There are wins and then there are statements. The Buccaneers made one on Sunday, making that one last play they needed to make (or drawing Atlanta into that one last mistake), to pull off a dramatic 16-13 victory. The win held serve at home within the division, ended Atlanta's recent dominance in the series and kept the Bucs tied for first in the NFC South while dropping the defending division champions a game back in the standings.
While the game certainly wasn't perfect, when learned a lot about Raheem Morris' "youngry" football team.
1. Dekota Watson and Mason Foster deserve to be on the field full time.
Quincy Black is in imminent danger of being Wally Pipp'ed. Dekota Watson was solid in coverage and did a terrific job at putting pressure on the quarterback via the blitz. While it didn't show up in the stat sheet, Mason Foster was all over the field and did a decent job in coverage all day. There were blown assignments by both to be sure but the more they're on the field, the better they get and the better the defense plays.
A couple more weeks and it may be extremely difficult for Black to get back on the field for the amount of plays he had before he went down.
2. The Price is Right.
So, all training camp we kept hearing from the Buccaneers coaches how Brian Price was almost unblockable. Then in the pre-season games you rarely saw him do much of anything other than limp to the sidelines. He looked heavy, slow and injured.
Well, Price had his coming out party as he completely dominated the interior of the line and reeked havoc in the Falcons' backfield. Price took some of the pressure of first round
bust pick Gerald McCoy who was also disruptive and penetrated routinely into the backfield.
We can only imagine what Price will be when he actually reaches 100%.
3. Clete Blakeman doesn't know what roughing the passer is.
I was stunned, just stunned at the performance of Clete Blakeman's officiating crew on Sunday. Not only did they call 16 penalties and 121 yards of penalty yardage against the Buccaneers and Falcons, they called a terrible ticky tack roughing the passer penalty on Gerald McCoy, setting the Falcons up first and goal (the Bucs held, thankfully, or that would have been the talk of the town). If that wasn't bad enough, they missed the most blatant helmet-to-helmet hit on Josh Freeman's scramble that you'll ever see.
Earlier in the contest, Raheem Morris had to use a challenge on a pass that obviously hit the ground.
It was enough to make you wonder if the NFL really wanted the Falcons to prevail in that game. Of course - that would never happen, right?
No, it was just a bad day at the office for Mr. Blakeman and his crew.
4. Roddy White abused EJ Biggers.
Poor EJ Biggers. With Aquib Talib lined up on Julio Jones, it was Biggers responsibility to keep Roddy White in check. Even worse, the Bucs' decision to play a majority of man-to-man and stop the run forced Matt Ryan's hand to take advantage of the matchups.
Ryan and White abused Biggers to the tune of 9 catches and 140 yards. If not for a dropped pass near the goal ine, Biggers would have given up the potential game winning score.
EJ is a solid corner who was a bit out of his element and facing a world class wide receiver. He'll have better days. He actually came close to really turning it around, catching a couple of Ryan's attempts out of bounds.
Tanard Jackson, the Bucs' top flight safety who ran afoul with the league's substance abuse policy resulting in his year long ban from the game, is eligible to apply for reinstatement. The Bucs, Team Tanard and the league are very quiet on this situation.
With Cody Grimm going down and Corey Lynch playing inconsistently, the door could be wide open for Jackson to come riding in on his white horse to save the Bucs' secondary.
Jackson is a talented player who likes his "substance" a little too much. He reportedly has gone through rehab and has complied with the NFL's stringent demands to make himself eligible. It's up to NFL Commish Roger Goodell to allow him back into the league.
If this is the week he's reinstated, you can expect a couple weeks of conditioning to see where Jackson is. Meanwhile, Lynch and Larry Asante will try to keep the dam from bursting.
6. A tremendous day for the defense.
We haven't seen a defensive performance like that in Raymond James stadium in some time. Yes, there's been better games statistically but considering the competition and the way the Bucs' defense dominated the line of scrimmage - it was an astounding performance. Four quarters of smashmouth old school Buc ball defense.
Tell me you didn't smile when Adrian Clayborn ripped past the Falcons' o-line and completely obliterated Matt Ryan. When Mason Foster faceplanted Ryan after a botched snap. Seeing Brian Price and Gerald McCoy tear through the interior of the line and keep Michael Turner to just 30 yards rushing.
Tell me you're impressed that the defense forced 3 turnovers and held an offense with the likes of Roddy White, Julio Jones, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez and Matt Ryan to just 13 points.
7. Not a good day for Josh Freeman.
You could just sense at how badly Josh Freeman wanted to beat the Falcons. After a quarterback sneak, Freeman busted out an impromptu bird touchdown dance. Still, it was one of the few highlight moments for the Buccaneer quarterback.
After the Bucs forced a turnover deep in Atlanta territory on the Falcons' first series, Freeman made the cardinal mistake of forcing a pass into the endzone and was picked off.
With the Buccaneers in command 16-3 heading into the fourth quarter, Freeman sailed a pass high that tipped off the fingertips of Regus Benn and was intercepted by the Falcons. The pick seemed to energize Atlanta as they marched down the field only to be foiled on fourth down.
The next series, Atlanta scored to pull within 6 points and you could almost sense another Bucs collapse coming.
To his credit, with the Bucs clinging to a 3 point lead and 4 minutes left on the clock, Freeman made the plays and audibles necessary to get the Bucs the three first downs they needed to run out the clock. Of course, turning around and handing off to LeGarrette Blount doesn't require much brain matter.
Bottom line is Freeman is off to a rough start in 2011. While he is completing nearly 68% of his passes, throwing 2 touchdown passes in three games and tossing ill advised interceptions aren't going to get the job done.
As number five goes, so goes this Buccaneer offense. We have to remember he's only 23 and he's growing a little confident. Some of his amazing plays are because he's Brett Favre gutty. Let's hope he is a bit less Favre interceptiony.
8. Blount the battering ram.
It wasn't an overly great day for LeGarrette Blount either but when the Buccaneers needed to salt the game away, it was number 27 they turned to. Blount pounded his way to two of the Bucs final three first downs, enabling the offense to bleed the final four minutes off the clock and keeping the ball out of the hands of Matt Ryan.
By the end of it, Blount rushed 24 times for 81 yards. While Blount was doing that dancing in the hole thing that drives his coaches crazy, he still moved the chains when they needed him to.
9. Bucs' Special Teams had a good day, too.
Think the Falcons wish they still had Michael Koenen? His replacement Matt Bosher averaged 21.7 yards a punt with one inside the 20, his long of the day was 38 yards. While Koenen's average wasn't anything to write home about (37.7) his high, spiraling kicks forced Falcons Pro Bowl Returner Eric Weems to just 2 punt returns for 8 yards. Koenen also direct kicked Weems, limiting him to just 3 returns for 19 yards.
Connor Barth remained perfect on the season for Tampa Bay, drilling his three field goal attempts, including a 49 yarder in wet conditions.
Preston Parker had a decent day as a returner as well.
10. No more excuses, Bucs Fans.
There used to be a time when the Buccaneers had people lined up down the street to watch a Monday Night Football game. The Bucs fans who can afford to go to the game no longer have any excuses. You don't have to like the Glazers or what the Bucs did in the off-season. None of that matters. This football team just defeated a Super Bowl contender, they're at the top of their division and they're about to be on the national stage.
The thing in Tampa Bay is if it isn't an event, it's not sold out. I think it's safe to say that with Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and young but hard hitting defense the Bucs are once again the thing to do.
We can't allow this game to be blacked out, Tampa Bay. It will be a terrible black eye on the community - worse than BSPN's constant trashing of Rays attendance.
If you can afford it, find some way - any way to get to the stadium and jump on this football team's bandwagon. Nothing would charge up the Bucs more than seeing a packed house for Monday Night Football.
You can do it, Bucs fans. I believe in you. Let's make it happen!