MINNEAPOLIS — Doug Martin moved forward as arms slapped his shoulder pads while he bumped off bodies, ducking and weaving until he broke free of all the people trying to get a piece of him Thursday night.
When he had reached the Bucs locker room, after running through the gauntlet of teammates, coaches and owners, the celebration — make that the coronation —began.
"He's special," tight end Dallas Clark said while nodding toward the rookie from Boise State. "He's only going to get better, and he is fun to block for, that's for sure."
Martin, drafted in the first round when the Bucs traded up to get him in April, burst onto the national stage by accounting for 214 total yards and two touchdowns in a 36-17 win over the Vikings.
He ran 29 times for 135 yards and a touchdown. He caught three passes for 79 yards, scoring on a 64-yard screen pass from Josh Freeman.
It was the first 100-yard rushing game for Martin, who matched Vikings Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson highlight for highlight in front of a national television audience on NFL Network.
Considering the short week, long flight and noisy Metrodome on Thursday, the Bucs could not have asked for a better performance.
"It was tough, but no one cares," Clark said. "This league isn't about excuses. It doesn't matter if we played Monday, the next day, in a pasture, a three-hour flight.
"I think the guys did a great job of handling the situation and showed great maturity. The guys moved on and didn't lie around and thinking about losing a tough one (to New Orleans) Sunday.
The Bucs (3-4) beat the Vikings for the sixth straight time and broke the Thursday night curse of road teams, who were 1-5 this season. It was the first loss at the Metrodome this season for the Vikings (5-3).
Martin, who had 253 yards from scrimmage in two previous games combined, got off to a fast start, bursting for a seasonlong 41-yard run in the first quarter. He helped the Bucs extend their lead to 27-10 on the opening drive of the second half by taking a screen pass in the left flat from Freeman, setting up blocks from center Jeremy Zuttah and receiver Tiquan Underwood to race 64 yards for a touchdown.
"The line did a good job of opening holes and sustaining their blocks," Martin said. "We just wanted to be more physical than the other team. If we do that, then the holes will open up and I can just do my job."
Freeman became the first quarterback in club history to record three touchdown passes for the third consecutive game.
"He hit a few runs again," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said of Martin. "He comes spitting out of there and that's what we believe he can do. He's just getting better and better. I think the game is starting to slow down for him a little bit."
Freeman hasn't slowed down, either. He passed for 262 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
When the Vikings drew within 30-17 midway through the third quarter, Freeman put together a 16-play, 87-yard drive to put the game away, going 4-of-4 passing to convert four third-down situations.
"He was unbelievable," Schiano said of Freeman. "He was (4-for-4) on third-down conversions and some of them were longer. They weren't your third and 2s. It was an excellent job by the offensive line and Josh sliding up in the pocket."
The Bucs defense may have allowed 123 yard rushing to Peterson, but it bottled up quarterback Christian Ponder, sacking him three times. Tampa Bay also forced two fumbles that led to 10 points.
But the night and the game belonged to Martin.
"The moment is never too big for Doug," Freeman said.