When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers upset the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, 22-17, they did more than just stop a five-game losing streak.
The Buccaneers had lost their last eight December games, dating back to the 2010 season. Winning in the Georgia Dome ensured a much better offseason for Tampa Bay by giving the franchise a positive to focus on until the team begins offseason workouts in 2013.
In 2011, the Raheem Morris-led Buccaneers lost their last 10 games, and the franchise parted ways with its head coach. New head coach Greg Schiano wasn’t under that kind of pressure to win Sunday, but with a roster made up of very young athletes, spending the next four months not thinking about losing their last six games is a very fortunate circumstance.
Another positive to build from in 2013 is the strength of the top rookies from the 2012 draft class.
First pick Mark Barron finished fourth on the team with 89 tackles and showed up big Sunday with a huge hit to break up a late Atlanta drive.
Rookie running back Doug Martin finished the year with 1,454 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. He added 471 receiving yards to finish just shy of 2,000 all-purpose yards, a huge mark for a rookie, according to the Buccaneers.
Doug Martin may not have quite gotten to 2,000 yards from scrimmage this season, but his 1,926 are the third-most ever by a rookie.— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@TBBuccaneers) December 31, 2012
Second-round pick Lavonte David led the team in tackles with 139 and added a sack and an interception to his rookie resume. He’ll surely garner Defensive Rookie of the Year consideration, as he seemed to have much better instincts at linebacker than a first-year player should have.
The rookies weren’t the only pace-setters.
Quarterback Josh Freeman surpassed the 4,000-yards passing mark for the first time in his career with his 222-yard performance against Atlanta. He had trouble with turnovers—especially late in the season—but showed a ton of progress from last season.
Wide receiver Mike Williams has now twice in his three-year career finished just shy of the 1,000-yards receiving mark, gaining 964 yards in 2010 and, with 65 yards Sunday, finished with 996.
Finishing at 7-9 is never where a franchise wants to be. But in this case, 7-9 is miles beyond a 6-10 finish, especially for the Tampa Bay franchise. Instead of answering questions about poor finishes year in and year out, the Buccaneers can talk more about building on 2012.
That’s good news for Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.