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A few positives in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 3-12 season

Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow, the team leader in catches and receiving yards, also has five touchdowns.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow, the team leader in catches and receiving yards, also has five touchdowns.

TAMPA

This will go down as a forgettable season when the annals of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are written. From the 0-7 start, to the quarterback carousel and the two fired coordinators, the failures have been well-documented. But there will be some things the franchise will want to carry over into the future. In some respects, this season was not a total waste. Five things about the 2009 Bucs that went according to plan:

A quarterback, finally

The Bucs have been looking for a franchise quarterback for the better part of three decades. How they've survived this long without one is astounding.

But the team believes it finally has what it has sought in first-round pick Josh Freeman. Coach Raheem Morris said there was never a second thought when it came to deciding what to do in the draft.

"You get that guy," he said. "You go get a quarterback. You eliminate that issue, you build around that guy, and you find out what you need for that guy. You do everything you can for that guy to make him successful and then, hopefully, 10 years from now we're talking about whether he should be a first-ballot Pro Bowler, a Hall of Fame-type dude and all that jazz.

"At the same time (you need) patience."

Freeman has been prone to throwing interceptions, with 16 vs. just nine touchdowns. But it's his gumption in big moments that is his most impressive quality. He has been quite impressive in the fourth quarter, in particular, with two come-from-behind wins and two other rallies that were cancelled out by defensive lapses.

"I don't even think he realizes he's playing in the NFL yet," Morris said of Freeman. "It's just a bunch of guys to him. … I don't think he realizes (Saints DE) Will Smith can rip his face off. That's something he had when he was a freshman in college. That quality is special."

Winslow works out

The decision to acquire TE Kellen Winslow in February was much-debated, but it's hard to find fault with the move after Winslow became the team's most consistent offensive threat.

Traded to Tampa Bay from Cleveland for two draft picks, Winslow led or tied for the team lead in receptions in 11 of its 15 games. His 72 receptions and 828 yards are club records for a tight end. Winslow provided everything the Bucs expected — and then some.

"He was that and a little bit more," coach Raheem Morris said.

Morris, for instance, said he challenged Winslow to show toughness after his catches rather than running out of bounds to avoid contact as he had done on occasion.

"He's done everything I've asked, even when we've had our differences," Morris said. "I brought it to his attention the other day, and there was a change in the New Orleans game. You saw Winslow catch the ball and put his pads down."

Feeling special

The Bucs felt like special teams would be a strength. Mission accomplished.

While the kicking game suffered because of injuries to P Josh Bidwell and the struggles of the kickers, the return game was spectacular.

The Bucs lead the NFL in kickoff-return average with 26.7 yards per attempt. And that's despite using three returners because of injury — Clifton Smith, Sammie Stroughter and Micheal Spurlock. On punt returns, the Bucs rank third at 11.6 yards.

They scored two touchdowns in the kicking game. And don't forget the fact that the Bucs have a league-best five blocked kicks (punts and field goals).

The success in the return game goes both ways. The Bucs lead the league in opponent kickoff return average, too (18.9 yards).

Talib stands tall

It was never a secret that CB Aqib Talib, left, was not going to remain in the nickel role he played as a rookie last season.

His limitless talent was going to get him on the field. At that point, it was purely a matter of finding out how much he could do. The Bucs now have their answer.

"He's a guy in this league now," coach Raheem Morris said. "Let's not kid ourselves. He's a big-time corner."

Patience pays off

The Bucs have shown great patience with RB Cadillac Williams despite his pair of season-ending, career-threatening knee injuries. So, it was nice to see Williams reward that patience with what likely will be his best season since his 2005 rookie campaign. Williams is 18 yards shy of surpassing his 2006 output, when he had his second-best season with 798 yards.

Injury updates

Running back Derrick Ward (knee/thigh), starting left guard Jeremy Zuttah (toe), defensive tackle Roy Miller (hamstring) and defensive end Michael Bennett (toe) are questionable for Sunday's game against the Falcons. Ward did not participate in practice Friday while Zuttah and Miller were limited. If Zuttah is unable to play, the Bucs will likely start Shawn Murphy at left guard. Tight end Kellen Winslow (knee), defensive tackle Chris Hovan (illness), center Jeff Faine (back), wide receiver Antonio Bryant (groin) are probable. Bryant did not practice Friday.

Rick Stroud, Times staff writer

FAST FACTS

Injury updates

Running back Derrick Ward (knee/thigh), starting left guard Jeremy Zuttah (toe), defensive tackle Roy Miller (hamstring) and defensive end Michael Bennett (toe) are questionable for Sunday against the Falcons. Ward did not practice Friday while Zuttah and Miller were limited. If Zuttah is unable to play, the Bucs will likely start Shawn Murphy at left guard. Tight end Kellen Winslow (knee), defensive tackle Chris Hovan (illness), center Jeff Faine (back), wide receiver Antonio Bryant (groin) are probable. Bryant did not practice Friday.

Rick Stroud, Times staff writer

. FAST FACTS

Injury updates

Running back Derrick Ward (knee/thigh), starting left guard Jeremy Zuttah (toe), defensive tackle Roy Miller (hamstring) and defensive end Michael Bennett (toe) are questionable for Sunday's game against the Falcons. Ward did not participate in practice Friday while Zuttah and Miller were limited. If Zuttah is unable to play, the Bucs will likely start Shawn Murphy at left guard. Tight end Kellen Winslow (knee), defensive tackle Chris Hovan (illness), center Jeff Faine (back), wide receiver Antonio Bryant (groin) are probable. Bryant did not practice Friday.

Rick Stroud, Times staff writer

A few positives in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 3-12 season 01/01/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 1, 2010 10:55pm]
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