From TBO.com: Bowers Easing Way Into Heavier Workload

TBO.com and Tampa Tribune writer Erik Erlendsson discusses the return of Buccaneer defensive end, Da’Quan Bowers, who was recently activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list coming off surgery on a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. He played his first game of the season on Thursday night in Minnesota. What can we expect from him this season?

Click here to find out.

Week Eight Full of Favorable Results

With nine games to play for the Buccaneers and about half of the NFL, and eight games to play for the other half, it’s too early to waste time watching the standings.  Buccaneer players are taught to treat each game as its own individual season by Head Coach Greg Schiano and his staff, and as fans we should probably do the same, at least right now in early October  when there is so much left to play out.

Yeah, good luck with that.

Here are the current league standings on NFL.com, heading into Monday night’s game between Arizona and San Francisco.  Go ahead and check them out, because there’s no use trying to avoid it.  It’s part of the fun of being in the playoff race – and make no mistake, the Bucs are in that hunt – to see where all the team stands and work out the possible scenarios.

This might be a particularly good week for Buc fans to do a little standings-watching (that doesn’t have quite the same ring as “scoreboard-watching,” but you get the point).  That’s because this past weekend of NFL play was good to the Buccaneers, and it could even get a little bit better on Monday night.

The Bucs started the good weekend themselves on Thursday night with their dominant 36-17 win in Minnesota.  That improved Tampa Bay to 3-4 while dropping the Vikings, a prime conference playoff foe, to 5-3.  If the playoffs started right now (especially before Arizona has a chance to improve to 5-3 on Monday night), the Vikings would own one of the two NFC Wild Card spots and the Bucs would be just 1.5 games out.

Other results that helped the Buccaneers included New Orleans losing an interconference game Sunday night in Denver.  That gave Tampa Bay sole possession of second place in the NFC South, though the undefeated Falcons are still four games in the lead.  Four games in the standings in nine weeks is a difficult hill to climb, but the Bucs do still have both of their games against Atlanta remaining, so it’s not impossible.  Pushing the Saints, now 2-5, farther away from the playoffs is good for Tampa Bay, which is 0-1 against New Orleans so far this year.

Also helpful were the losses by Dallas to the Giants and Philadelphia to the Falcons (even if that second game hurt in the NFC South race).  Both of those teams fell to 3-4 and are thus now even with the Buccaneers.  Seattle’s loss at Detroit was also beneficial, as it dragged the Seahawks back to .500 (4-4) and just a half-game up on Tampa Bay.  Detroit did improve to 3-4 in the process, but of the two possible results, Seattle’s defeat was better, at least for now.  Washington lost to Pittsburgh, dropping to 3-5 without giving a win to another team in the NFC race.

The Buccaneers are still trying to make a race out of the NFC South, but they’d be best served if the other three divisions in the conference produced runaway winners.  If the Bucs have to settle for a Wild Card race in the long run, their best bet will be current leaders New York, Chicago and San Francisco winning as many games within their own divisions as possible.  The 49ers could help on Monday night by knocking off the Cardinals and sending them back to .500, just half-game above the Bucs.

Again, Buccaneer players are not spending much time worrying about those standings at the moment.  Still, they can feel the race heating up.

“We know we dropped some close games, but I feel like we’re getting better week-in and week-out,” said LB Mason Foster.  “It’s getting to that stretch of the season where it’s a tough time, heading into November, but it’s exciting.  I feel like we’re in a good place and we’re going to continue to get better.”

Looking for Consistency in the Pass Rush

Did the Buccaneers’ pass rush turn another corner on Thursday night in Minnesota?  Ask again after Sunday’s game in Oakland.

Tampa Bay, which has been searching for an effective pass rush for several seasons now, seemed to have found the right mix to start 2012, with a new aggressive scheme under Greg Schiano and Bill Sheridan and breakout play from Gerald McCoy and Michael Bennett.  The Bucs had seven sacks through their first three games and were spending a lot more time in the opposing backfield than they had in 2011.

However, right end Adrian Clayborn, the team’s sack leader in 2011 as a rookie and still the catalyst up front even without sacks of his own this year, suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week Three.  McCoy and Bennett both admitted that they had seen a difference in the attention they were receiving in the games that followed Clayborn’s loss to injured reserve, and the team had just one sack over the next three games.

Obviously, the Buccaneers needed to find a revised formula for getting to the passer without Clayborn, and they appeared to take a step in that direction in Thursday’s win over the Vikings.  The Bucs’ pass rush got to Christian Ponder for three sacks and four other quarterback hits, and even before the hits began they disrupted Ponder’s rhythm right off the bat.  Ponder started the game with an assortment of screens and short passing attempts but went 0-5 on the Vikings’ first three possessions as quick upfield movement from the Bucs’ defense threw those plays out of whack.

McCoy said the improved results up front had a lot to do with a slightly revised approach.

“We took a huge step,” said McCoy.  “We had three or four sacks as opposed to not having any.  They just kind of gave us a game plan where they let us go.  They put us in pass-rushing situations and said, ‘Hey, this is what you guys wanted?  Here’s your opportunity to go.’  We answered the bell.”

Schiano was pleased that his defensive front made such a quick rebound from a rough game just four days earlier against New Orleans.  The key, however, will be maintaining that performance this coming weekend in Oakland, rather than continuing to be up-and-down in the pass rush.

“We probably had our worst effort in our pass rush – and when I say ‘effort’ I just mean the result – [against the Saints] and then one of the better ones this week. All along I’ve been talking to you guys about consistency and that’s what good teams do. They come out and they consistently perform, sometimes they peak it a little bit but they don’t have the valleys. That’s what we’re working towards.”

Freeman Moving Up the Charts

One quarterback in the NFL has thrown for over 1,000 yards in the last three weeks: Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman.  With only San Francisco and Arizona left to play in Week Eight, Freeman’s spot at the top of that list is secure.  During that same span, only Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has thrown more touchdowns than the Bucs’ dialed-in passer (11 to 9).

Freeman’s recent run gives him 1,800 passing yards and 14 touchdowns on the season, putting him on pace for 4,114 yards and 32 TDs over 16 games.  Freeman may or may not became the first QB in franchise history to cross the 4,000-yard mark and/or the 30-TD mark, but he is virtually certain to move up the team’s all-time lists in both of those categories in the coming weeks. Continue reading

Almost Like Another Bye

The bye week rolled around after just four games for the Buccaneers this season, and it’s no secret that an early bye is thought to be a disadvantage, all other things being equal.  A week off can be perfectly-timed at any part of the schedule, if a team happens to have some significant injuries to contend with.  Still, the later it is in the season, the more likely it is your roster will be banged up and needing a rest.

The Bucs certainly weren’t complaining in Week Five.  They were coming off a three-game losing streak, and the extra preparation time probably helped them put together a dominant return performance against Kansas City in Week Six.  Tampa Bay has won two of three since the bye, dropping only a skin-of-their-teeth shootout decision against New Orleans, and the season appears to be on an upswing since that week off.

And here the Bucs are, in Week Eight, enjoying another weekend off.  Continue reading

Bowers Feels “Perfect” After First Game Back

“Nobody realizes how hard it is to come back…” said Da’Quan Bowers, formulating a response to one of the questions that came from the large group of reporters surrounding him in the Buccaneers’ locker room on Friday afternoon.  It was one day after he had played in his first game since suffering a torn Achilles tendon in May, actually just about 14 hours after he completed his incredible comeback from an injury many believed would wipe out his entire 2012 season.

The thing is, Bowers wasn’t talking about his own recent journey.  “Nobody realizes how hard it is to come back…when you’re three games under .500,” was his full response, and it was in regards to a Buccaneer win over Minnesota that had moved the team to 3-4 rather than the far more depressing 2-5.  Later, Bowers would talk about perseverance, but only as it related to his teammates’ ability to put on such a dominating midweek performance just four days after another grueling game against New Orleans.

Clearly, this is not a man who is dwelling on his own health.  In fact, Bowers was emphatic on Friday that he is fully back, perhaps sensing some lingering skepticism over such a rapid return from a devastating injury.

“Perfect,” said Bowers, describing the state of his repaired Achilles tendon. “I haven’t had any swelling or anything out of it.”

The Buccaneers activated Bowers hours before Thursday’s game, just eight days into an evaluation period that could have lasted three weeks.  He did not start but came in on third-down passing situations and ended up logging about a dozen snaps.  That number is almost sure to go up as the season progresses, because Bowers showed during his rookie season that he can be a dynamic contributor on the Bucs’ D-Line.  In one game against Carolina last year, he had 1.5 sacks and five tackles for loss.

“As time goes by, I’ll definitely increase,” said Bowers.  “Twelve was a good number to start at, being that I hadn’t been running, football-wise, in such a long time.  It’s something to get your lungs opened up.  But it will definitely increase over the next few weeks.”

Though he’s fully secure in his repaired tendon, Bowers did admit that there were some extra emotions involved in playing in his first game since last season.

“It was a long-time coming; I worked so hard to get there,” he said.  “I was excited to be out there with my teammates.  I was excited to be out at warm-ups, just on the field at all.  I had to channel my emotions in the right direction, but it worked out in our favor.”

Spotlight Not Too Bright for Johnson

Leonard Johnson, a former prep star in Clearwater, left the Bay area to play college football, emerging as a standout cornerback at Iowa State.  He quite happily returned to his hometown to go to the next level, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Buccaneers this past spring.  But it was back within 150 miles of Johnson’s college haunt that he had his first breakout game in the NFL.

Johnson impressed enough during the offseason and in training camp to earn a lasting spot on the Buccaneers’ regular-season roster, one of just two undrafted rookies to do so.  And he has played in every game this season, the only Buccaneer undrafted rookie to do so.  Both of those accomplishments are impressive unto themselves, but there’s no doubt that Thursday night’s game in Minnesota was his best moment as a pro so far. Continue reading

Martin’s Big Night

Doug Martin, the Buccaneers’ dynamic rookie back, has frequently been called a Ray Rice clone, and NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock referenced both Rice and the great Emmitt Smith in describing Martin’s game on Thursday.  In terms of Buccaneer history, however, the player he must be reminding Tampa Bay fans of at this point is Warrick Dunn.

Physically, the Rice comparison is probably a better match.  Martin is considerably thicker than Dunn and probably a more powerful runner, though Dunn was always underrated as a between-the-tackles presence.  But it’s Martin’s impact in all phases of the offense that may have current Buc fans thinking of the Lightning half of the old Thunder and Lightning duo.

At the very least, Martin is putting up numbers that force us to reference Dunn’s first prolific five-year tenure in Tampa (he came back for a second stint with the Bucs in 2008).  Continue reading

TBB Cheerleaders: Already Embracing Military Appreciation Week

On October 15, I had the honor of visiting the men and woman of the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital of Tampa with some of my fellow teammates for a fun night of Bingo and ice cream.

Upon arriving, I quickly realized that some of the wounded veterans were even younger than me, with the ages ranging from 19 to 100 years old. I can’t begin to imagine the sacrifices they have made to serve and protect our country and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude rushed over me.

I found my Bingo seat next to Tom, a Vietnam War veteran. He shared his story with Continue reading

Bucs D Provides Perfect Complement

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.