A pounding road game
You could say Doug Martin was the best player on the field Sunday and would get no argument. At 5 feet 9, the Bucs' diminutive rookie running back is leaving a big imprint on the NFL after only eight games.
What Martin did to the Raiders defense in Tampa Bay's 42-32 win at Oakland Coliseum was one thing. He pounded against the pile, bouncing off like a pinball, legs churning and then — whoosh — he was gone. But it was how many great running backs Martin ran past in the record books that left even the first-round pick from Boise State speechless.
Martin set Bucs single-game rushing records with 251 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries. His scoring runs included 45, 67 and 70 yards, the first time an NFL back ever has had three touchdown runs of 45 yards or longer. He averaged a first down on his 25 carries.
It was the 10th best single-game rushing performance in NFL history, tying Mike Anderson of the Broncos in 2000. And it could've been more, considering Martin lost 14 yards on the final three carries of the game as the Bucs ran the clock out.
"I got to step back and just look at it. It's surreal right now," said Martin, a native of nearby Stockton, Calif., who played Sunday in front of 70 family members and friends. "I was just doing my job out there. I'm honored."
The Bucs (4-4) matched last season's win total. Ten days after rushing for 135 yards (and racking up a combined 214 yards from scrimmage) in a win at Minnesota, Martin easily topped that effort in his homecoming game.
The superlatives were flowing about Martin after the game and for good reason. The Bucs needed every one of his runs to hold off the hard-charging Raiders. Oakland, trailing 35-17 in the fourth quarter, cut the deficit to 35-32 on the fourth touchdown pass by quarterback Carson Palmer with 3:51 remaining.
"Oh my God, what can I say about him that hasn't already been said and will be exalted upon later?" safety Ronde Barber said of Martin. "I don't know. Man, he's turned into a heck of a player here these last two weeks. I think he's really jumped onto the scene.
"Just the way he's handled the pressure that he's had to be the main guy here in our offense these last couple of weeks. It's impressive, man. Sometimes you wish he wouldn't score so fast. He keeps the defense on the field."
An interception by safety Ahmad Black with 2:27 remaining in the game, setting up Martin's 1-yard touchdown three plays later, sealed the win. Martin now has 794 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on the season, 1 yard more than the Redskins' Alfred Morris as the league's top rookie rusher. He ranks third in the league in rushing behind the Vikings' Adrian Peterson and the Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch.
Sunday's performance came behind a scrambled offensive line following the season-ending foot injury to All-Pro guard Carl Nicks. Center Jeremy Zuttah moved to left guard, and Ted Larsen started at center.
The line provided holes for Martin and protected quarterback Josh Freeman well enough for him to pass for 247 yards and touchdowns of 20 yards to Vincent Jackson and 4 yards to Mike Williams.
Martin barges into Bucs-NFL history|
251 rushing yards: single-game Bucs record; tied for 10th all-time in NFL; third all-time among NFL rookies; 220 of his yards were in second half.
4 rushing TDs: most in a game in Bucs history; first NFL player with three rushing TDs of 45 yards or more in a game.
486 total yards of offense in past two games.
First Buc to have 130 rushing yards or more in back-to-back games.
Despite the big lead late, the Bucs nearly blew the game. In field-goal range at the Oakland 27, which would have given the Bucs a three-score lead, Freeman fumbled a handoff to LeGarrette Blount, which led to an Oakland touchdown and a shaky 35-32 lead. But Black's interception stopped the Raiders' momentum, and Tampa Bay again turned to Martin to put the game away.
"Doug is a patient runner with really good vision," coach Greg Schiano said. "That's hard to teach. Really, the great backs I've been around either have it or they don't. … When you have vision and patience and balance and strength, I think that's a pretty good package."
Martin was close to breaking some runs in the first half , when he was held to 31 rushing yards, then got some advice from Schiano that paid off. "My head went down and coach was telling me, 'Get your head up, get your head up,' because that will increase your balance," Martin said. "After that, I started getting my head up and kept my balance, and I was off to the races."
Besides, if Martin doesn't keep his head up, how else will he see who he's running past in the record books?
|About the writer|
Rick Stroud has been the lead Bucs beat writer for The Tampa Bay Times for many years and his game reports and news updates are a prime source of information for Buccaneer fans in the Bay area. He also often makes guest appearances on the JP Peterson show on 1010 Sports Radio.