Freeman felt the pressure
The hits kept on coming for Josh Freeman on Sunday as Denver's fearsome pass rush lived up to its billing. The Broncos started the day with an NFL-high 37 sacks, and although Freeman was sacked only once, he found himself under constant pressure in the final two quarters of a 31-23 setback.
"I thought early on we did a better job than later,'' coach Greg Schiano said of Tampa Bay's protection racket. "They made a couple of plays that certainly hurt us for sure.''
For the third consecutive week, Tampa Bay's makeshift offensive line struggled to keep Freeman upright as the absence of Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph became more evident. Freeman avoided several sacks by evading pass rushers long enough to buy time and throw the ball away.
"He's not a scrambler, but Freeman's mobile,'' Denver defensive end Elvis Dumervil said. "He gets around the pocket and he did a good job getting rid of the ball.''
Denver's defensive scheme focused on containing rookie back Doug Martin, who entered the game with 1,050 rushing yards. "It was huge,'' Dumervil said after Denver limited Martin to only 56 yards in 18 carries. "He's a big part of what they do.''
And as usual, it was Denver's Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller who stood out during a game-breaking sequence. With Freeman facing heat up the middle from defensive tackle Mitch Unrein, Miller picked off a pass intended for Vincent Jackson in the right flat and dashed 26 yards for a score, capping a dynamic third quarter by the Broncos.
"One of our key elements every week is to pressure the quarterback and get off on third down,'' Miller said. "Today, fortunately, it worked for us.''
Miller registered his 15th sack of the season, adding six tackles, a quarterback hit and a forced fumble. While Miller lined up everywhere, coming off either edge or up the middle, Dumervil was locked into a 60-minute trench battle with Bucs left tackle Donald Penn.
Denver's pass rush became more of a factor as the day went on, with Freeman completing only five of 18 passes for 53 yards in the middle two periods after an effective start. "They get after it,'' Freeman said of Denver's fourth-rated defense. "Their front four did a good job of timing their blitzes.''
The game turned in the third quarter, which had been a strength of the Buccaneers all season. Tampa Bay boasted a 65-24 scoring advantage in the third quarter before the Broncos struck Sunday with a 21-0 blitz that overturned a 10-7 halftime deficit.
Miller, the No ?2 overall pick in the 2011 draft, was typically in the middle of the mayhem. "He's a multidimensional guy,'' said Denver defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. "He can rush the pass, cover the pass, play the run. Whatever you think Von Miller can't do, stop it. He can do it.''
And after converting only three of 12 third downs, the Bucs are in no mood to argue. "We've got teams keying on me, but my confidence hasn't dropped a bit,'' Martin said. "I know we'll bounce back from this one and turn our attention to the Eagles. Miller and the rest of that defense got it done today.''