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October 16, 2011 @ 7:39 pm
Current rating: 4.00 Stars/1 Votes

Game Grades: Bucs' Early Lead Was Key

Written by Mark
Cook
Mark Cook

Mark
Cook

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Surprising most everyone but themselves, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulled off an upset downing the New Orleans Saints 26-20 Sunday evening at Raymond James Stadium giving them the NFC South division lead at 4-2. Beat writer Mark Cook re-visits his Keys To Victory column and provides analysis and unit grades.

Key 1: Play Mistake Free Football


The Buccaneers won the turnover battle today and with it the football game. Josh Freeman has a couple passes that made the team, coaches and fans in the stands hold their breath, but the Saints were unable to snag one for a pick.

Penalties, which have also plaqued Tampa Bay, didn't hamper the Buccaneers victory, and were held to a minimum as Tampa Bay committed just seven, a marked improvement over the previous two weeks.

The running backs were sure-handed as were the receivers, and protected the football despite some hard hits by New Orleans. On the other side of the ball it was Drew Brees and Pierre Thomas with turnovers that Tampa Bay was able to convert into 10 points.
Final Grade: A

Key 2: Control the Clock
The Saints can score from anywhere on the field, as witnessed by their two-minute drill that started on their own three-yard line with just 53 seconds left in the first half. The Saints were able to drive into Buccaneers territory and kick a field goal just before the half ended.

Greg Olson and the offense had the perfect mix of pass and run throughout the game, and when the final gun sounded the Buccaneers held a 31:27-28:33 time of possession advantage.

It was just enough, and the Buccaneers now lead the NFC South with a 4-2 record heading into next week’s matchup with the Bears in London.
Final Grade: A

Key 3: Limit Jimmy Graham
Of all the keys this was the one that the Buccaneers failed in. But with a 26-20 win, and sole possession of first place, no one will lose any sleep tonight over it. Of course over the last four weeks no Saints opponent has been o stop the 6-foot-6, former University of Miami basketball player, turned NFL tight end.


Graham’s seven receptions for 124 yards is his fourth consecutive 100-yard receiving game, the first NFL tight end other than Tony Gonzalez to do so since the AFL and NFL merged in 1970.

We heard about Graham’s ability from the Buccaneers’ coaches and players this week but he was even more impressive in person. Tampa Bay did just enough to win the game and keeping him out of the end zone was an accomplishment in itself.
Final grade: C-

Key 4: Score Early and Often
With 20 first-half points the Buccaneers capitalized on three Saints turnovers, with a touchdown and a field goal, and scored 20 points by halftime. Concerning was the lack of touchdowns as opposed to field goals, but the Buccaneers dodged a bullet with Quincy Black’s fourth-quarter interception of a Drew Brees’ pass that would have given New Orleans a 27-26 lead.

Josh Freeman was all over the place for the most part but the streaky gunslinger started putting it together in the second quarter that included a perfect 65-yard strike to Arrelious Benn that seemed to spark both the offense. Freeman’s hot streak continued as he found Preston Parker on a 19-yard slant for another touchdown that confirmed in the player’s minds they could not only compete with, but also beat the Saints.

In the second half, again, the Buccaneers did just enough offensively and defensively to hang on and complete what was thought by most to be a nearly impossible task by beating New Orleans.
Final Grade: A

Key 5: Find a Way to Replace Blount and McCoy

Earnest Graham was all smiles in the Buccaneers locker room following the victory Sunday night, as he should have been. While most forecast gloom and doom without LeGarrette Blount, the former Gator rose to the occasion with 109 yards on just 17 carries.

Jeff Faine told PewterReport.com on Friday that he didn’t expect a drop off with Graham starting instead of Blount. But I’m not sure he actually expected an improvement. Graham's average 6.4 yards per carry on the game surpassing Blount’s season rushing average by two yards.

The one thing the PewterReport.com staff (and most in the stands) noticed above all was how Graham hit the holes full speed and worried about cutbacks secondarily. Graham was decisive in his running and while he probably wouldn’t admit it, got a certain satisfaction from proving the detractors wrong.

Another key that seemed to be one that was up in the air was the ability to replace Gerald McCoy on the defensive line. The rotation of Frank Okam and second-rounder Da’Quan Bowers failed to produce a sack but just as coaches credit McCoy with “disruption” plays, the duo certainly held their own and gave Tampa Bay solid and steady play. Okam ended up with four tackles and Bowers added a first quarter fumble recovery.
Final Grade: A

Final Analysis: Coming into this game not many folks gave the Buccaneers a chance. Add in the fact LeGarrette Blount and Gerald McCoy were not playing, and Mason Foster was hobbled by a high ankle sprain, and it appeared that a close loss would be as much as most people could ask for. But the Buccaneers believed in themselves, the coaches had a great game plan and a little luck never hurts, and when it was all said Tampa Bay pulled off probably the biggest upset of Raheem Morris’ brief head coaching career.

Cook’s Score Prediction:
Saints 28, Buccaneers 27
Reynold’s Score Prediction: Saints 30, Buccaneers 17
Horchy’s Score Prediction: Saints 31, Buccaneers 23
Actual Final score: Buccaneers 26, Saints 20

Unit Grades

Quarterback
Quarterback Josh Freeman can frustrate even the most die-hard Bucs’ fan. Throwing late, lobbing passes up for grabs, and locking on receivers can make fans want to pull their hair out. But the one thing he does is win football games. With 12 wins over the last season and a half, no one can argue Freeman finds a way to get the job done.

Sunday was another typical Freeman Jekyll-and-Hyde performance. Missing open guys, throwing late across the middle and generally making everyone question what he is doing at times is just part of Freeman's game right now. But he can get hot and when faced with adversity there aren’t many other quarterbacks you would want under center. 

Freeman’s second-quarter touchdown pass to Preston Parker was maybe the best throw of his short career. Recognizing the one-on-one coverage and delivering an absolute bullet in stride, that pass was a thing of beauty. It was momentum-defining pass just when the Buccaneers needed it the most.

Freeman was a perfect field general for this type of game and was a huge part of why the Buccaneers were able to pull off the upset.
Final Grade: B

Running Backs
Can you say spark? All week the naysayers were bemoaning the fact that the Buccaneers have no speed in the backfield and would have no chance without Blount. Ok, Tampa Bay’s speed still won’t scare anyone but Earnest Graham proved he is more than a capable backup. With 109 yards on 17 carries and two receptions for 22 yards, I’m not sure Graham didn’t earn himself a share of the backfield load even when Blount returns.

Kregg Lumpkin added 13 yards on two carries to and both did an excellent job picking up the blitz, which came from every angle and came often.
Final Grade: A

Receivers
By far the most impressive game of the season by the Bucs’ receivers, Tampa Bay pass catchers combined for 13 receptions for 229 yards and two touchdowns.

Arrelious Benn led the Bucs’ receiving corps with 83 yards on just three receptions including a 65-yard strike, his longest of career with Tampa Bay. Dezmon Briscoe, who has been quiet for the majority of the season, came up big with two catches for 49 yards including a crucial clutch reception to help ice the game in the fourth quarter. Preston Parker continues to impress, hauling in two receptions and a touchdown in the second quarter.

Overall an impressive performance and as Mike Williams, who added six catches for 59 yards, said in the locker room after the game, “it doesn’t matter who does it, or how we do it, we just want to win.”
Final Grade: A

Tight Ends
Kellen Winslow is a guy who tends to keep to himself in the locker room and doesn’t display a lot of emotion. But after Tampa Bays 26-20 victory Sunday, we caught the former Hurricane actually smiling. Winslow I’m sure was tired of listening to the Jimmy Graham talk all week and while he didn’t put up Graham type numbers he was an important piece to the Buccaneers offense with five receptions for 40 yards. Freeman missed Winslow on a few more occasions, and if those passes are completed it might have doubled his offensive output.

Something that is sometimes lost by fans and media is the intensity Winslow plays with. More than one player has told PewterReport.com he is one of the hardest workers in the building and toughest players on the field. Sunday was example of that, and while his numbers aren’t eye-popping, the attention he commands from opposing defenses helps open things up for others.
Final Grade: B

Offensive Line
I’m not sure how each lineman will grade out individually Monday but as a unit not many people could argue they didn’t do their jobs collectively. Holding the blitz-happy Gregg Williams' defense to zero sacks is an accomplishment in itself.

And add in the act the running game averaged 4.7 yards per carry and had 117 yards on the evening says this group played it’s best game of the season.

Jeff Faine told us last week that the Saints present one of the biggest challenges in the NFL with the fact they have a wide variety of blitz schemes and looks. Sunday the line was ready and protected the passer while still opening up running lanes.
Final Grade: A

Defensive Line
While the defensive line for the Buccaneers didn’t produce a sack it held the Saints to just 70 yards on the round and did provide constant pressure on Drew Brees. The Saints quarterback took some shots and seemed rattled at times as he was just a little off on some throws he normally makes.

With no Gerald McCoy the Buccaneers more than made up for him by rotating Frank Okam and Da’Quan Bowers. Brian Price once again was stellar in the middle and defensive ends Michael Bennett and first rounder Adrian Clayborn barely missed a few sacks on Brees.
Final Grade: B

Linebackers
After a poor showing in San Francisco the Buccaneers linebacking unit redeemed themselves contributing 13 tackles and helping to keep Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and rookie Mark Ingram in check with just 70 yards on the ground.

Rookie Mason Foster was limited with an ankle injury but backup Adam Heyward filled in nicely. Geno Hayes was tied for the team lead with seven tackles and captain Quincy Black made the play of the game intercepting Drew Brees in the end zone late in the fourth to help preserve the win.
Final Grade: B

Secondary
Surrendering 383 yards through the air usually results in a loss but the Buccaneers secondary time and time again came up with third down stops at critical times.

E.J. Biggers told PewterReport.com after the win that he knows he will get picked on all season long and would do the same thing if he was the offensive coordinator with Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib lined up on the other side of the field. But Biggers didn’t give up a touchdown pass and added his first interception of the season picking off Brees in the second quarter.

Safety Tanard Jackson, which many doubted, myself included, could make an impact proved after missing 56 weeks of football, proved the skeptic wrong, picking off Drew Brees that led to a touchdown.

No team can boast the arsenal of receivers that the Saints have and all in all the secondary did just enough to help hold Drew Brees and Co. in check.
Final Grade: B-


Special Team
Please, anyone who is still questioning Mark Dominik’s decision to sign free agent kicker Michael Koenen, please stop. Once again the former Falcon proved he is worth every bit of his $19-million deal, averaging 47.3 yards on four punts, including three inside the 20-yard line. Just as important he and the coverage units led by first year coach Dewayne Stukes, kept Darren Sproles from being a factor on special teams.

Preston Parker was again his usual steady sure-handed self, averaging 8.0 yards on punt returns and 15 yards on two kickoff returns.
Final grade: A

Last modified on Monday, 17 October 2011 09:16
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COMMENTS

  • avatar

    Not to take away from the validity of your points, but Mark, you really don't write very well.
  • avatar

    Mark - i was in the stands, the parker TD throw was amazing. An absolute bullet as you said, aaron rodgers-like. It also looked much faster when i saw it live, as the replay doesnt quite seem to do it justice.
  • avatar


    You didn't mention that tanard really played an outstanding overall game for someone who has been gone so long. Roger Goodell should just go by Roger Go-to-hell for that alone. Nice that we have people responsible for the deaths of innocents playing in the league and serving suspensions equal to or less than that of Tanard. Back to Tanard's play, I don't remember exactly when but he came from about 15 yards deep and hit the hole so fast he beat the LBs and held, I think Thomas to a 2 yard gain on a well blocked play. He is our most talented defensive football player. He may not have the athletic skills of others but he is our best football player on defense.
  • avatar


    "Freeman’s second-quarter touchdown pass to Preston Parker was maybe the best throw of his short career. Recognizing the one-on-one coverage and delivering an absolute bullet in stride, that pass was a thing of beauty." Thanks for the shout out on this one. Watching the replay made my jaw drop. That was THE throw and catch of the game. Mark Cook 'A'
  • avatar

    Thanks b3wannabe. Too bad many fans didn't get to see this throw because of the blackout. It was, to me, one of the few Freeman passes thrown with authority all season. Free has a cannon and in my opinion he needs to use that strength more often. Too many times he tries to put touch on passes that just need to be gunned. I would recommend he dig out some old Doug Williams passes from the film archives at OBP. Rumor has it more than one old Bucs receiver came back to the huddle with the webbing between their fingers bleeding after catching a Williams pass. I'm sure a lot of people in the stands didnt think twice about the significance of that type of throw, and maybe I'm making too much of it, but it really stood out to me from the press box. MC
  • avatar


    I find it hard to believe the Defense didn't get some higher grades than this. We held an explosive Saints team to 20 points. Our DL and DB's played their butts off. Great win!
  • avatar

    "No team can boast the arsenal of receivers that the Saints have ..." I would contend that the Green Bay Packers have the Best Collection of WR's in the NFL but would concede that New Orleans is right behind them with their WR Group. Great article though.
  • avatar


    I just didn't believe that we could complete all five keys and sure enough we did. I have to admit that I doubted that this was going to be a win and it's the last time this year I doubt what the Bucs can do. They can play as a team and they can win. Now if we can pick up this Chicago win in Europe and go into the bye week at 5/2 we are still in the run for the NFC South Title. Go Bucs!
  • avatar


    Mark Cook. Time to grade you. This article A-. Work to date B+.
  • avatar


    You might want to fix the bit about Jimmy Graham. . In 2000 ( well after the 1970 merger ) Tony Gonzalez had 4 consecutive 100+ yard games. He was the first TE to ever do it and in fact, until yesterday the only TE to ever do it.
  • avatar

    " the first NFL tight end other than Tony Gonzalez to do so since the AFL and NFL merged in 1970. " Reading comprehension......
  • avatar


    In a comparison of the Saints big free agent signing (Sproles) and the Bucs big free agent signing (Koenen). I'd say our punter/kick-off specialist had the greater impact yesterday. I must admit, Graham surprised me with his ability to hit the hole......and no fumbles.
  • avatar


    This cracks me up. You called Graham a freaking basketball!!!!!! "Of all the keys this was the one that the Buccaneers failed in. But with a 26-20 win, and sole possession of first place, no one will lose any sleep tonight over it. Of course over the last four weeks no Saints opponent has been o stop the 6-foot-6, former University of Miami basketball, turned NFL tight end." That would be a basketball PLAYER. Hahaha. Good grading though!
  • avatar

    Agree with the grades without Tanard in this game don't know if Bucs pull this win out without him how many safeties can make that big of difference in the league. Sometimes when I watch freeman i curse at the tv saying " where is he throwing that ball, my god" and other times " wow, what a throw" I guess it will always be like that. Graham just keeps making plays when the Bucs need him and he was awesome today great job Earnest. i wish we would play Bowers at is natural position where he can dominate.
  • avatar


    Anybody missing Cadillac now? I doubt anybody thinks Insurance Graham is too old now, either, when he even outplayed Blount when he had a chance to show what he can do! I never doubted he would, either. And those who thought bringing Black back was a big mistake--he saved this ballgame with his heads up interception in the endzone. And the best part of this is this young Bucs Team is going to get even better as they get more experience. Welcome back T'Jack and thanks for staying in shape so you were ready to go! Both Olson and Raheem and DOM all need to take a big bow. What a great job guys. Last year Raheem said early that the goal was to win 10 games and nobody believed him but they did it. This year he said the goal was to win their division and I bet a lot of people thought that was funny last week, but they are not laughing anymore. This team has already beaten the two top teams in their division and it should be abundantly clear they can do it. The fans need to come out in force now and get behind them and end all these embarassing black outs. Support your team
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