Bucs save the best for last in win over Rams
The boss, Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer, caught up with his quarterback, Josh Freeman, just as Freeman was leaving the Bucs' locker room at Raymond James Stadium late Sunday afternoon.
After a congratulatory handshake and a few words, Freeman ended the brief interlude by saying to Glazer as he walked away, "Yeah, it took us a while, but we found a way to get it done.'' More often than not this season, that has been the case for the Buccaneers, who stand at 4-2 thanks to yet another comeback victory, this one an 18-17 decision over the St. Louis Rams.
"There's just no give up in these guys,'' middle linebacker Barrett Ruud said of the Bucs, who probably were given up for dead long before halftime by many in the season-low announced crowd of 42,020.
That first half was, after all, "one of the ugliest halves of football I've ever been involved in,'' according to Bucs tight end John Gilmore, who spoke for many in Tampa Bay's locker room.
It was a half in which the Bucs got just 8 yards out of the five carries they gave their running backs, gave up 121 yards rushing and committed six penalties, including one that turned a St. Louis field-goal try into a touchdown.
That touchdown and the fact the Bucs' offense had to settle for a pair of field goals even after taking possession of the ball at the St. Louis' 6 on their first drive allowed the Rams to take a 17-6 lead into intermission.
The Bucs looked like a different team in the second half, though, recording two field goals to close the gap in the third quarter before winning the game in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter on a 2-yard Freeman touchdown pass to Cadillac Williams.
The touchdown toss marked the fifth time in 15 career starts that Freeman has rallied the Bucs in the fourth quarter, and he says his knack for the dramatic is partly a result of him following the advice of his college coach.
"My coach in college always told me to play as good as you can for three-and-a-half quarters and then go out and try to be a hero,'' said Freeman, who played his college ball for Ron Prince at Kansas State. "That's my mindset.'' Freeman has been the hero for the Bucs in all but two of the seven victories they've posted under Coach Raheem Morris the past two years, but he wasn't the only hero in this one.
The defense had a big hand in this victory as well. It sparked the second-half rally by getting the ball back after just three plays at the start of the third quarter and finished by allowing only 96 second-half yards, including just 40 on the ground.
The Bucs' running backs, meanwhile, churned out 76 rushing yards on 11 second-half carries, including the 10 that went to rookie LeGarrette Blount, whose 66-yard second-half performance may have sparked a running back controversy.
The Bucs have been hesitant to give the ball to anyone other than Williams this season. But with Williams averaging just 2.3 yards per carry through Sunday, even he had to accept the fact that a change might be inevitable.
"Everybody wants to be as starter,'' Williams said. "But it's really not about me. It's about the team and we're 4-2 now, and you absolutely have to tip your hat to LeGarrette Blount.'' Blount finished with a team-best 72 yards on 11 carries, but he would have run for more than 100 yards if he hadn't had two runs of 3 yards and another for 46 wiped out by penalties.
"I wish they hadn't taken that big run away from him,'' Morris said, "because you can't say enough about the young man. He runs hard, he runs tough and he's resilient. He's kind of a symbol of our football team right now.''
That team has won more games this season than it did a year ago, when it went 3-13. Though they haven't always looked especially good doing it, no one believes the Bucs aren't deserving of their record.
"The thing about it is, even when we were losing last year, we never gave up,'' left tackle Donald Penn said. "We always fought hard to the end, every game, and that kind of attitude is starting to pay off for us now.''
Freeman makes it easy to believe anything is possible. He went into Sunday's game ranked 11th in the league in fourth-quarter passer rating and he was on his game in the clutch yet again against the Rams.
He completed 11 of his 16 passes in the fourth quarter for 87 yards and the winning touchdown to Williams, who caught five of those passes. Tight end Kellen Winslow caught three and rookie receiver Mike Williams caught two.
"That's the thing about us,'' Ruud said of the offense. "Not only is (Freeman) a clutch player, but we have guys like Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow who are clutch players, too.'' Not long after he finished that brief conversation with Glazer, Freeman echoed the same sentiments while addressing the media during his postgame news conference.
"It's not always going to be pretty,'' he said. "But with the guys we have here — the coaches, the offensive line, our wideouts, Cadillac and LeGarrette, I feel like we have a chance in every game.''
|About the writer|
Roy Cummings has been The Tampa Tribune's primary Buccaneer beat writer for many years now and has a knowledge of the current players that is unsurpassed amongst local reporters. He also appears on Channel 8's news broadcasts on stories about the Bucs. He came to London with the Buccaneers in 2009 and was at Richmond Park to be part of the Bucs UK's most memorable day when the club took on the UK Patriots at touch football in front of many Bucs alumni and club officials.