If the Buccaneers secure a win this week it will be the first time since 2005 that they have started a season with three wins and no losses. They need to overcome the Pittsburgh Steelers to find that high ground.
Tampa Bay supporters have the right to keep smiling about the team’s two wins in two outings, but it’s still no time for Buccaneers fans to become giddy or overconfident. The players aren’t taking opponents for granted, and neither should loyal followers.
In last week’s Carolina game, Josh Freeman (No. 5) showed he’s no flash by throwing for two more touchdowns. But it was as much about what Freeman didn’t do that made a difference. He threw the ball away when he needed to avoid being tackled.
Head coach Raheem Morris on www.Buccaneers.com commented on Freeman’s play.
“After watching the tape, you're just amazed,” Morris said. “The plays that he didn't make—the bad snap in the air, he throws it out of bounds; the screen that the Carolina Panthers did a great job of covering, and he throws it at his (receiver’s) feet.”
It was also all about what the defense did. They held ground, created turnovers, and got two interceptions. The defense clicked while these standouts performed.
Corners Ronde Barber (No. 20) and Aqib Talib (No. 25) snatched interceptions. Defensive end Kyle Moore (No. 94) recovered a fumble. Defenseive end Tim Crowder (No. 96) powered for two sacks of the Bucs’ four sacks.
Linebacker Geno Hayes (54) stopped a run on fourth-and-goal. Defensive end Stylez G. White (No. 91) forced two incompletions. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (No. 93) started for the second game in a row and was a factor.
But the Panthers aren’t power brokers in the NFL, and the Bucs face several teams with far better depth and coaching. Up next, the Steelers’ defense is among the best in the NFL.
This reporter got plucked by some experts for picking the Bucs to nab seven to nine wins in 2010, but miss the playoffs. That’s still a generous prediction, but it was based on the strength of the draft and rising talent. Rookies Gerald McCoy, Mike Williams, and Cody Grimm are now starters. The development of young players like Josh Freeman and E.J. Biggers has added strength to the crew that sputtered in 2009.
Freeman has grown up fast at quarterback owing partly to his work ethic. He was watching videotape in February, a month before most of his teammates showed up for mini-camps.
To get to 50 percent results or above this young team has to mature rapidly like Freeman. As always injuries will be a factor so if major injuries to starters are avoided—then the coveted percentage that equals playoffs could be more than just a goal.
The defense took a hit this week with the announcement that safety Tanard Jackson (No. 36) has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL for substance abuse. That opened the door for rookie Cody Grimm (No. 35) as starter.
"Cody has gone out there and excelled," Morris said. "He's been impressive in all his opportunities. He's played cool and calm. He's earned his opportunity and we really feel good about putting him out there, giving him a shot and seeing what he can do."
The mixed news about Sunday’s game is that Freeman and his productive offense must face a powerful Steelers defense. The emerging Buccaneers’ defense faces a 35-year-old, third-string Charlie Batch, at quarterback.
Fans can keep smiling at the surprising early results, but it’s best to be prepared for a tough season where even this improved team is likely to falter against stout opponents.
At least this team wasn’t rated like the Dallas Cowboys. It seems many experts had that team getting sized for Super Bowl rings before the season started. They now go into the third game of the season without a win.
That kind of record is detrimental to football smiles.
Photo credit: Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com