Through the first 12 weeks of the 2012 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense was leading the NFL in points scored on game-opening drives. In Denver in Week 13, however, the Bucs didn’t reach the end zone until a minute was left in the first quarter. And on Sunday against Philadelphia, Tampa Bay was shut out before halftime for the first time all season.
And yet it was the Eagles that had to mount a furious rally in the final five minutes of the game to come away with a 23-21 victory. That’s because, on what would ultimately prove to be a disappointing afternoon for the Buccaneers, the offense was able to overcome a very slow start to find a groove after halftime.
That may not be the same pattern the Bucs have followed for much of the season, but it was at least an encouraging sign that the offense could find a rhythm after an uncharacteristically slow start. The Bucs are not yet winning as consistently as they would like or need to, but they know they’re going to have to succeed under many different circumstances to eventually get over that hump.
“That’s how this game goes each and every week,” said WR Vincent Jackson, who was the game’s most dominant offensive force for most of the second half. “You prepare for a team, you watch a lot of film and you think you have an idea of pretty much what they’re going to do. But they played us a little differently than we expected. They were doing a lot more roll coverage, safeties over the top, and they haven’t show a lot of that in that format. There were keys and things they hadn’t shown before. Sometimes that takes a drive or two to get going and to break it down. And we did that in the second half. At halftime we went in there, made some corrections, made some adjustments and said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do.’ We wanted to be a little bit more aggressive, start getting the ball out of Josh [Freeman]‘s hands a little faster.”
Jackson had just two catches for 44 yards at the break, representing most of Freeman’s first-half output of 61 yards on five-of-16 passing. After halftime, Freeman was nine of 18 for 128 yards and two touchdowns, and Jackson was again the key target. The big receiver finished with 131 yards and a score on six catches, marking his fourth 100-yard game of the season. The Bucs scored touchdowns on three of four possessions during a stretch in the middle of the game, with Jackson’s 13-yard catch making it 14-10 and Doug Martin’s scoring run pushing it to 21-10.
“When we [get aggressive] and Josh gets in a good rhythm, he starts feeling good, pocket’s holding up good, we’re a pretty tough team,” said Jackson. “Sometimes that starts out early in the game and sometimes it doesn’t happen until the second half, but the fact that we’re able to find it, it seems like each and every week, is a positive thing.”
Eagles rookie QB Nick Foles rallied his team to two late touchdowns and a 23-21 win, scoring on the game’s final play. In between those two TD drives, the Bucs had a chance to drain the last four minutes off the clock, but eventually punted it back with almost three minutes remaining, though they did make the Eagles use all their timeouts. A holding call hurt, and on third-and-eight the Bucs elected to run Martin and eat up Philly’s last timeout rather than gambling on a throw that could have either stopped the clock or kept the drive going.
Jackson would have been an obvious target had the Bucs thrown, as he was red hot in the second half, but he had no problem with the decision to run.
“With that amount of time on the clock, you sometimes hope you can just run the ball and keep the clock moving,” he said. “There were probably a lot more plays that went into that. The first and second down were a big key in that. Those are the kinds of things that can hurt you. We talk about those types of situations each and every week; our coaching staff does a great job of preparing us to get a first down, make them use their timeouts and stay on the field.
“We come into every game trying to be balanced. We never see an opponent on film and say, ‘This week we’ve got to run for 200 yards.’ No, we come out there and we believe that we’re going to pass the ball, we know we’re going to run the ball and everybody’s going to be involved – tight ends, running backs, receivers. That’s the way we want to play, each and every week, to keep defenses honest. They can’t try to take away one aspect of it because we’re strong in all phases.”