TAMPA – On a day when the Buccaneers celebrated the 1979 NFC Central division champions, Tampa Bay played like champions, breaking an 11-game losing streak dating back to last December with a 38-28 victory over Green Bay.
On a day when the Buccaneers, donning throwback orange and white uniforms for the first time since 1996, celebrated the career of their franchise player Lee Roy Selmon, by inducting the defensive end into the Bucs’ Ring of Honor, Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick, quarterback Josh Freeman, played like a franchise player himself.
Freeman overcame some non-fatal rookie mistakes to complete 14-of-31 passes for 205 yards with three touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter to Kellen Winslow and Sammie Stroughter to rally the Buccaneers from 11 points down and deliver Raheem Morris his first win as an head coach. After the game, Morris indicated how proud he was in Freeman and how excited he was for the team to get its first win.
“It was fun. Obviously it is not about me. It’s about us. It’s about everyone that’s a part of this,” said Morris about the team’s victory before commenting on Freeman. “It was a nice start, very similar to the one I saw do in college. Coming back, leading your team down with a two-minute drive, scoring a touchdown. However you do it is impressive. His age really doesn’t matter at this point. He has to be a seven-year vet. He has to lead us to where we need to go.”
Freeman played without franchise wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who missed the game with a swollen knee, but saw several of his receivers step up. Maurice Stovall started in place of Bryant and came through with three catches for 46 yards. Winslow had four catches for 57 yards and a 7-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Stroughter had three receptions for 19 yards, including the go-ahead 7-yard touchdown with 4:14 left in regulation.
Although the running game stalled, halfback Derrick Ward caught three passes for 54 yards, including a season-high 38-yarder and Freeman’s first NFL touchdown pass to get the Bucs on the scoreboard in the first quarter. Even Michael Clayton delivered a key 29-yard catch in the fourth quarter and hauled in a two-point conversion pass after Stroughter’s touchdown to give Tampa Bay a three-point lead.
“We had Sammie run an in route because he has been running a lot of in routes and then take it to the corner,” Freeman said. “I gave him the quick pump, got him just enough. That ball – Sammie made a tremendous catch on it.”
Freeman was even-keeled and composed during the game, shrugging off a third quarter interception to maintain the poise necessary to lead the Bucs on an impressive comeback victory in his first NFL start.
“We have all been putting in a lot of work and really haven’t been seeing a lot of results,” Freeman said. “It was just a big load off a lot of people’s shoulders with the win.”
The Bucs’ victory was a total team effort with the defense and special teams also producing big plays and touchdowns. Geno Hayes blocked a punt in the second quarter and Ronde Barber scooped and scored from 31 yards out to even the score at 14-14. Clifton Smith came through with a big, 83-yard kickoff return down to the Green Bay 17-yard line to help spark the Bucs’ fourth quarter comeback.
Despite giving up four touchdowns, including a 74-yard scoring strike to James Jones on Green Bay’s second offensive snap, Tampa Bay’s defense easily played its best game of the year, picking off Aaron Rodgers three times and pressuring him relentlessly in the second half. Tampa Bay posted a season-high six sacks of the NFL’s top-rated passer with all of them coming in the final 30 minutes of play.
Defensive ends Michael Bennett and Tim Crowder got their first career sacks on Rodgers, while rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller got his second sack of the season. Defensive tackle Ryan Sims got his first sack of the year, while nose tackle Chris Hovan got his first by splitting a sack with defensive end Stylez G. White, who had 1.5 sacks to lead the Bucs on Sunday.
With Tampa Bay leading 31-28, free safety Tanard Jackson put the nail in Green Bay’s coffin with 35 seconds left when he intercepted Rodgers and returned the pick 35 yards for a touchdown, his second pick-six of the season.
“In my mind, I didn’t think about sliding or going down until after the fact,” Jackson said. “It worked out for the best. I got into the end zone.”
After the game, the jubilant locker room was full of Buccaneers players who could breathe a sigh of relief about not going winless this year.
“It has been a lot of weeks since we’ve had a win, but it feels like it’s been a lot of years since we’ve won, so it’s a pretty sweet feeling,” Barber said.
With a complete team effort finally coming to fruition, optimism is now running high and the Buccaneers feel they can go on a winning streak.
“It’s just a start,” said Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib, who recorded his team-high fifth interception on Sunday, “We started off 0-7 so this will get the monkey off our back a little bit. We have to build on it and keep the momentum going.”
Now that the Buccaneers finally got off their losing streak wearing the creamsicle Bucco Bruce uniforms, will they continue to wear them now that they’ve brought them luck?
“I don’t know,” Morris said. “We have to get into some negotiations to see if we can put on our orange some more. It would be nice. I’ll go talk to our ownership here in a little bit, maybe make some phone calls this week.”
Freeman made his first rookie mistake on Tampa Bay’s first possession. On third-and-5, he prematurely slid for a 4-yard gain when five yards were available. That miscue forced a punt and gave Green Bay the ball.
It didn’t take the Packers long to open up a lead on the Buccaneers. On Rodgers’ second pass attempt, receiver James Jones beat cornerback Elbert Mack in man coverage down the right sidelines for a 74-yard touchdown. The Packers’ two-play, 80-yard scoring drive lasted just 55 seconds. With 12:15 left in the first quarter, Green Bay led 7-0.
Mack responded on the next defensive series by intercepting Rodgers’ pass intended for receiver Donald Driver at the 42-yard line and returned it 36 yards before being tackled by Rodgers at the Green Bay 8. Two plays later, Freeman threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Ward, who beat linebacker Aaron Kampman in coverage. With 8:45 left in the first quarter, the score was tied 7-7.
Green Bay went back on top after marching 69 yards in 11 plays, taking 6:06 off the clock. Ryan Grant, who finished with 96 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries, did the majority of the work, rushing for 34 yards and a 3-yard touchdown on five totes. Rodgers was 3-of-5 for 35 yards on the drive, including a key 10-yard pass to Greg Jennings on third-and-9 down to the Tampa Bay 5-yard line. With 2:39 left in the first quarter, Green Bay reclaimed the lead, 14-7.
Freeman continued to look impressive on Tampa Bay’s next possession. His 16-yard pass to Winslow on a roll out to the left moved the chains to the Tampa Bay 36. On third-and-10, Freeman found Ward open for a 38-yard gain down to the Green Bay 25 on a middle screen. But that’s where the drive stalled on fourth down as kicker Connor Barth missed a 45-yard field goal attempt. With 13:25 left before halftime, the score remained 14-7.
Green Bay had to punt on its next possession, and Hayes came free up the middle to block Jeremy Kapinos’ attempt. Barber recovered the ball and raced 31 yards for a touchdown. With 11:59 left, the score was tied 14-14.
Green Bay grabbed the lead again on an eight-play, 76-yard drive that consumed 4:21. Driver got things started with a 13-yard gain out to the Green Bay 37 before catching a 32-yard touchdown pass over Barber. Grant added 27 yards on the ground on four carries, including a 15-yarder. With 7:38 left before halftime, the Packers were on top 21-14.
Freeman’s first interception occurred with 3:01 when safety Nick Collins stepped in front of Stovall at the Green Bay 41 to pick off the pass, which was returned 13 yards to the Tampa Bay 46. But the Bucs defense held and got the ball back for its offense.
Freeman guided the team down the field on a 12-play, 74-yard drive with less than three minutes left to get a field goal. He completed two passes to Stovall for gains of 12 and 21 yards. Freeman picked up another first down on an 11-yard scramble down to the Green Bay 40. An 11-yard completion to Winslow and a 9-yard pass to Stroughter got the ball down to Green Bay 29. With 11 seconds left, before halftime, Tampa Bay was forced to kick a field goal and Barth’s 38-yarder with six seconds left cut into Green Bay’s lead, which was trimmed to 21-17.
The Packers were threatening on their second possession after halftime. Rodgers’ deep pass intended for Jennings in the end zone was deflected by rookie safety Corey Lynch and picked off by Talib, who returned the ball to the Tampa Bay 16. However, the Bucs could not pick up a first down and had to punt on third-and-1 from the 25-yard line.
Green Bay increased its lead on its next possession. After a 16-yard pass to Driver down to the Green Bay 46, running back Ahman Green broke of a 26-yard run down to the Tampa Bay 18. An 11-yard strike from Rodgers to Jones picked a first down on third-and-10 from the 18. Miller sacked Rodgers for a 7-yard loss, but on third-and-goal from the 12, the nimble quarterback scrambled past defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson and Jackson and ran through safety Sabby Piscitelli and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud at the goal line for a touchdown. With 12:54 left in the fourth quarter, Green Bay’s lead swelled to 28-17.
On the ensuing kickoff, Smith embarked on his 83-yard kick return down to the Green Bay 17, dodging kicker Mason Crosby, linebacker Desmond Bishop and cornerback Tramon Williams before being tackled. Freeman hit Ward for a 10-yard pass down to the 7-yard line. On second-and-goal, Freeman threw a jump ball in the back of the end zone to Winslow, who caught his fifth touchdown pass of he season. The Bucs went for a two-point conversion to try to cut Green Bay’s lead to three points, but Freeman’s pass to Winslow was incomplete. With 11:34 left in the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay only trailed 28-23.
Winslow and Freeman connected on a 22-yard pass to start Tampa Bay’s next drive, which began on the Bucs’ 28-yard line. On the next play, Freeman’s pass intended for Winslow was intercepted by linebacker A.J. Hawk, but Hawk was flagged for illegal contact, which nullified the pick. On third-and-7 from the Tampa Bay 43, Freeman hit Clayton with a 29-yard gain over cornerback Al Harris down to the Green Bay 13. After a 6-yard run by Cadillac Williams and two incompletions, Freeman found Stroughter open in the back right corner of the end zone for a touchdown on fourth-and-4 for a 7-yard touchdown. With 4:14 left, Tampa Bay led 31-28 after Freeman found Clayton open for a two-point conversion.
Over Green Bay’s final two drives, Rodgers was sacked three times and threw the game-clinching interception to Jackson to seal Tampa Bay’s first win of the year.
PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME Josh Freeman had a few rookie moments, but for the most part he played like a seasoned veteran in his first NFL start, which ended in a 38-28 victory over Green Bay. Freeman completed 14-of-31 passes for 205 yards with three touchdowns, a two-point conversion and one interception and played a huge role in leading the Bucs back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to claim their first win of the year. His three touchdowns were the most by a Tampa Bay rookie in a single game.
Freeman played fearless football, taking some shots with the ball downfield, shaking off a third quarter interception, shrugging off some fumbled snaps and showing very good poise in the pocket. He was only sacked once and scrambled for 20 yards on four carries, including an 11-yard run for a first down.
Freman became the Bucs’ third rookie quarterback to win his first start. Steve Young completed 16-of-27 passes for 167 yards in Tampa Bay’s 19-16 overtime win against Detroit on November 24, 1985. Shaun King was 11-of-19 for 93 yards with two touchdowns and one pick in Tampa Bay’s 24-17 win over Minnesota on December 6, 1999.
What a great start for Freeman’s young NFL career. At 0-7, things looked bleak for the Buccaneers, but with Freeman leading Tampa Bay to its first win, the 2009 first-round pick has given his team and the fan base a sign that good things may be just around the corner.
IT WAS OVER WHEN… Tampa Bay had finally captured the lead from Green Bay with 4:14 left in regulation after Josh Freeman connected with Sammie Stroughter for a 7-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal. Yet Green Bay only needed a field goal to even the score at 31-31 and had one timeout left with 1:35 when it started its possession on its 13-yard line. After an incompletion to James Jones, defensive end Stylez G. White came through with a big 9-yard sack on second down. On fourth-and-12 from the 11, Rodgers’ pass to Donald Driver was picked off by free safety Tanard Jackson, who weaved through traffic for a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown. That score put Tampa Bay up 38-28 with 35 seconds left to seal the Bucs’ first victory of the year.
STATS THAT COUNT Cornerback Elbert Mack recorded his first career interception when he picked off Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter. … Linebacker Geno Hayes’ blocked punt in the second quarter against Green Bay was his second career block. Hayes led the Bucs with seven tackles against the Packers. … Cornerback Ronde Barber’s touchdown on his blocked punt recovery was his 14th career score, including the postseason. … Rookie defensive end Kyle Moore saw action in his first regular season game against Green Bay. … Rookie defensive end Michael Bennett recorded his first NFL sack on Sunday. … Tim Crowder recorded his first sack as a Buccaneer versus the Packers. … Defensive tackle Ryan Sims notched his first sack of the season against Green Bay. … Defensive tackle Chris Hovan had a half sack on Sunday, his first of the year. … Rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller recorded his second sack of the year on Sunday. … Tampa Bay’s six sacks were the most since the team had seven in a 21-17 loss against New Orleans on December 19, 2004. … Cornerback Aqib Talib recorded his team-leading fifth interception of the season, which is a new career-high. … With today’s win against Green Bay, Tampa Bay is a perfect 5-0 against the NFC North division since sweeping the season series in 2008. … Rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter scored the first receiving touchdown of his NFL career on Sunday. … Rookie offensive tackle Demar Dotson played in his first NFL game, seeing action on special teams. … Defensive end Stylez G. White has recorded at least a half sack in the last three games and has three sacks on the season since replacing Gaines Adams in the starting lineup. … Running back Cadillac Williams led the Bucs with 56 yards rushing on 16 carries. … Green Bay outgained Tampa Bay 404-279 yards.
SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:
BUCS STARTING OFFENSE WR Michael Clayton LT Donald Penn LG Jeremy Zuttah C Jeff Faine RG Davin Joseph RT Jeremy Trueblood TE Kellen Winslow WR Maurice Stovall FB Earnest Graham RB Cadillac Williams QB Josh Freeman
BUCS STARTING DEFENSE LE Jimmy Wilkerson DT Ryan Sims DT Chris Hovan RE Stylez G. White WLB Geno Hayes MLB Barrett Ruud SLB Quincy Black LCB Aqib Talib RCB Ronde Barber FS Tanard Jackson SS Sabby Piscitelli
MISSING IN ACTION Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that were declared inactive for Sunday’s game:
QB Byron Leftwich (emergency QB) WR Antonio Bryant WR Yamon Figurs FB Chris Pressely G Shawn Murphy OT James Lee DE Dre Moore CB Mike Mickens
BUCS IN-GAME INJURIES Linebacker Niko Koutouvides was hurt covering a kickoff early in the second quarter. Free safety Will Allen went into the locker room with a trainer with 4:30 left before halftime with a thumb injury. After the game, Allen had his hand in a cast. Tanard Jackson was shaken up with 10:30 left in third quarter and was replaced by Corey Lynch before returning to action. Cornerback Aqib Talib was shaken up in the third quarter after his interception, but he returned on the next series.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Packers game at Raymond James Stadium was 62,994, although it seemed as if there was about 10,000 no-shows. The kickoff temperature was 82 degrees under clear skies with 48 percent humidity.
UP NEXT The Buccaneers (1-7) will travel south to play the Miami Dolphins (3-5) on November 15. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. and will be televised on Fox.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com