What a difference a week makes, huh Bucs fans? After perhaps the worst performance of the team in the Raheeminik era, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers put together one of the best.
Tampa Bay's stunning 26-20 upset of the New Orleans Saints kept the NFC South in play and gave the team some momentum heading on that long flight over the pond to face DA BEARS.
Before we start talking Chicago, let's talk about what we think we learned in the Saints game.
1. Welcome back, Number Five.
Now THAT's what we've been looking for from Josh Freeman. The Free-chise hadn't looked himself for the first month of the season but he definitely looked like the Five we know and love on Sunday.
Tampa Bay's quarterback completed 23 of 41 passes for 303 yards and 2 touchdowns. It was his first 300 yard game of the season but more importantly, there were no turnovers.
While he did sail a few passes high in the first quarter, Freeman was excellent in his decision making, read the various blitz schemes of the Saints, found the open receivers and was accurate with his throws.
Freeman also managed the personalities of his receivers/tight ends well - handling the blow up with Kellen Winslow, Jr. the way leaders should.
2. We're Becoming Regus Religious
We're quickly beginning to understand why the Buccaneers took Regus Benn in the second round of the 2010 draft. Benn made another big play for the Bucs, getting wide open against a busted Saints coverage and having the concentration to pull in the catch, keep his balance, stave off the defender and take it to the house.
Every time Benn touches the football, there's a big play possibility.
3. How about the Gray Gator?
There was a bit of consternation from Buc Nation when we learned that LeGarrette Blount would miss the Saints game. After all, all they had left was a 31 year old running back who's better running days appeared behind him and a 3rd stringer who hadn't impressed.
Boy, did Earnest Graham open some eyes. The Gray Gator looked like a 21 years old, tearing through admittedly gaping holes (we'll get to that in a sec) with vision and speed. His ability to run the football not only gave the balance Freeman needed to get comfortable with his play action passing, it also kept the clock churning and Drew Brees off the field.
Graham would finish the day with his sixth career "hundy", 109 yards on 17 carries - a 6.4 average.
4. Tanard makes an impact.
With his drug problems, you had to wonder why the Buccaneers put up with his issues. Sunday, T-Jack reminded us why. He's one hell of a football player. Jackson was all over the football field after being off for 56 weeks and only getting two full practices in.
Five tackles (third on the team) and a game changing interception that set up a touchdown provided all you needed to know. The Bucs are a significantly better defense with number 36 in the lineup.
Let's hope he can stay clean.
5. Pass rush couldn't finish, but definitely made Brees uncomfortable.
If you look at the stat line, you'd see another goose egg for the Bucs pass rush and assume that Drew Brees had all day to throw. It couldn't be further from the truth.
The Bucs had Brees running for his life and pressured the Saints QB in to committing three interceptions. Several times, they knocked Brees off his throwing spot, forcing him to throw off his back foot. Brees had completed 70% or more of his passes in all five previous starts. Against Tampa Bay, the Bucs held him down to 64.4% (great for a normal NFL quarterback, but an average day for Brees).
6. Finally the Bucs held on to some interceptions
We talked about one of the keys to the game that the Buccaneers secondary had to hold on to their opportunities for interceptions. After recording just two in their first five ball games, Tampa Bay picked off three Drew Brees passes leading to 10 points and help the Bucs build a 20-10 halftime advantage.
The final interception ended New Orleans threat to take the lead.
7. The run defense helped them win this game
The Bucs' Jekyll and Hyde run defense was more Doctor Jekyll (the good one) this week as they did a superb job on the Saints runners. Tampa Bay held Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas in check, limiting them to just 70 yards on 20 carries (3.5 average) and forced a fumble from Thomas.
Ingram did get loose for a red zone touchdown but other than that single setback, the Saints running game was a non-factor.
8. We think Mike Williams is close to getting back to form.
Mike Williams told us we'd have the "real Mike Williams back" this week. While he still may not be the playmaker he was last season, Williams certainly looked a lot better this week. He had one drop, but made several impressive catches including a few that were "Williams-esque".
Williams is due a breakout game and we think it might be coming soon.
9. Great job by the offensive line.
Unlike Drew Brees, who was under duress the entire ballgame, the Bucs' offensive line did an outstanding job handling the myriad of blitz schemes that Saints' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams threw at them. Granted, the Bucs went to a quicker pass distribution (3 step drops) where Freeman fired to voids left by the vacating blitzer, but when a big play was there to be made and Freeman had to take a few more seconds to make the long throw, the o-line and backs gave him that time.
The line also tore open huge running lanes for Earnest "The Gray Gator" Graham and Kregg "Lumpy" Lumpkin to power threw.
10. Tremendous coaching job by Coach Rah and his staff.
After getting "debacled" by the 49ers 48-3, it would have been easy for this young team to begin to doubt itself. Coach Morris and his staff did a superb job at keeping the team from fretting about their beat down and focused on how to not let it happen again.
The performance on Sunday wasn't just a testament to the heart and courage of the football team but the respect Rah commands from his squad.