The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made it tougher than they had to, but they knocked off the Indianapolis Colts 24-17 on Monday night to run their record to 3-1 on the season. What do we think we know about the Bucs now?
1. Josh Freeman can take what the defense gives him all day long.
Freeman went 25-for-39 for 287 yards and a touchdown pass to Preston Parker, and he was turnover-free for the first time this season. Only once has Freeman thrown for more yards in a game, against Carolina in 2009. But he threw five picks in that game, which means this was one of his most effective games in a Bucs uniform. The Colts sat back in a familiar cover-2 defense, and Josh was content to take six yards here, eight yards there, and watch his receivers (Parker especially) break loose from defenders for extra yardage. He also ran for a score and converted a 4th-and-inches sneak late in the game to seal the victory.
2. LeGarrette Blount is the closer.
The combination of the Bucs holding the ball for 39 minutes and a brutal injury to Colts' defensive tackle Eric Foster helped wear down the Indianapolis defense. So when the Bucs needed to get a drive together to win the game in the fourth quarter, it was Blount who made most of the plays. He ran for 64 yards on eight carries during the Bucs' final two drives, including the game-winning, 35-yard touchdown run.
3. Ron Winter is the Bennett Salvatore of the NFL.
Have you ever watched Salvatore referee a big NBA game? He makes capricious, inconsistent, baffling calls, and he loses control of games early and then has to overreact to try and get it back. Salvatore sets a terrible tone of authority, and I see Winter's crew do this any time I watch a game they're involved in. They called 20 penalties (14 against the Bucs), including several after-the-play personal fouls that looked like a desperate attempt to rein in chippy play. Then after calling a bunch of holding penalties, they appeared to miss one on the Bucs late in the game that ended up making a huge difference in the game.
4. Get used to E.J. Biggers on the opposition's best receiver. I guess.
It didn't matter as much this week because Curtis Painter is no Matt Ryan, but for the second week in a row, the Bucs chose to put Biggers on the other team's best wide receiver. Last week it was Roddy White, and Monday night it was Reggie Wayne, who had four ordinary catches for 56 yards. This doesn't seem like a good idea for the long haul, but it worked against the Colts.
5. The Bucs' defense played a lot better than the stat line suggests.
The Colts scored 14 points on two long touchdown passes from Painter to Pierre Garcon. One was a wretched play by the Tampa Bay defense, and the other one was a play that probably should have been called back because it certainly looked like Garcon stepped out of bounds around his own 40-yard line. It didn't help that Aqib Talib was lined up 15 yards off Garcon and looked like he was afraid of knocking him out of bounds and getting a penalty -- which might have been a reasonable fear with Ron Winter's crew calling every ticky-tack penalty they could find.
Anyway, with Garcon's two touchdowns out of the equation, the Colts gained a total of 172 yards from scrimmage, and only 52 yards on the ground.
6. You cannot run a play that starts with 20 seconds left in the half, take a sack, then get everyone on the field in time to make a field goal.
First of all, Freeman cannot take that sack when the Bucs don't have any timeouts. It can't happen. If nothing's there on his first read or two, he needs to throw the ball away. Second... I know everyone is trying to blame Kellen Winslow for being the one player who didn't get off the field in time to allow for Connor Barth's field goal to count. But I maintain that the Bucs snapped the ball too soon. There were still four or five seconds left on the clock when the ball was snapped, and Winslow (who had ended the play clear across the field from the Bucs' sideline) was maybe a step or two away from being off the field. I think part of a field goal fire drill should be to teach the center not to snap the ball until there's one second left on the clock, to allow as much time as humanly possible for the offense to get to the sideline and avoid a situation like that.
7. Power O is the Bucs' offensive binky.
If you follow former Bucs defensive end Steve White on Twitter, he asks why the Bucs don't run this play more often on almost a weekly basis. It's their bread and butter, and it was the play Blount scored the game-winning touchdown on. Chris Brown's Grantland article does a great job illustrating the play and why it worked so well.
8. The Bucs are playing man coverage, and it's working.
Again I'll defer to another writer for this point, and it's Sander from Bucs Nation who made this observation. Kind of jarring to realize that not even the Bucs are using the Tampa 2 anymore, for the most part.
9. The defensive front four is starting to show flashes of dominance.
Yes, it helped that the Colts were running out of healthy linemen by the end of the game. But they sacked Painter four times, forced and recovered a fumble, and held Indianapolis to those 52 rushing yards. They also forced some hasty throws from Painter, which led to his 13-for-30 passing night. Michael Bennett had two of the four sacks, including one where he broke in clean on a third down, swiped the ball out of Painter's hands and dove on it before anyone else realized there had been a fumble.
10. Preston Parker is becoming the new security blanket in the passing game.
Teams are doing whatever they need to do to take Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow out of the passing game, by either rolling coverage to Williams or putting a safety or faster linebacker on Winslow. But that frees up Parker as a slot receiver to make catches underneath, and then see if he make some defenders miss. That was how Parker scored in the third quarter, and he nearly had another one in the second quarter on a short crossing route that he carried to the 1-yard line. (Freeman punched it in on the next play.) Another receiving weapon for Freeman would make it harder for teams to shut down the big names and might give Williams more space to make the big plays we've become accustomed to seeing out of him.