Saturday, March 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Scenes from Raymond James: Bucs offense efficient; redemption on punt block; Doug Martin impresses again

Keeping it clean

The Bucs offense didn't rack up 300 yards (279) and didn't have the ball a ton (23 minutes, 19 seconds). But it was a model of efficiency with no turnovers and no penalties.

Josh Freeman now has four consecutive games without an interception (against 13 touchdowns) and has just five this season (after 22 last season).

"Turnovers are the No. 1 factor for wins and losses," Freeman said. "You look at every win, every loss. The team that wins the turnover battle is pretty substantial."

The Bucs are plus-11 in turnovers this season, including two interceptions of Philip Rivers on Sunday. And after Tampa Bay hurt itself by committing 14 penalties last week against Oakland, it committed just one Sunday (a 5-yard hold against FS Ronde Barber).

"You need to come back with a game like that," TE Dallas Clark said. "So to come back and just hone in on the dumb penalties, that's, obviously, a big help."

Freeman became the first Buc to throw two or more touchdowns in five consecutive games since during the 2002 Super Bowl season. He extended his streak with a touchdown pass to 12 games dating to Dec. 17. And with a 137.5 on Sunday, he became the first Buc to have five consecutive games with a passer rating above 100.

Pair gets redemption and TD

Dekoda Watson said he and fellow Bucs linebacker Adam Hayward had been in the doghouse for hitting punters while trying to block punts. Watson's came during a loss to Dallas, Hayward's during last week's win against the Raiders.

So it was especially gratifying Sunday when the two teamed up for a momentum-swinging punt block and touchdown in the second quarter.

"Lord knows, we needed it," Watson said, smiling. "Both of us."

On the play, the speedy Watson came free off the left edge to knock down Mike Scifres' punt. Hayward scooped it up and returned it 29 yards for the touchdown to give Tampa Bay a 17-14 lead.

"I give all the credit to Dekoda. He does what he does best: blocks punts," Hayward said. "When I saw the ball was live, I just picked it up. All I was thinking was, 'Don't get caught!' I was trying to move as fast as I could. It didn't look fast, but it felt fast."

Credit also should go to some pregame scheming by the Bucs. They saw a weakness in the Chargers special teams and exploited it with some late movement. They had E.J. Biggers, covering a gunner near the sideline, sprint toward the line of scrimmage just before the snap and blitz off the left edge, next to Watson. That forced Corey Lynch, a former Buc, to make a quick decision of whom to block. He picked the wrong player, taking on Biggers and allowing Watson to come in clean inside.

"It's something that was routine that didn't go the way we wanted to," Chargers S Darrell Stuckey said. "You have to stay in tight and block inside out and let the outside guy (Biggers) go because he won't have time to get there."

It was the first blocked punt of Watson's career and Hayward's first touchdown. And it also was the first punt block for a touchdown by the Bucs since Ronde Barber pulled one off on Nov. 8. 2009. Said Watson, a former Florida State standout: "It's been a long time coming."

Martin runs, catches and blocks

Doug Martin's 251-yard rushing game against Oakland last week made him the talk of the NFL. And it drew the attention of the Chargers, who had an extra defender, FS Eric Weddle, in the box most of the game.

But while Martin didn't have a big day (68 yards on 19 carries), he had two key catches and some big blitz pickups.

"He's the all-around guy," Bucs TE Dallas Clark said. "He's the real deal. He's special in his ability to not be one-dimensional."

Said LT Donald Penn: "He's probably the MVP of the team."

On the Bucs' first drive, Martin caught a pass in the flat and went 42 yards down the right sideline. That helped set up Clark's 3-yard touchdown catch. Then with the Bucs trying to close out the game, Martin made a leaping 8-yard grab to pick up a first down and allow them to run another minute off the clock.

"Doug has great hands," QB Josh Freeman said. "He's small. So it's kind of hard to throw it to him. Other than that, he does an awesome job."

Martin's 605 total yards broke the NFL record for a three-game span (593 by the Bears' Walter Payton in 1977). And his 858 yards over the past five games are the most by a rookie since Edgerrin James in 1999 for the Colts.

"It's a combination of will to run and size," Chargers S Darrell Stuckey said of the 5-foot-9, 215-pound first-round pick out of Boise State. "He's just like a lot of great backs that were his size. He kind of hides behind those linemen or finds that small crack in the line and hits that seam. It's one of those things where it's going to take a defense to figure it out and stop it."

Deja vu for the secondary

Two weeks in a row, the story has been the same for the Bucs secondary. After giving up 414 passing yards at the Raiders, it allowed Philip Rivers to dice it for 337. But there is another parallel between the games: The secondary came up with big plays that slammed the door.

While CB E.J. Biggers again struggled and the Bucs attempted to make do without starting CB Eric Wright (he missed most of the game with a foot injury), corners Leonard Johnson and LeQuan Lewis made interceptions to thwart San Diego threats during the second half. Last week, interceptions by Biggers and S Ahmad Black helped seal a victory.

Johnson returned his 83 yards for a touchdown, tilting the momentum of the game. Lewis, who has been with five teams and was playing just his fifth game (second for Tampa Bay) since going undrafted out of Arizona State in 2011, made his first career pick with 3:19 left. That allowed the Bucs to ice the game with a Connor Barth field goal.

The Bucs continue to live dangerously. They entered the game with the NFL's worst pass defense at 321.1 yards per game. And it went up with Sunday's 337. But the Bucs also have 15 interceptions, third-most in the NFL, offsetting some of the big yardage they've allowed.

"There are certain things that we haven't done as well as we would like. But we've made plays," coach Greg Schiano said. "Leonard with the interception for a touchdown and then, at the end of the game, (Lewis) making a play to put it on ice.

"Sure, we'd like to be doing things better, and we will. It's not from a lack of effort. It's not from a lack of want-to. We just have to get everything clicking together."

Optimistic about Black

Bucs LB Quincy Black, who sustained a neck injury, was taken to a local hospital for observation, but the team is optimistic he will make a full recovery.

"I think he's going to be okay," coach Greg Schiano said. "We just have to work through some things."

Black dropped Chargers RB Ryan Mathews for a 2-yard loss during the third quarter, but the helmet-to-helmet blow caused Black to drop to the turf.

Black, 28, showed movement in his extremities and gave a thumbs-up to the crowd as he was carted off the field, which allayed Schiano's concerns. Less than two years ago, Schiano was in a similar situation that did not end as favorably. As coach at Rutgers, he saw Eric LeGrand paralyzed during a game.

"I thought about it immediately, when a guy goes down and he's still," Schiano said. "The good thing was Quincy immediately moved his right arm. So that was a relief. Now it's a matter of being really careful. And I think the medical people did a great job. As someone who's supported efforts to do that, it was a really great job by the medical people to take every precaution."

Black's neck was stabilized on the field, and he was later strapped to a backboard and loaded onto a stretcher. All the while, players from both teams looked on.

It was then that Black gave them a reason for optimism.

"He looked at us, and he said, 'Guys, I'm all right,' " DT Gerald McCoy said. "We heard him. So when we heard that, we were like, 'Let's go.' We said instead of sitting here thinking about it, let's use it as motivation. With one of our family members down, let's stand up for him. That was him saying, 'Go do your thing.' "

Mathews also was concerned.

"We're competing and everything, but you don't want to see anything happen like that," he said. "We are all professionals, and we are all trying to make a living off of this. And to see someone go down like that, it (stinks). I'm going to pray for him."

Black, a third-round pick in 2007 out of New Mexico, is having one of his better seasons. Though he played only in the base defense, he had a game-high two tackles-for-loss Sunday, including the takedown of Mathews.

Jackson gets last laugh

If you thought WR Vincent Jackson (below) seemed a bit more motivated for Sunday's game, it's probably because of the opponent.

The clues were everywhere: from his excited run out of the tunnel during pregame introductions to a postgame celebration during which he climbed practically into the stands to the elation of nearby fans.

It's no secret Jackson had hard feelings toward the Chargers. He played seven seasons for them but never got the lucrative contract extension he sought (even holding out in 2010).

But Jackson found what he wanted in Tampa, agreeing to a five-year deal worth $55.55 million in March. And Sunday, with the Bucs' win over the Chargers and the outpouring of emotion from their star receiver, Jackson seemed to get the last laugh.

Not that he was willing to admit it.

"It seems like I've been here so much longer than I have," Jackson said. "I feel so at home in red now. It didn't feel that uncomfortable.

"Seeing those guys on the other side, of course, brought back some memories. Seeing (TE Antonio Gates and QB Philip Rivers), I had great relationships with those guys, and I wish them the best. But when we get out there between the chalk and it's time to play, obviously, we have to do our jobs."

On a day when the Bucs offense wasn't the juggernaut it was the previous four games, Jackson still impacted the game. He caught a team-high five passes for 59 yards, including a 31-yard deep out that helped set up Tiquan Underwood's 15-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.

That helped the Bucs get a victory and allowed Jackson to get even.

"He was excited," QB Josh Freeman said. "I'm really happy that we were able to get this win, for the team's sake and then also for Vincent's sake."

Quick hits

• Strangest call of the game: snapping the ball directly to RB D.J. Ware on third and 3 from the Chargers 21 during the second quarter. Ware fumbled the high snap, and the Bucs had to settle for a field goal.

• Facing fourth and 1 at midfield midway through the third quarter, QB Josh Freeman picked up 4 yards on a sneak. Tampa Bay scored a touchdown two plays later.

• Rookie LB Lavonte David led the Bucs with 14 tackles, the third time this season (and second straight game) he has recorded 10 or more. He leads the team with 81.

• Mike Williams' 54-yard reception during the third quarter was his second-longest nonscoring play and third longest overall of the season.

• Chargers QB Philip Rivers has committed 40 turnovers since the start of last season, most in the NFL during that span, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

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