A quick wrap-up of Tampa Bay’s victory against Seattle.
What it means: At 9-6, the Buccaneers have clinched a winning season and remain mathematically alive for a playoff berth. I’ll update you on playoff scenarios when I get to Atlanta later tonight. We’ll see what the playoff situation is, but I think it’s safe to go ahead and declare the season a success for the Bucs no matter what happens. A winning record is a lot better than most people expected this year.
Hero: Josh Freeman. I was driving to Tampa International Airport about the time Freeman was throwing two second-quarter touchdowns and the road runs pretty close to Raymond James Stadium. The wind was making my car sway and forcing me to keep both hands on the wheel. If you can throw a football with precision through that kind of wind, you have a big-time arm. By the way, Freeman had three other touchdown passes. He never had more than three touchdowns passes in a game before and the five touchdown passes tied the team record. At 22 years old, Freeman now has 23 touchdown passes this season.
Unsung hero: Connor Barth. Tampa Bay’s young kicker made a 46-yard field goal into a very strong wind in the first quarter. The Bucs were trailing 7-0 at that point and considered punting on fourth-and-long. But they decided to trust Barth and his line-drive kick sliced through the wind.
Stepping up: We’ve talked repeatedly about how the Bucs have been getting banged up in recent weeks and how young guys continue to step up. Well, it happened again. With Sammie Stroughter out with injury, the Bucs gave more playing time to receivers Preston Parker and Dezmon Briscoe. Even veteran Maurice Stovall, who has been silent much of the season, contributed to the passing game. They also lost fullback Earnest Graham to injury during the game and used their tight ends as fullbacks to get through.
Look who’s stepping up: Kellen Winslow's been pretty good all season, even though he frequently sits out practices because of knee problems. But Winslow was great Sunday, catching two touchdown passes. Winslow’s second touchdown in the third quarter capped a 98-yard drive, which tied the franchise record.
Lucky break: Although he’s not the player he once was, Matt Hasselbeck is still a veteran quarterback and that kind of experience can help a lot at this time of year. Hasselbeck ran for a first-quarter touchdown, but hurt his hip on the play and left the game. The Seahawks were forced to turn to Charlie Whitehurst.
Redemption time: Linebacker Geno Hayes got into some off-field trouble a couple of weeks ago and had some very strong talks with coach Raheem Morris. Whatever was said seems to have worked. Hayes produced two third-quarter sacks.
What I liked: Even though center Jeff Faine and guard Davin Joseph are on injured reserve, the Bucs still were productive in the running game. Most of that simply was due to LeGarrette Blount's physical running style, but the blocking must have had something to do with it. The Bucs should watch the film of their young linemen because Faine is aging and has been having injury problems for a couple of years and Joseph could be a free agent.
Rookie of the Year: St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford will win the league’s award, mostly because he’s a quarterback. But Blount and receiver Mike Williams are going to finish high in the voting. If you had to pick a Tampa Bay rookie of the year at this point, I think you’d have to split it between Blount and Williams.
What’s next: The Buccaneers close the regular season next Sunday against the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome.