1) Just when you think you can give up on a badly-losing Bucs team, they pull me back in...
Let us be honest: this was a relatively cheap win. Atlanta was looking ahead to the playoffs, they had home-field locked up, they may have been playing their starters through all four quarters (shocking everyone, truly) but they weren't necessarily wasting 100 percent effort on us were they.
On the other hand: wins feel soooooo daaaaammmmnnnn good.
On the other other hand: winning this game kept the Bucs from drafting sixth overall in the 2013 Rookie Draft! NOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooooooooo inhale oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo gasp wheeze oooooooooo cough cough okay I'm done.
2) If we can consider Greg Schiano's first year as an NFL HC. Compared to other Bucs' head coaches starting their first time out at the head of the ship, Schiano did pretty well. Note: I do not count Chucky Gruden's year because he took over a solid team at the height of its talent and skill. Everyone else came in on rebuilding units (or in McKay's case, a brand new one with rickety vets and young rookies). At 7-9, Schiano had a better start than Bennett (2-14), Perkins (5-11), Williamson (3-13, after a 1-2 interim), Wyche (5-11), Dungy (6-10), and Morris (3-13).
Did Schiano lose this team? From time to time, yeah. The late-season collapse in particular is cause for concern. But being able to rally the team back to focus on playing - and winning - this game is a good sign. The hope now is that the Bucs can fix the talent gaps at key spots (CORNERBACK! AAAAA! AAAAAAAA!) and improve in Year Two.
3) If we can consider QB Josh Freeman. AKA QB Jekyll Hyde. The good news: he set team records for season passing yards, season touchdown throws, and career TD throws. Being the franchise guy for 3+ years helps in the career stats. Being only 24 years old is also a huge advantage in that he's still reaching his prime when other starting QBs with 4 years in are 28-29 and starting to think about retiring in five years. The bad news: he ends this season with a set of bad habits - failure to read the whole field, throwing too low in short passes, throwing too high in long passes, inability to make quick decisions - on full display, something you don't want to see out of a guy finishing his fourth year in the league.
3a) Consider two ways Freeman drops back to throw. The first is he drops straight back: doing this, he's already looking to one side of the field, locking in on one (maybe two) receivers, and then trying to throw into either triple coverage or throwing a short pass to a valve receiver in which a charging defensive lineman can jump up and knock that attempt down. The second is that Freeman immediately rolls out: he circles about into an open part of the field, while the O-line engages the defense well enough to give Freeman a clear view of the field for a few seconds, and when Freeman finishes the rollout he's forced to view the whole field to regain his bearings, which gives him a better idea who's open, and then he tosses a near clean pass that a receiver snags for 20-40 yards. Only once in a rollout did a defender get in Freeman's face: every other time he had a far better view of things than if he had done a straight drop-back.
NOTE TO COACHES: MORE ROLLOUTS.
4) The pleasant surprise of the game: the Bucs' passing defense kept the Falcons under 300 yards passing (213 total) today. Part of it may have been Atlanta not fully committed to winning the game, just doing enough to avoid getting rusty for the postseason. Part of it may have been the cornerbacks - especially Biggers, Gaitor and Johnson - realizing their careers as back-ups for 2013 were in serious jeopardy if they didn't step up...
4a) Sad to note the Bucs' secondary had a number of chances - I counted about 5 different ones - to snag an INT. Sigh.
4b) At least the defense got 2 more sacks for a season total of STOP THINKING WE NEED TO DRAFT A DEFENSIVE LINEMAN YOU DRAFT MOCKERS JUST STOP IT WE NEED CORNERS MAN. Yeah, I'm in trouble for shouting that a bit over in the Mock The Draft SBNation site...
5) Season props to these players, in my humble opinion:
5a) Team MVP - RB Doug Martin. That four-game winning streak? He was a key component for all four games. Best running back this team's had since James Wilder: even better than the last two top-drafted RBs we had, Warrick Dunn and Cadillac Williams (and to me it feels like blasphemy to knock Dunn down to the No.3 all-time spot). A legitimate contender for League Offensive Rookie of the Year - damn you Luck and RG3 - and a serious snub for the Pro Bowl lineup (he should have been the No.3 RB, dammit, and not an alternate). His game against Oakland - three 60+ yard touchdown runs, one of the top three rushing games in league history - is something they'll whisper about at fantasy football league start-ups for the next ten years.
And he's a rookie. If God is gracious and he avoids injury - the thing that plagued poor Caddy - Doug Martin will become the best running back in team history and with luck the best running back of the 2010s decade.
5b) Best Free Agent Acquisition - WR Vincent Jackson. Another superlative: I think Jackson's the best FA pick-up this team's had since getting Hardy Nickerson (and he was a signee before the current FA system if I recall). Jackson improved everybody around him, he made Freeman look good, he lined up with up-and-coming WR Mike Williams giving him a mentor in the game and more on-field opportunities that ended up giving us the best one-two WR tandem since we had the 1-2-3 punch of Keyshawn Johnson - Keenan McCardell - Joe Jurevicius.
5c) Best Offensive Player - I'd give it a tie between Martin and Jackson. This is arguably the best offense we've had since our Super Bowl season (which was rather effective to be fair), and having these two guys is a very good reason why.
5d) Best Defensive Player - DE Michael Bennett. I've agonized about this decision, but Bennett edges out LB LaVonte David because Bennett stepped up for a defensive unit wracked with more injury woes and still out-performed all expectations (9 sacks, 10 TFL, 12 QBs with brown pants stains - save for Peyton Manning who fears nothing - seeing him coming off the block). He's part of a D-line that went from one of the worst run-stopping units in the league to the best. Part of that also goes to David's work as the defensive playcaller, which is why he got serious consideration as well. But Bennett earns the love.
5e) Best Offensive Rookie - The Dougernaut. Douginator.
Muscle Hamster. Doug Martin.
5f) Best Defensive Rookie - Here's where we can express
some a ton o love for LB David.
5g) Best Improved Player - WR Mike Williams. He had a breakout rookie season, but fell backward last season with too many drops and poor running routes. This season, with V Jax getting all the attention as the No.1 WR, Williams took the No.2 slot and ran with it, tying Jackson for season TD numbers, getting second-most yards and yards-average. I'd also give a huge shout-out to LB Mason Foster, who had a troubled rookie season last year but thanks to lining up besides David became the tackling machine we'd hoped he be.
5h) Best Draft - it's looking like 2012 may well be the best rookie draft the Bucs ever had. Most Bucs drafts had been, well, mixed bags at best and total disasters at most. Save for 1995 when the Bucs drafted Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, the anchors of the Tampa 2 defensive machine during the team's best years, and for 1997 when the Bucs drafted Warrick Dunn and Ronde Barber.
This year the Bucs drafted Mark Barron at Safety, who has played well enough (albeit quietly due to a porous secondary playing around him) to show promise for a good long career, Doug Martin who has become a GOD AMONG MEN, and LaVonte David the OLB we've been waiting for since Derrick Brooks got unceremoniously dumped in 2009.
5i) Best Game - the game vs. Oakland may have been the most fun - watching Martin make history is a good reason why - but the best overall team performance had to be against the Vikings on Thursday night at Minnesota. Martin rushed for 135 yards and had 214 total yards with 2 TDs, Freeman threw for 3 TDs no INTs, and the defense showed up with killer third-down stops, 3 sacks, 1 INT, and 2 fumble recoveries. This was against a good playoff-bound team in the Vikings, a serious quality win, and should be studied by the Bucs all offseason to remind themselves what they did right.
6) And now, for the Boos and Hisses:
Player Unit - Can't really point at a single player and say "What the HELL was your problem" when we had an entire Cornerback lineup - from Aqib Talib who started weak, got suspended and then traded off; to Eric Wright an overpriced FA signee who also got suspended and did even less; to Myron Lewis a Third Round draftee who never developed; to EJ Biggers a late-rounder draftee who showed flashes of talent once or twice and nothing else 98 percent of the time; to newly added Kevin Tandy who pretty much showed up one game and never seen otherwise; to injury-prone Anthony Gaitor who may be the one guy still on the roster by March 2013 simply because his contract's still good and cheap for another year or two; to UFAs like Leonard Johnson and Brandon McDonald and whassisname Gorrer and a handful of other waiver pickups and try-outs.
Maybe we could have stayed put at the 5th draft spot and snagged rookie Morris Claiborne rather than trade down a few spots for S Mark Barron. But on the other hand, we'd have never been in the positions of wheeling-dealing our way about that draft to get Doug Martin and LaVonte David, which we do know panned out great for us. All I'm saying is, our CB lineup this season sucked. We're gonna need brand new No.1s and 2s for the corner spots, and that means a major FA signing and the First Round draft pick.
6b) Worst Game - There were some games during the hideous 5-game crapout streak that should be banned from memory - such as the 41-0 ass-kicking we got from the Saints in Week 15 - but I still think the loss to a terrible Eagles team deserves dishonorable mention here. The games against the New York Giants - the first game where the Bucs' secondary got SHREDDED - and the home game against the Saints - where the Bucs had a sweet lead only to have the secondary get SHREDDED AGAIN - are also putrid horrifying disasters that should be buried in a lime pit somewhere.
7) Now, to consider the Bucs' 2013 season. We've got the usual suspects of home-and-away vs. Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans. We've got the NFC West in rotation - home game vs. Arizona and San Francisco, away games to St. Louis and Seattle - and the AFC East - home vs. Miami and Buffalo, away vs. New England and the Jets. This leaves NFC East and North same-place finishers. The Bucs, due to a convoluted tie-breaker deal between the 7-9 Saints AND Panthers, got shunted down to fourth place in the South. Which gives us Philly again at home and Detroit away.
It's too early to determine how easy a schedule we might have: Philly and Arizona and Detroit and Buffalo and NY Jets may well be in rebuild modes yet again, but in this day and age rebuilding teams can explode into playoff contenders with the right draft and coaching changes (hi there Indy!).
8) Considering the Bucs' draft spot, it's looking like the 15th overall draft pick in the First Round (with rotation in later rounds between other 7-9 teams). How this will affect the Bucs' ability to draft a starting CB can't be determined at this time. The sure-fire top choice of Dee Milliner from Alabama looks like a serious improbability from here.
9) In other NFL news: The Tebow Will No Longer Abide In New York.
Come Hell or High Water ooooh after Hurricane Sandy I shouldn't really be saying that, but anywho The Tebow is going to do everything in His Power to get to Jacksonville... (before the Jags get shipped out to L.A. and a new stadium deal out there).
9a) Adrian Peterson was 9 yards shy - two rushing plays of 4-5 yards apiece, which he could have gotten if there was more clock - of breaking the all-time single-season rushing yards record. He still finishes at 2097 yards and a serious postseason threat to drag a half-decent Vikings team to a Super Bowl.
That said, if the Super Bowl comes down to a Vikings-Bengals matchup, we may well witness the true End Of The World 'cause one of those teams is gonna hafta win it. O.o It won't be as cataclysmic as a Vikings-Bills matchup in a Super Bowl, but it's up there...
9b) Coaches on the Firing Line? Andy Reid at Philly, Norv Turner at San Diego, Romeo Crennel at Kansas City, whoever it was in Jacksonville, whoever it was in Tennessee, somebody in Arizona, some other guy in Cleveland... but I think the Panthers HC Rivera stays put, getting the team to rebound to 7-9 after a terrible opening earns him one more year to get more players at key spots and try for more wins. ...wait, why am I praising an opposing divisional coach for a hated rival?! THROW THE BUM OUT.
9c) Michael Spurlock: all he does it return kicks for TDs, this time a kickoff return for San Diego one week after a punt return for a TD. It's good to see him still making big plays in the league, god bless...
10) And so, the 2012 season comes to an end.
Best thing about it? They brought back the POLLING option on these FanPosts! bwhahahahahaaaaaaa...