Sunday’s 17-16 victory over the Washington Redskins was just a microcosm for how utterly bizarre this season has been for this young Tampa Bay Buccaneer squad.
In a steadily drizzle in front of a half-capacity crowd at FedEx Field, the Bucs continued their winning ways on the road, coming from behind yet again on the strength of a late Josh Freeman TD pass to move to 8-5 and in the hunt in the NFC Wild Card race. It’s Freeman’s seventh come-from-behind drive in the 4th quarter/overtime to win a game.
The performance on the field by both teams was just as sloppy as the dreary conditions it was played on. WAS kicker Graham Gano shanked two kicks inside 35 yards. The Bucs recovered the 2nd half kickoff that squibbed down the field and eluded several bumbling Redskins. The Bucs chose to pull Derek Hardman on 1st and goal from the WAS 1, causing Josh Freeman to fumble the ball away. Slips. Falls. Whiffed tackles. And finally, after the Skins score the potential tying TD with 9 seconds remaning, the extra point snap slipped through the freshly-released Hunter Smith’s hands and secured victory for the Bucs.
All those things aside, the most disconcerting aspect from a Buccaneer perspective were that the Redskins were clearly the more physical team for much of the game. The Redskins’ offensive line plowed truck-sized holes in the middle of the Buccaneer defense for the returning Ryan Torian to run through untouched. Torian tallied 121 yards rushing in the first quarter and looked like he might run for 300+. He finished with 174 yards on the day.
However, as has been the case much of the season, Raheem Morris and his staff made able adjustments, putting Michael Bennett at the undertackle position next to Roy Miller. Morris felt that Bennett’s speed gave him an edge against the zone blocking scheme. It worked, as Bucs held the Redskins to only 14 yards rushing in the second half.
“The thing with Bennett is, he hadn’t played inside since he was with Seattle, and we saw it on tape,” Morris said. “In order to get the quickness we lost from Gerald, we had to throw Mike Bennett in there at halftime, and he was productive for us and he really did a good job.”
Most importantly, another pair of starters hit the injured reserve list for the Bucs in what is becoming an ugly trend for the entire season. Two weeks ago, it was Cody Grimm and Davin Joseph. Last week, it was Aqib Talib and Jeff Faine. This week, Quincy Black and Gerald McCoy fell victim to the injury bug. McCoy left the field in the first quarter Sunday and returned later with his left arm in a sling. Raheem stated Monday that McCoy suffered a torn left biceps muscle that will require surgery. Quincy Black suffered a broken forearm.
So how can one sum up the attrition that’s plagued the Buccaneers this season? Going back to the Week 1 game against Cleveland, the Bucs will be going with different starters at 10 of 22 starting positions this week against Detroit. Toss Cody Grimm in there and you’ve got 11. Add in Brian Price, who was expected to compete for significant playing time immediately at nose tackle, and you’ve got another potential impact player gone early.
Yet, somehow, the Race to Ten is still on track. Wouldn’t expect anything less out of this crazy year.