy...
4) Goat of the Game: whoever it is on the offensive coaching unit that wants to keep calling RUNS UP THE MIDDLE when our offense has demonstrated again and again that A) we DON'T GET MUCH YARDAGE THAT WAY and B) we have other running plays - Off-Tackle, sweep to outside - that DO WORK and do fit our RB's running style a lot better.
4a) A quick note to OT Donald Penn: yes, you were up against DE Jared Allen all night. Yes, you had to play tough. Yes, it could get messy. However, YOU DO NOT BULLY A DRAGON EVER. Getting into a fight with Allen? All that did was pump him up for the next play, which by the by was a deep pass play that ended up with Freeman getting hit with his only sack of the night. We're lucky the subsequent Vikings' offensive drive went nowhere and deflated the screaming crowd back into submission. Penn: Please DO NOT DO THIS AGAIN.
5) Statistic of the Game: Time of possession. Bucs had the ball for 38 minutes, Vikings for 22 minutes. That's usually a sign of offensive dominance, that the Bucs were able to run more and longer drives than the Vikes could, and that the Bucs got into more scoring chances than the Vikes.
5a) Turnovers: Bucs forced 3 turnovers, Vikings forced none. And this was with Freeman making three boneheaded pass plays that went right into the faceguard of an oncoming defensive end, I sh-t you not.
5b) Freeman had his third straight 3-Touchdown throwing game, a team record. This is an excellent sign that he's finding his targets, and that he has multiple targets to throw to which helps spread out the offense more.
5c) Tampa Bay scored at least one touchdown in each quarter of the game. When was the last time THAT ever happened? I'm thinking 2002, perhaps?
6) I think we can call it right now: the 2012 rookie draft is the best draft Tampa Bay ever had. All top three picks - S Mark Barron, RB Martin, LB Lavonte David - are playing like seasoned veterans and are a key reason why this team's fans are thinking "hey, we might actually get to 9 wins this year!"
7) In other NFL news: On a Thursday night? We need to wait until Sunday, you fool!
8) In baseball news: Detroit Tigers fans are wondering when hockey is coming back.
9) In professional hockey news: Hockey is not coming back.
10) Next week: The Bucs take a long break (much needed, as Martin seriously needs the rest dammit) before heading out to the West Coast to play the Oakland Raiders. When you consider the Bucs only ever beat the Raiders once - SUPER BOWL - and had some nasty road trips out that way... well... good thing Oakland's not in good shape right now.
AND NOW, THE POLLING!