Finally, a victory out West
The Bucs haven't tasted victory during a western road trip since playing in Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego in 2003. Since then, the Bucs have been miserable on cross-country trips, going 0-7. But Sunday's win at Qwest Field, among the loudest venues in the NFL, was one to savor. The 5-8 Seahawks are one of the better home teams and entered 4-2 in Seattle this season. "I didn't think we could win on the West Coast for a minute there," coach Raheem Morris said. "Even when we were good, we couldn't win on the West Coast." Even more satisfying was the Bucs overcoming a slow start — QB Josh Freeman threw an interception on his first pass — to record a win that broke a trend. "To do this on a West Coast trip, and to start the way we did but come out later and execute, is really big for this football team," FB Earnest Graham said. The Bucs left Tampa on Friday afternoon, arriving in Seattle late that evening. That gave them all day Saturday to adjust to the time difference and shake off jet lag. "It was good to come over here and get acclimated and get settled in," Morris said. "The guys came out (Sunday), and they felt great, and they felt comfortable. They were ready to fight through it and get a win."
Running out the clock
The Bucs' 134 rushing yards marked their third-best output of the season, and it wasn't a coincidence they ran well in a game in which they led for most of the second half. Having played from behind for most of the season, the Bucs have been forced to go to the air late in games. But with a two-touchdown lead entering the fourth quarter, the Bucs could use the running game to establish rhythm. "The running game is all about the situation you're in," FB Earnest Graham said. "You need to be able to run the ball early, and you need to be able to run the ball when you're ahead late. We haven't been ahead in most of the games we've been in. … We finally got a chance to do what we've been preaching about. We got in a rhythm, and we really put some drives together. It felt good to go out there and get after somebody for a change."
Barth bounces back
Bucs K Connor Barth, left, started Sunday's game with a sight that had become a bit too familiar: a missed field-goal attempt. He banged a 38-yard attempt off the right upright early in the second quarter, leaving the Bucs scoreless after a 65-yard drive and raising doubts about a kicker who is the team's third this season. While the offense sputtered through the remainder of the first half, Barth was able to give it a lift with field goals from 28 (late in the second quarter) and 45 yards (early in the third quarter). Meanwhile, his kickoffs were substantially better. He recorded three touchbacks and delivered good kicks on his other three kickoffs. On Barth's remaining kicks, the Seahawks never took possession beyond their 19-yard line, meaning his kicks allowed the coverage team to do its job effectively. In a game in which field position was key, the Seahawks' best start to a drive was at their 28. "I'm getting back in the swing of things," Barth said. "I've always been capable of hitting touchbacks, but I'm finally getting back into my rhythm, relaxing when I'm out there, taking my steps and letting it fly. I hit them good, and I was happy to contribute." He went on to nail a 39-yard field goal just for good measure, a kick that basically put the game out of reach with 11:20 left. "It's not how you start but how you finish," Barth said.
Turning back the clock
Bucs CB Ronde Barber remembers the good old days, when the defense collected turnovers like they were going out of style and took an opponent's heart each time the unit stole the ball. Sunday was a little bit retro in that sense, with the Bucs forcing a season-high five turnovers: two interceptions by CB Elbert Mack, one by LB Geno Hayes, one by S Tanard Jackson and a fumble recovery by Hayes. "That felt like us," Barber said. "It felt like the ball-control, win-it-on-defense type of game. Turnovers always help. I think we went in with a solid plan: Don't kill ourselves with turnovers on offense and they'll have to give us some on defense." The plan worked. The Bucs had not been winning the turnover battle in recent weeks. QB Josh Freeman's rash of 11 interceptions in the previous four games was a big reason, but the Bucs lacked the sort of game-changing defensive plays that once made their defense great. "If we get those (turnovers), you have the chance to win football games," coach Raheem Morris said. "I just want us to play fast, hustle and hit. Turnovers and all that stuff will come. Our job (on defense), like I tell those guys every week, is to score and get the ball back. They were able to get the ball back a couple times today. They did their job."
Bucs TE Kellen Winslow, left, had six catches for 93 yards to give him the franchise's season mark for receptions at the position. Winslow has 68 catches, surpassing Jackie Harris' 62 in 1995. Winslow seems a good bet to establish a mark for receiving yardage among tight ends, too. Jimmie Giles holds the team mark with 786 in 1981. Winslow has 752 with two games left.
The stat line of Bucs LB Geno Hayes reads like a run-on sentence: four tackles, one sack, two tackles for losses, three quarterback hits, an interception, a pass deflection and a fumble recovery. It was arguably the best game of Hayes' career. He has clearly grown more comfortable in the Bucs' revamped defense during the past few weeks. On consecutive plays in the second quarter, Hayes had two impact plays. With 1:32 left before the half, Hayes burst through the middle of the line on a blitz and decked Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck for his first career sack. On the next play, he adjusted nicely before corralling a pass tipped by DE Jimmy Wilkerson for his second career interception. The Bucs went on to convert the turnover into a field goal, their first points of the afternoon.