After winning just three games during the 2009 campaign, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one more victory away from tying that mark – and it is only September. After getting a 20-7 road win against the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers, the Bucs move to 2-0 on the season.
Don’t look now, but the last time Tampa Bay started 2-0 was in 2005 when the Bucs won the NFC South division. In fact, Tampa Bay has started off 2-0 four times since 1997 with all three campaigns ending in winning seasons and playoff berths.
The Buccaneers won the battle of the two youngest teams in the NFL on Sunday and it was 22-year old quarterback Josh Freeman, who is only in his second year in the NFL, showing the Panthers defense how he has matured since his last trip to Carolina on December 6 when he threw five interceptions in a 16-6 loss.
“It just feels really good to win,” Freeman said. “That’s what it all comes back to. It’s coming out of here with a win.”
Freeman started off 8-of-11 for 138 yards with two touchdowns in the first half as the Bucs built a 14-7 lead, and effectively managed the game in the second half to finish 12-of-24 for 170 yards with two scores and no interceptions. But the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2009 is not concerned with statistics – just wins.
“Today I think I was 50 percent and that’s not great, but we didn’t turn the ball over and we found a way to win and that’s great,” said Freeman.
Freeman’s favorite target on the day was tight end Kellen Winslow, who started despite missing practice all week and caught four passes for 83 yards. Rookie wide receiver Mike Williams caught two passes for 54 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown, his second in as many weeks.
The 6-foot-6, 255-pound signal caller also killed the Panthers with his legs. Freeman rushed for a career-high 43 yards on four carries – three of which picked up first downs.
“I feel like we left a lot of points out on the field today,” Freeman said. “I feel like we could have gone out and had a much more crisp offensive performance and taken a lot of stress off our defense. There is always room to improve.”
After scoring 14 points in the first half, Tampa Bay’s offense had to settle for two field goals in the second half. But that would be enough to seal the win as the Bucs defense pitched a second-half shutout for the second straight game.
The Panthers, who had previously won three in a row against Tampa Bay, received poor quarterback play from Matt Moore, who entered the game 2-0 against the Bucs. Moore was 6-of-16 for 125 yards with one touchdown and one interception to cornerback Ronde Barber, who became the only player in NFL history with 25 sacks 35 interceptions in his career. Moore was sacked four times and fumbled, and was replaced in the fourth quarter by rookie Jimmy Clausen.
Tampa Bay’s defense did a great job of containing Carolina’s running game. DeAngelo Williams was held to 54 yards on 17 carries (3.6 avg.) and Jonathan Stewart, who had eight runs for 43 yards (5.4 avg.) was stuffed at the Buccaneers’ 1-yard line on fourth down late in the fourth quarter. Carolina rushed for 119 yards on 33 carries (3.6 avg.), which is a far cry from their previous outputs against Tampa Bay.
Wide receiver Steve Smith scored Carolina’s only touchdown, but outside of that 37-yard catch, he was held in check by cornerback Aqib Talib, who saw his first NFL action this season after serving a one-game suspension. Smith finished with three catches for 66 yards and one score.
After both teams had a three-and-out series on their first offensive possessions, the Buccaneers started the scoring with a touchdown drive that was keyed by a 23-yard punt return by Micheal Spurlock. Winslow came up big on third-and-10 with a 24-yard catch over the middle. On third-and-11 from the Carolina 33, Freeman picked up the first down on a 17-yard scramble. Fullback Earnest Graham hauled in a 14-yard touchdown pass on the next play and with 7:11 left in the first quarter, Tampa Bay led 7-0.
The Panthers tied the game in the second quarter. Stewart got the drive started with a 19-yard run and tight end Dante Rosario followed that up with a 12-yard gain to drive the ball down to the Tampa Bay 43. After being stopped on third down, the Panthers went for the first down on fourth-and-4 from the Tampa Bay 37. Moore found Smith for a 37-yard touchdown catch on a slant across the middle. Strong safety Sean Jones was late getting over in coverage. With 11:43 left in the second quarter, the score was tied 7-7.
The Bucs answered back thanks to Freeman and the passing game. After converting a third-and-6 situation with an 8-yard catch by Winslow, Tampa Bay’s playmaking tight end bailed out the offense again with a 40-yard reception on third-and-17 from the Tampa Bay 27. On the next play, Freeman rifled a deep post to Williams who dodged four Panthers defenders for a 35-yard touchdown. With 7:43 left in the second quarter, Tampa Bay reclaimed the lead, 14-7. Freeman was 4-of-5 for 94 yards on the drive.
Tampa Bay padded its lead in the third quarter after Barber intercepted Moore at the Carolina 25. A 15-yard personal foul penalty on rookie defensive end Greg Hardy gave Tampa Bay a first down at the Panthers 12-yard line. But the Bucs’ drive stalled on third down and Connor Barth was brought in for a 24-yard field goal, which was good. With 7:40 left in the third quarter, Tampa Bay’s lead increased to 17-7.
Freeman and Winslow connected again on third down, this time for an 11-yard pick up out to the Tampa Bay 48 on third-and-8. The Bucs picked up another first down on third down later in the drive when Carolina cornerback Chris Gamble was flagged 16 yards for pass interference, which gave Tampa Bay a first down at the Carolina 16. The Bucs’ drive stalled in the red zone again and Barth was brought out for a 33-yard field goal, which was good. With 14:46 left in the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay’s lead increased to 20-7.
With 10:03 left in the fourth quarter, Clausen, the 48th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, replaced Moore and engineered a 79-yard drive down to the Tampa Bay 1. But on fourth-and-goal, linebacker Geno Hayes knifed into the backfield to stop Stewart for a 1-yard loss and force a turnover on downs with 3:35 left in the fourth quarter.
Clausen was 6-of-11 for 54 yards on his first drive and then saw his second drive end with an interception by Talib, who caught a pass that bounced off the hands of running back Mike Goodson with 2:41 left. The Panthers never threatened again.
Tampa Bay has a chance to match its win total from a year ago and go 3-0 as it faces the 2-0 Pittsburgh Steelers at Raymond James Stadium next Sunday.STATS THAT COUNT
The Buccaneers converted 43 percent of their third downs on offense (6-of-14) and held the Panthers to just 31 percent (5-of-16). … After failing to record a sack in the season opener, Tampa Bay recorded four sacks against Carolina. Defensive end Tim Crowder led the way with two and also forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive lineman Kyle Moore. Defensive end Stylez G. White and linebacker Quincy Black also had sacks. … Cornerback Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib recorded interceptions for Tampa Bay. It was Barber’s second on the year and Talib’s first. … Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led Tampa Bay in tackles with nine … Cadillac Williams led Tampa Bay in rushing with 51 yards on 27 carries (1.9 avg.). … Micheal Spurlock was 0-for-1 throwing the ball on Sunday as he attempted to complete a pass on a trick play from the wide receiver position. Spurlock got his first career start at wide receiver. … Connor Barth was 2-for-2 in Carolina and is now 3-for-3 on the season. … The Bucs are now 4-5 in Carolina since joining the NFC South in 2002. … Tampa Bay is 19-2 since 2002 when the team doesn’t commit any turnovers. … Fullback Earnest Graham scored his first receiving touchdown today. … Bucs running back Kregg Lumpkin saw his first action for Tampa Bay on Sunday.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
WR Micheal Spurlock
RB Cadillac Williams
QB Josh FreemanBUCS STARTING DEFENSE
LE Gerald McCoy
DT Kyle Moore
DT Roy Miller
RE Stylez G. White
WLB Geno Hayes
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Quincy Black
LCB Aqib Talib
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Tanard Jackson
SS Sean JonesBUCS’ GAMEDAY INACTIVES
Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that did play in Sunday’s game:
QB Rudy Carpenter
RB LeGarrette Blount
RB Kareem Huggins
C Ted Larsen
DE Michael Bennett
WR Preston Parker
CB Myron Lewis
LB Niko KoutouvidesBUCS IN-GAME INJURIES
Cornerback Aqib Talib suffered cramps in the fourth quarter and left the game after his interception with 2:40 left in the game.
Center Jeff Faine was hurt with 1:25 left in the game and was replaced by Jeremy Zuttah.KICKOFF CONDITIONS
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Panthers game at Bank of America Stadium was 72,577 and the stadium was certainly less than full. The kickoff temperature was 89 degrees under sunny skies with 39 percent humidity. UP NEXT
The Buccaneers (2-0) will return home to face the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0) on Sunday, September 26 in Tampa Bay’s second home game. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET and will be televised locally on CBS if the game sells out. The Bucs are less than 10,000 tickets away from a sellout.
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.