Eight years is a long time between victories on Monday night, and even though Hank Williams and his rowdy friends couldn’t make the trip, it was as memorable a victory as Tampa’s had in a long while. Sold out stadium, prime time football, and some unfinished business from early 2003.
It’s wasn’t pretty, but it was decisive.
Despite falling behind early, there was never the sense that the Buccaneers were in any real trouble. Josh Freeman proved as clutch as ever (and now boasts a 110 passer rating in 2011, when trailing in two-minute situations), LeGarrette Blount looked like the explosive phenom from a season ago, Adrian Clayborn and company showed up two weeks in a row, and Greg Olson actually got creative with his play calling.
It was the definition of a team victory — no single player was most responsible for the win — and despite a mess of penalties, the Buccaneers looked definitively like the best team on the field for the first time this season.
Sometimes, I think Aqib Talib is more gambler than gamer, and performances like the one he turned in Monday night do a lot to confirm that theory. Talib wasn’t bad per se — the Buccaneers only surrendered 256 yards on 30 dropbacks — but the dude just looks uncomfortable in zone coverage.
One week, he’s tasked with blanketing Calvin Johnson — and he fared better than most against Megatron — but three weeks later, he’s torched by Pierre Garçon. The Colts wide receiver recorded regular season career-highs in yardage and touchdowns. On two catches. From a quarterback making his first career start.
Talib isn’t promised a future in the league, and he’s always been a streaky player. Ronde Barber‘s the sixth oldest non-quarterback/non-kicker in the NFL. Myron Lewis has battled injuries throughout his brief career, and hasn’t shown that he offers anything more than depth. And E.J. Biggers, while serviceable, isn’t exactly a defensive foundation at cornerback.
With Tampa’s pass defense deteriorating weekly, Tampa’s looking more and more like the destination for a few of college football’s top defensive backs.
Six inches to the left, and Connor Barth converts his first field goal attempt. Three inches farther in bounds, and Arrelious Benn records the longest and most exciting play of the season: a 62-yard touchdown gallop that promised an early lead. Ten inches closer to the sideline, Dezmon Briscoe isn’t called for a 12th man penalty, and Barth connects on a second first-half field goal.
The Buccaneers trailed 10-7 at halftime, but the Colts never seemed like they were in control. Tampa Bay was their own worst enemy on the evening — 14 penalties is unacceptable — but luck had a lot to do with it. The game definitely wasn’t as close as the 24-17 score would indicate; Tampa Bay was about a foot-and-a-half away from blowing out the hapless Colts, and the future looks promising.
The Buccaneers just need to sharpen some of the edges.