When the dust settles on the late games and the playoff seeding is set, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will most likely be sitting at home next week. Green Bay or New York will be toasting a playoff berth, Raheem Morris will have to give his Monday afternoon press conference for the last time this season, and he will be disappointed not to have a game next weekend.
Josh Freeman may point to the loss to the Lions as a missed opportunity, sports radio may reference all the injuries as too debilitating to overcome, and there will be many that are upset that this team failed to reach the postseason. But what the players and coaches will never admit, the fans will probably not accept, and the pundits will not give enough credit, is that the truth is this has been one marvelous Buccaneers season.
The Buccaneers will not be playing for a shot at the Lombardi trophy next week, and their offseason will be longer than the team would like. But answer honestly, how many of you thought they would be this good this soon? Raheem Morris’ "race to 10" was mocked regularly and most would have been happy just getting Freeman some reps and a high draft pick. The Buccaneers did Morris proud finishing 10-6 and finally notching that win over a team with a winning record.
How many of you expected to see Josh Freeman to grow up in front of our eyes, and elevate himself into the upper tier of NFL quarterbacks in only his second season? Freeman surpassed 3,000 yards, threw for 23 touchdowns and lowered his interception total from 18 last season to a measly 6 in 2010. Freeman had a passer rating of 93.6, finishing ahead of elite quarterbacks such as Drew Brees and Peyton Manning in that category, and he may yet make his first pro-bowl.
How many of you expected to see a rookie set not only the Rookie team touchdown record but also break Joey Galloway’s single season record with 11? Mike Williams has proven himself a bona fide star wide out and the steal of the draft. Williams also set the rookie receiving team record and between him and fellow rookie Arrelious Benn, the Bucs have certainly found the weapons for Freeman for years to come.
Then there's LeGarrette Blount, undrafted and much maligned after he spent most of his senior season at Oregon suspended following punching a Boise State player in a post-game fracas. All he did was rush for over 1,000 yards since week six, score 6 touchdowns and finish in the top 10 in the league in yards per attempt at 5.2. Blount ran himself into a starting job, unseating Cadillac Williams, and promptly wasted no time running himself into rookie of the year consideration alongside fellow Buc Mike Williams as well as quickly becoming a fan favorite with his bruising running style and hurdling heroics. Not since Mike Alstott have the Buccaneers had a feature back that opposing defenses feared as much as they do Blount and the A-Train is surely proud watching the new B-Train bowl over defenders while moving the chains.
And what about Raheem Morris? The man that people wanted to fire and write off before the season began should be the NFC Coach of the Year. He took a young team, riddled with injuries, in the best division in football and led them to 10 wins. Morris plugged in practice squad players, undrafted free agents, and league-wide unwanteds, and he turned them into legitimate contenders. Sure, he made his mistakes at times and sometimes they cost us, but he was always willing to take responsibility for those errors and improve the next week.
The Buccaneers may not have achieved their ultimate goal but there is no reason to be disappointed in this season. This team went from 3-13 laughing stock to a 10-6 contender in one short offseason, and in the process rejuvenated a fan base and gave us hope for the years to come. The front office is rock solid and deserves heaps of praise for the team they are constructing. The franchise quarterback is found, and his weapons are potent. The future is bright in Tampa Bay.
Playoffs or not, it’s a great day to be a Buccaneer fan.