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December 20, 2009 @ 5:10 pm
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Bucs Find Identity In 24-7 Win Over Seahawks

Written by Scott
Reynolds
Scott Reynolds

Scott
Reynolds

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UPDATED: The Bucs got their second win of the year Sunday by defeating the Seahawks in Seattle, 24-7, and found their identity in the process. Tampa Bay's defense forced five turnovers while rookie QB Josh Freeman tossed two TDs and just one pick. The Bucs are 2-12 on the year and take on the 13-1 Saints next week.
It has been well documented that the West Coast has not been kind to the Buccaneers, who haven’t won there since beating Seattle, 16-3, at the Kingdome in 1999. Over a decade later, Tampa Bay fought for the same accomplishment – this time at Qwest Field in Seattle – and prevailed over the Seahawks in a come-from-behind, 24-7 victory.

The key phrase for the Buccaneers on Sunday was fight.

Raheem Morris, who is now 2-12 in his first season as Tampa Bay’s head coach, is fighting for his job and kept his team fighting throughout the game. After spotting the Seahawks a 7-0 lead in the second quarter, the Bucs fought to score 24 unanswered points.

“I’m loving what is going on right now with that football team in general,” Morris said. “Those guys are fighting together. You can see it on the sidelines. You can see it with those guys together. You can see how they rally around the players, their peers, their coaches – it’s just everything going in the right direction. It’s what you want to build on for next year.

“That was a nice game. That was a good game by our football team. We ran the football. We were able to open up our passing game with our run. We were able to use our play-action. We were able to win that game as a football team today and I was proud of them.”

Rookie quarterback Josh Freeman fought back from an interception – his 14th of the year – on his first throw of the game to finish 16-of-26 for 205 yards with two touchdowns. Freeman was 0-of-4 to start the game, and was 5-of-12 for 73 yards at halftime before completing 11-of-14 passes for 132 yards with two touchdowns in the second half.

The Bucs were able to support Freeman by successfully running the ball with Derrick Ward rushing for 67 yards on 19 carries (3.5 avg.) and Cadillac Williams chipping in 66 yards on 12 carries (5.5 avg.). Both backs caught touchdown passes off screen passes from Freeman, who was not sacked by the Seahawks and achieved a QB rating of 95.8.

Freeman had several receivers step up for him, led by tight end Kellen Winslow, who had a game-high six catches for 93 yards. Sammie Stroughter and Antonio Bryant stepped up with 46 and 35 yards receiving, respectively.

“That’s the whole key,” Morris said. “It’s how well the players play around Josh that is going to make Josh. Josh bounced back today. He threw the pick early, but was able to calm himself down, which he wasn’t able to do last week.”

Offensive coordinator Greg Olson fought his own play-calling to a degree after starting off the game 1-of-7 on third down (on the heels of a 0-of-14 performance on third down last week against the New York Jets). The Bucs overcame a slow start to finish the game with 339 yards and convert 7-of-16 (44 percent) third down opportunities. Olson stuck with the run throughout the game, called some safe, high-percentage passes off play action for Freeman and even mixed in a few screen passes to the running backs.

Morris’ defense allowed 380 yards to Seattle, but surrendered that lone touchdown and came away with a season-high five turnovers, including four interceptions of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Cornerback Elbert Mack led the way with two in the fourth quarter, while linebacker Geno Hayes and free safety Tanard Jackson’s interceptions of Hasselbeck led to 10 points for the Buccaneers.

Efficient play from Freeman, a strong running game and a turnover-minded defense is the identity Morris and the Buccaneers have been looking for all season. On Sunday in Seattle, they finally found it.

“This is who we are,” Morris said. “This is who we’ve got to be. This is what we are. This is what I thought I we could be all season. It took a while to get there, but I think we’re there now. We’ve got to follow this thing up the next two weeks in a row, though. That’s a good look for us.”

Morris didn’t say it, but the general feeling is how the Bucs play over the last three games will play a large part in determining his future with the team. The optimistic, 33-year old head coach wants the Bucs to progress and establish an identity down the stretch. Of course, collecting some wins along the way – like Tampa Bay did Sunday in Seattle – doesn’t hurt, either.

“That’s what the whole end of the season is about for us – it’s establishing, it’s progressing, it’s forming and it’s getting these guys to believe,” Morris said. “They’ve seen hit happen today. Hopefully that stimulates a little more belief in the players, in the coaches and in our organization, period.

“I don’t know if our goal is to salvage the season. We just want progress. We’re looking forward to coming out next year and really being dominant and really having the opportunity to be dominant. These next two weeks are going to form our identity.”

Just as it was a week ago against the New York Jets, Freeman’s first pass attempt was intercepted. That play, which was made by Seattle strong safety Deon Grant, came on Tampa Bay’s first third down conversion opportunity, which marked the 15th straight non-conversion in a row dating back to the Jets game.

Seattle seemed prime to open up the scoring in the first quarter on a long drive that covered 71 yards before stalling at the Tampa Bay 4-yard line. Hasselbeck had a couple key passes to T.J. Houshmandzadeh covering 11 and 19 yards to pick up a pair of first downs and move the ball into Tampa Bay territory at the 33-yard line. A 25-yard run by Julius Jones set up the Seahawks with a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line. After a 4-yard run by Jones, Hasselbeck threw two incompletions before having to settle for a field goal attempt on fourth down. However, the ball was bobbled by holder John Ryan and Olindo Mare recovered the fumble at the Tampa Bay 16.

Tampa Bay’s third possession almost produced dividends for the visiting team. Ward, who has struggled mightily this season in terms of breaking off big gains, ripped off runs of nine and 25 yards sandwiched between two big completions from Freeman to Stroughter and Winslow for 13 and 19 yards, respectively. On first-and-10 from the Seattle 28, Ward dashed off right tackle for a 7-yard gain. But Ward only picked up two yards over the next two downs and Tampa Bay had to settle for a 38-yard field goal attempt by Connor Barth, which was no good, hitting the right upright with 12:51 left in the second quarter.

The Seahawks would finally break the scoring drought after Barth’s miss, marching 85 yards in eight plays. Jones led the way on the ground with 22 yards on five carries. Hasselbeck was 3-of-3 on the drive, including a 23-yard swing pass to fullback Justin Griffith and capping off the possession with a 29-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Carlson down the right sidelines. Carlson beat Bucs strongside linebacker Quincy Black in coverage. With 4:31 left in the second quarter, Seattle led Tampa Bay 7-0.

The Bucs would finally get on the scoreboard just before halftime thanks to a takeaway by the defense. On second-and-10 from the Seattle 33, Hasselbeck was sacked by Hayes for a 4-yard loss. On the next play, which was third-and-14, Jackson blitzed from his free safety and forced a quick throw that was tipped by defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson and intercepted by Hayes at the Seahawks’ 25. On first down, Freeman hit Winslow for an 11-yard gain down to the Seattle 14. But Tampa Bay could only gain four more yards and had to settle for 28-yard field goal by Barth with 15 seconds left before halftime to cut into Seattle’s lead.

Tampa Bay took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 50 yards in 10 plays. Kellen Winslow picked up 21 yards on second-and-5 from the Bucs’ 28. On the next play, Cadillac Williams ripped off a 20-yard gain down to the Seattle 31. But then penalties began to sit in and setback the offense. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood was whistled for a false start, but Freeman connected with Antonio Bryant for a 13-yard gain on third-and-13 to convert the team’s second of 23 third down opportunities over the last two games. However, on second-and-9 from the Seattle 20, left tackle Donald Penn was nailed for a false start. Then left guard Jeremy Zuttah was whistled for a holding penalty, which negated an 8-yard scramble by Freeman. Stroughter picked up eight yards on a pass from Freeman down to the 27, but that’s as far as the Bucs could travel on the drive and had to settle for a 45-yard field goal from Barth with 8:44 left in the third quarter. That trimmed Seattle’s lead to 7-6.

Tampa Bay’s defense continued to play well in the second half. On second-and-16 from the Seattle 12, Hasselbeck’s pass intended for Deion Branch was intercepted by Jackson at the 26-yard line and returned to the 22. On first-and-10 from the 22, Freeman completed a screen pass to Williams, who raced 22 yards down the left sidelines for a touchdown. Williams picked up a great block from Bryant near the goal line. That score was the first touchdown in 12 quarters by the Buccaneers. With 7:44 left in the third quarter, Tampa Bay took a 13-7 lead.

The Buccaneers weren’t done yet. Keyed by a 33-yard punt return by Stroughter down to the Seahawks’ 37, Freeman converted a third-and-10 situation by hitting Stroughter with a 16-yard pass across the middle. Then on third-and-7 from the 18, Freeman and Stroughter connected again, this time for nine yards. On third-and-goal from the 6, Freeman hit Ward with a touchdown pass. The Bucs went for a 2-point conversion and achieved it when Freeman scrambled up the middle. With 2:41 left in the third quarter, Tampa Bay’s lead increased to 21-7.

Seattle’s next possession fizzled out and Tampa Bay’s next drive started off great with a 21-yard reception by Winslow out to the Seattle 47. On third-and-7 from the Seattle 44, Freeman hit Bryant with a 20-yard pass down to the 24. The Bucs would only pick up three more yards and had to settle for a 39-yard field goal by Barth, but Tampa Bay’s lead swelled to 24-7 with 11:20 left in the fourth quarter.

The Bucs closed out the game with two interceptions by Mack, including one in the end zone with seven seconds left to prevent Seattle from scoring another point.

WINSLOW SETS ONE RECORD, CLOSES IN ON ANOTHER
Kellen Winslow set a franchise record for the most catches by a tight end in a single season on Sunday. Against Seattle, Winslow had a team-leading six catches for 93 yards against the Seahawks on Sunday, and now has 68 catches for 752 yards and five touchdowns on the season. That surpasses Jackie Harris, who had 62 receptions in 1995.

Next up for Winslow will be trying to pass tight end Jimmie Giles for the most receiving yards by a tight end in a single season. Giles had 786 yards in 1981. Winslow, who was a game-time decision on Sunday due to a sore knee, needs just 35 yards over the next two games to surpass Giles.

PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME
Bucs linebacker Geno Hayes missed last week’s game with a sore hamstring and was a game-time decision on Sunday at Seattle. It’s a good thing for Tampa Bay that Hayes was able to go because he turned in his best game as a pro as the second-year weakside linebacker. Not only did Hayes record the first sack of his NFL career, but he also recovered a fumble to stymie a Seattle drive in Tampa Bay territory, in addition to picking off his second career pass, which set up the Bucs’ field goal right before halftime. All three of those splash plays came in the first half.

Hayes also had a tackle for loss on second down, and a hit on Hasselbeck on third down midway through the third quarter. He finished the game with four tackles, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries in addition to his INT, fumble recovery and sack. For his efforts, Hayes is the PewterReport.com Player of the Game.

IT WAS OVER WHEN…
The Buccaneers began to put the game away in the third quarter when free safety Tanard Jackson picked off Matt Hasselbeck at the Seattle 22. On the next play, quarterback Josh Freeman hit Cadillac Williams on a screen pass for a 22-yard touchdown. With 7:44 left in the third quarter, Tampa Bay took the lead for the first time in the game as the score was 13-7, and the Bucs never looked back as their defense registered two more interceptions in the fourth quarter and the Bucs piled on 11 more points to prevail 24-7.

STATS THAT COUNT
Weakside linebacker Geno Hayes recorded the first sack of his NFL career with 1:30 left in the first half. Hayes then recorded his second career interception on the next game. … First-year running back Kareem Huggins recorded his first kickoff return in the second quarter with a 30-yard gain. … Wide receiver Sammie Stroughter had a season-high 33-yard punt return to help set up a touchdown in the third quarter. Stroughter also had a career-high four catches for 46 yards. … Free safety Tanard Jackson recorded his fourth interception of the season, which established a single-season career-high. … Cornerback Elbert Mack had two key fourth quarter interceptions to give him a total of three on the season and in his NFL career. Mack also had two passes defensed. … Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and cornerback Aqib Talib were tied with the team lead for tackles with eight. … Field goal kicker Connor Barth had his first attempt hit the right upright on Sunday, but rallied to make the next three kicks. He is now 11-of-16 on the season (68.8 percent). … Cornerback Ronde Barber has played in 191 career games in Tampa Bay, surpassing tight end Dave Moore (190 from 1992-01, 2004-06) for the second-most games in Bucs history. Barber only trails linebacker Derrick Brooks (224 games from 1995-08) for the most games played in team history. … Tampa Bay’s 24 points is the second-highest point total of the season, trailing only the 31 points scored against Green Bay.

SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS
The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:

BUCS STARTING OFFENSE
WR Maurice Stovall
LT Donald Penn
LG Jeremy Zuttah
C Jeff Faine
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Jerramy Stevens
WR Antonio Bryant
FB Earnest Graham
RB Cadillac Williams
QB Josh Freeman

BUCS STARTING DEFENSE
RE Stylez G. White
DT Ryan Sims
DT Chris Hovan
DT Roy Miller
LE Jimmy Wilkerson
WLB Geno Hayes
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Quincy Black
LCB Aqib Talib
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Tanard Jackson

MISSING IN ACTION
Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that were declared inactive for Sunday’s game:

QB Rudy Carpenter (emergency QB)
WR Michael Clayton
WR Terrence Nunn
TE John Gilmore
G Shawn Murphy
DE Michael Bennett
CB Derrick Roberson

BUCS IN-GAME INJURIES
Free safety Tanard Jackson injured his right knee with 10:24 left in the game. He was replaced in the lineup by Corey Lynch. With 10:12 left in regulation, nose tackle Chris Hovan injured his calf and left the game. He was replaced in the lineup by Dre Moore.

KICKOFF CONDITIONS
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Seahawks game at Qwest Field was 67,011. The kickoff temperature was 52 degrees with 83 percent humidity under partly cloudy skies.

UP NEXT
The Buccaneers (2-12) will travel to New Orleans to play the Saints (13-1) at the Superdome on December 27. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. and will be televised on Fox.
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