CHARLOTTE, NC – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took another large step forward Sunday, improving their play on both sides of the ball and subsequently improving their record to 2-0.
Coming off a win with plenty of room for improvement, the Bucs looked like a much better football team against Carolina. The offense put up points, at times sustaining drives with incredible third down plays. The defense stuffed the running game and dominated third downs, holding the Panthers to 1 of 6 on third down conversions in the first half. Special teams was again special, leading to good field position all day as well as scoring points on two field goals.
Josh Freeman was a star, and may be growing up in front of our eyes. Multiple drives were extended by his mobility as he scrambled for third down conversions three times. He was also elusive, dodging pressure and sacks and finding the open man. Late in the 2nd quarter, on 3rd and 17, Freeman rolled right and avoided two sacks before finding Kellen Winslow for a 40 yard reception. On the next play, Freeman hooked up with dynamic rookie Mike Williams for the go-ahead touchdown. Freeman finished 12/24 with 178 yards passing, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also picked up 43 yards on the ground on 4 carries, a lot of that on third down.
Perhaps more important than the passes Freeman did complete on the day are some of the ones he didn’t. Freeman showed some tremendous poise Sunday, but his presence was matched by his patience. Freeman resisted the urge many times to force a deep pass into pressure and consistently made the correct decisions, standing tall as he worked through his progressions and finding check downs or throwing the ball away when necessary.
For the second week in a row, the Buccaneers defense showed that they may be a force to be reckoned with this season. The only points they allowed were on a fourth down touchdown to Steve Smith in the first quarter that Moore beat on a Buccaneer blitz. After that, they shut the door, not allowing Carolina to score for the remaining three quarters.
The Bucs consistently stopped the run and forced Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen to beat them in the air, a task that the Panthers were simply not up to, as they went 5 for 16 on third downs. Ronde Barber defied the critics some more with another interception, and Aqib Talib, fresh off his week-one suspension, added a late pick to ice the game. The defense had 4 sacks and also forced a fumble.
The signature moment of the game may have come in the 4th quarter, after Carolina went to Jimmy Clausen due to Matt Moore’s ineffectiveness. Clausen moved the ball well and found himself on the Buccaneer 5 yard line. The Defense would stuff Jonathan Stewart at the 1 on 4th and goal to take over on downs. That tackle was made by Geno Hayes who was solid the entire goal line stand making the tackle on 3rd down as well.
The run game continued to look sluggish, as Williams tallied only 51 yards on 27 carries. Earnest Graham had only 1 rushing yard on 3 carries but caught a 14 yard touchdown pass from Freeman for the first points of the game. Kellen Winslow had a big game, catching 4 balls for 83 yards, and was Freemans go to target on third down. Rookie Mike Williams continued his maturation into a star, catching 2 balls for 54 yards and a score.
The Buccaneers will head home 2-0 and get ready for the Pittsburgh Steelers who may be down to their third string quarterback next week. Ben Roethlisberger is serving a four game suspension and Dennis Dixon was carted off the field Sunday with an apparent knee injury.