First Half Record: 4-4
2nd Quarter Record: 3-1
First Half Buccaneers MVP: Vincent Jackson, WR
Yes, I know - everyone has Dynamite Doug hysteria after the past two weeks performance - but I don't believe Martin would be as effective without the contributions of Vincent Jackson. Jackson has - and forgive me for using the newest most overused cliche' in football - blown the top off opposing defenses and forced teams into a cover 2 shell.
As we all know in Tampa Bay, to beat the Cover Two - you run a team out of it. Without the passing game and namely Vincent Jackson - defenses can play Cover Three or man safety high and have enough guys in the box to stop your running game.
Bucs Offensive MVP: Vincent Jackson, WR
Not only does Vincent Jackson lead the team in receiving yards (710), receptions (31) and touchdown receptions (6), the veteran wide receiver has taken Mike Williams under his wing and showed him what it takes to be an elite receiver in the NFL. Jackson's impact has helped Big Mike return to form, pulling in 29 receptions for 504 yds and 5 touchdowns.
Bucs Defensive MVP: LaVonte David, OLB
While Michael Bennett certainly deserves some consideration here - the biggest impact on the Buccaneer defense has been the arrival of 2nd round pick LaVonte David. David has been unbelievable - tearing up the team record books for rookies with tackles and tackles for loss. David is third in the league behind Pro Bowl players Von Miller and J.J. Watt with 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He leads the team with 67 tackles (54 solo) and this is a stat not adjusted by the Bucs coaching staff after reviewing game film - as that practice ended with Schiano's arrival.
Most Improved Buccaneer: Josh Freeman, QB
It's funny, during my first quarter review - I listed Freeman as the most disappointing Buccaneer. Since then, he has caught fire - completing 76 of 134, 57% comp pct, 1257 yds, 11 touchdowns and 1 int for a QB Rating of 112.7.
Freeman has already reached last season's touchdown totals (16) and is on pace to hit the 30-plus touchdown pass mark for the season - which would be a career high and a Buccaneer record.
Bucs Rookie MVP: Doug Martin, RB
I could have gone LaVonte David here - but had I done so I think the fanbase would have come at me with pitch forks and torches. It took Dynamite Doug (I don't care what other nicknames are finally settled upon - this one is the one I like and will continue to use) a few games to get himself acclimated to the speed and talent at the NFL level - but once he did - wow. What's more amazing is he's doing this with an offensive line decimated by injuries. Martin's on pace for nearly 1600 yds rushing and 14 touchdowns.
Most Disappointing Buc(s): The Secondary
With the exception of Rookie Mark Barron, veteran Ronde Barber and youngster Leonard Johnson - the Bucs secondary has been abysmal on and off the field. The Bucs are dead last against the pass, surrendering 321.1 yds per game through the air. Add to that Aquib Talib's suspension and eventual dumping for PEDs, Eric Wright's impending suspension for the same and Ahmad Black getting a citation for having Hippie Lettuce, you're wondering what in the world is going on in the Bucs' defensive backfield.
All that and for 8 games Brandon McDonald was on the football field. Thankfully, at least the Bucs have solved THAT.
It would have been Dynamite Doug's performance the week before against the Vikings if he hadn't absolutely obliterated the Raiders. Martin is a big piece to the puzzle why Tampa Bay has gotten on track. He helped the Buccaneers get a big lead on the Raiders with three scoring runs of over 45 yds (an NFL record) and set team records for rushing yardage and touchdowns.
The DOH! Moment of the Half Season: Four tries at the Saints' Goal-line - Zero points
If the Buccaneers miss the playoffs, this moment may be one of the ones we point back to as to why. Down by 7 and after an electrifying 95 yd pass completion to Vincent Jackson - the Bucs tried to pound LeGarrette Blount three times at the Saints' NFL worst (at the time) red zone defense from the 2 yard line. Each time, Blount failed to get to the end zone.
On fourth down, Tampa Bay failed on a roll out QB option when the Saints maintained contain and forced Freeman to try to run it in - he was stopped for a loss.
Futurecast: If you needed one reason to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play football in 2012, its to watch the maturation of a galaxy of future stars on this team. Freeman, Williams, Martin and Jackson are worth the price of admission. So is Barron, David and Bennett on defense. Will it be enough to get this team to the playoffs? There are still difficult games on the agenda (two games with Atlanta, a road trip to Denver) but there are some winnable games as well.
I think the Bucs may finish on the outside looking in but they do have a legitimate shot at a 9-7 season.