Underwood and Clark Make Bucs’ Offense Deeper

On every offensive play, the Buccaneers have five eligible targets on the field for Josh Freeman, in some combination of receivers, running backs and tight ends.  With the recent emergences of both Dallas Clark and Tiquan Underwood, Freeman often has five serious playmakers on the field at once.

Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are clearly the team’s big three in terms of offensive production, accounting for 2,966 combined rushing and receiving yards, or 73.8% of the team’s total, and 22 of the team’s 36 touchdowns.  However, as Sunday’s down-to-the-wire game against Atlanta demonstrated, Freeman can also count on Underwood and Clark when the situation dictates it.

Both Underwood and Clark put up their best yardage totals of the season in Sunday’s game.  Underwood set single-game career highs with five catches for 77 yards while Clark added four for 65.  Underwood continues to stretch the field, with an average of 15.3 yards on his 20 catches in 2012, plus two touchdowns, and Clark is simply becoming more and more involved in the offense every week.  The former Colts tight end has 22 catches for 239 yards and three touchdowns in the last six games.

Underwood actually had to wait a while to get his shot with the Buccaneers this season.  He was waived on the final roster cutdown but then brought back in Week Three.  He played sparingly at Dallas just after returning but then essentially took over the #3 receiver role from the next week forward.  His catches and yards have fluctuated from week to week, based largely on how the opposing defense is approaching the Bucs’ suddenly robust offense, but he’s more than pleased with his role.

“It’s a game-to-game thing,” said Underwood.  “One game you might have five catches, one game you might have one.  It’s all about doing what’s going to help the team.  When the ball comes your way as a receiver you just try to make the play whenever you can.”

Underwood was actually Freeman’s most targeted receiver against Atlanta, with nine footballs thrown his way as compared to the seven in Jackson’s direction (which produced five catches and 96 yards).  The Falcons were clearly focused on slowing down Martin, and they have been strong against opposing team’s top two receivers for much of the season.  It wasn’t difficult to predict that Freeman would have to look to Underwood and Clark a bit more, and fortunately they both delivered.  For the most part, however, Underwood believes it’s the Bucs’ offense that can and should be dictating the action in most cases.

“Hats off to Atlanta,” he said.  “They did a great job against the run.  We’d been running the ball fairly well the last few weeks.  But they played very well.  They’re a good group – they don’t have that record for no reason.  But as an offense, we control a lot.  So we’re going to correct the mistakes and just get ready for Denver.”

Underwood understands that any game can hinge on a single play, or a small handful of key moments.  He also knows that, as deep as the Bucs’ talent is on offense now, he might be the one called on to make one of those plays.

“There’s a fine line between winning and losing,” he said.  “You just have to execute.  Especially when the stakes are high, you’ve just go to execute.  That’s what it’s all about.  That could be the difference between winning and losing.”

Level with the Field

Shortly after Sunday’s one-point loss to the Falcons, Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano pointed to missed opportunities.  He was speaking solely about that afternoon’s game – the Bucs refuse to look any farther ahead than their current opponent – but the same thought could have been applied at that very moment to the NFC playoff race as a whole.  A couple more points on Sunday and the Bucs would have enjoyed almost the perfect weekend.

In fact, had Tampa Bay held on to its fourth-quarter lead over the Falcons and improved to 7-4 on the season, it would now be one of the six teams in the conference with a current hold on a playoff spot.  That’s because all the teams that were an immediate concern to the Buccaneers in the race for a Wild Card spot also suffered defeats in Week 12. Continue reading

Barber Hits Another Landmark in Style

On the opening day of the Buccaneers’ 2012 season, Ronde Barber made a landmark 200th consecutive NFL start and celebrated it with style, collecting a sack, an interception, five tackles, two passes defensed and the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award against Carolina.

Against Kansas City in Week Six, Barber tied Derrick Brooks’ Buccaneers’ franchise record for total starts with his 221st and made it another occasion, returning an interception 78 yards for a touchdown for his 15th career score.

On the first snap of Sunday’s game against Atlanta, Barber made his 210th consecutive NFL start, tying Hall of Fame center Jim Otto for the seventh-longest streak in league history.  Was there any doubt he would punctuate the event with something memorable?  Continue reading

Buccaneers Lose in Close Battle, 24-23

With three seconds remaining, after getting 9-yards closer on a Dallas Clark reception that made it out of bounds, Josh Freeman dropped back and rolled out to his left. He bought enough time for his receivers to make it down to the end zone, stepped up and heaved a 60-yarder into the sea of hands.

The ball fell incomplete. End of ball game. Falcons 24 – Buccaneers 23.

The game was close throughout. The biggest lead of the day was six points and the lead changed six times. This snaps a Buccaneer four game winning streak, making them 6-5. The Atlanta Falcons improve to 10-1.

Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Josh Freeman had a solid day passing. He hit on 19 of his 30 passes for 256 yards. In one of the more surprising plays of the game, WR Mike Williams caught a lateral and let it fly to fellow WR Vincent Jackson. That play adds 28 yards passing to Williams’ three receptions and 28 yard receiving.

RB Doug Martin didn’t have the yardage that many predicted he would put up when facing a Falcon defense that surrenders 130 rushing yards per game. Martin ended the day with 50 yards on 21 carries. His longest went for 10 yards. The Dougernaut did break into the end zone twice, both times from one yard out.

Both WRs Vincent Jackson and Tiquan Underwood caught five passes. Jackson ended the day with 96 yards and a long of 31, while Underwood collected 77 yards with a long of 39.

K Connor Barth made three of his four field goal attempts. He hit from 22, 42 and 48 yards out, missing a 56-yard try.

Defensively, LB Lavonte David again led the team with eight total tackles. Tied with him was S Ronde Barber who also leaves the game with one more interception to his name, the 47th of his career.  This game marks his 210th consecutive start, which ties him for seventh in NFL history. CB E.J. Biggers recorded six tackles of his own, and had a key sack and forced fumble on third down with the game winding down.

The Atlanta Falcons were led by quarterback Matt Ryan who ends the day with 353 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception. Ryan completed 26 of his 32 pass attempts. His leading receiver was Julio Jones who ended the day with six catches and 147 yards. 80 of them came on a one-play scoring drive in the third quarter. TE Tony Gonzalez finished with five catches and 62 yards while Roddy White’s 5 receptions went for 57 yards.

The Falcons had relative success rushing on the NFL’s leading rush defense, finishing with 79 yards on the ground. RB Jacquizz Rodgers led the team rushing with 49 yards and a score. He also added 30 yards receiving. RB Michael Turner had a TD of his own while rushing for 17 yards on 13 carries.

Falcon K Matt Bryant made one field goal on the day from 31 yards away, but missed on two attempts, one from 22 and one from 48. Bryant came into the day having made 89.3% of his field goals this season.

LB Stephen Nicholas led the team in tackles with 7 while three more tied with six a piece. Both CB Dunta Robinson and DE Kroy Biermann registered a sack on the day.

The Buccaneers will head to Denver next Sunday to face the Denver Broncos. The game kicks of at 4:05 ET.

Offense Gets Ball Back with Eight Seconds Remaining

The Buccaneers defense has made the stop and will get the ball back to the offense for one more shot at taking the win. Matt Bryant’s second missed field goal of the day will give them the ball at the Falcon 38-yard line with eight seconds left.

The Atlanta drive began with 3:32 left and exhausted all of the Buccaneers timeouts. Matt Ryan converted on a big third-down play to extend the drive and limit the Buccaneers time.

The Buccaneers have eight seconds in the game to either get out of bounds in field goal range or cross the goal line.

Another Lead Change with Michael Turner Score

The Falcons once again took over the lead on a three-yard run by RB Michael Turner. The Falcons are up 24-23 with 7:55 remaining in the game.

The Falcons drive started at the 36-yard line after a good return by Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers struck again on the first play from scrimmage, catching a pass out in the flat and taking it upfield 32 yards and into Buccaneer territory.

One more pass brought the ball to the 10-yard line. On first down, Matt Ryan found WR Harry Douglas, cutting the distance in half. The second down pass fell incomplete, bouncing off the hands of intended receiver Julio Jones. On third down, the Buccaneers seems to have things locked up as another Ryan pass flew out of bounds, but S Ahmad Black was called for holding, which put the ball at the three and gave the Falcons a new set of downs.

From there, Michael Turner took the handoff and walked into the end zone.

The Buccaneers will get the ball back at the 20 yards line with 7:55 to go in the game, looking to answer once again and retake the lead.

E.J. Biggers Strip Sack Leads to Buccaneer Field Goal

You could feel that a momentum swing was in the works after Doug Martin scored his second touchdown. The crowd noise reached its loudest on a Falcon third down play on the next possession.

The Falcons converted that third down on a pass over the middle to Tony Gonzalez. The next play was a 9-yard Julio Jones catch setting up a second-and-one. The Bucs held Michael Turner to no gain making it third down and once again the crowd noise reached a new high.

At the snap, CB E.J. Biggers came off the blind-side corner on a blitz and was untouched. He met the unsuspecting Matt Ryan who fumbled the ball as he was hit. DT Gerald McCoy jumped on the loose ball, giving the Bucs possession at the Atlanta 36-yard line.

The Buccaneers were forced into their own three and out, but were close enough to take a shot. Connor Barth hit his third field goal of the night from 48 yards out, extending the Buccaneer lead to 23-17.

Doug Martin Punches It In, Steals Back the Lead

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers forced their first defensive three-and-out of the day and the first Falcon punt of the afternoon with 5:21 left in the third quarter.

The Bucs took over at their own 18-yard line before two penalties set they up on their own seven-yard line with first-and-21 yards to go. From there, the Buccaneers started a drive that would end in another Doug Martin trip to the end zone!

Josh Freeman got out of the 21-yard hole with a quick 10-yard pass to Vincent Jackson before finding WR Tiquan Jackson deep down the middle on a 39-yard strike, the longest Buccaneer play of the day.

Vincent Jackson took over from there, catching a 15-yard pass to get the first down followed by a 12 yard grab on the sideline two plays later to set the Buccaneers up with another first inside the Atlanta red zone.

On a second-and-10 from the Falcons’ 11-yard line, Doug Martin took a handoff up the gut and landed just short of the goal line, converting the first down inside the one-yard line. Then the whistle blew ending the third quarter.

Then on the first play of the final quarter, Doug Martin took the carry again up the middle falling forward into the end zone for the score. It is Doug Martin’s second rushing touchdown of the day and puts him at 48 yards rushing on the day.

The Buccaneers will kick off to the Falcons with 14:56 left in the game, leading 20-17.

Falcons Strike Back, Retake Lead

The Buccaneers took a three-point lead with the Connor Barth field goal, but it was a short-lived one. 11 seconds after the field goal, on the first play of the ensuing Falcon drive, Matt Ryan hit Julio Jones for an 80-yard score.

Jones took off down the right side as Matt Ryan dropped back. The ball hit him in stride and Jones was off to the races down the sideline. With 8:26 left in the third quarter, the Falcons again are on top, 17-13.

The play takes Matt Ryan’s stats to over 250 yards and Julio Jones now has 123 yards receiving on four catches.