Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris’ “Race to 10” wins is over. Mission accomplished – thanks to Tampa Bay’s 23-13 win at New Orleans.
Just a year after suffering through the growing pains of a 3-13, rebuilding season, Tampa Bay concluded the 2010 regular season with a 10-6 record when most media pundits had predicted double-digit losses for the Bucs. Not only is that the single greatest turnaround in team history – beating the turnaround from 5-11 to 11-5 from 2004 to 2005 – the Buccaneers have become the first team to start 10 rookies and have a winning season since the 1987 strike season, and by beating the 11-5 Saints they have claimed a victory over a team with a winning record for the first and only time in 2010.
“Extra game or not, it’s definitely a feel-good story to come in here and get your 10th win,” Morris said. “This young football team is getting better and getting hungry, playing together and fighting through adversity today against a tough Saints team.
“This team has just begun dealing with the longevity of winning.”
Once again, Tampa Bay got great play from its rookies, including wide receiver Mike Williams, who caught his team-record 11th touchdown pass on Sunday, and running back LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 66 yards on 19 carries to finish the season with 1,007 yards rushing. Williams fell just short of 1,000 yards on the season with 964 yards receiving, but Blount was able to top 1,000 yards on the ground.
Blount becomes the most recent 1,000-yard rusher for the Bucs since Cadillac Williams accomplished the feat with 1,178 yards and six touchdowns on 290 carries. What’s even more impressive is the fact that Blount averaged an amazing 5.0 yards per carry on 201 totes this year.
“It’s impressive, man,” Morris said. “The young man bounced back from a tough [ending to his] collegiate career. To come here and get 1,000 yards after being cut and to come to the Buccaneers and be one of our feature running backs, you can’t say enough good things about him and his behavior and what he’s done for us. The lift – that’s a beautiful thing, man. That’s awesome. I’m just happy for those guys that fought so hard to accomplish their goals and to get that 10th win.”
Another impressive rookie that contributed to Tampa Bay’s victory was wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe, who caught four passes for 65 yards and his first NFL touchdown while teaming with Maurice Stovall, who had two catches for 45 yards, to replace rookie Arrelious Benn, who tore a knee ligament last week against Seattle and is out for the year.
The Bucs also received another brilliant game from quarterback Josh Freeman, who came off a career-high five-touchdown effort last week against Seattle to complete 21-of-26 passes (80.7 percent) for 255 yards and two touchdowns at New Orleans, while outdueling Pro Bowler Drew Brees. Brees completed 22-of-38 passes for 196 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. Brees also fumbled the ball when sacked by defensive end Alex Magee and Tampa Bay won the turnover battle 3-2 and turned two of those takeaways into 14 points.
The Saints were playing without several key offensive weapons, including wide receiver Marques Colston (knee), tight end Jeremy Shockey (groin) and running back Pierre Thomas (ankle). Brees was pulled early in the fourth quarter once the Bucs had a seven-point lead and the Atlanta Falcons had secured homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a 31-10 win over Atlanta.
“You’ve got to find a way to slow him down and we were able to get to him a couple times,” Morris said of Brees. “We were able to frustrate him a little bit with some of our defenses. We were able to make some plays down the field.”
Tampa Bay scored on its opening possession with Freeman starting off hitting 3-of-4 passes for 33 yards. Blount also had a 16-yard carry, but the drive stalled at the New Orleans 26 where Connor Barth was called on to make a 43-yard field goal. With 9:58 left in the first quarter, Tampa Bay led 3-0.
New Orleans answered on its first drive, marching 78 yards in 13 plays. Brees was 5-of-10 for 51 yards and converted to third downs with a 10-yard pass to Reggie Bush and an 11-yard pass to tight end Jimmy Graham. On third-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 4, Brees found the 6-foot-6 Graham for a 4-yard touchdown over cornerback Ronde Barber. With 4:41 left in the first quarter, the Saints led 7-3.
The Saints tried to pad their lead on their next drive. The big play was a 19-yard pass play to Bush on third-and-8 to the Tampa Bay 36. Seven plays later on third-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 3, Julius Jones was stuffed for a loss by defensive end Tim Crowder, and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud forced a fumble that was recovered by three technique tackle Frank Okam at the New Orleans 4.
Tampa Bay would take advantage of that turnover and turn it into points on the ensuing possession. The Bucs would drive 96 yards for a touchdown with Freeman going 7-of-8 passing for 77 yards. Freeman hit Stovall for gains of seven and 38 yards to get deep into New Orleans territory. On fourth-and-2, Barth’s 37-yard field goal was good, but nullified by an offside penalty on cornerback Tracy Porter gave Tampa Bay a first down at the New Orleans 14. After a 12-yard pass to Preston Parker, Freeman hit Briscoe in the back of the end zone with a 2-yard touchdown pass. With 6:40 remaining in the second quarter, the Bucs led 10-7.
After Freeman fumbled the ball back to New Orleans at the Saints 48 with 1:49 left in the second quarter, Brees drove his team down to the Tampa Bay 25, but threw an interception to rookie safety Larry Asante, who was helping to cover wide receiver Lance Moore, right before halftime.
New Orleans took the opening possession of the second half and marched 43 yards on 10 plays before having to settle for a 45-yard Hartley field goal. With 10:30 left in the third quarter, the game was tied at 10-10.
Tampa Bay answered with a field goal of its next possession. A 69-yard kickoff return by Micheal Spurlock set the Bucs up at the New Orleans 33. The drive fizzled after five plays at the Saints’ 15, and Barth’s 32-yard field goal gave the Bucs a 13-10 lead with 8:01 left in the third quarter.
After Brees was sacked by Magee, who forced a fumble that was recovered by Crowder, the Bucs took over at the New Orleans 38. Freeman scrambled for 11 yards on first down. The Bucs went for it on fourth-and-1 at the New Orleans 18 and Freeman hit Mike Williams for an 18-yard touchdown in the right corner of the end zone over Greer. With 2:09 left in the third quarter, Tampa Bay took a 20-10 lead.
New Orleans responded to Tampa Bay’s score on its next possession. A 15-yard facemask penalty by nose tackle Roy Miller, a 23-yard run and a 20-yard catch by Bush drove New Orleans into Tampa Bay territory. On third-and-5 from the Bucs’ 27, Brees found Adrian Arrington for a 12-yard gain down to the 15-yard line. But a 3-yard loss by Robert Meachem on an end around, and a holding penalty on tackle Jon Stinchcomb forced another Hartley field goal – this one from 38 yards. With 11:17 left in the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay’s lead was trimmed to 20-13.
The Bucs added a field goal in the fourth quarter to pad their lead. On third-and-6 from the Tampa Bay 14, Freeman hit a wide-open Briscoe for a 54-yard pass down to the New Orleans 32. Four plays later, Barth’s 48-yard field goal was good to give Tampa Bay a 23-13 lead with 4:01 left.STATS THAT COUNT
Bucs wide receiver Mike Williams came into the game with 924 yards receiving and finished with four catches for 40 yards. He ended the season with 964 yards receiving. Williams did catch another touchdown and is now alone at the top of Tampa Bay’s receiving records with 11 TDs in a single season, which is the most by any Bucs player. … Tampa Bay rookie running back LeGarrette Blount came into Sunday’s game with 941 yards rushing and finished with 66 yards on 19 carries. That gives him 1007 yards on 201 carries (5.0 avg.) for the season. … Bucs running back Kregg Lumpkin and fullback Erik Lorig both caught their first pass as a Buccaneer. Lumpkin hauled in a 12-yarder in the first quarter, while Lorig had a 10-yard catch. … Tampa Bay rookie receiver Dezmon Briscoe caught his first NFL touchdown pass, a 2-yarder, in the second quarter. He finished the game with a career-high four catches for 65 yards. … Bucs rookie safety Larry Asante recorded his first career interception when he picked off Drew Brees at the Tampa Bay 4 right before halftime. … Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber started his 183rd consecutive game, which is the most ever by a cornerback in NFL history. … Tampa Bay outgained New Orleans 317-305 yards. … Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led the team with 10 tackles. … Tampa Bay weakside linebacker Geno Hayes recorded a sack against New Orleans, which was his fourth in the last four weeks. … Bucs nose tackle Roy Miller had his first sack of the season. … The Bucs are 10-of-14 on fourth down conversions this year, including an 18-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter against the Saints 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 Ted Larsen
C Jeremy Zuttah
RG Derek Hardman
RT James Lee
TE John Gilmore
WR Maurice Stovall
RB LeGarrette Blount
FB Erik Lorig
QB Josh FreemanBUCS STARTING DEFENSE
LE Tim Crowder
DT Frank Okam
DT Roy Miller
RE Michael Bennett
WLB Geno Hayes
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Adam Hayward
LCB E.J. Biggers
NCB Ronde Barber
FS Corey Lynch
SS Sean JonesBUCS’ GAMEDAY INACTIVES
Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that did play in Sunday’s game:
QB Rudy Carpenter
FB Earnest Graham
WR Sammie Stroughter
TE Nathan Overbay
OT Will Barker
DE George Johnson
DT Doug Worthington
CB D.J. JohnsonBUCS IN-GAME INJURIES
Bucs cornerback E.J. Biggers was injured on a punt return with 4:40 left in the second quarter. He returned in the second half.
Tampa Bay wide receiver Maurice Stovall suffered an undisclosed injury in the second quarter and did not return.
Bucs cornerback Elbert Mack injured his neck with 2:02 left in the third quarter covering a kickoff. KICKOFF CONDITIONS
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Saints game at the Superdome was 70,068. The game was played indoors.UP NEXT
The Buccaneers (10-6) season will conclude unless the Packers and New York Giants both lose on Sunday afternoon.
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