Ok, we get it. Josh Freeman is the master of the fourth-quarter comeback.
For those keeping score, the Bucs' 38-35 victory over the Arizona Cardinals was Freeman's 6th fourth-quarter comeback, an impressive feat in only 16 total starts. But in this close-call win, things were a little different. This time the Bucs had the game all but won, leading 31-14 with just over 4 and a half minutes left in the third quarter.
Four minutes a fumble later, the Bucs were ahead 31-28.
Another four minutes, and the Bucs were down 35-31.
And then Josh Freeman launched a 53-yard pass to the lesser-heralded rookie receiver Arrelious Benn, setting up the winning touchdown. And the Bucs are 5-2 and tied atop the NFC South.
So, yes, Freeman saved the day. But here's hoping the Bucs don't make a habit of putting him in positions in which its necessary to save the day. A nice blowout win would do wonders for Bucs fans' nerves.
Not that I'm complaining, certainly. I'll gladly suffer some raw nail beds for a winning record. And for the first time this season, after defeating a very, kind-of, not horribly bad team, it actually seems as though a winning season could be in the cards. (Knock on wood. Everyone. Right now. Thank you.)
Because for as many bad plays as the team made this week (and, rest assured, there were many), these young Bucs are starting to look like serious players. Like...
Game Ball: LaGarrette Blount. With all due respect to Cadillac Williams, it is a massive relief to have found an effective running back. Blount tore up the Cardinals defense, with 120 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns. His longest run of the day, with just over 2 minutes left in the game, was a 48-yard sprint in which he literally hurdled an Arizona Cardinal. And Blount is like 6 feet, 250 pounds. It was amazing.
Lame Ball: LaGarrette Blount's Stinger. Of course, Blount owed the team that long run after fumbling the ball at the end of the third quarter. The Cardinals' Gerald Hayes grabbed the ball and ran it back 21 yards for a touchdown. Blount later said in an interview that he had a stinger and couldn't hold onto the ball. (But all is forgiven.)
Lame Ball: Josh Freeman's Rookie Mistake. Freeman was sacked only twice during the game, but both sacks came in the fourth quarter. The first was due to poor blocking by TE John Gilmore, but the second was a potentially devastating sack with under 5 minutes left to play. Freeman held onto the ball far too long, and the resulting loss of 14 yards put the Bucs out of kicker Connor Barth's comfort zone. Barth's ensuing 53-yard kick was blocked, and the Bucs remained on top by only 3 points. This was the one play in recent memory in which Freeman actually looked like a rookie. But having started 16 games, Freeman is now officially a second-year player. No more of that holding the ball too long stuff, Josh.
And, luckily, the team was saved by a Talib interception in the next series. Speaking of...
Game Ball: Aquib Talib, Geno Hayes, and Barrett Ruud. Talib intercepted two Cardinals' passes, and ran one back for a touchdown. Hayes had a pick 6 as well, and forced a fumble that Barrett Ruud intercepted. That's 4 interceptions and 2 touchdowns for these three men. Not too shabby. (For the record, Ronde Barber also continues to play lights-out football. The 34-year-old had 2 tackles in his 200th game as a Buccaneer.)
Lame Ball: Fourth-Quarter Play Calling. The Bucs were up by a whopping 3 points at the Arizona 46 with about 2 minutes left in the game, and Blount only managed to pick up 3 additional yards on the ground before punting it back to Arizona. That gave the Cardinals plenty of time to move down the field for a potential score. Yes, Blount had just moments earlier broken a long run, but the game was not in hand, and Freeman is clutch in the fourth quarter, so the ultra-conservative call didn't make sense.
Game Ball: Josh Freeman to Mike Williams. Josh Freeman to Arrelious Benn. I know it's been said in articles and blogs all over the Tampa Bay area. But when Freeman threw a 47-yard TD pass to Mike Williams in the second quarter, and when Benn caught a 53-yard pass in the fourth quarter to set up the winning touchdown, all I could see was the future. This was not the Buc Ball we know and love. Buc Ball is hard-nosed, gritty, low-scoring football. This was fast, loose, and came with double-digit scores. But watching the young guys play, all I could think of was that dirty F-word. You know the one: Finesse. Yes, it seems the Bucs might just become that finesse team Tampa fans have always loathed. And you know what? It feels good.
Cross-published at Chicks in the Huddle.