Not attractive by any means, but a win anyway
Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune, published 4 October 2011

You know all the good stuff people have been saying about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, how they were a team on the rise and all that? Honest, America, they weren't making it up.

I know it has been a while since the Bucs were on the national stage, but they really have shown the ability to play entertaining football from time to time. They have had long stretches of competence. They have entire games in which they have done many good things.

This time, they were simply good enough when they had to be to beat a bad football team. Head coach Raheem Morris likes to say there are no bad wins in the National Football League, so the Bucs will take their 24-17 victory over (still) winless Indianapolis and insist that, really, it was a thing of beauty.

"It wasn't the prettiest win. It was a pretty ugly win. But it was a win," said running back LeGarrette Blount, whose 35-yard touchdown run with 3:15 to play was the margin of victory as the Bucs had marked their return to "Monday Night Football," with a sellout crowd at Ray-Jay. Like the ol' Monday Night Mouth Howard Cosell used to say, though, "Tell it like it is."

So, if you watched it then you know that for much of the night, this game was the best thing that could have happened to the television ratings for the baseball playoffs. That is, of course, unless you find riveting theater in mistakes. The Bucs had 106 yards in penalties, 69 of which came in a first half that was as ugly as 30 minutes of prime time football could be.

They gave away at least 10 potential points 13, if you want to count the Connor Barth field goal attempt that hit the right upright. Arrelious Benn also had a 62-yard TD reception nullified because he went out of bounds before coming back in to catch the ball.

They lost a chance for points at the end of the half when they reached Indy's 11 in the closing seconds, only to have quarterback Josh Freeman take a sack with no timeouts. The Bucs rushed Barth on for another field goal try, and it would have been good from 37 yards if the local lads hadn't been guilty of having too many men on the field.

Because there were fewer than 10 seconds left in the half and the Bucs didn't have a timeout, end of half. "I don't think it fazes us, to be honest," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "That's just the makeup of this team. We don't react; Raheem has told us not to react. We just keep going."

We interrupt this rant to point out some things the Bucs did well. They had four sacks, including two by Michael Bennett. "The thing about this game was, we just had to attack, regardless of what night it was. Everybody wants to pay attention to the fact it was Monday night, but we just had to attack," said tackle Gerald McCoy, who had one of the sacks.

"There were down times but we came in at halftime and talked to the guys, the D-line, and said, 'We've just got to go out there and get angry, be angry.' It made a big difference."

They also held the Colts to seven points in the second half. Freeman led another fourth quarter comeback. That's good. And when they had a chance to put the game away by going for it on fourth-and-inches at Indy's 43 with 1:14 to play, Freeman pushed forward for the first down and there was nary a penalty flag to mar the moment.

"Even though this team has a tendency to start slow, we always play well in the clutch and find a way to finish," center Jeff Faine said. "Even when things just aren't going our way, and it was like that all night, we just find a way to put things together and win in the end."

No matter how they got there, a 3-1 record is much more attractive than 2-2. And with the schedule about to ramp up at San Francisco, then home to play New Orleans before heading to London to face the Bears they aren't in position to turn their nose up at any win.

But you can't ignore scoring passes against the Bucs of 87 (not a misprint) and 59 yards to Pierre Garcon on balls thrown by quarterback Curtis Painter (yeah, not a misprint). To be fair, the second went about 5 yards and Garcon did the rest, running wild and free down the turf.

The flip card with the rosters and lineups for both teams listed Peyton Manning as the starter, but no. It really was Curtis Painter. "We're 3-and-1," Barber said. "We'll take it."

It's not supposed to be easy in the NFL, and you'd rather play not well and win than be really impressive in a gallant loss. "It was what it was. We just found a way to keep getting penalties and found a way to keep stubbing our foot, but we also found a way to keep playing for it. The defense played extremely well. At the end of the day, we were able to run the ball, grind out, and get a win," Faine said. "It's never over for us. It's never too tough until there are triple-zeroes on the game clock."

If these were the Colts of old, you could have closed your eyes and imagined a tie score in the fourth quarter and felt good about the chance to hang with a powerhouse. But this game is best played with your eyes open, even when it's as hard as this often was to watch.

It was cool having the whole Monday Night experience here and Ray-Jay surely did look nice with all those people who bought tickets to sit in the seats. It made football seem big-time again, at least until the game started. So now the Bucs move on to San Francisco with a short week to prepare, and the Monday Night party moves on to its next locale. Y'all come back and see us sometime. But if not, hey, we understand.