Four weeks into the season and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are right where they want to be - tied for first in the NFC South. Most pundits (including this one) felt that for the Bucs to have a shot at post season play a good start to the season was imperative.
They've gotten that done. Now the meat of the Bucs' schedule comes into focus, beginning with a long trip to San Francisco on a short week.
Before we look ahead though, let's look back on the first quarter of the season.
Overall Record: 3-1
Quarter Record: 3-1
Current Pace: 12-4
Best Performance of the quarter (Team): Tampa Bay 16, Atlanta 13
Facing a division rival that simply owned them, the Bucs took a commanding 16-3 lead, then didn't panic when Atlanta tried to rally in the fourth quarter. The defense put a ton of pressure on Matt Ryan and stuffed Michael Turner.
Worst Performance of the quarter (Team): Detroit 27, Tampa Bay 20
The offense couldn't stay on the field, the defense couldn't get off it in the first half and the Bucs were just physically manhandled by the Detroit Lions in the season opener. Josh Freeman's late rally couldn't make up the difference as the young Lions got off to a 1-0 start.
Most Valuable Player: Josh Freeman, QB
While we'll discuss Josh's performance this season later - you can't argue that without FIVE this team goes no where. He is the catalyst for everything the Bucs do on offense. He's the leader and he practically wills this team to victories.
Most Improved Buccaneer: Preston Parker, WR
While all the attention has been placed on Arrelious Benn, Mike Williams and Dez Briscoe, the undrafted free agent from North Alabama has quietly put together an impressive quarter. Parker leads all Buc wide outs with 17 receptions for 223 yards and a touchdown. He's become Mister Third Down for Josh Freeman and has set up multiple scores inside the 20 this season.
Most Disappointing Buccaneer: Aquib Talib, CB
We don't know if his focus is off because of his off-season troubles but we simply haven't seen the play from Talib we've come to expect from him. He's dropped interceptions, blown coverages, committed penalties and missed tackles that have gone for touchdowns.
If the Bucs' secondary is going to improve from their dismal 21st ranking, Talib has to really up his game.
Rookie of the Quarter: Mason Foster, MLB
It looks like the Buccaneers have themselves yet another banner draft class as Adrian Clayborn, Da'Quan Bowers, Luke Stocker and our pick for Rookie of the Quarter Mason Foster all have already contributed this year.
Foster's rock solid play has forced Head Coach Raheem Morris to re-think his plan of taking him off the field during passing downs. Foster leads Tampa Bay with 26 tackles (19 solo), 2 sacks, 2 TFL's and a forced fumble.
Quartebacks - C+
We know how good Josh Freeman is. We all see it and believe it. Perhaps that's why we expect more from him. He's struggled in his red zone decision making, he's thrown 4 interceptions and just 3 touchdown passes and he's failed to get the ball to his playmakers in Regus Benn and Mike Williams.
He's also brought the Bucs back from behind in two games already this season and has two rushing touchdowns. He's money in the bank in the fourth quarter of games.
Running Backs - A
After a slow start to the season, LeGarrette Blount is finally returning to form with nearly 300 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns. Earnest Graham is the team's leading pass catcher and has been integral in protecting Josh in passing situations.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends D
The team's seemingly deepest area is also one of their most disappointing. Mike Williams and Regus Benn have struggled to get open, they've dropped passes, ran incorrect routes and simply haven't been as effective as they were in 2010.
Kellen Winslow finally is starting to get worked back into the game plan while Luke Stocker is dropping too many passes.
One bright spot is the play of Preston Parker, who has become the go to guy in 3rd down situations.
Offensive Line A
The offensive line has been doing a superb job at protecting Josh and opening holes for LeGarrette Blount, especially in the last couple of ballgames. Donald Penn shut out perennial All-Pro DE Dwight Freeney Monday Night and they're tied for 6th in least amount of sacks surrendered (6).
After a slow start, the running game is up to 11th in the NFL.
Defensive Line B+
What a difference two years of high draft picks and two new defensive line coaches makes in a unit. The Bucs front four on defense is a nasty bunch of crazed dogs. In the past two ballgames they've been dominant in the line of scrimmage and have simply imposed their will on opposing offenses.
After only registering 26 sacks all of last season (and only 15 coming from defensive linemen), the Bucs already have 10 sacks this season with 6 coming from the defensive line.
They've also wreaked havoc in the backfield on running plays, registering 8 tackles for loss after only having 9 (by defensive linemen) all of last year.
Linebackers - B-
If it wasn't for the play of Mason Foster and Dekota Watson, this grade would have been a lot lower. Quincy Black has had a very disappointing season thus far and Geno Hayes remains maddeningly inconsistent.
Foster has been outstanding so far and is a major reason why the Buccaneers have gone from 28th in the league against the run to 11th.
Watson is a demon of a pass rusher and in his limited chances in coverage has done well.
Defensive Backs - D
The secondary just hasn't gotten the job done thus far this season. Despite getting excellent pressure from the front seven, the Bucs' defensive backs have blown coverages, missed crucial tackles and taken too many penalties.
Aquib Talib can have the finger pointed at him for being among the most disappointing but he's far from alone. EJ Biggers, Ronde Barber and Elbert Mack each have been toasted like marshmellows on a camp fire. Sean Jones, Cody Grimm and Corey Lynch each have missed assignments that have allowed big plays.
Plus, the secondary has managed just two interceptions while dropping several opportunities for drive killing picks.
Specialists - A+
Probably the most consistent part of the football team in the first quarter of the season has been the special teams unit. Michael Koenen has been as advertised, drilling punts and finding himself among most statistical leaders in punting categories. He's also nearly automatic touchbacks on kickoffs.
Connor Barth banged one off the upright on Monday night but has been just about automatic every other opportunity.
The Kick and Punt coverage units are among the best in the league while Preston Parker has made some eye opening returns in the few opportunities he's had.
Coaching - B+
What can you say, despite not having access to his players until training camp, coach Raheem Morris has his Buccaneers off to a 3-1 start this season. The rating would be an A if the team could ever figure out how to start fast and eliminate stupid penalties.
With upstart Detroit, the defending NFC South division Champions Atlanta Falcons and Peyton Manning's Colts on Monday Night, few predicted the Bucs would get off to a 3-1 start. Yet here they are, proving their doubters and naysayers wrong again.
The Bucs don't win pretty - but they don't have to. They hang around and hang around and before you know it, they're running out to clock on you with their battering ram of a running back.
For the Bucs to truly become playoff contenders, they have to clean up the penalties and be more proficient in the red zone.
The offense must get off to better starts and the defense has to eliminate the big pass play against them.
This next quarter will tell us a lot about the Bucs and their playoff chances. San Francisco will be a tough game, heading to California on a short week to play a pretty good, well coached opponent. The Bucs then host division rival New Orleans before heading out to London to take on the physical Chicago Bears.
After a desperately needed bye week, the Bucs get the Saints in New Orleans to close out the quarter.
The Bucs likely won't be favored in any of these games, yet if they can do well and steal a few it could very well set the table for the rest of the season.