BALTIMORE, MD - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed to beat the Baltimore Ravens Sunday for more than just a W on the schedule. They needed to win to silence the increasingly louder critics, to give this years squad legitimacy, to show that they belonged. The statement the Buccaneers needed to make was that they were for real, that they were a playoff contender, a team that could beat other playoff teams. This young band of rookies and cast-offs could show the NFL world that they could hang with the best of the AFC.
That statement was made today with a big, loud, thud.
On a chilly November evening in Baltimore the Ravens defense absolutely throttled the Buccaneers offense from start to finish. There was nine penalties to only fourteen first downs, nine punts to only ten points, countless overthrown balls and dropped passes that made you miss Michael Clayon. The return game was miserable and the field position was atrocious, and worst of all nearly all of the star power disappeared.
Running back LeGarrette Blount was, well, blunt, rushing for only 55 yards on 13 carries. The receivers were non-existent with Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams combining for a measly 29 yards on 5 catches. But worst of all, was Josh Freeman having perhaps one of the worst passing games of his young career as he completed just 17 of 37 passes for 162 yards and a late a touchdown. Freeman was constantly pressured by the Raven pass rush and rushed into many poor decisions and threw even more bad footballs. Passes landed at receivers’ feet, or sailed over their head, and rarely did a ball finish on target.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens were not exactly world beaters either, but took advantages of opportunities when presented with them. When an injury to Cody Grimm forced Sabby Piscatelli into action, Flacco immediately exploited this weakness finding Todd Heap for a 65-yard pass play that was the result of horribly blown coverage in the Buccaneers secondary. Later, it was the officials giving the Ravens a hand as they would flag Buccaneer CB Myron Lewis for a very questionable pass interference penalty and set up Flacco’s second touchdown, a 10 yard skinny post to WR Derrick Mason.
Flacco finished with 289 yards on 25 of 35 passes and two touchdowns. He was intercepted once by Aqib Talib who made a dazzling play, essentially catching the ball between his ankles. Talib’s pick would set up the Buccaneers only points until late in the fourth quarter, a Connor Barth field goal.
The Buccaneer defense played well, and despite little to no support from their offense was able to keep the game close and give come-back-kid Josh Freeman a chance. The Defense registered 4 sacks on the day, including 2 from rookie Gerald McCoy who continued his stretch of strong play over the last three games.
Despite their best efforts however, on this day the come back would fall short. A 13-play, 77-yard 4th quarter drive would cut the lead to 7 as Freeman again threw too high but Kellen Winslow was able to leap and catch it in the back of the end-zone. Against Baltimore, the offensive awakening was too little too late and the Ravens were able to hand the ball off to Ray Rice to ice the victory.
Up next, a division clash with the NFC’s best team as the Atlanta Falcons will come to Raymond James Stadium next Sunday with a 9-2 record and leading the NFC South. At 7-4, the Buccaneers now find themselves third in the division as New Orleans also won on Thanksgiving moving them to 8-3, making this weeks matchup with Atlanta critical.