Barber Rolls On

Word out of Virginia is that 15th-year LB London Fletcher is dealing with an ankle injury suffered in the Redskins’ win over Philadelphia on Sunday, and that he could be a question mark for Washington’s quick-turnaround game Thursday against the Houston Texans.

That’s of little consequence to the Buccaneers, other than indirectly as it could weaken a team that is on the fringe of the NFC playoff hunt, but it is interesting in one regard.  At the moment, Fletcher and Tampa Bay safety Ronde Barber share the NFL’s longest active games-played streak, at 234.  Neither player has missed a game since the 1998 season opener, and neither player has ever missed an NFL contest due to injury.

Barber’s streak will roll on this Sunday when the Buccaneers take on the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium.  It won’t be any more or less impressive if it is no longer matched by Fletcher, but certainly a DNP for the impressive Redskin linebacker would draw some extra attention to Barber’s incredible longevity. Continue reading

Leader of the Pack

The Buccaneers scored on each of their final three drives on Sunday to complete a stunning comeback against the Panthers in Charlotte, taking the 27-21 decision in overtime.  There was a marked difference in the team’s approach between the last two of those three drives, however.

The reason is obvious: Josh Freeman’s two magnificent crunch time drives allowed the Bucs to tie the game in regulation, as he led a 58-yard field goal march and an 80-yard touchdown drive in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter.  After tying the game with a two-point conversion, the Bucs won the coin toss to start overtime and suddenly had all the time in the world to conduct the next drive.

And that meant one thing: It was time for the Panthers to get a heavy dose of Doug Martin.

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Triplets on the Way?

“Doug Martin is an every-down back and we don’t have many in the NFL.  With Vincent Jackson and Josh Freeman, they have their triplets.”

- Marshall Faulk, NFL GameDay

Tampa Bay’s offense – the league’s most productive group over the past five weeks in terms of both yards and points – is much more than three players.  WR Mike Williams is having a superb season, RBs LeGarrette Blount and D.J. Ware have defined roles, TE Dallas Clark is becoming more integrated into the attack, Tiquan Underwood has been a very useful third receiver and the offensive line has excelled despite a rash of injuries.

So any reference to a new set of “triplets” in Tampa Bay – Josh Freeman, Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson – should not detract from the work of the rest of their teammates.

Still, that term has had tremendous cachet since it was first used prominently to refer to the trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin on the multiple-Super-Bowl-winning Dallas teams of the first half of the ’90s.  That Cowboy team had plenty of other contributors, too, but there’s no denying that the triplets were special.  All three are now in the Hall of Fame. Continue reading

David Streaks into ROTY Consideration

Doug Martin’s statistical onslaught over the last five weeks has added a new wrinkle to the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year debate, which in the early going seemed to be a two-horse race between the top two picks in the 2012 draft, QBs Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

Now it appears as if another Buccaneer is forcing his way into the conversation for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.  With an incredible 30 tackles over the last two games, Buccaneers LB Lavonte David has become impossible to ignore.

In fact, Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com thinks the Bucs’ sideline-to-sideline playmaker is the leader in that race.  There certainly aren’t many defenders in the league, let alone rookies, who are bringing opposing ballcarriers to the ground more often.

NFL.com, using totals reported from the stadium on game day, has David tied for fourth among all NFL players with 81 tackles.  That actually puts him second among league rookies in that category, because Carolina LB Luke Kuechly has 87 stops at this point.  However, it’s worth noting that David climbs higher on the list when one focus only on solo tackles, removing the assists that are used to calculate a player’s combined total of stops.  Here are the top five players in the NFL in solo tackles so far this year (well, top seven, thanks to a tie), according to the statistics reported on NFL.com:

1. LB James Laurinaitis, STL 68
2. LB Lavonte David,   TB 67
3. LB Daryl Washington, AZ 64
4t. LB Russell Allen, SEA 56
4t. LB Chad Greenway, MIN 56
4t. LB Curtis Lofton, NO 56
4t. LB Paul Posluszny, JAX 56

A week after racking up an incredible 16 tackles at Oakland (14 of them solo), David was all over the field again Sunday against the Chargers, making 14 stops (13 of them solo).  Using game day-reported statistics retroactively through franchise history (the team has usually self-reported statistics using coaches’ review of game film), those two games make David just the third Buccaneer ever to have at least 14 tackles in two straight games.  Derrick Brooks did it twice, once in 1998 and once in 2000, and Barrett Ruud did it in 2009.

David also got his team-leading 12th tackle for a loss on Sunday against San Diego.  Of those 12, 8.5 are what are considered “stuffs,” or tackles behind the line of scrimmage on running plays.  Only three players in all of the NFL, none of them rookies, have more stuffs this year: Denver’s Von Miller, Philly’s DeMeco Ryans and Houston’s J.J. Watt.

The numbers certainly start to add up when one considers David’s Rookie of the Year credentials.  Of course, as Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano points out, David has helped the Bucs in other ways too, primarily due to the fact that he is the team’s defensive play-caller.

“Lavonte has been very good,” said Schiano.  “It starts with the communication – he’s calling the defenses.  And then with his individual play, you know he’s very, very productive, very efficient for any level, vet or rookie.  Now that you take into account that he’s a rookie I think it makes it even more special.”

Barron Makes PFW Midseason All-Pro Team

The Buccaneers drafted Alabama safety Mark Barron with the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft believing he was a future All-Pro performer in the NFL.  The folks at Pro Football Weekly believe he already is one.

On Tuesday, David DeChant of profootballweekly.com posted the publication’s Midseason All-Pro Team, recognizing the NFL’s top performers at each position at the season’s halfway point.  Barron was PFW’s choice as one of the two safeties on the team, along with Earl Thomas of the Seahawks.  Note that this is a full-league squad, not a rookies-only team.  In fact, Barron is the only rookie on the team other than Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh.

Barron has indeed been an immediate impact player for the Buccaneers, stepping directly into the starting line at strong safety and quickly earning a reputation as a hard hitter.  He ranks third on the team with 48 tackles through eight games, including two for a loss, and has added one interception, one forced fumble and seven passes defensed.

DeChant also says that Barron has been a pleasant surprise against the pass this season, and that he has a good chance to be a fixture on the PFW All-Pro teams.  Check out the entire Midseason All-Pro squad here.

Picks Still Piling Up

The Buccaneers intercepted Oakland QB Carson Palmer three times on Sunday, giving them 13 picks at the season’s halfway point.  The projection math after eight games is simple; just double it.  At this point, the Bucs are on pace to record 26 interceptions in 2012.

If they can keep up that pace, it would be the team’s best INT total since the 2002 Super Bowl squad memorably picked up 31 passes (and allowed only 10 TD tosses, remarkably).  The best part is that the defense is getting its aerial turnovers from many different sources. Continue reading

AFC Sweep on the Line Sunday

With victories over Kansas City in Week Six and Oakland this past Sunday, the Buccaneers are halfway through their annual quartet of interconference games. They are also halfway to an unprecedented AFC sweep.

In 2002, the NFL expanded to 32 teams with the arrival of the Houston Texans and used that opportunity to overhaul their scheduling practices.  The league moved away from the old formula, which was heavily dependent on strength of scheduling from the previous year, and started a much simpler rotation plan.  The idea was to make sure that, within any eight-year period, every team would play at least one home game and one away game against every other team in the league.

Thus, each division rotates annually between the other three divisions in its own conference and the other four divisions in the opposing conference.  The Buccaneers began their AFC rotation in 2002 with the South division and have since rotated two-and-a-half times through the South, North, East and West.

One thing the Bucs have never done, since this new format was installed, was sweep its AFC schedule in any given year.  That possibility still exists in 2012 and, in fact, it will be put to the test once again this coming Sunday. Continue reading

What a Homecoming!

The first thing that greeted Buccaneer RB Doug Martin when he emerged from the O.co Coliseum on Sunday was a row of tables waiting for the players stacked high with In-N-Out Burgers, a Cali favorite.  The second was a huge group of people, many of them wearing red #22 jerseys, waiting specifically for him.

Can’t ask for a better taste of home than that.

Martin, the Oakland-born Buccaneers rookie running back who played his prep ball in the Bay area before heading off to Boise State and then the NFL, had just turned in one of the greatest games by a running back in NFL history.  That it came in his hometown, with so many friends and family members on hand, made it that much sweeter.

Martin passed the table of burgers and the waiting buses and walked over to the cordoned area of Buccaneer fans, where he received a hero’s welcome.  And no wonder – from a football standpoint, he was very much a hero on this day.  There are many ways to slice up the incredible damage he inflicted on the Oakland defense – 251 rushing yards, 272 total yards from scrimmage, four touchdowns, 10.0 yards per carry – but here are two that frame it pretty well: 1) He is just the second player in league history to rush for 250+ yards and four TDs in one game; and 2) He is the first player in NFL annals to have a 45+-yard, 65+-yard and 70+-yard TD run on the same day.

Martin would have been greeted with open arms at the huddle near the Bucs’ buses no matter what happened on Sunday, but given his afternoon the cheers were enormous.

“It’s an exciting accomplishment,” he said.  “It’s even more exciting that I did it at home, my hometown, being around much of my family and friends.  It was very special.  They were very excited to see me after the game and I was excited to see them.  It couldn’t happen any better.”

Martin’s team won, too, which made it that much more satisfying, especially in the stadium he used to visit during his childhood.  Martin set a handful of Buccaneer records (most rushing yards in a game, most scrimmage yards in a game, most rushing TDs in a game) and put up the 10th-best single-game rushing mark in NFL history.

“Couldn’t have scripted a better [homecoming],” Martin agreed, almost shyly, on Monday.  “It happened perfectly.”

“Underrated” Bennett Could Break 10-Sack Drought

In April of 2011, the Buccaneers drafted Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn in the first round and immediately installed him as a starter on the right side.  Clayborn had an impressive rookie season, leading the team with 7.5 sacks and at least coming close to the team’s first double-digit sack season in six years.

Simeon Rice, who had more than 10 sacks in six straight seasons from 2000-05, is the last Buccaneer pass-rusher to achieve that total, which is akin to 1,000 yards for a running back or 3,000 yards for a quarterback.  Even if none of those benchmarks are necessarily indicative of a superstar, they do describe a very productive player, and they still have something of a cachet.

The Bucs may be about to break their 10-sack drought in 2012, but it won’t be Clayborn, the preseason favorite, who gets there.  Clayborn landed on injured reserve after just three games, but the Bucs are getting serious production out of their other starting end, Michael Bennett. Continue reading