Josh Freeman’s first pass ended like his last once – in the hands of an Atlanta defender for an interception – but in between you could see some flashes to give Buccaneers fans a glimmer of hope heading into the offseason.
Despite getting constantly harassed and hit several times Freeman showed toughness and won’t be questioned on whether he quit or not as some of his teammates on both sides of the ball may.
For the game Freeman was 31-for-45 for 274 yards two touchdowns and three interceptions. To be fair to Freeman his second pick – returned for a touchdown – happened when RB Kregg Lumpkin and TE Kellen Winslow collided knocking each other out of the play.
The Falcons clearly wanted to take away the run and force Freeman to beat them and were successful in keeping LeGarrette Blount a non-factor. Getting down 42-0 doesn’t help but when given the opportunity Blount had little running room and the offensive line had no answer for the Falcons defensive line and linebackers.
The Buccaneers running backs managed just 16 yards on ten carries, less than 2.0 yards a carry.
FOX commentator and former Buccaneers fan favorite John Lynch observed and commented a few times Sunday afternoon on the Buccaneers lack of speed and playmakers on offense. And Lynch is correct. This team has a lot of No. 2 and No. 3 receivers but no bona-fide No.1.
But Dezmon Briscoe showed glimpses Sunday that makes you wonder why he was so far buried on the depth chart for much of the season. For the game Briscoe had eight receptions for 53 yards and two touchdowns. Briscoe’s two TD catches pushed his team leading total to six on the year.
Preston Parker also was effective at times catching four Freeman passes for 74 yards including a team-long 48-yard reception off a quick slant.
Veteran Kellen Winslow was the only Bucs tight end to show up on the stat sheet, as it has been for the most part this season. Winslow hauled in seven passes for 56 yards to lead the Buccaneers in receptions. Winslow had another fumble this week but Tampa Bay was able to keep possession.
The James Lee for Jeremy Trueblood experiment lasted all of one quarter. After giving up two sacks in the opening frame, Trueblood was replaced by Demar Dotson who also has some issues but played better than Lee. Overall the offensive line continued its late season drop in production, giving up just two sacks but multiple QB pressures and also again failing to establish the line of scrimmage in the running game.
In the first half Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s backside never touched the turf. Rarely pressured and not sacked, Ryan picked the Buccaneers apart finishing 6-of-9 for 96 yards and two touchdowns. The Falcons barely needed to throw as the Buccaneers defense once again acted as if physical contact was illegal. The Falcons ran for 251 yards Sunday with Michael Turner having 171 of that in the first half.
What was thought to be a strength of this team during training camp failed miserably once again Sunday and will create a quandary for the Buccaneers next coach if Morris is let go. Is it injuries, scheme or is the personnel just not very good?
I have tried at times to defend this group not believing they were as bad as they looked over the 10-game slide. But after Sunday’s game there is no defense and other than Mason Foster I’m not sure any Buccaneers linebacker should be on this team next season. Quincy Black and Geno Hayes combined for a whopping three assists. Not solo tackles, not tackles-for-loss, but assists.
Elbert Mack played his best game of his Buccaneers career returning a Chris Redman pass for a touchdown, the first pick-six of his career, and also recorded five tackles.
Rookie Larry Asante also has a good game notching six tackles in backup duty and also forcing a fumble that was recovered by rookie Ahmad Black.
But just as the case was for the other defensive units the secondary missed numerous tackles and should be held just as responsible for the Falcons piling up 251 yards on the ground and 428 total yards on the day.
Conner Barth continued his team-record setting pace notching a second half 41-yard field goal to stay perfect on the season inside 45 yards. Punter Michael Koenen averaged 49.7 yards per kick including two inside the 20.
The coverage units were solid giving up little to dangerous Falcons return man Eric Weems (one punt return for nine yards) and the Buccaneers kick return game made no glaring errors this week.