Quarterback Josh Freeman didn’t make any spectacular plays that will be shown on SportsCenter tonight, but also didn’t make the crucial bad play that cost the Buccaneers a win. After looking out-of-sorts two weeks ago in London, Freeman had good composure in the pocket and command of the huddle.
With that said there were at least three passes Freeman would love to have back. Freeman’s inability to connect on TD passes to Kregg Lumpkin, Erik Lorig and Kellen Winslow resulted in field goals as opposed to touchdowns, something the Buccaneers knew they must avoid to beat the Saints.
Tampa Bay’s signal-caller showed improvement over his last outing in several areas and it was good to finally see the fiery side of the usually mild-mannered third-year pro.
Freeman finished the game 27-of-37 for 281 yards and one touchdown despite catching heat from Greg Williams and the blitz-happy Saints defense.
After being embarrassed two weeks ago being caught short-handed in London after Earnest Graham went down with a torn Achilles, the Buccaneers welcomed back LeGarrette Blount who has missed the previous two games with a sprained MCL.
Blount did his part averaging 5.5 yards per carry including a sensational 27-yard run in the second half after cutting back and getting the left edge turned. Blount added two pass receptions for 11 yards in the losing effort.
Kregg Lumpkin assumed the third-down back role and performed steadily, catching four passes for 31 yards and added seven yards on two carries.
Had the Buccaneers been able to contain Brees even a little, Blount would have had over 100 yards. But when behind two touchdowns or more for most of the game, Tampa Bay was forced to abandon their formula that earned them their ins so far this season.
The most maligned unit on offense, the Buccaneers receivers did a good job of securing the football and finding soft spots in the Saints defense.
Mike Williams started the game with a critical drop, and the Buccaneers ended up going three-and-out on their first drive. But the second-year receiver rebounded fairly well and didn’t have any more drops. Williams' six receptions led all Tampa Bay receivers but he only managed 46 yards with a long of just 11 yards.
Preston Parker continues to play with a chip on his shoulder and was the team’s leading receiver in yardage gaining 56 yards on three catches, including a 35-yard first half grab.
Arrelious Benn continues to be the forgotten man in Greg Olson’s offense, catching just two passes for 22 yards. The Buccaneers went into this game with a concerted effort to get Benn more involved but for whatever reason it didn’t materialize.
Dezmon Briscoe had just one reception but it was for a game-long 56 yards.
Kellen Winslow caught just his second touchdown of the season but other than that this group was virtually non-existent.
Winslow and Zach Pianalto combined for six catches for 53 yards but didn’t contribute very much in running game with their blocking. What has happened to rookie Luke Stocker? Although listed in the game book, the fourth-rounder from Tennessee was a no-show again today.
While too early to call Stocker a bust it isn’t too early to call him disappointment. To his defense he has had some injury issues but in games that he has played in, Stocker has done little to show he was an upgrade over Ryan Purvis, Nathan Overbay or even Daniel Hardy for that matter.
This game presents another challenge to grade this unit as once again Tampa Bay was playing from behind.
On the positive side, Josh Freeman was sacked just once. Another positive was the ground game averaged 4.2 yards per carry. However the Saints were giving up an average of 5.5 yards a carry coming into Sunday’s matchup.
On the negative side, too many times LeGarrette Blount was forced to find running lanes on his own. On his game-long 27 yard run, Blount made something out of nothing and would have been dropped for a loss had he slammed into the targeted hole. But Blount’s sometimes good, sometimes bad cutback instinct trait worked to his advantage on that particular run.
The Buccaneers offensive line also failed to gain one yard on fourth down in the first quarter as the Buccaneers were attempting to respond to the Saints' first touchdown. And while Freeman was sacked only once he was harassed for the better part of the game.
Overall Pat Morris’ group was mediocre, but against a defense that has been gashed several times this season, it was unacceptable.
With the number of high-round draft picks and money spent on the defensive line, this group, while showing flashes, has been too inconsistent for the Buccaneers to make a serious run at the postseason. Hopefully for Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik’s sake this unit will get better, but as of now they are on pace to equal their 30th ranked number of sacks last season with just 26.
To be fair, Gerald McCoy was lost early in the game and Frank Okam didn’t dress due to a pulled calf muscle. Rookie Adrian Clayborn wasn’t his usual menacing self but still stood out over the others on the D-line.
Brian Price, Michael Bennett and Da’Quan Bowers combined for just six tackles. Definitely not the investment Dominik expected after spending several high draft picks and a few million dollars over the last two seasons.
When a team rushes for 195 yards much of the blame must be placed on this unit.
Mason Foster had a typical rookie middle linebacker day – a good play followed by a bad one. With nine tackles, Foster ended up tied for the team lead with Quincy Black. But he was caught out of position a number of times, particularly on where he was responsible for looking up Sproles out of the backfield. But Foster’s fourth-quarter, third-down blow up of Chris Ivory showed management something they rarely saw from Barrett Rudd over the last few seasons.
Geno Hayes was benched in favor of Adam Hayward, who played hard but not too effective. Hayward finished with just one solo tackle and two assists.
Quincy Black, who we have been told is healthy, added seven tackles and two assists but was rarely physical and was pushed around for the better part of the game.
Holding Drew Brees to less than 300 yards passing is a win in itself, but that number was skewed somewhat by the fact the Saints were able to run for nearly 200 yards. As a result, the Saints led for nearly the entire game. But as Raheem Morris reminds us media folk, stats are for losers.
Ronde Barber did pick off a Drew Brees pass, but was also flagged for defensive holding. Barber has had a few penalties this year and a majority of them came while Barber was in man-coverage. Barber loves to jump routes but that leaves him susceptible to get burned on the stop-and-go or double move routes, as it did today.
E.J. Biggers continues to take abuse from fans, but the touchdown pass he gave up to Lance Moore was more the fact of a perfect throw than poor coverage.
Aqib Talib played a solid game and gave up little to the Saints dangerous receivers. He added six tackles as Drew Brees worked the underneath and seam routes as opposed to throwing over the top for the most part.
The Buccaneers’ safeties weren’t burned except on one deep bomb that Brees overshot in the first half. Sean Jones and Tanard Jackson combined for eight tackles but no picks.
PK Conner Barth continued his Pro Bowl-caliber season connecting on all three of his field goal attempts(40,48,25). Unfortunately for Tampa Bay those field goals needed to be touchdowns.
Michael Koenen had his first touchback on a punt this season but his kickoffs and punts, along with the coverage units, once again mostly neutralized Darren Sproles. Sproles had one punt return for 15 yards and averaged 27.0 yards on two kickoffs that were taken from deep in the end zone.