TAMPA – What a difference a year makes for the Buccaneers. After starting off 0-7 in Raheem Morris’ first year as Tampa Bay’s head coach and finishing with a dismal 3-13 record, Sunday’s 17-14 win against Cleveland in the 2010 season opener was a change in the right direction for such a young Buccaneers team that should feel confident heading into next Sunday’s game at 0-1 Carolina.
“It feels great,” said Bucs center Jeff Faine. “It was great to start the season off on the right foot, especially with what we went through last year. All of the work that we put in has helped us head in the right direction. It’s something that’s validating all of the work that we did this offseason.”
While the Buccaneers locker room was feeling the euphoria of starting off the season 1-0 and the Tampa Bay’s players were seeing the value of the win, Morris shrugged off the victory in his post-game press conference when asked what Sunday’s triumph represents to the Bucs.
“Absolutely nothing,” Morris said. “You all are the ones that don’t believe in us. We believe in ourselves. It is about one game at a time. We did a great job getting this win, but that means absolutely nothing in this league and what we are looking for in us. We are 1-0 and are looking long term.”
Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman took a cue from his head coach and downplayed the 17-14 victory.
“All it says is that the Buccaneers are 1-0. We’re not trying to go out and beat our chest right now. We’re trying to get ready for the Carolina Panthers and make it 2-0.”
Freeman, who missed most of the preseason due to a broken right thumb on his passing hand, completed ses for 182 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He looked rusty at times, missing on several third down throws and overthrew a wide open Mike Williams in the fourth quarter, but was able to rally his team for the win due to a perfectly thrown 33-yard touchdown pass to Micheal Spurlock with 6:45 left in regulation that proved to be the game-winner.
“The play before it was a hard play-action sell and the primary read on that is actually Sammie Strouhter, running a similar router, but he takes it to the middle of the field. Mike Williams takes it in, takes it on a high-angle corner. They were playing single high, so that kind of eliminated Sammie. I came back to Mike, he was just wide open, but I overthrew him. It should have been an easy touchdown. I apologized to Mike, because that should have been his touchdown, but then again, on the next play, Micheal Spurlock ran an incredible route. They were trying to all-out blitz us, trying to get a sack. It had worked a couple plays before, but [Coach Olson] did a great job of calling the play and anticipated it coming. Spurlock ran a route to win and he made a great catch.”
Spurlock finished with two catches for 49 yards, while Williams had a game-high five catches for 30 yards, including a juggling, 3-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone right before halftime that cut Cleveland’s lead to 14-10.
“The touchdown, he threw it to my back shoulder and I tipped it and I knew exactly where I tipped it to. I ran right to the back of the end zone and it fell into my hands. It felt good. I knew I had to get two feet it. I couldn’t get the catch and only get one foot end.
That score was set up by cornerback Ronde Barber’s interception of Jake Delhomme, which he returned 65 yards to the Cleveland 3 with 26 seconds left in the second quarter. Cornerback E.J. Biggers picked off Delhomme again in the fourth quarter, and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud forced a fumble at the Tampa Bay 15 on running back Peyton Hillis late in the third quarter that was recovered by linebacker Quincy Black to stymie a prime Cleveland scoring opportunity. The Bucs won the turnover margin on Sunday, 3-2.
Tampa Bay’s defense stepped in the second half and shut down Cleveland’s potent running game, which racked up 87 yards on 11 carries on the ground in the first half. The Browns ran for just 17 yards on 12 carries in the second half, finishing the game with 104 yards on 23 totes.
The Bucs’ running game sputtered at times, but cranked out 119 yards on 30 carries (4.0 avg.) and was helped by a career-long 33-yard scramble by Freeman in the first half. Cadillac Williams led the Bucs with 75 yards on 22 carries (3.4 avg.), including a 20-yarder, but he also had two runs for 20 yards called back due to holding calls. The Bucs had six penalties for 55 yards, and many of those infractions negated big plays, including a Spurlock kick return that went for more than 60 yards.
Tampa Bay’s special teams did a phenomenal job of containing Pro Bowl kick returner Josh Cribbs, who returned three punts 29 yards (9.7 avg.) and three kicks for 46 yards (15.3 avg.). Cribbs was unable to make any game-changing plays in this contest as he also contributed three runs for just 11 yards (3.7 avg.) as a wildcat quarterback and two receptions for 11 yards. He also had one pass to backup quarterback Seneca Wallace for nine yards.
The Browns opened the scoring following a six-play, 61-yard drive. The Bucs struggled on third down, giving Cleveland a first down on third-and-5 due to a neutral zone infraction. Later, the Browns converted a third-and-12 on a 12-yard draw to Hillis. On the next play, Delhomme hit wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi on a deep post between safety Tanard Jackson and cornerback E.J. Biggers for a 41-yard touchdown. With 2:48 left in the first quarter, Cleveland took a 7-0 win.
The Bucs answered on their next drive. After a pass interference penalty picked up 16 yards, Freeman scrambled along the right sideline for a 33-yard gain. But after two incompletions and a pass to Mike Williams for no gain, Connor Barth was brought out for a 49-yard field goal, which he made. With 50 seconds left in the first quarter, Cleveland led 7-3.
With Tampa Bay’s offense sputtering with a couple three-and-outs, Cleveland turned to its ground game exclusively on its next series. After Cribbs picked up six yards on third-and-2, Jerome Harrison ripped off a 39-yard run to the 10-yard line, and Hillis had 18 yards on three carries, including a 10-yard touchdown run. With 5:35 left in the second quarter, the Browns went up 14-3.
After Freeman threw his first interception of the season, Barber picked off Delhomme on third-and-6 from the Tampa Bay 49, returning the ball 64 yards to the Cleveland 3 before being tackled by Hillis. Defensive end Stylez G. White and rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy were hitting Delhomme, who completed 20-of-37 passes for 227 yards, as he threw the ball.
On the next play, Freeman hit Mike Williams with a touchdown pass that was batted up in the air and then caught in the back of the end zone. With 18 seconds left in the first half, Cleveland’s lead was cut to 14-10.
The Browns had kicker Phil Dawson attempt a 61-yard field goal at halftime, but his attempt was wide right.
The Browns had driven 65 yards down to the Tampa Bay 15, but Ruud forced a fumble with a big hit on Hillis, which was recovered by Black at the 15-yard line.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Bucs took the lead thanks to a beautifully thrown 33-yard touchdown pass from Freeman to Spurlock, who beat rookie cornerback Joe Haden on a go route. The scoring drive covered 47 yards on six plays. With 6:45 left in regulation, Tampa Bay took its first lead, 17-14.
Biggers, who got his first NFL start in place of the suspended Aqib Talib, got the ball back for Tampa Bay at the Cleveland 39 when he picked off Delhomme’s pass for Massaquoi to record his first career interception. Cadillac Williams and Earnest Graham combined to rush for 32 yards on five straight carries as Tampa Bay drove down to the Cleveland 2. But on third-and-1 from the 2, Graham fumbled and the ball was recovered at the Browns 3-yard line by linebacker Eric Barton.
The Bucs defense stopped the Browns twice in the last minute of the game and Freeman could have put the game away on fourth-and-1 at the Cleveland 5 but instead of hitting a wide-open John Gilmore, he took a sack, which resulted in a turnover on downs. Delhomme and the Browns moved the ball 22 yards, but Cleveland’s final drive ended at its own 33-yard line as time expired.
STATS THAT COUNT
The Bucs’ 17-14 victory over the Browns marked Tampa Bay’s first opening day win since 2005. The Bucs are now 14-21 overall on opening day and 6-10 in home openers. … Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber recorded his 38th career interception when he picked off Jake Delhomme just before halftime. Barber played in his 194th career game and had his 185th NFL start, which ranks second behind Derrick Brooks (221) in Tampa Bay history. … Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow recorded his 300th NFL reception on Sunday against his former team. He finished with 32 yards on four catches. … Bucs wide receivers Mike Williams and Micheal Spurlock recorded their first NFL touchdowns as wide receivers. Spurlock also has a pair of scores on punt and kickoff returns in his career. Williams and second-year wide receiver Sammie Stroughter started their first NFL game on Sunday. … Second-year Bucs defensive linemen Kyle Moore and Roy Miller made their first NFL starts against the Browns. … … Tampa Bay rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy started his first NFL game and notched his first career forced fumble. … Bucs strongside linebacker Quincy Black recorded his first NFL fumble recovery against the Browns. … Tampa Bay cornerback E.J. Biggers recorded his first NFL start in place of cornerback Aqib Talib and snared his first career interception. … Bucs rookie punter Chris Bryan played in his first career game today, finishing with a 41.1 average on seven punts for 288 yards, including a career-long of 57 yards with two punts downed inside the 20-yard line. … The Bucs were 7-of-17 (41 percent) on third downs, while the Browns were 5-of-13 (38 percent) in converting third downs. … Cleveland out-gained Tampa Bay 340-288 yards, but lost the turnover battle 3-2. … The Bucs maintained a 32:21-27:39 time of possession advantage.
SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS
The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:
BUCS STARTING OFFENSE
WR Mike Williams
LT Donald Penn
LG Keydrick Vincent
C Jeff Faine
RG Jeremy Zuttah
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Kellen Winslow
WR Sammie Stroughter
FB Earnest Graham
RB Cadillac Williams
QB Josh Freeman
BUCS STARTING DEFENSE
LE Kyle Moore
DT Gerald McCoy
DT Roy Miller
RE Ryan Simms
WLB Geno Hayes
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Quincy Black
LCB E.J. Biggers
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Tanard Jackson
SS Sean Jones
BUCS’ GAMEDAY INACTIVES
Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that did play in Sunday’s game:
QB Rudy Carpenter
RB LeGarrette Blount
RB Kregg Lumpkin
C Ted Larsen
DE Michael Bennett
WR Maurice Stovall
WR Preston Parker
DE Erik Lorig
BUCS IN-GAME INJURIES
Cornerback Elbert Mack was shaken up after receiving a friendly-fire hit from safety Sean Jones while making a tackle in the first quarter. Mack returned later in the quarter.
Linebacker Geno Hayes limped off the field with 6:00 left in the second quarter and was replaced for a snap by Adam Hayward before returning.
The Bucs got out of Sunday’s game rather unscathed injury-wise.
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Browns game at Raymond James Stadium was 47,211 and the stadium was just over half full. The kickoff temperature was 87 degrees under sunny skies with 100-degree heat index. Rain showers occurred in the third quarter and fourth quarter.
The Buccaneers (1-0) will travel to Carolina (0-1) on Sunday, September 19 in Tampa Bay’s first road game and initial NFC South contest. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET and will be televised locally on Fox.