This game was truly a tale of two halves. There was a horrendous first half that was marred by penalties, poor defense and no offense. Then there was a second half where the offense moved down the field, the Bucs found a running game with Legarrette Blount and the defense shut out the opposition. If the Bucs want to win games in the future they'll need to become more consistent and start putting together some full games of good play. But for now, we'll have to take the wins no matter how ugly they are.
So, let's start with the first half. It started off promising enough with a 28-yard drive stalling just inside Rams territory, a punt to their 13-yard line and then a stripsack by Stylez G. White to give the Bucs the ball at the 6-yard line. Unfortunately, that's where the horror started. With a ticky-tack Pass Interference call on Kellen Winslow, the Bucs were pushed back to the 16-yard line. A Holding penalty on Jeremy Zuttah moved the Bucs to the 26, and a sack then got them back to the 35. The Bucs gained back 19 yards on 2 plays and kicked a field goal to take the lead. These offensive line woes were in part the result of starting rookie Ted Larsen at guard and backup center Jeremy Zuttah because of injuries, but the Bucs O-line has been performingly poorly since last season now. This should be a real cause for concern and efforts should be made to upgrade this O-line if not now, then at least in the offseason.
Back to the game: that penalty-filled sequence would be pretty representative for the rest of the Bucs' sloppy first half: they were penalized 6 times for 44 yards in the first half, fumbled twice (recovering both) and gained just 87 net yards on 26 plays. On defense they gave up 189 yards and 17 points. 121 of those yards came on the ground and the Rams seemingly moved the ball at will on lengthy drives. Bradford connected on two touchdown throws inside the Bucs 5-yard line to Danny Amendola and Michael Hoomanawanui - ironically, both touchdowns were directly preceded by Aqib Talib dropping interceptions. The Bucs managed to get some more points on the board just before the half through another Connor Barth field goal, but the preceding drive was a tortured affair with Freeman converting a 2nd-and-24 with his legs. The fact that Freeman had 29 of the 37 first half rushing yardage was indicative of the anemic offense the Bucs were fielding.
But in the second half, things would change.
An entirely different Bucs team stepped onto the field after halftime. The penalties were still there - 6 for 48 yards - but they weren't killing drives. The running game ignited: after running 8 times for just 37 yards in the first half, 29 of which came from Josh Freeman scrambles, the Bucs ran the ball 13 times for 87 yards, at 6.7 yards per carry in the second half. This was almost entirely on Blount's shoulders, who ran 10 times for 66 yards. Blount at one point broke free for a 46-yard run, but had that called back on a penalty by Trueblood that did very little if anything at all to help break the run. Blount looked tremendous running the ball, and if he can improve in pass protection he has the potential to turn into the starting back of the future.
More than that, though, the Bucs defense started to play well. The Rams were held to just 40 yards rushing on 12 attempts, and each of their 5 drives was under 8 plays and under 30 yards, resulting in 0 second-half points for the St. Louis Rams. The Bucs defense stepped up and stopped the Rams to give the Bucs offense the chance to get back into the game. The offense obliged.
The Bucs scored two field goals in the 3rd quarter after drives of 60 and 49 yards. The 4th quarter started with a 3 and out, but with 4:35 left and down 5 points Josh Freeman got the ball at the Bucs 19-yard line to try to drive downfield for a touchdown. A 16-play, 81-yard drive was the result, capped off with a touchdown pass to Cadillac Williams. On the drive, Josh Freeman went 11 of 14 for 78 yards, while adding 8 yards with his leg and seeing Cadillac add another 10 yards on the ground. Despite a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on James Lee, who was filling in well for an injured Jeremy Trueblood, the Bucs methodically dissected the Rams defense and left just 10 seconds on the clock at the end of the game.
Perhaps this tale of two halves is what we'll see from the Bucs the rest of the way. Both the Browns and the Bengals games featured much better second halves than first halves as well, while the Steelers and Saints game were basically decided by the time the second half started. If the Bucs want to take that next step, they'll have to learn how to play well in the first half, too.