Offense carries the day as Bucs beat Panthers
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 15 November 2010

They are not a finished product. When he's not busy trying to convince you they're the best team in the NFC, that's what Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris says most often about his team.

A look back at Sunday's 31-16 victory over the Panthers at Raymond James Stadium shows what he's talking about. On defense, at least, the Bucs (6-3) once again looked like a team in need of a few building blocks.

Over on offense, however, the situation looks completely different. All the building blocks appear to be in place. All that's needed, it seems, is a little bit of polishing.

"There's just a world of difference with us right now,'' right guard Davin Joseph said. "We feel right now like we have the ability to do almost anything we want to on offense, no matter who we're playing against.''

They seemingly did everything they wanted against the Panthers, racking up a season-high 421 yards of offense and a season-best 186 rushing yards against a defense that came in ranked 11th in the NFL. The offensive superlatives don't end there, either. The Bucs' 7.7 yards per play were a season high and the 21 points they scored in the first half were the most in any half all season.

"We always knew we had a lot of weapons; it was just a matter of going out there proving it to everybody,'' said rookie receiver Mike Williams, the Bucs' leading pass catcher for the season who played something of a bit role on Sunday.

Williams caught four passes, but the Bucs' two passing touchdowns went to fellow-rookie wideout Arrelious Benn and tight end Kellen Winslow, who scored his first TD of the season while making a game-high six receptions.

"That's how it's going to be,'' said Benn, whose touchdown catch was his second of the season. "We're going to spread the ball around from the receivers to the running backs.''One of those running backs, rookie LeGarrette Blount, seems to be a fast-rising star. On Sunday, he ran 19 times for 91 yards and a touchdown to keep his yards-per-carry average at 4.8 and bring his season total to 359 yards.

Even with that, the running star of the day probably was Cadillac Williams. Williams, who has given many of his carries to Blount, finished off the Panthers by running 45 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

"And he pretty much called his shot there,'' said tight end John Gilmore, who got the offense rolling by catching the first of quarterback Josh Freeman's 24 passes and covering 29 yards with it to set up the Bucs' first score.

"We were in the huddle there and we called the play and Cadillac just said, 'You guys get out of my way because I'm going to score on this.' And that's exactly what he did. That was absolutely Babe Ruth-like.''

If the Bucs have a Babe Ruth in their midst, it's Freeman. He's their home run hitter and he hit one Sunday, throwing 20 yards down the middle of the field against a blitz to hook up with Winslow on his late first-half touchdown.

"I just can't say enough about what he did during the offseason, learning protections and blitz schemes and things of that nature,'' Morris said. "He did himself and this team a great service there and he's loving it now.''

What Freeman seems to love the most is that the Bucs have kept the promise they made to him by surrounding him with a variety of talented players such as Mike Williams, Benn and Blount. "Obviously that has been huge for us,'' said Freeman, who completed 18 of 24 passes for 241 yards, two touchdowns and a career-best 134.2 passer rating while also running five times for 19 yards.

"I feel like all our guys in the perimeter are doing a great job right now, but obviously it all starts up front and our offensive line is playing great football right now.''Morris would like to say the same about his defense, but he can't. Though it improved as the game went on Sunday, it struggled to get off the field early and struggled yet again against the run.

"The good thing was, we did get some stops,'' said cornerback Ronde Barber, who was part of a defense that allowed the Panthers to convert four of their first six third downs before stopping Carolina on all but two of its last nine. "

But they did have some success early on.''That success allowed the Panthers to stay alive until very late, but with the Bucs' offense moving the ball almost at will against the Carolina defense, Morris said he always was confident about the outcome.

"When we took over this program, me and (general manager) Mark Dominik sat down and said it's a lot easier to win when you've got a real good quarterback,'' Morris said. "And I know it wasn't a popular decision to go against our defensive (mindset) in this town, but it's (also) a lot more fun when you have a quarterback who can get the ball to all these weapons.

"You sit back and you watch those runners run for 186 yards and you watch Josh Freeman throw the ball to Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn and Kellen Winslow and it's just exciting. It really is.''