It helps to be playing two of the five worst teams in the NFL. However, if you want to climb out of the NFL’s cellar you have to use a few teams as steps. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did just that and now they will head home for a match-up with what ESPN’s Colin Cowerd described as the “NFL’s best team right now.” Heady stuff. Here are the five things that I learned watching and listening to the Bucs/Carolina Panthers game yesterday:
- Josh Freeman showed great poise and decision-making ability- It was like watching a veteran quarterback entering his prime. If Freeman wasn’t launching the ball down the field to Kellen Winslow, Jr. or Mike Williams, he was gliding through gaping holes in the defense for big rushing yards. If he wasn’t running, he was dumping off the safety valves or simply throwing it away. While, his numbers aren’t gaudy and glorious (12 of 24 passes for 178 yards), he made plays over and over again and threw two very solid touchdown passes. The best part about it? Freeman looked like he was in control the entire game. No “deer in the headlight” look, no uncertainty, he did most of what he wanted to do on the field.
- Barber, Williams strike again- At this pace, Ronde Barber will have 16 interceptions by season’s end. . . Maybe he won’t be that prolific, but for the second straight game, a Barber interception has set the Bucs on the path for victory. His play is a great sight for old-school Buc fans. For old-school and new-school fans, you have to love that Williams was able to come up with another touchdown grab showing off his considerable athletic ability. The Bucs just need Freeman continue to develop as an accurate passer because he also missed Williams on a touchdown early in the game.
- Kellen Winslow, Jr. is doing what he needs to do for young Freeman- You obviously can’t talk about the Bucs offense without talking about Winslow, Jr.’s performance on Sunday. Not only was he the Bucs’ leading receiver (four catches, 83 yards) but all four of his catches came on third down. Young quarterbacks, like Freeman, need sure-handed tight ends to come through in the clutch. Winslow, Jr. did just that.
- Defense shows up again- They started a little slow again, but pound for pound, they had another stellar performance. Aside from the Steve Smith touchdown and ball movement in the fourth quarter, the Bucs were stout. No points in the second half (second week in a row.) They also held the Panthers to 119 yards on 33 carries, huge because the Panthers have made a habit of running over the Bucs in recent games. Mostly importantly, the Bucs were disruptive. Tim Crowder had two sacks, Stylez G. White and Quincy Black had one each. Black also came up with an outstanding tackle on the goal line stand in the fourth quarter.
- Running game is still stagnant- If there is an area of the Bucs game that’s still lagging behind, it’s the running game. Bucs running backs accounted for 52 yards on 30 carries. Freeman had 43 yards on his own. This won’t get it done. Assuredly, the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to be difficult pass on so Cadillac and the boys have got to provide a running threat for the Bucs or else the result could be vastly different next Sunday.