So far in the 2012 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have both won and lost a close, low-scoring game—both finished with the score of 16-10—and have been the victim and aggressor in a second-half comeback attempt.
The latest comeback attempt was Sunday at Raymond James Stadium where Tampa Bay erased a 21-6 halftime lead by scoring 16 unanswered points, only to fall to a last-second field goal.
In Week 2 Tampa Bay led the New York Giants 24-13 before New York scored 25 points in the fourth quarter to win by a touchdown.
The Bucs' most recent loss, Sunday’s 24-22 loss where Billy Cundiff nailed a 41-yard field goal with three seconds remaining to seal Tampa Bay’s fate, answered some questions and still leaves a few to be determined.
Tampa Bay doesn’t seem to do well in high-scoring affairs—and 20 points or more seems high scoring to this team. That sounds right for a rookie head coach who preaches ball control and pounding the rock on the ground.
Unfortunately, the NFL isn’t a run-first league right now. Games are won with high-powered, sling-the-ball-around offenses like the three teams that beat Tampa Bay have.
Greg Schiano tried to get away from his run-first roots in Sunday. With the league's next-to-last ranked pass defense in town, Schiano called up plays that resulted in 39 pass attempts for Josh Freeman, almost half as many as in his previous three games combined.
Freeman didn’t torch the Redskins defense, but in putting up 299 yards on 61.5 percent passing, the young passer showed his mettle.
Forced into passing action because of their 15-point deficit, the Buccaneers gave Freeman the green light and scaled back the running plays for Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount.
Martin was moving the ball fine, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. But Blount didn’t perform as well with his new-found extra carries, averaging 2.8 yards per carry and scoring a touchdown.
Would Blount have rebounded, or would Martin have kept up the good rate? Those questions can’t be answered because Freeman was too busy helping two of his receivers—Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson—surpass the century mark.
Williams led the team with 115 yards receiving on four catches. Jackson caught six balls for 100 yards. It was the first time in Freeman’s four-year career he had two receivers reach the 100-yard receiving mark.
If the Buccaneers needed proof that Freeman could handle throwing a lot in a game, Sunday’s performance should lay most of those questions to bed.
Still unanswered is how are the Bucs going to improve enough against the pass.
Tampa Bay ranked 30th entering Sunday’s game in pass defense and allowed rookie Robert Griffin III to throw for 329 yards. That’s the third quarterback in four games to go over 300 yards, and Tony Romo was close at 283 yards passing in Week 3.
The Buccaneers sit at 1-3, tied for second place in the NFC South, and still desperately need to find a way to slow down opposing quarterbacks. Schiano and his staff must address that issue.
But moving the ball through the air seems like something Freeman can do, if given the passing attempts to make things work.
Let’s see how Schiano makes adjustments through the bye week in preparation for Kansas City.
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