The most incredible stat to draw out of Josh Freeman leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 36-17 win over the Minnesota Vikings? He completed three passes for a touchdown, but all of them combined traveled for only 1 yard beyond the scrimmage line. It’s good to have Doug Martin and Mike Williams on your team.
If it was a breakout performance for someone, it was rookie running back Doug Martin. He finished with 135 yards on the ground and scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter; he also caught 3 passes for 79 yards, scoring a touchdown, going 64 yards after a short screen pass by Freeman. He finished with 214 yards from scrimmage; only the third running back this season, following Jamaal Charles and Ahmad Bradshaw.
But besides Martin’s excellence, this was about Freeman continuing his excellent form, maybe even better than his 2010 stretch, throwing three touchdown passes for a third consecutive game, while throwing only one interception between them. He mixed short and long very well, mostly enjoying the benefits of the short passing game. He was 10-19 for 124 yards and three touchdowns on passes traveling five or fewer yards downfield.
Just as big of an issue was the protection. Facing one of the most aggressive defensive lines in the NFL, Freeman was sacked only once by playing smart; releasing the ball quickly, and the Bucs devised a nice gameplan to avoid getting mixed up in any unnecessary pressure under the Jared Allen wrecking crew.
On the defensive side of the ball, it was about making life tough for Christian Ponder, who began his first three possessions with an 0-5, followed by a Jerome Simpson fumble and out of nowhere, Tampa were ahead 13-0. As we’ve told you before, Thursday night games have a tendency to turn towards the unpredictable.
Getting Ponder to try and beat them instead of Adrian Peterson was the plan. They made life very hard for him with their blitzing, using the five man pass rush a bit more than usual, getting to Ponder three times. Adrian Peterson did end up with 123 yards on 15 carries, but no touchdowns and one of them was a long, 63 yard run. For the rest of the game, the managed to limit the hottest running back in the NFL pretty well.
In the NFC South the way it is, the Bucs have a shot at second place. The Carolina Panthers are falling apart and the New Orleans Saints are still trying to figure out what hit them during the offseason and how to find anything but Drew Brees to inspire them. For the Bucs, it looks like Josh Freeman is finding his good form again. Not forcing the game, trying to use his big arm to win, but mixing it up and using a running back that might be a bit more talented than some previously thought. For once, he didn’t need to rely on Vincent Jackson, which might help their best receiver enjoy a bit more freedom in the future.
Guys are getting more comfortable with what we’re doing and with each other, We’re getting better and that’s what you’re supposed to do. I’m pretty sure Schiano is happy talking about Freeman and Martin’s explosiveness instead of his approach to handle taking a knee situations.