Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Scenes from Raymond James: Martin up after two down games. Freeman up after down first half. Foles up after downed six times. Bucs' secondary just down.

Secondary struggles

The Bucs' secondary is young and, other than FS Ronde Barber, unproven. With the trade of Aqib Talib and the suspension of Eric Wright this season, Tampa Bay has had to rely on three undrafted cornerbacks: Leonard Johnson, 22; Danny Gorrer, 26, and now-injured LeQuan Lewis, 23.

The secondary's seasonlong struggles continued Sunday. It allowed 381 passing yards to Eagles rookie QB Nick Foles, including 135 over two fourth-quarter TD drives.

The Bucs are the only team allowing more than 300 passing yards per game (314.9 average), and they likely will continue to get picked on.

"You've got to have guys go and make plays when it matters, guys to step up and do their job better than the guys across from you," Barber said. "We haven't done that. There's plenty of reasons for that. I don't care to get into them. We're not good enough right now, especially on the back end, to win games like this."

Sunday was the seventh time this season a QB passed for 300 or more yards against the Bucs and the fifth time one did for 350-plus. It won't get easier with the Saints' Drew Brees (377 against the Bucs on Oct. 21) up next.

"It's tough, but as a secondary we're growing," Gorrer said. "We're young right now, but it's what we signed up for. We know big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. We're looking forward to it."

Martin bounces back

Doug Martin looked as if he was headed for a lovely day Sunday. He had rebounded from two subpar rushing games, surpassing 100 yards for the fourth time this season. He had scored a touchdown. And the Bucs seemed on their way to a victory.

That changed with Philadelphia's 64-yard winning drive.

"In a loss, I don't really feel anything," said Martin, whose 4-yard run put the Bucs up 21-10 with 7:21 left in the game. "Individual stats aren't really important unless you get the (win)."

But the numbers aren't meaningless. Martin rushed for 128 yards on 28 carries (4.6-yard average). With 1,234 yards, Martin has eclipsed Cadillac Williams' franchise rookie record of 1,178 set in 2005.

In his previous two games, Martin had experienced struggles that seemed foreign to him. He rushed for 50 yards against the Falcons on Nov. 25 followed by 56 on Dec. 2 against the Broncos, both losses.

Martin reached his total Sunday the hard way, without a breakaway run. His longest run was 14 yards.

Martin is still within reach of James Wilder's franchise record of 1,544 yards in a season, set in 1984. He also is three TDs shy of tying Wilder's season franchise record of 13 (all rushing) set in 1984.

Freeman has poor first half

Josh Freeman's halftime stat line did not look like the handiwork of a franchise quarterback: five completions among 16 passing attempts for 61 yards, with two sacks.

Most important was what those numbers don't indicate: The Bucs' scoreless opening two quarters were largely a result of Freeman's struggles. There was no masking things for Tampa Bay's fourth-year passer.

"Early on I missed a couple (of throws) down the field just by small margins," Freeman said. "We wanted to get something going early on, and we were unable to do that. It was frustrating, because I felt we had a great plan. It was just we didn't have the execution."

For as much as the Eagles' final scoring drive will be debated and regretted by the Bucs and their fans, the Bucs' offense's inability to do much of anything in the first half loomed just as large. "We were taking shots and trying to throw it downfield," Freeman said. "One to Vincent (Jackson) was out in front of him. One to Mike (Williams), the (defender) jumped up and made a play on it. If you hit a couple of those, you really have something going.

"I thought our defense did a great job holding (the Eagles) to 10 points (in the half). But you definitely have to come out and play better in the first half and score more points."

Answers were elusive. Freeman looked at times the way he did in arguably his worst game of the season, the Sept. 23 loss to the Cowboys (15-of-28, 243 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions).

"It just seemed like he wasn't himself, wasn't in synch," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "Then he made some throws that make you say, 'Oh, there he is.' We as an offensive football team didn't play the way we are capable of playing."

Freeman made enough plays during the second half to give the Bucs a chance. He finished 14-of-34 for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson had a big day along the way with six catches for 131 yards.

Said Freeman: "We didn't do enough."

Foles feels the pressure

You wouldn't conclude, based on the success of the Eagles' Nick Foles on Sunday (381 passing yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions), that the Bucs had their most consistent pass rush of the season.

The Bucs recorded a season-high six sacks, exploiting an offensive line that let Michael Vick get battered throughout the season until he sustained a concussion in Week 10 against the Cowboys.

The pressure began early, and it came from the Bucs' highest-profile lineman. Gerald McCoy, the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2010, busted through a blocker and buried Foles for a 10-yard loss on the game's third play from scrimmage. McCoy and DE Michael Bennett ended up with two sacks apiece. LB Lavonte David (the first of his career) and DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (the fourth of his career) had one each.

Foles stood tall in the pocket despite the pressure. .

"It's not easy to keep your poise when you're getting hit all day as a rookie," McCoy said. "But he did. All the credit goes to him. (Bennett) got to him early on the last drive. (Foles) could have gotten nervous, but he didn't."

The Bucs haven't applied consistent pressure on quarterbacks lately. McCoy, for example, hadn't registered a sack since getting two against the Cowboys' Tony Romo on Sept. 23. Rushing the quarterback had become a major point of emphasis of the coaching staff.

"A lot of it is defensive game-planning," DE Da'Quan Bowers said. "And then (coach Greg Schiano) challenged us last week. A lot of guys took it upon themselves to get in the film room or wherever and work on their craft. And we had a better showing."

Just not good enough to get the win.

Rookie earns first win

With their playoff hopes gone and the Michael Vick era potentially over, the Eagles have put the rest of their season — and maybe more — in the hands of rookie QB Nick Foles.

The third-round draft pick out of Arizona gave them a flash of his potential Sunday, throwing for 381 yards and pulling off a fourth-quarter rally in his fourth start.

He is the third rookie with at least 350 passing yards, two TDs and no interceptions in a game (Billy Joe Tolliver and the Colts' Andrew Luck are the others).

"You guys are seeing Nick Foles grow into a phenomenal quarterback right in front of your eyes," receiver Jeremy Maclin said. "The sky's the limit for him."

Foles' teammates chanted his name as he entered the locker room.

"It's very special, very humbling," Foles said of his first win.

Foles faced heavy pressure all game, getting sacked six times. But he took care of the ball while throwing 51 passes.

Foles, the starter since Vick sustained a concussion in Week 10, ran for a touchdown during the second quarter, then threw two TD passes over the final 3:55, scrambling for a first down and calling a few audibles along the way.

"It looked like he rallied the team," coach Andy Reid said. "Or they rallied around him. It looked like Nick … made good decisions and made big plays."

One tired leg

The Bucs' Michael Koenen had a busy day with 10 punts, including seven during the first half, for 424 yards, a 42.4-yard average. He averaged 43.7 yards before a 31-yarder on the Bucs' final possession that gave Philadelphia the ball on its 32 with 2:44 left.

It's a screen pass! Uh-oh … it's a TD

If you noticed Bucs LB Lavonte David and LB Mason Foster streaking toward Eagles QB Nick Foles before his 10-yard touchdown scramble in the second quarter and wondered why they detoured, there's a simple explanation.

Both believed a screen pass was coming. So they stopped giving chase, changed direction and then chased RB Dion Lewis, the would-be receiver.

In the process, the Bucs lost containment on Foles, who took off on a light jog to his right and scored just inside the front pylon.

"I knew it was a screen based on the formation," Foster said. "You run free on a screen. Usually somebody would be blocking you. I ran to (defend) the screen. And I guess we both chased it, and nobody went after (Foles). In a perfect world, somebody would have run down the screen and somebody would have gotten the quarterback.

"It's a tough one. It's a screen. So we're all chasing. When you see that, you have to trust your instincts and make a play."

Said David: "You have to learn from it. That just can't happen. You have to learn from it and move on."

Foles makes his pitch, then makes his throw

With the Eagles 1 yard from a winning touchdown and two seconds left on the clock, rookie QB Nick Foles knew what play he wanted to run.

So when the Bucs called timeout, Foles went to the sideline to sell his coaches on the idea. He wanted to roll out, figuring a movement play would make it tough for a defensive back to undercut a sideline pass. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg gave him a high-five and his seal of approval.

"He called it. He wanted it," Eagles coach Andy Reid said of Foles. "And he executed it."

WR Jeremy Maclin, who lined up in the right slot, believed the play would work once he saw how deep CB Leonard Johnson was positioned in the end zone.

Maclin ran forward, then cut to the right corner, making a sliding catch just inside the sideline for the touchdown.

"They just made a good play," Johnson said.

Said Maclin: "Nick put the ball down and away like he was supposed to. I went down, and I got the ball, made sure I was inbounds, and the rest is history."

Quick hits

• The Bucs' Vincent Jackson had his fourth 100-yard receiving day of 2012 (131), including key catches in both fourth-quarter scoring drives.

• The Bucs recorded 10 tackles for loss, including one during each of the Eagles' first three possessions.

• Mike Williams' touchdown catch, a 1-yarder, was his seventh of the season for the Bucs, 21st of his career.


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