Freeman, Barth Among Fantasy “Starts of the Week”

Each week, NFL.com Fantasy Editor Michael Fabiano provides fantasy football players with a very useful “Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em” rundown, highlighting the best matchups at each position for that week.  This week, as many fantasy owners head into the semi-finals of their playoffs, the Buccaneers-Saints game in New Orleans is going to draw a lot of eyeballs.

Fabiano breaks down his “Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em” advice into the six typical fantasy lineup categories – quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, kicker and defense – and he leads each of those segments with one “Start of the Week.”  This weekend, half of those highlighted starts come from the Bucs-Saints tilt.

Tampa Bay Josh Freeman is Fabiano’s “Start of the Week” at quarterback, a nod to the Saints’ troubles on defense and Freeman’s 420-yard performance against them in Week Seven.  For similar reasons, Fabiano likes the Buccaneers’ Connor Barth at kicker, and he calls Barth a “top-notch” fantasy option at his position this season.

The Saints get in a “Start of the Week,” too, which isn’t surprising given that the first meeting between these two teams was a wild shootout featuring nearly 1,000 yards of combined offense.  New Orleans’ Marques Colston is his top choice at wide receiver, which is a bolder pick given that Colston has not been a highly productive fantasy receiver in recent weeks.

Check out all of Fabiano’s “Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em” advice to see where other Buccaneers and Saints rank in Week 15.  Hint: Check out the “sleeper” category at the tight end position.

Point/Counterpoint: Will the Dougernaut Roll to 2,000?

With 1,612 combined rushing and receiving yards through 13 games, Doug Martin is already the most prolific rookie running back in franchise history.  The question is, can he put himself among the elite rookie backs in NFL history?

Okay, actually, that’s not really the question, because Martin has already done.  But we all love big round numbers, like 50 home runs and 4,000 passing yards, and certain sports milestones are veritable invitations into the superstar club.

The 2,000-yard season for a running back is one of those numbers.  Continue reading

Bennett Closes In on Double Digits

Michael Bennett is close to joining a very exclusive club in Buccaneers franchise history. Currently, that club has just seven members: Lee Roy Selmon, Broderick Thomas, Santana Dotson, Chidi Ahanotu, Warren Sapp, Marcus Jones and Simeon Rice.

Those are the only Buccaneers who have ever racked up at least 10 sacks in a single season.  With three games to go, Bennett has nine.  He needs just one more to be the first Buc to crack double digits in that category since Simeon Rice had 14.0 in 2005, the last of Rice’s five straight years over 10.

The fourth-year defensive end, who originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2009 and is only this year become a full-time starter, has admitted that a 10-sack season is among his goals.  Whether or not he gets one more sack to get there, he has had a marvelous season in 2012.  In addition to his QB sacks, Bennett has been a force for the league’s top-ranked run defense; by some measures, he has been the best run-stopping left end in the league. Continue reading

Jackson Moving the Chains

One can express how fantastic Vincent Jackson’s first season as a Buccaneer has been in a variety of ways.  For instance, he leads the entire NFL in yards per catch at 20.4, a category no Tampa Bay player has ever paced the league in before.

Or this: Only two receivers in the entire NFC have more yards than Jackson’s 1,145 at this point – Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall.

Or this: There are only six players in the entire NFL with at least 1,000 receiving yards and at least eight touchdowns, and Jackson is one of them.

Or this: He’s on pace for 1,409 receiving yards, and with games left against the 16th and 30th-ranked pass defenses in the next three weeks, he could be putting Mark Carrier’s 23-year franchise record of 1,422 yards in jeopardy.

But here’s one that might not be so obviously but is clearly very important: Vincent Jackson moves the chains, and he does it as reliably as any player in the NFL.  Continue reading

Defensive Line Production Rare Sunday, Despite Loss

As Head Coach Greg Schiano pointed out on Monday, if you took a certain cross-section of the statistics from Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium, you would probably think the Buccaneers defeated the visiting Eagles.

In fact, the Eagles rallied for a 23-21 win on the final play of the game, despite several parts of what is usually a winning formula being in place for the Buccaneers.  Tampa Bay didn’t turn the ball over once, for instance, and that feat has a very strong correlation with success.  For instance, from December 23, 2001 to October 12, 2008, the Bucs won 20 straight games in which they did not commit a turnover.

The Bucs also ran for 136 yards and allowed only 29, were even in time of possession and third-down conversion rate and were able to rack up six sacks.  By the “rules of football,” as Schiano put it – sort of a “laws of nature” concept – those are often numbers you see on a winning team’s side of the ledger.  To be clear, however, Schiano was not saying that his team deserved to win simply because it did some things very well. Continue reading

Looking to Capitalize on Late-Game Opportunities

After their first three drives on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, the Philadelphia Eagles hadn’t moved the ball forward an inch against Tampa Bay’s defense.  In fact, they had gone in the other direction, losing a total of six yards on 10 plays on that trio of drives.

Fortunately for the Eagles and rookie QB Nick Foles, and unfortunately for the Buccaneers, their last two drives proved to be much more important than the first three.  Foles led Philly on TD marches of 72 and 54 yards in the game’s final five minutes to pull out a 23-21 victory on the very last play.

Meanwhile the Buccaneers, who have outscored their opponents by 46 points this season and haven’t lost a game by more than eight points yet, are 6-7 and hanging on to a playoff thread because they’ve had more than their share of end-game disappointments.  Sunday’s game marked the third time this year that the Buccaneers have lost on an opposing score in the game’s final 30 seconds. Continue reading

Jackson Pleased by Offensive Adjustments

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. Continue reading

Bucs Celebrate 2002 Super Bowl Team at Halftime

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had two sets of player introductions on Saturday.  The first, before the opening kickoff, was the usual roll call of starters for the upcoming game, with players such as Doug Martin and Josh Freeman getting huge rounds of applause.  The second came during halftime, and was unlike anything the team has ever done before.

To celebrate the 10-year reunion of the their 2002 Super Bowl Championship team, the Buccaneers gathered more than 50 players and coaches from that squad for a ceremony in front of a sold-out Raymond James Stadium crowd on Sunday.  The event began with a rousing highlight video from that season and a game-like run out of the tunnel for the Super Bowl XXXVII starters, with the public address announcer introducing those most famous of Buccaneers. Continue reading

Eagles 23 – Buccaneers 21 In Last Second Ordeal

The Philadelphia Eagles pulled off the literal last-second victory over the Buccaneers, 23-21. With :02 seconds left, down by five points, Nick Foles found Jeremy Maclin in the end zone for the touchdown. After review, the play was confirmed and the Eagles will leave Tampa with their first win in nine games.

Nick Foles should find himself joining many conversations as one more rookie quarterback to add to the list of stand-outs this year. Foles connected on 32 of 51 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns. He also added one touchdown on the ground, running it in from 10 yards out in the first half.

Foles had two receivers eclipse the 100-yard mark in the game. Jason Avant led the team with seven receptions for 133 yards. Jeremy Maclin, who caught the game-winner ended the day with 104 on nine catches. Clay Harbor caught the other Foles TD pass and ended the day with 52 yards on six grabs.

The Buccaneers had another strong game against the run and firmly hold their place as the league-leaders in the category. Eagles running back Bryce Brown, who came into the game with more than 340 yards rushing in his last two, was held to just six yards rushing on 12 carries. It was Foles that ended the game as the Eagles’ leading rusher with three carries of 27 yards.

Defensively, LBs Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans led the team in tackles with seven apiece. DTs Fletcher Cox and Cullen Jenkins each recorded a sack.

For the Buccaneers, a slow first half saw the offense find its rhythm late. Josh Freeman threw two second half touchdown passes, ending the game with 189 yards through the air.

Vincent Jackson led the team with 131 yards and a touchdown on six catches. Fellow WR Mike Williams caught the other touchdown and ended the day with 18 yards.

On the ground, Doug Martin had the Buccaneers third touchdown, rushing it in from four yards out in the fourth quarter. Martin ended the day with 128 yards on 28 carries, he also had three receptions.

The Buccaneers’ first score was set up by a fumble recovery from Dekota Watson on a muffed punt that set the team up at the five-yard line. S Ronde Barber and LB Lavonte David led the team with nine tackles each. The Bucs had six sacks on the day. Both DE Michael Bennett and DT Gerald McCoy had two. The others were added by DT Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and LB Lavonte David.

The Buccaneers will head to New Orleans next week to talk on the Saints. The Saints won the first matchup between the two team 35-28. Kickoff is at 1 PM. The Buccaneers will close their regular season in two weeks against the St. Louis Rams.

Eagles Score Closes Game

The Buccaneers defense stood their ground when it mattered most. After cutting the lead to five, the Eagles got the ball back with 2:44 left in the game, needing a touchdown to take the lead and likely fly back to Philadelphia with a win.

On the first play, from their own 36-yard line, Nick Foles connected with Jeremy Maclin for a four-yard gain. Ronde Barber came up with the stop. On second down, Foles dropped back for the pass again, he was flushed out of the pocket and sacked by Michael Bennett, his second of the game. With third-and-long to go, however, Foles stood strong in the pocket and hit Maclin for a 23-yard gain and first down.

On the ensuing first-down play, Foles’ pass fell incomplete, but CB Danny Gorrer was called for defensive holding, giving the Eagles another first down at the Bucs’ 40-yard line.

A deep shot on first down harmlessly hit the ground well long of its target. Second down fell between the two safeties for another incompletion. Third-and-ten from the 40 yard line got the crowd on its feet. Foles dropped back, faked the handoff to Bryce Brown who threw a nice block, and hit Maclin on a screen to the left, who took off up field for a gain of nine, bringing up fourth down.

With one yard to go for the first down, on fourth down, Foles dropped back, saw an opening and scrambled for the first, sliding right after crossing the marker. First down at the 28-yard line. Too many men on the field moved it five yards closer.

First down, incomplete. Second down, incomplete, Third down, incomplete and nearly intercepted.

Fourth down with 16 seconds left in the game. Foles drops back and has time. He connects over the middle with Jason Avant who gets tackled at the one yard line. The Eagles ran to the ball and spiked it with :02 on the clock.

With one play left, Nick Foles rolled to the right and found Jeremy Maclin one more time five yards deep in the end zone, sliding out of bounds. After review, it as confirmed that Maclin caught the ball, had possession with one knee down in the end zone.

The Eagles come out with the last-second victory in Tampa, 23-21.