It wasn’t pretty early, it was sloppy late, but at the end of the day in the NFL there is no such thing as an ugly win. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who took eight weeks to notch their first win in 2009, will start their 2010 campaign at a sparkling 1-0 after defeating the Cleveland Browns 17-14 at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
There was nothing dominant about the performance, but in all facets of the game the Buccaneers were able to do enough to squeak out an oft illusive victory. Josh Freeman led the offense with 2 touchdowns, young budding star Mike Williams caught a touchdown and return-man turned wide-out Michael Spurlock caught the game winning score.
They say momentum can swing dramatically on one play and that play can often decide a contest. With less than a minute left in the second quarter, down 14-3 and with Cleveland looking for more, Ronde Barber would step in front of an errant Jake Delhomme pass and return it 65 yards to the Browns 3-yard line. One play later Mike Williams hauled in a dazzling touchdown that was first tipped by the defender. Williams maintained focus on the ball as it sailed straight up into the air and caught it coming down, keeping his feet inbounds in the back of the end zone. Ronde’s clutch pick and Williams’s first career touchdown led to a 14-10 halftime deficit but a distinctly different attitude heading into the locker rooms.
The defense started out slow, giving up two touchdowns in the first half. One rushing touchdown to Peyton Hillis and a passing score from Delhomme to Massaquoi that just eluded a leaping Tanard Jackson. However, The Bucs defenders would completely shut down the Browns offense in the second half.
Cleveland did not give up any sacs but Jake Delhomme was often under pressure and threw another late interception to EJ Biggers, who started for the suspended Aqib Talib. Delhomme finished the game 20 for 37, with 227 passing yards, 1 touchdown but two critical interceptions.
In the fourth quarter with just under seven minutes to play, second year Quarterback Josh Freeman playing on a short field thanks to an outstanding defensive stop would find Michael Spurlock deep in the end zone for the go ahead 33-yard score. Shortly after, given a chance to ice the game following Biggers’ interception, Earnest Graham coughed up the football at the 3 yard line but once again, as they did the entire second half, the defense held strong and forced Delhomme into a fourth down incompletion.
Josh Freeman, coming back from his broken thumb was not always sharp but finished the day 17 for 28 with 182 yards and one interception. Freeman found seven different receivers during the game, the leading of which was Michael Spurlock who hauled in 2 passes for 49 yards. Cadillac Williams rushed for 75 yards on 22 carries and Kellen Winslow caught four balls for 32 yards but did not factor in the game against his old club.
For being blacked out the crowd was raucous and loud, clearly getting behind their home town Bucs and being sure to give Delhomme a lot of things to think about in pressure situations. With the game on the line and the rain coming down a crucial 4th and 3 became 4th and 8 thanks to an offensive false start.
Tampa Bay saw a glimpse of the future today as many of their young stars played a huge role in their first win on a young season. Gerald McCoy had his first tackle for a loss in the first quarter and played well the majority of the game. The mix of dynamic talented youngsters and veteran leaders such as Ronde Barber may give the Buccaneers a much more exciting seasons than many expected. If nothing else, at least they got winning out of the way early this year.