Bucs Central
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BEARS: Play at Wembley for 1st time since American Bowl on 8/3/86. Head coach Lovie Smith was LB coach for TB from 1996-2000…QB Jay Culter won only career start vs. TB (10/5/08 w/ Den.). In career (incl. playoffs), when he has 100+ rating, his teams are 24-0…RB Matt Forte leads NFL with 908 scrimmage yards & is only player in NFL with 500+ rush (527) & 350+ rec. (381) yards. His 908 scrim. yards account for 46.2 pct. of team’s offense, highest in NFL. In only meeting, had 155 scrimmage yards (89 rush, 66 rec.) & rec. TD…WR-KR-PR Devin Hester had 98-yard KR-TD last week & holds NFL record for most PR-TDs (11) & combined KR-TDs (16). Since start of 2010, WR Johnny Knox is averaging 18.7 yards per catch (1,255 yards, 67 rec.), 3rd best mark in NFL (min. 60 catches)…In 15 games vs. TB, DE Julius Pepper has 15.5 sacks, 46-yard INT-TD, 3 FFs & FR. Since entering NFL in 2002, has 93 sacks, 3rd most in league. LB Lance Briggs aims for 3rd in row vs. TB with INT or FF. S Chris Harris had INT in last meeting (12/6/09 w/ Car.)

BUCCANEERS: Play 2nd International Series game in London (’09). QB Josh Freeman threw 1st NFL pass in 2009 London game vs. NE. In career, when he starts & has 100+ rating, Bucs are 7-1…When RB LeGarrette Blount has 18+ carries, team is 7-1. In those 8 games, Blount has rushed for 834 yards (104.3 per game) & 5 TDs. RB Earnest Graham rushed for 109 yards last week, 1st 100-yard game since 9/28/08 (111 vs. GB)…WR Mike Williams has 4+ rec. in 5 of 6 games in ’11. WR Preston Parker leads team with 268 rec. yards. TE Kellen Winslow has catch in 82 games in row. CB Ronde Barber has started 189 consecutive games, most by CB in NFL history. Only player in NFL annals with 25+ sacks (26) & 40+ INTs (41). Has 3.5 sacks, 2 INTs, FF & 24-yard FR-TD in career vs. Chi. DE Adrian Clayborn & LB Mason Foster tie for 2nd among NFC rookies with 2 sacks. CB Aqib Talib had 23-yard INT in 2009 London game. TB ranks 2nd in NFL holding foes to 18.8 avg. drive start on KOs.

What a difference a week makes.  Seven days after the worst loss in team history, the Buccaneers defended Raymond James Stadium against the surging Saints.  They sent the fleur-de-lis back to New Orleans with a division loss and a maimed coach, earning the first quality win of the Raheem Morris era.


Welcome back, Josh Freeman!  The much-maligned 23-year-old passer put together the four best quarters of the season.  He stood tall against Gregg Williams’s blitz packages and survived the game without surrendering a sack.  He was also the model of efficiency, posting the second 300-yard game of his career and a 95.9 passer rating which was easily his best of the season.

Greg Olson’s offense looks halfway competent when the quarterback isn’t missing wide open receivers.  If Freeman doesn’t fall back into a statistical stasis that plagued him through the first third of the season, then Tampa’s playoff hopes are stronger than ever.  When Freeman is on target — when Tampa’s six-foot-six, 260-pound mega-athlete is shrugging off sacks, dropping bombs, and running for first downs —  the Buccaneers can beat anyone.

Other standouts: It’s like Tanard Jackson never left; the ballhawk was back in the secondary, laying big hits, picking off passes, and supercharging the defensive backfield.  And kudos to the defensive line: there were no sacks, but they kept Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, and Pierre Thomas frustrated for most of the game.


What do Mike Williams and Michael Clayton have in common?  Too much, as of now.  Tampa’s sophomore receiver is on pace to catch 66 balls — one more than his rookie total — but his yardage and touchdowns are suffering horribly.  Mike is on schedule for a pedestrian 645 yards and 3 touchdowns, about five games worth of production less than his record-breaking inaugural season.

He’s been dropping passes at a ridiculous rate (including two drive-killers on third down), and is battling through tight coverage for every reception.  Defenses are paying him extra attention this season — deservedly so, after being torched by him in 2010 — but Williams isn’t finding openings in the coverage.  Most of his receptions this season have been on slants or screens, and he is averaging fewer yards per reception than Jahvid Best, Jonathan Stewart, Matt Forte, Fred Jackson, and Ryan Mathews — all running backs, catching passes from the backfield.

The extra focus on Williams has opened things up for Arrelious Benn and Preston Parker, and the offense is moving well, but a team’s primary wide receiver needs to find openings down the field, and Williams has shown himself incapable through the first six games of 2011.

Other off-days: Jeff Faine.  Your bicep?  Again?


By all accounts, Kellen Winslow has been the model teammate in Tampa Bay.  And, to be fair, he’s done nothing to show otherwise.

Save for his childish display against the Saints.

The tight end was visibly frustrated after Freeman missed a wide-open throw in the second quarter.  The next play — also to Winslow — was off-target, and Winslow shook his head in contempt.  The third play, another pass to the star tight end, also missed, and Winslow waved dismissively — and condescendingly — at Freeman before heading toward the sideline.

It’s been the only sign of dissension — so far — from a teammate regarding Freeman’s poor throws.  And it’s odd, because Winslow has been one of Freeman’s most outspoken supporters.  But regardless of his feelings, Kellen needs to save his criticism for the locker room.  It’s completely unprofessional and inexcusable, and a throwback to Winslow’s delinquency in Cleveland.

Others worth noting: God bless Sean Payton.  The New Orleans signal-caller spent the first half on the sidelines, calling plays and grimacing sternly… with a broken freaking leg.  Atlanta coach Mike Smith’s appearance is built around his tough-guy persona, but after Sunday, I’m not sure I’d bet on Smith in a back-alley brawl between the two.

The Buccaneers set a new standard for losing last Sunday, tying the franchise record for largest margin of defeat.  It was a soul-shattering loss for the young Bucs, a confidence shaking defeat at the hands of a team who had no business delivering it — a loss so thoroughly devastating, it threatens to derail the foundation of the team and wreck the precedents set by Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik.

But as hard as the loss might be on the inexperienced Buccaneers, it doesn’t even register on the “heartbreak” scale.  The following five games altered careers, divided the fan base, and flipped the fortunes of the franchise:

5. Kiffin’s last game

Four games remaining.  Win one, clinch a playoff berth.  Two?  Maybe the division.  The Buccaneers were a 9-3 NFC juggernaut, only three narrow losses from a furious 12-0.  They were salivating for the postseason after an early exit in 2007.  The defense was elite, the offense was clicking, and the Buccaneers were dominating with bargain-bin players.

It was Jon Gruden’s magnum opus.  His masterpiece.  He’d constructed a powerhouse with Jeff Garcia under center.  With a faded Warrick Dunn and Earnest Graham sharing carries.  With Michael Clayton, Ike Hilliard, and three-team washout Antonio Bryant burning up the sidelines.  And with Monte Kiffin’s legendary defense on the other side of the field.

Through Week 13, anyway.

Kiffin announced his departure before a Week 14 match up with division rival Carolina.  The Buccaneers — and their playoff dreams — completely crumbled in the twilight of that season.  The defense wilted, allowing 31 points per game over the last four, culminating in a humiliating loss to the cellar-dwelling Oakland Raiders.

Oakland entered the game averaging a 19th-century 15.4 points per contest.  Things started — and nearly ended — well.  Tampa Bay held a 10-point lead with 10 minutes remaining.  Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell seemed flustered in the pocket and about to shatter under pressure.

Less than two minutes later, Tampa Bay was trailing 28-24.  Seven minutes after that, the Raiders iced the game 31-24.  Monte Kiffin shuffled off to greener pastures, and Jon Gruden — standing knee-deep in the ruins of his pièce de résistance — was fired three weeks after the loss.

4. The Repus Bowl

The 1976 Buccaneers hold a clever distinction as the worst team of all time.  The 0-16 2008 Lions gave a run for the title, but that Detroit team had talent, and played a lot of teams close.  There was a feeling, weekly, that it might be Detroit’s day.  That they might finally break that 8-game, 10-game, 13-game losing streak.

No one felt that in 1976.

John McKay’s Buccaneers took a few games to the wire in their inaugural season — against the 2-12 Bills and the 6-8 Dolphins — but the losses got so monotonous and predictable, there was a sense that the Bucs might not ever win.

That feeling was especially strong after the Seahawks game.

Seattle — Tampa’s sister expansion team — entered the contest a pitiful 0-5, and neither of them had shown any hint of belonging through the first third of the season.  It might’ve been either team’s only chance for a victory in 1976.

The game was dubbed the “Repus Bowl” — a backward spelling of “Super” — poking fun at the ineptitude of each young squad.  Both sides played well (collectively, the Buccaneers played better than they would for the rest of the season), but after pulling within three points on the franchise’s first touchdown pass, the Buccaneers couldn’t seal the victory in the final quarter.

They lost 13-10, and — through 2008 — were lovingly remembered as the only winless team in league history.  Their 0-26 record through their first 26 games remains one of the most baffling and hilarious measures of ineptitude in professional sports.

3. Frank Corral sends the Rams to the Super Bowl

There was a problem with the offense in 1979.  The Buccaneers finished 10-6 and atop the competitive NFC Central, but ended the season with a bottom-of-the-barrel offense.  They beat the Vikings 12-10.  They bested the Lions 16-14, and the Bears 17-13.  They defeated Kansas City 3-0 in a white-water monsoon.

Thirty-two years later, it’s the 1979 Steelers — the “Steel Curtain” — with the awards and the press clippings.  But McKay’s 3-4 scheme was better; the Buccaneers ranked first in points allowed, first in passing yards given up, first in total yards given up, first in yards surrendered per play, and they carried the team into the Conference Championship Game against the L.A. Rams.

Earlier in 1979, three months before their playoff meeting, the Buccaneers defeated the Rams 21-7 and completely shut out the Los Angeles offense.  After the game, L.A.’s offense hit its stride, and their double-headed backfield shredded the rest of the league; running backs Wendell Tyler and Cullen Bryant combined to average 141 yards of offense per game, were proven threats both running and catching, and combined to form an indomitable, versatile offensive attack.

Both parties — Tampa Bay’s stifling defense, and Los Angeles’s volatile rushing offense — showed up for the NFC Championship.  The Rams bludgeoned the Tampa Bay defense for 216 rushing yards, but struggled for every inch.  Los Angeles’s normally-explosive backfield slammed into John McKay’s 11-man wall 53 times during the game, and the Rams only mustered nine points — three short field goals of the leg of the horribly inconsistent Frank Corral.  But nine points was enough.

Hell, two points was enough.

Per usual, the Tampa Bay offense imploded.  They finished with only 177 yards of offense — 66 of them coming on two plays, both by explosive young receiver Larry Mucker — and no points.  Quarterbacks Mike Rae and Doug Williams combined to go 4 for 26 (15%), 54 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, and an illustrious 23.55 passer rating, and the lack of offense — a season-long problem — cost Tampa Bay a trip to Super Bowl XIV, and a chance to be remembered as an all-time defense.

But it’s probably for the better.  The “Creamsicle Curtain” doesn’t sound quite right.

2. The Monday Night Meltdown

The Peyton Manning legend was born in October 2003, in the early hours of a Tuesday morning.

It’s the game that shifted the Indianapolis Colts from up-and-comer to league powerhouse and sabotaged Tampa’s 2003 season.  It tore the mystique from the heart of the Super Bowl defense.  The nation watched as Manning dissected them to the point of rupture, and the bleeding never stopped.

They were mortal, after all.

The Buccaneers were rolling after a Super Bowl victory in 2002.  They faced off against the surging Colts on Monday Night Football, allowing a league-best 7.3 points per game.  Indianapolis was 4-0 on the season.  Peyton Manning was building what would be the best season of his young career.  The week before the Monday Night showdown, Manning and his compatriots hung 55 points on the hapless Saints, and were set to steamroll any defense in their path.

Even the NFL’s best.

For three quarters, Tampa’s offense shot sparks through the scoreboard.  The defenders swarmed the Colts like a cloud of locusts.  Indianapolis was on the verge of collapse — down 35-14 with four minutes and change remaining — before Peyton Manning came to life.

The Colts scored two touchdowns on seven offensive plays.  With 1:41 remaining, Manning engineered a five-play, 85-yard game-tying drive, abusing replacement corner Tim Wansley for huge chunks of yardage.  A one-yard touchdown run knotted the game at 35, with less than a minute on the clock.

Indianapolis forced a punt in overtime.  14 plays later, Mike Vanderjagt would miss the game-winning field goal, and the Buccaneer faithful would breathe a sigh of relief.  But a penalty flag — Simeon Rice, leaping — would give Vanderjagt another chance.

The field goal — one of the record 37 “consecutive” that Vanderjagt made that season — clanked off the right upright, but tumbled in behind the crossbar.

Kick is good.  Colts win 38-35.

Gruden’s spoke during the post-game press conference.  Instead of his normal, cliched coachspeak, he offered Tampa Bay a brief — but sincere — apology. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Man, I’m sorry.”

1. Warner to Proehl

On January 23 — three weeks after the new millennium — the Bucs met the Rams in St. Louis’s Trans World Dome.

For the second time in franchise history, the Bucs were playing the Rams for a Super Bowl berth.  But unlike that 1979 Rams team — the tough defense and reliable running attack — Dick Vermeil’s squad boasted four future Hall of Famers on offense: quarterback Kurt Warner, receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, and running back Marshall Faulk.  Faulk was in the prime of one of the most dominant careers in football history.  They were the Greatest Show on Turf, and they were unstoppable.

Until they met the ’99 Bucs.

Warner looked flustered for most of the game.  Through the first fifty-five minutes of play, the league MVP had led his team to just five points, throwing no touchdowns and 3 picks.  Faulk — one of the most prolific athletes in the history of the game — was held to 49 yards on 20 touches.  Bruce and Holt combined for 10 catches and 90 yards, and St. Louis’s historic offensive production became a panicked memory.  Monte Kiffin had neutralized four of the greatest players of all-time, game planning perfectly for Vermeil’s high-octane attack.  The Bucs had terminated the league’s elite offense and were four minutes from a Super Bowl.

But they forgot about Ricky Proehl.  The 31-year old washout receiver had spent the last six season underperforming for various teams.  He joined St. Louis in 1998, and after a brief renaissance, faded back into obscurity for the 1999 season.  He had 33 regular-season receptions (a measly two catches per contest) and no touchdowns, but Proehl torched Tampa Bay that day.

He finished with six catches and a game-high 100 yards receiving, including a 30-yard bomb from Kurt Warner which arced mere inches over cornerback Brian Kelly’s outstretched fingers.  Proehl made a ridiculous overhead catch and tumbled into the endzone, giving the Rams an 11-6 lead they would never relinquish.

The Tampa Bay offense gets most of the attention in the retrospectives.  With a chance to tie, receiver Bert Emanuel had a controversial third-down drop.  The ball thudded to the turf on the following play, the Bucs’ Super Bowl aspirations shattering as it hit the ground.

But it was Ricky Proehl who changed the game.  The forgotten receiver who sent the Rams to the Super Bowl.  The man Kiffin forgot to game plan against.

The closing act in the Greatest Show on Turf.

The Ugly

Oh boy.  The foundation is cracking.  The sky is falling.  The walls are closing in.  The Buccaneers weren’t as good as their 3-1 record (and the numbers showed as much), but surely they’re not this bad.  This soft.  This slow.  This inept.

Not bad enough to lose 48-3?  Are they?

It’ll go down as the worst loss of the Raheem Morris era and one of the least inspired, least disciplined games in the history of the franchise.

The trudged into the locker room down three touchdowns at halftime, and there was no sense of magic — none of that Josh Freeman electricity — in the air.  From the opening kickoff, it felt like an old-fashioned, behind-the-woodshed, man-versus-boy ass-whooping; it was Joe Calzaghe vs. Jeff Lacy; it was Olajuwon vs. Robinson; it was Scott Stevens obliterating Eric Lindros.

But, most simply, it was hard to watch.

Freeman couldn’t throw.  Mike Williams couldn’t catch.  Morris left his defense in Tampa; the front four couldn’t rush, the back four couldn’t cover, and the three in between looked lost and hesitant.  There were no throwing windows, no running lanes, and really, no hope for victory after Freeman’s pick-six.

The offensive struggles continue (read: intensify), and our star players from 2010 have yet to flash this season.  The future looks bleak, with games against the Saints, Bears, Texans, and Packers occupying the next five slots on the schedule, and Tampa’s coaching staff needs to find a quick-fix for the plethora of issues that plague this team before they fall to 3-7 and out of contention.

All in all, it was a miserable, nauseating, painful way to lose.  But the season is far from over.  When we see Mike Williams parading around One Buc in his fur coat — a la Michael Clayton — it might be a sign of coming disaster.  But until then, the Buccaneers will take the game in stride and (hopefully) use it as a learning experience.

And there is a bright side buried in the loss: Tampa should be extra-prepared for New Orleans next Sunday, after their Week Five bye in San Francisco.

The Buccaneers have won four of the last seven meetings in the series, including a 31-6 playoff victory in Tampa following the 2002 season. San Francisco holds a big advantage in the all-time series, winning 15 of the 19 regular season meetings. Tampa Bay’s first road win was a 24-23 victory at Candlestick Park in 1980. Last season, the Buccaneers gained their second road victory, as they were able to shut out the 49ers for the first time in the series with a 21-0 victory in San Francisco. It was also the first time since October 9, 1977, that the 49ers had been shut out at home. The other two Buccaneers regular season win’s against San Francisco came in a 13-6 victory in the 1997 season opener at Houlihan’s Stadium and a 35-3 win at Raymond James in 2004. The Buccaneers captured the lone postseason meeting with the 31-6 win in a 2002 NFC Divisional playoff game on the way to their first Super Bowl title.

Date: Sunday, October 9, 2011
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET (1:05 p.m. PT)
Site: Candlestick Park (69,732)
2011 Records: Tampa Bay 3-1, San Francisco 3-1
Network Television: FOX
Play-by-Play: Kenny Albert, Analyst: Daryl Johnston, Sideline: Tony Siragusa
National Radio: Compass Networks
Play-by-Play: Matt Smith, Analyst: Dale Hellestrae
Bucs Radio: US 103.5, flagship station (103.5 FM, 620 AM)
Play-by-Play: Gene Deckerhoff, Analyst: Dave Moore, Sideline: T.J. Rives
Last Game: Tampa Bay won vs. Indianapolis, 24-17; San Francisco won at Philadelphia, 24-23

Series By The Numbers
Overall Regular Season Series:…………..San Francisco leads series, 15-4
Home Record vs. San Francisco 49ers:……………………………………2-4
Road Record vs. San Francisco 49ers:……………………………………2-11
Current Streak:…………………………………. Buccaneers, one game (2010)
Buccaneers Longest Streak:………………………. Two games (1997-2002)
49ers Longest Streak:………………………………….Nine games (1983-94)
Regular Season Point Total:……………………Buccaneers 278 – 49ers 413
Most Points, Buccaneers:………………………. 35, Buccaneers 35-3 (2004)
Most Points, 49ers:……………………………………. 45, 49ers 45-21 (1993)
Most Points, both teams:……………………………. 66, 49ers 45-21 (1993)
Fewest Points, Buccaneers:………………………………3, 49ers 6-3 (1978)
Fewest Points, 49ers:…………………………….. 0, Buccaneers 21-0 (2010)
Fewest Points, both teams:………………………………9, 49ers 6-3 (1978)

San Francisco 49ers
CB Tramaine Brock (hand) Out
WR Braylon Edwards (knee) Out
RB Moran Norris (fibula) Out
DT Isaac Sopoaga (infection) Doubtful
CB Shawntae Spencer (toe) Questionable
WR Michael Crabtree (foot) Probable
RB Frank Gore (ankle) Probable
G Mike Iupati (neck) Probable
G Adam Snyder (hamstring) Probable

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
WR Sammie Stroughter (foot) Out
T James Lee (knee) Out
S Devin Holland (back) Out
TE Luke Stocker (knee) Out
LB Zac Diles (hamstring) Doubtful
LB Quincy Black (ankle) Questionable
TE Zack Pianalto (calf) Probable
CB Aqib Talib (knee) Probable
RB Earnest Graham (hamstring) Probable
DE Michael Bennett (groin) Probable
DE Tim Crowder (knee) Probable

49ers Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh
49ers Offensive Coordinator: Greg Roman
49ers Defensive Coordinator: Vic Fangio
49ers Special Teams Coach: Brad Seely

Overall: 16th (352.8 ypg)
Rushing: 11th (117.0 ypg)
Passing: 17th (235.8 ypg)
Sacks Allowed: 6th (6)
Points Scored: 20th (21.0 ppg)
Overall: 20th (368.0 ypg)
Rushing: 11th (101.0 ypg)
Passing: 21st (267.0 ypg)
Sacks: 12th (10)
Points Allowed: 9th (19.3 ppg)

Overall: 28th (270.8 ypg)
Rushing: 22nd (93.3 ypg)
Passing: 29th (177.5 ypg)
Sacks Allowed: 27th (14)
Points Scored: 13th (23.5 ppg)
Overall: 17th (358.0 ypg)
Rushing: 4th (74.0 ypg)
Passing: 27th (284.0 ypg)
Sacks: 16th (9)
Points Allowed: 7th (18.8 ppg)

Buc Central’s Prognostication:
As always we are not advocating gambling based on our views of the game, especially considering we typically are inclined to make such educated guesses using are heart rather the any rational thought applied to picking. We are merely giving an opinion of who we think has the best chance at securing a victory.

49ERS 17

Buc Central’s POW-R’-ANKINGS; The power rankings are the product of a simple mathematical formula, using points for and points against. The rankings have predicted 10 of the last 21 Super Bowl winners. Further, 15 of the last 21 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the POW-R’-ANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, which are based on the authors opinion or some sort of biased towards a team they have a rooting interest in, no opinion is involved what so ever in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a percentile scale, with 1.000 representing the NFL’s strongest team and 0.000 its weakest. If you don’t like where your perspective team is ranked, blame the evolution of mathematical science. (Key: WK 4 = This week’s rankings, based on combined stats from week 1 through week 4 performances. WK 3 = last week rankings)..

Through four weeks of the 2011 NFL season the two biggest surprise teams have been the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions. Will it might be time to add a third in the mix, as the San Francisco 49ers continue to find ways to win.  The Bucs who started out as the 22nd ranked team. Have been climbing over the past three weeks and are this weeks 12th ranked team. After a sloppy win in their return to Monday Night Football.


BUCCANEERS: QB Josh Freeman has won 5 of past 6 starts. He won his only start vs. the 49ers, passing for 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 117.9 rating. In career, when Freeman starts & has 100+ rating, Bucs are 7-1. Aims for 3rd in row with rush TD…RB LeGarrette Blount had 25 carries for 127 yards & TD (35 yards) last week. Bucs have won 7 of 8 games when Blount has 18+ att. RB Earnest Graham has team-best 23 catches & ranks 3rd in NFC among RBs…WR Mike Williams had TD in last meeting & averaged 18 yards per catch. Has 5 TDs in past 7. WR Preston Parker had 5 catches for 70 yards & TD last week. Leads team with 223 rec. yards. TE Kellen Winslow has catch in 80 games in row…CB Ronde Barber has started 187 consecutive games, most by CB in NFL history. Had INT in last meeting. Only player in NFL annals with 25+ sacks (26) & 40+ INTs (41). Rookie DE Adrian Clayborn aims for 3rd in row with sack. DT Gerald McCoy had sack in last game vs. 49ers. Also had sack last week. DE Michael Bennett had career-high 2 sacks in Week 4…

49ERS:  Tied for NFL lead with +8 turnover ratio (11 takeaways, 3 giveaways). QB Alex Smith completed 21 of 33 (63.6 pct.) for 291 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 112.1 rating last week. He has won 3 of past 4 at home, completing 63 of 100 (63 pct.) for 834 yards with 7 TDs vs. 1 INT for 108.5 rating. 49ers are 7-0 when Smith starts & has 100+ rating…RB Frank Gore rushed for 127 yards (15 att., 8.5 avg.) & TD last week. Since start of 2006, ranks 2nd in NFL with 8,281 scrimmage yards (6,081 rush, 2,200 rec.)…Since start of 2009, TE Vernon Davis has 21 TDs, most among NFL TEs. In that time, Davis (2,103) has 2nd most receiving yards by NFL TE. He had TD catch last week. WR-KR-PR Ted Ginn Jr. ranks 3rd in NFL with 34.3 KR average…Defense has not allowed 100-yard rusher in 26 consecutive games, longest active streak. LB Patrick Willis aims for 3rd in row vs. Tampa Bay with 2+ sacks. He has 4 sacks & FF in 2 meetings. DE Justin Smith has 3 sacks in 4 games vs. TB. Has started 159 consecutive games. CB Carlos Rogers aims for 3rd in row with INT. Rookie LB Aldon Smith had 1.5 sacks last week, 1st sack of career.

The line-up is set. You’ve spent days tweaking the roster, researching every fantasy football site on the Internet. You’ve acquainted yourself with the depth chart of every NFL roster. Sunday morning, you don’t bother with chores around the house; you tackle the waiver wire hoping to strike fantasy gold. And, when all the games are done, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of losing to the worst place team in the league – you know, the owner who never checks their lineup and has kept their team intact since draft day. Yeah, sometimes you just get unlucky.

We’ve reached the quarter point of the NFL season and there are surprises throughout. Lions and Bills are surging; Steelers and Eagles are stumbling. Tony Romo has gone from goat, to miracle worker, and then back to goat again – in a matter of three weeks! Ah, I love football season. Here are some topics to discuss as we head into the second quarter of the season.

Aaron Rodgers has carved up any defensive scheme thrown his way. Associated Press

Offensive MVP: Aaron Rodgers—It’s not supposed to be this easy. Rodgers has absolutely torched opposing defenses en-route to a NFL-leading 73 percent completion percentage and 124.6 quarterback rating. Last week, he became the first player in history to rush for two touchdowns, throw four touchdowns, and pass for more than 400 yards. He’s a must-start against any defense.

Honorable Mention: Calvin Johnson, Tom Brady, Darren McFadden, Wes Welker

Defensive MVP: Jared Allen—Strictly from a fantasy perspective, he’s been the most productive player. His seven sacks are tied for the league lead, and he’s even managed to chip in an interception and forced fumble. He’s posted at least 11 sacks each of the last four years, so it’s safe to assume he’ll keep piling on the stats as the year continues.

Honorable Mention: Jason Babin, Jason Pierre-Paul, Charles Woodson

Offensive rookie: Cam Newton—I doubt even Panthers fans thought he’d be this good so soon. The Auburn grad has been lighting up the score sheet like he’s playing Kentucky and Vanderbilt every week. His four rushing touchdowns are the most among quarterbacks and his 1,386 passing yards ranks third in the league. If only stats translated into wins.

Close Second: Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Denarius Moore, Andy Dalton

Defensive rookie: Von Miller—When the Broncos drafted Miller out of Texas A&M, most projected him to be a ball-hawking linebacker capable of making 100-plus tackles a year. Based on what he’s done thus far, he could be even better. His four sacks are tops among all rookies and his two forced fumbles are tied for the league lead. Denver doesn’t have the greatest defense around him, but Miller is already making a push to be the face of the franchise.

On the Cusp: Ryan Kerrigan, Mason Foster

Biggest Bust: Chris Johnson—Normally I would mark an injured 1st or 2nd rounder as the biggest bust, (see Jamaal Charles) but Johnson’s rushing ineptitude has been too good (or bad) to pass up. His 2.9 yards per attempt ranks last among running backs with at least 40 carries, and he’s still yet to find the endzone. If you have other options, I would strongly consider benching him with a matchup against Pittsburgh this week.

Dishonorable mention: Jamaal Charles, Knowshon Moreno, Sam Bradford, Chad Ochocinco

Biggest Surprise: Steve Smith (the Carolina one)—After spending his career with the likes of Jake Delhomme, Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen and Chris Weinke under center, Smith finally has a quarterback with some arm strength who isn’t afraid take shots down the field. Once a fantasy afterthought, Smith is now one of the most dependable deep threat receivers in the game. His 132 yards per game is second only to New England’s Wes Welker, and his 22.1 yards per catch ranks first in the league among receivers with at least 15 receptions. Carolina figures to be behind a lot, so count on more downfield opportunities for Smith going forward.

Honorable Mention: Fred Jackson, Matthew Stafford, Eric Decker, Jimmy Graham, Victor Cruz, Preston Parker

Rookies thrive in Tampa Bay.  But the unfortunate reality is, sometimes sophomores don’t.

For years, Buc fans have been taunted with lustrous rookie campaigns — David Greenwood‘s 1985, Errict Rhett‘s 1994, Arron Sears‘s 2007 — only to watch promising careers dissolve in the following seasons, be it by injury, apathy, or general misfortune.

Here are the best of them: men who started quickly, taking the NFL learning curve at 100 miles per hour.  They each bettered their team, posted Pro Bowl numbers, and set the standard for first-year players.  Not all of them survived to year two.

But that’s a topic for another list.

5. Cadillac Williams (290 carries, 1178 yards, 6 touchdowns)

No one has started faster.  Ever.

Carnell “Cadillac” Williams — the 5th overall pick in 2005 — was the third running back drafted, but the first to make an impact.  He punctuated his NFL debut with a 71-yard touchdown run through the heart of Minnesota’s defense, and followed up his 148-yard introduction with 128 yards against the Buffalo Bills.  Midway through the contest, he broke into the open field and — instead of juking toward the sideline and a possible running lane — he cut back, lowered his head, and rocked opposing safety Lawyer Milloy because he “wanted to feel it.”

After three games, Williams led the league with an NFL rookie-record 434 yards rushing.  He’d win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award at season’s end, and despite slowing down as the year wore on, he looked to be the 10-year offensive anchor that Tampa Bay needed to reascend to contention.

4. Michael Clayton (80 catches, 1193 yards, 7 touchdowns)

In 2004, the Bucs brought in Joey Galloway — a stoic speedster from Dallas —  to help replace All-Pro Problem Child Keyshawn Johnson at wide receiver.  The investment would turn out to be one of the best decisions of Jon Gruden‘s career, but it didn’t pay off until 2005.  In the first game of 2004, Galloway went down after diving for a long ball and would miss the next six weeks of the season.


Now, tomes have been written about Michael Clayton criticizing his hands, his attitude, his weight, and his work ethic.  He’s been called a slouch, a bum, a deadbeat, and a waste of money, and he may have been all of those things, but in 2004 — above all — he was an opportunist.

The rookie wideout from LSU became Tampa’s top receiver in Galloway’s absence.  He started slowly but gained momentum as the season progressed, scoring his first touchdown in Week 4 — a 51-yard broken play against John Lynch and the Denver Broncos — memorable because Clayton broke a tackle, left his helmet at midfield and scored bare-headed, screaming at the crowd.  He’d end the season with a bevy of circus catches, crushing blocks, and every Buccaneer rookie receiving record.

3. Hugh Green (151 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, 7 passes defended)

South Carolina’s George Rogers won the 1980 Heisman Trophy, but Hugh Green was the best player in college football.  The 225-pound defensive end was a whirlwind of splash plays for the Pittsburgh Panthers, finishing his senior season with 123 tackles, 17 sacks, and 7 forced fumbles.  The Buccaneers drafted him seventh overall and moved the defensive dynamo to linebacker.

His presence instilled fire in Tampa’s defense, helping it rise from the depths of mediocrity and shaping it into one of the NFL’s elite squads in 1981.  The tenacious Green proved nearly indestructible, starting all 16 games and rarely missing a play during his rookie season, despite his reckless pursuit and crushing hits.

He was snubbed from the 1981 Pro Bowl — having outplayed Minnesota’s Matt Blair — but indemnified the rejection by making the cut in 1982 and 1983.

2. Mike Williams (65 catches, 964 yards, 11 touchdowns)

“I’m going to be the steal of this draft.”

The words of receiver Mike Williams — fourth-round selection out of Syracuse — before he was drafted.  And, as bold as that promise was, it might’ve been an understatement.  Williams easily outproduced the draft’s other big-name receivers like Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Golden Tate, and teammate Arrelious Benn, but save for New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, Williams might’ve been the best player selected after the first round.

After starting quickly in camp, he became Josh Freeman‘s favorite target and proved nearly unstoppable in the red zone.  Williams finished with a Buccaneer-record 11 touchdown catches — the most by any NFL rookie in 11 seasons — and sparked Tampa’s surprisingly efficient offensive attack, showing flashes of a future perennial Pro Bowler in nearly every game.

1. Warrick Dunn (1617 all-purpose yards, 7 touchdowns)

Collectively, in 1996, Tampa Bay averaged 3.36 yards per rush.  Errict Rhett’s holdout paved the way for newcomers Reggie Brooks and Mike Alstott, but Alstott lacked any serious breakaway ability, and Brooks — a free agent pickup who spent the second half of the season on the inactive list — had left the last of his talent in Washington.  Rhett returned in late October, and his 3.06 average nearly matched Reggie Cobb‘s hysterical 1993 season as the low point in Buccaneer rushing history.

Enter Warrick Dunn.  The scatback from Florida State was drafted for his character and consistency, in hopes that his explosiveness could ignite a stagnate Tampa offense: a heavy task for an undersized rookie, but Dunn more than delivered.

In 1997, the team jumped 11 ranks in total rushing yards — topping the previous year’s production by 345 yards on only seven more attempts — and Dunn became the focal point of Tampa’s offense.  He touched the ball 274 times, shattering Rhett’s rookie record for total yardage by almost 500 yards.  He was Tampa’s leader in rushes, rushing yards, receptions, and yards from scrimmage, and accounted for nearly 37 percent of the team’s offensive production that season.

He’d end the season as the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, and at 22 years old, he’d become the first offensive player to represent Tampa Bay in the Pro Bowl in over a decade.

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.

The Good

LeGarrette Blount (Cliff McBride/TBO)

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.

The Bad

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.

The Ugly

Mike Williams (AP)


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.

Indianapolis leads the all-time series, 7-4, and the series is tied 3-3 over the past six meetings. That stretch has included Buccaneer wins in 1991 and 1994 in Tampa, and a 31-28 victory in 1997 in Indianapolis. Tampa Bay and Indianapolis face each other for the first time since 2007, when the Colts defeated the Buccaneers after racing out to a 30-7 lead. The Colts, located in Baltimore at the time, won the first-ever meeting between the franchises, 42-17, in Baltimore, in 1976. Tampa Bay won the next meeting in 1979, knocking off the Colts in Baltimore, 29-26, in overtime. The Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984, and have won six of the nine meetings since that time. Tampa Bay is 2-3 at home and 2-4 away all-time against the Colts.

Date: Monday, October 3, 2011
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
Site: Raymond James Stadium (65,908)
2011 Records: Tampa Bay 2-1, Indianapolis 0-3
Network Television: ESPN
Play-by-Play: Mike Tirico, Analysts: Jon Gruden, Ron Jaworski, Sideline: Wendi Nix
National Radio: Westwood One
Play-by-Play: Kevin Harlan, Analyst: Dan Fouts, Sideline: Tony Boselli
Bucs Radio: US 103.5, flagship station (103.5 FM, 620 AM)
Play-by-Play: Gene Deckerhoff, Analyst: Dave Moore, Sideline: T.J. Rives
Last Game: Tampa Bay won vs. Atlanta, 16-13; Indianapolis lost vs. Pittsburgh, 23-20

Series By The Numbers
Overall Regular Season Series:………………Indianapolis leads series, 4-7
Home Record vs. Indianapolis Colts:……………………………………….2-3
Road Record vs. Indianapolis Colts:………………………………………..2-4
Current Streak:………………………………………… Colts, two games (2007)
Buccaneers Longest Streak:…………………………..Two games (1994-97)
Colts Longest Streak:……………………………….Three games (1985-1988)
Regular Season Point Total:…………………….Buccaneers 241 – Colts 294
Most Points, Buccaneers:…………………………….. 35, Colts 38-35 (2003)
Most Points, Colts:……………………………………… 42, Colts 42-17 (1976)
Most Points, both teams:…………………………….. 73, Colts 38-35 (2003)
Fewest Points, Buccaneers:…………………………….. 6, Colts 24-6 (1987)
Fewest Points, Colts:……………………………… 3, Buccaneers 17-3 (1991)
Fewest Points, both teams:…………………… 20, Buccaneers 17-3 (1991)

Indianapolis Colts
QB Peyton Manning (neck) Out
S Antoine Bethea (heel) Questionable
QB Kerry Collins (head) Questionable
G Ryan Diem (ankle) Questionable
DT Fili Moala (ankle) Questionable
G Joe Reitz (ankle) Questionable
LB Ernie Sims (knee) Questionable
TE Brody Eldridge (knee) Questionable
DE Dwight Freeney (ankle) Questionable

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
WR Sammie Stroughter (foot) Out
T James Lee (knee) Qut
LB Quincy Black (ankle) Questionable
TE Zack Pianalto (calf) Probable
QB Josh Johnson (ankle) Probable
TE Kellen Winslow (knee) Probable

Colts Head Coach: Jim Caldwell
Colts Offensive Coordinator: Clyde Christensen
Colts Defensive Coordinator: Larry Coyer
Colts Special Teams Coach: Ray Rychleski

Overall: 29th (254.0 ypg)
Rushing: 21st (90.0 ypg)
Passing: 27th (164.0 ypg)
Sacks Allowed: 11th (6)
Points Scored: 28th (15.3 ppg)
Overall: 19th (365.0 ypg)
Rushing: 22nd (113.3 ypg)
Passing: 18th (251.7 ypg)
Sacks: 23rd (5)
Points Allowed: 29th (28.0 ppg)

Overall: 22nd (315.0 ypg)
Rushing: 20th (92.0 ypg)
Passing: 21st (223.0 ypg)
Sacks Allowed: 5th (4)
Points Scored: 17th (20.0 ppg)<
Overall: 24th (384.7 ypg)
Rushing: 23rd (114.0 ypg)
Passing: 23rd (270.7 ypg)
Sacks: 20th (6)
Points Allowed: 9th (20.0 ppg)

Buc Central’s Prognostication:
As always we are not advocating gambling based on our views of the game, especially considering we typically are inclined to make such educated guesses using are heart rather the any rational thought applied to picking. We are merely giving an opinion of who we think has the best chance at securing a victory.


The 1970s and 80s Buccaneer teams were defined by futility.  Defenders couldn’t tackle, receivers couldn’t catch, and quarterbacks — regardless of who John McKay deployed under center — struggled miserably against the opposition.  It was an era of legendary inability in Tampa, best conveyed through the comedy of passers that McKay, Leeman Bennett, Ray Perkins, and Richard Williamson sent to their dooms against hungry NFL defenses.

Here’s a list of the five worst; men that started at least three games for Tampa Bay and set new standards for ineptitude in what was already the most impotent franchise in professional sports.

5. Mike Rae (1-4 record, 59.0 passer rating)

Mike Rae was a young passer from the Canadian league, brought in — after washing out in Oakland — to back up Doug Williams, Tampa’s first-round pick in 1978.  Late that same season, Doug Williams went down with an injury.  The Buccaneers were a competitive 4-6 when Rae stepped in, only a handful of plays away from being an NFC-best 8-2, and were showing signs of life after two of the worst seasons in league history.

The team flat-lined under Rae.  The Buccaneers dropped four of their next five, the sole victory against a reeling 5-11 Buffalo Bills team.  After the win, the Buccaneers combined to score 13 points in three games, culminating in a 6-3 defeat at the hands of the 2-14 49ers, the NFL’s worst team.

Rae would remain with the team through the 1979 season.  Late in that year — against the Rams in the NFC Championship game — Rae would relieve Doug Williams, complete 2 of 13 passes, and lead the Bucs to zero points with the Super Bowl on the line.

4. Chris Chandler (0-6 record, 40.0 passer rating)

Chris Chandler was drafted by the Colts in the third round of the 1988 NFL Draft, and the Colts thought so little of him, they traded him to Tampa Bay after only 18 games for Tampa’s first-round pick.

Chandler spent most of his time in Tampa badmouthing incumbent starter Vinny Testaverde, and when he was finally awarded the opportunity to start in 1990, he lost his inaugural three contests by a combined score of 24-79.  He was given another shot in 1991 and tossed only one touchdown against five picks, and the Bucs were blown out in all three of his starts that season.

Chandler went 70 for 151 (46%), 815 yards, 2 TD, and 10 INT in his six starts.  He was cut midway through the 1991 season, and — next to Bo Jackson — is the biggest waste of a first-round pick in franchise history.

3. Jerry Golsteyn (0-3 record, 58.3 passer rating)

As the 1982 season came to a close, starting quarterback Doug Williams petitioned team owner Hugh Culverhouse for a pay raise.  Culverhouse and Williams failed to come to an agreement, Williams fled to the USFL, and the Buccaneers started the 1983 season with Jerry Golsteyn at quarterback.

Golsteyn was a 12th round selection out of Northern Illinois and spent his first three seasons bouncing around the league.  He was Doug Williams’s backup in 1982, but John McKay called on him to open the year against the Detroit Lions.

He was pulled after two disastrous performances — replaced by Jack Thompson, who was only slightly more competent  — and stumbled back into the starting lineup in Week 12 against Chicago.  Golsteyn ended the season — and his career in the NFL — by going 3 for 13 (23%), 49 yards, and 1 INT against Mike Singletary and the 1983 Bears.

2. Jeb Blount (0-4 record, 27.5 passer rating)

Jeb Blount was never given a fair shot in Oakland.  The All-American quarterback out of Tulsa was Oakland’s second-round draft choice in 1976.  He missed his entire rookie season with injuries and was cut before the start of his second season.

Things didn’t get any better for him.

The Buccaneers picked him up on waivers in the preseason, and Blount became the third ring in John McKay’s 1977 quarterback circus.  Jeb started four games in the middle of the season — weeks seven, eight, nine, and ten — and led only three scoring drives in the four contests.  Two of Blount’s seven interceptions were returned for touchdowns, the resulting 14 points almost as many as Blount’s Buccaneers scored in his brief tenure as a starting quarterback.

1. Randy Hedberg (0-4 record, 4.1 passer rating)

Since 1948, 66 quarterbacks have bottomed out the passer rating formula, and they’re a collective 7-59 in those games.  Randy Hedberg — one of three Buccaneer quarterbacks to see starting time in 1977 — posted a 0.0 rating for his career, and understandably, lost every game he appeared in.

Hedberg’s ineptitude was mind blowing.  In four starts, the 22-year-old passer out of Minot State cemented his legend as the worst quarterback to ever earn a spot on a first-string offense.  The Buccaneers averaged 1.5 points per game with Hedberg at the helm, and the rookie quarterback managed to throw five interceptions in those four contests despite averaging a historically awful 2.73 yards per attempt.


Sixty-six running backs averaged more yards per rush than Hedberg did per pass in 1977.

Randy Hedberg was cut after his inaugural season, and remains the only contemporary quarterback with multiple starts to register a zero on the passer rating scale.

He never caught on with another NFL squad, but found his niche coaching Division II college football.  He compiled a 92-74-2 record on-and-off as a head coach since 1982, and has spent the last four seasons coaching quarterbacks at Southern Illinois — presumably in what not to do.


COLTS:  Club has won 9 of past 10 games on Monday Night Football…Colts are 6-2 vs. NFC under head coach Jim CaldwellQB Kerry Collins (40,922) needs 78 passing yards to become 10th player in NFL history to reach 41,000. Since ’08, is 5-0 as starter vs. NFC…RB Joseph Addai gained season-best 86 rushing yards last week on 17 carries (5.1 avg.) with 1 TD. In past 2 vs. NFC, Addai averages 110 rush yards per game (220 total)…WR Reggie Wayne (10,944) needs 56 receiving yards to reach 11,000 career. In past 4 vs. NFC, Wayne is averaging 112.5 receiving yards per game (450 total)…DE Dwight Freeney had 2 sacks & 1 FF last week. Freeney (97) needs 3 sacks to reach 100 career. Aims for 3rd straight game with FF. DE Robert Mathis registered sack, FF & FR last game…Rookie S Joe Lefeged (undrafted free agent) posted 1st career INT last week.

BUCCANEERS: Host 1st Monday Night Football game since 11/24/03 (TB 19, NYG 13). Have won 5 of past 7 at home on Monday Night…QB Josh Freeman has won 4 of past 5 starts. In career, when Freeman starts & has 100+ rating, Bucs are 7-1. Had 1st career rushing TD last week…RB LeGarrette Blount had 24 carries for 81 yards vs. Atlanta. Bucs have won 6 of 7 games when Blount has 18+ attempts. RB Earnest Graham has team-best 20 catches & ties for 3rd in NFL among RBs…WR Mike Williams has 5 TDs in past 6. Has 5+ catches in 3 of 4 career games vs. AFC & has 2 receiving TDs. WR Preston Parker leads team with 153 receiving yards. TE Kellen Winslow has catch in 79 games in row…CB Ronde Barber has started 186 consecutive games, most by CB in NFL history. Had INT last week. Only player in NFL history with 25+ sacks (26) & 40+ INTs (41). In last Monday Night Football game vs. Ind. (10/6/03), had 29-yard INT-TD. Aims for 3rd Monday Night Football game in row with INT. Rookie DE Adrian Clayborn had sack & FF in Week 3.

Buc Central’s POW-R’-ANKINGS; The power rankings are the product of a simple mathematical formula, using points for and points against. The rankings have predicted 10 of the last 21 Super Bowl winners. Further, 15 of the last 21 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the POW-R’-ANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, which are based on the authors opinion or some sort of biased towards a team they have a rooting interest in, no opinion is involved what so ever in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a percentile scale, with 1.000 representing the NFL’s strongest team and 0.000 its weakest. If you don’t like where your perspective team is ranked, blame the evolution of mathematical science. (Key: WK 3 = This week’s rankings, based on combined stats from week 1 through week 3 performances. WK 2 = last week rankings)..

Through three weeks of the 2011 NFL season the two biggest surprise teams have been the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions. The Bills held the top spot for a week while the Lions have been on top of the world, for the past two weeks. The Bucs who started out as the 22nd ranked team. Have been climbing over the past two weeks and are this weeks 18th ranked team.


Monday, October 6, 2003.

It’s a day that has been etched into football history as the day the Tampa Bay Buccaneers squandered a 21-point late 4th quarter lead to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. But for me, it’s a day of few football memories.

I was in high school at the time. There were papers and tests to worry about—not to mention— 7:30 a.m. classes. So when Ronde Barber’s 29-yard interception return for a touchdown extended the Bucs lead to 35-14 with 5:09 remaining, I fell into a classic blunder. Not the “Princess Bride” kind, but a devastating one none the less. I assumed Tampa Bay was going to win and went to bed. Maybe Bucs players did the same thing.

The Classic Blunder

One thing’s for sure, I didn’t expect to see a giant “L” next to the box score when I looked at the morning’s newspaper. I felt ill; and not just because Tampa lost, but because I had missed out on watching something extraordinary. Amazing feats like that rarely happen, although most Tampa Bay area fans can say they witnessed a comeback of equal proportions Wednesday night with the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s games like these that transform sports into something more – into a religious activity, perhaps. Think about it. Fans congregate to a sporting event to praise and glorify their favorite teams. We pray our team makes a fourth-down stand and we put faith in players to step up and play to their potential. And yes, at times, we even see some lukewarm fans converting from one religion (team) to another.

I pray this Monday night will be different. Indianapolis is without its field general, but that doesn’t mean this team is a cupcake. Defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have consistently been among the lead leaders in sacks and forced fumbles since 2004. They may be the best defensive end combo in the NFL today. Additionally, Peyton Manning may not be under center, but the offense line that did such a tremendous job protecting him all these years is healthy. Expect the Colts coaching staff to be safe with whomever they decide to start at quarterback – presumably Curtis Painter – but don’t assume Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Austin Collie won’t be heavily involved in the offense. We all know what happens when someone assumes. Here are some more matchups to watch in Monday’s game.

Tampa Bay’s first half scoring: Is it too much to ask for a first quarter touchdown? In three games, they have one, and that one occurred on an Aqib Talib interception return for a touchdown. They have looked sluggish early in the game and still haven’t produced a sustained drive in the first quarter. It is also disconcerting that Josh Freeman has looked disconnected from his wide receivers early and often. There have been too many over-thrown or under-thrown passes, and well as a lack of zip on the balls he’s thrown.

How will the loss of safety Cody Grimm impact the Bucs secondary? Grimm was placed on injured reserve after tearing ligaments in his knee during Sunday’s game versus the Falcons. Matt Ryan took full advantage of his absence, throwing for 149 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter alone. Granted, Tampa Bay’s secondary won’t be tested as much this week with Painter under center, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Indianapolis runs a couple deep routes early to test the awareness of free safety plug-in Corey Lynch.

Count on a low-scoring affair in this one. Tampa Bay hasn’t shown the ability on offense to start out strong and I expect a heavy dose of running backs Joseph Addai and rookie Delone Carter from Indianapolis early on. I expect the offensive line to have their hands full all night as they deal with constant pressure from Freeney, Mathis, and timely blitzing from the Colts secondary. Tampa Bay should plan on running screens and draws to counter-act the heavy pass rush. Defensively, forcing Painter into turnovers and hurried throws will be a key to winning the game. Overall, my prediction is a 17-13 Tampa Bay victory. Be sure not a fall asleep until the final whistle blows with this game.