Much of the postgame analysis of Tampa Bay’s 36-17 thrashing of the Vikings Thursday night will center on a Buccaneer offense that continued its recent blitz of opposing defenses. And that’s understandable, as big days from Doug Martin, Josh Freeman and Mike Williams allowed the Bucs to surpass 400 net yards for the third straight game, something the team had never done before.
But Thursday’s nationally-televised win was a complete effort, and Tampa Bay’s defense had one of its best outings of the year as well.
By the end of the game, the Vikings had 369 yards of offense, which came somewhat close to the Bucs’ total of 416. That single number, however, is misleading. Not only did the Vikings gain 117 of those yards on two meaningless end-game drives against a prevent defense, but they essentially never threatened the Bucs’ lead after briefly pulling to within 13-7.
The Bucs’ strong defensive effort is better described by these numbers:
- Time of possession: Facing an offense that had a premier clock-chewer in RB Adrian Peterson, the Bucs were able to take control early and finished with a huge advantage on the clock. Tampa Bay held the ball for 15 more minutes than did Minnesota, 37:45 to 22:15. A good portion of that edge was established early, with three straight Viking three-and-outs to start the game.
- Getting the ball back: Speaking of those early three-and-outs, the Vikings’ offense was cursed with six of them during the game, plus two more non-scoring drives that lasted only four plays and one that lasted only two. Minnesota also had a two-play and a five-play drive, but those both ended in touchdowns.
- Turnovers: There were three takeaways in the game, all of them belonging to the Buccaneer defense. Ronde Barber and Michael Bennett forced fumbles, with the Bucs recovering both in the second quarter. Those turnovers were converted into field goal and touchdown drives, which provided the difference in the Bucs’ 20-10 halftime lead. Leonard Johnson also ended Minnesota’s last drive with an interception.
- Negative plays: Tackles behind the line of scrimmage have become the Buccaneers’ calling card; they entered Week Eight leading the NFL in that category. The hits kept coming Thursday as Tampa Bay had seven more tackles for loss, including three sacks.
Oh, and most important, the Vikings scored only 17 points. Given how productive Tampa Bay’s offense has been over its last four games – an average of 31.0 points over the team’s last four games – that is exactly the defensive complement the Buccaneers needed.