The Buccaneers started the second half of their suddenly very intriguing 2012 season with a dominant second half of action against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Trailing 21-17 at halftime and having surrendered 254 yards and three sustained scoring drives, the Buccaneers came out after the break and controlled the final 30 minutes of football.
They finished, in other words, and that’s a significant step forward from the season’s first quarter, in which the Bucs went 1-3. Tampa Bay has won four of its last five to move solidly back into the NFC playoff hunt, and they have consistently found ways to put their opponents away in the end.
“Confidence and sticking to our training, that’s what it’s about,” said WR Vincent Jackson after the Bucs finished off a 34-24 win over his former team. “There are very rarely games in this league that you see that the game is over in the first half or third quarter. You have to play a complete game, all four quarters. We harp on that each and every week in practice and that’s what we talk about, finishing. Finishing drives, finishing games, and we did a good job of that in the last few weeks.”
The Bucs allowed only three points in the second half, which is similar to what they did in a Week Eight win at Minnesota and a Week Seven shootout loss to New Orleans. They came up with the only two turnovers of the game in critical moments in the fourth quarter, and their first two offensive possessions of the second one were strong ones, which has turned into a full-fledged trend for these Buccaneers. Tampa Bay didn’t score right out of the second-half gate this time, but they did advance into San Diego and punt the ball down to the two-yard line, which led to them getting the ball back near midfield a few minutes later. Josh Freeman’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Tiquan Underwood then gave the home team a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“We just came out and played our brand of football; we didn’t do that in the first half,” said DT Gerald McCoy. “It’s what the Bucs do: we come out and play a physical brand of football and make the plays we need to and have to.”
The Bucs’ timely playmaking made for some unusual statistical pairings, as Head Coach Greg Schiano pointed out later. Most notably, Tampa Bay was way down in the overall time-of-possession category, with San Diego holding the ball for 36:41 to the Bucs’ 23:19. In the four years prior to 2012, the Bucs had been 7-27 in games in which they finished with a negative ratio in that category.
“Guys made plays when we needed to make them,” he said. “You usually don’t win a game when the time of possession is the way it was – 36 and change and 23 and change. It’s hard to win that way, but again some of those plays that made it that way were a blocked punt for a touchdown and an interception for a touchdown. Certainly the defense was out there for a long time today, but they bowed their neck and made a play when they needed to.”
The defense had to punch the clock a little longer on Sunday, but that was alright with Gerald McCoy and company.
“This is a team mentality,” he said. “It’s not always just our offense or just the defense. We’re a team, we’re the Buccaneers. We had to win as a unit today.”