In a season of near-losses to bad teams, last week's Falcons game seemed like a turning point. In what some considered a moral victory, the Bucs finally played a solid game against a team with a winning record and lost by a margin of inches.
In contrast, this week's Panthers game might be seen as something of a moral defeat for a winning team. After all, the Bucs were playing a 1-7 team that was decimated by injuries, and the Tampa squad couldn't manage to put the game away until the fourth quarter.
But morals count for little in football (sorry, Roger Goodell). So instead of bemoaning the fact that this wasn't a blowout win, let's focus on what's really important: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now 6-3.
True, the Bucs have played a soft schedule, and they have not yet won a game against a team with a winning record. (In fact, the Bucs' wins have come against teams that are a combined 13-32. Egad.)
And sure, the Bucs' run defense is embarrassing. This week the Panthers' 4th-string running back, Mike Goodson, looked like the second coming of DeAngelo Williams, picking up 100 rushing yards on the day. The pass rush was once again nearly absent, earning only 2 sacks against the decidedly un-Freeman-like rookie Jimmy Clausen. Even the offense, brilliant in flashes, went scoreless in the third quarter, allowing an 11-point lead to dwindle to just 5 points.
On the other hand, there are no style points in the wins and losses columns. I'll take winning ugly over losing pretty any day. 6-3!
Game Ball: Josh Freeman. The quarterback was 18/24 for 241 yards with 2 touchdowns and a QB rating of 134.2. He also carried the ball 5 times for 19 yards, with a long run of 10 yards.
Lame Ball: Defense. The Panthers were playing with an at-best-second-string quarterback, a pair of fourth- and fifth-string running backs, and, ok, Steve Smith. Even still, the Buc D allowed 300 total yards, including 118 on the ground, and caught no interceptions.
Game Ball: LaGarrette "Hollywood" Blount. The man deserves a nickname that lives up to his highlight reel. Two weeks ago against Arizona, Blount hurdled a Cardinal (like a full-grown man Cardinal, not a bird cardinal) on his way to a rumbling first down. This week, when the Panthers' Chris Gamble tried to tackle the Buc by the legs, Blount jumped in the air, did a corkscrew turn, and--ball firmly in hand--stretched his arm out for the Bucs' second touchdown of the game.
Even the Russian judge gave this one a 10. (See the play here.)
Blount had 91 rushing yards on the day.
Game Ball: Cadillac Williams. The oft-injured but much-admired running back ran for a key 45-yard touchdown in fourth quarter. Though Caddy has been crucial to the Bucs' blocking schemes this season, he has had limited success running the ball. But based on his teammates' elated reactions to the touchdown, Caddy is still a locker-room favorite.
Game Ball: The Rookies. The Bucs started 7 rookies in the Panthers game. Some highlights from the rookies include:
Guard Ted Larsen, who was drafted by the Patriots, started even though center Jeff Faine returned to the starting line-up after injury and tackle Jeremy Trueblood was dressed to play. The O-line allowed only 1 sack, and the Tampa rushing game picked up 186 yards. Larsen also had a big block in the Caddy touchdown.
Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy had his first standout game with 5 tackles, two deflected passes, and a forced fumble.
Receiver Arrelious Benn caught the game's first touchdown pass, making this his second consecutive game with a touchdown.
Game Ball: Kellen Winslow. Winslow finally caught his first touchdown pass of the year, in coverage and using his hands, arms, and legs to maintain possession. If you're going to wait more than half a season to catch a touchdown, might as well make it exciting.
Cross-published on Chicks in the Huddle.
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