Faine's return boosts banged-up offensive line
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune, published 15 November 2010|
Jeff Faine came back, Jeremy Zuttah departed and James Lee never left. Just another Sunday afternoon for Tampa Bay's patchwork offensive line.
Faine returned at center after missing four games with a quad injury and his interim replacement, Zuttah, was the only Bucs player to dress and not play as rookie Ted Larsen held onto his left guard spot.
Lee remained at right tackle, even though Jeremy Trueblood's sore knee improved enough to make him active Sunday. Through it all, the Bucs gained a season-high 421 yards and Josh Freeman was sacked only once in a 31-16 victory against Carolina.
"It was great to have Jeff back and Larsen's been playing real well,'' RG Davin Joseph said. "It's great to know we've got that kind of depth up front. Lee can play both tackle spots and around here, we consider him an experienced player. I think we did a good job today. We stuck with our game plan and kept the Panthers off balance.''
Faine was ecstatic to be back on the field for a 6-3 club heading to San Francisco with confidence. "It was great to get back out there with my guys,'' Faine said. "You can feel like an outsider when you're not playing. It was a fantastic way to finish on defense with that goal-line stand and we've got a great 1-2 punch in our backfield now with (LeGarrette) Blount and Cadillac (Williams).''
The Bucs are reluctant to talk about their playoff chances, but NFL history suggests they are on their way to postseason play for the first time in four years. Since the NFL realigned to eight four-team divisions in 2002, 26 of the 41 clubs that opened 6-3 qualified for the playoffs.
"For us, the beauty of it is that we're learning lessons,'' Raheem Morris said. "It's fun. I keep saying that, but it is fun to watch, it's fun to be around.''
Return of K2
Morris recently was asked about TE Kellen Winslow not scoring this season and joked his player was so happy about winning, he probably did not even realize it. "No, I definitely knew," Winslow said. "I try and compete with the top tight ends in the league. I'm behind right now, but it's kind of like a NASCAR race. It's a long race to the finish and we got seven more (games)."
Winslow tried to catch up with six receptions for 65 yards and one touchdown Sunday. The scoring drought ended when Freeman threw Winslow a 20-yard touchdown pass. Winslow was double covered by LB Jon Beason and S Charles Godfrey but got between them and made a diving reception.
"He was K2 today. He wasn't Kellen," Morris said. "He came out and he was K2, he had his red and white (uniform) on, and he was ready to go from the beginning. He was fired up and when he plays that way and he plays that aggressive … he's a dominant guy."
A real secret weapon
Morris was asked about Freeman, WR Mike Williams and Blount after Tampa Bay's win, but a question about TE John Gilmore drew his laughter. "I just mentioned all those weapons and John Gilmore strikes today," Morris said.
Gilmore is primarily a blocking tight end but finished with three receptions for 52 yards against Carolina. He entered Sunday's game with three catches for 27 yards this season.
"I snuck in a couple," he said. "Every dog has their day, so I'll take them when I can get them."
The Bucs swept the Panthers for the first time since the 2002 championship season.
Tampa Bay became the first team to start seven rookies and win since Nov.24, 2002, when the Cowboys edged the Jaguars 21-19.
After being blanked in the opening half, Mike Williams finished with four catches for 68 yards.
Tampa Bay's defense continues to struggle on third down, with the past five opponents converting at a 54 percent rate.
The game was blacked out locally, with announced attendance of 44,264.