Here's some food for thought heading into week 2 of the NFL season: Since 1990, only 13% of NFL teams that started out 0-2 have made the playoffs. That's tall odds for a young team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that already has the deck stacked against them in the highly-competitive NFC South. Although there is no such thing as a September must-win-game, this Sundays showdown of 0-1 teams in Minnesota could go a long way to determining the direction of a still-young season.
The Buccaneers, looking to rebound from a stunning defeat in their yard at the hands of a resurgent Detroit Lions team, will travel to Mall of America Field and take on the Minnesota Vikings in a matchup of two clubs searching for an identity in their 2011 campaigns. The Vikings suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the San Diego Chargers in week one and will be looking for redemption in their home opener.
After jumping out to a 7-0 lead when Percy Harvin returned the opening kick-off 103-yards, things were looking good for the Purple People Eaters. The Vikings carried the play for most of the first half, heading into the locker-room at intermission with a 17-7 lead, mostly thanks to stout defense and a productive Adrian Peterson. However, it would get ugly in the second half, as Philip Rivers and the Chargers stormed back with 17 unanswered points to take a 24-17 lead and send Minnesota home 0-1.
If you thought the Bucs had a hard time defending dynamic Lions wideout Calvin Johnson in week one, you would be right. The bad news is that it doesn't get any easier this week, as a young defense, still reeling from a quick passing and misdirection attack that the Lions exploited them with, will attempt to regroup and figure out how to stop perhaps the NFL's most dynamic runner in Peterson, who's 98-yards on 16 carries was the lone bright spot on a difficult offensive day for Minnesota.
Like Tampa Bay, who took criticism for leaving LeGarrette Blount on the sidelines most of the game Sunday, the Minnesota coaching staff is also getting grief for not getting the ball to their star player enough. New Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb was simply terrible, passing for a paltry 39-yards on 7 of 15 attempts, with a touchdown and an interception that spotted the Chargers great field position and their first touchdown, forcing fans to clamor for more touches for Peterson. The Buccaneers need to make Peterson their focus as well if they hope to have any chance of beating Minnesota this coming Sunday.
This is probably stating the obvious, but Josh Freeman and the Buccaneers offense will also have to play better. No first downs in the first quarter was unacceptable and the Bucs inability to move the ball at all in the first half eventually led to a worn out defense that could no longer hang with a high-tempo Lions offense. Expect head coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Greg Olsen to learn from their mistakes quickly and get Blount involved early and often. The Bucs must control the time of posession if they hope to compete.
Remember this, the Buccaneers were 6-4 in 2010 when Blount carried the ball 15 times or more. If the coaching staff learned anything from the Lions, he should see close to 20 touches in this matchup.