TAMPA — Bucs RT Demar Dotson heard the naysayers, those doubting that the offensive line could handle the loss of injured All-Pro guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph.
But the unit more than held its own Sunday against the Raiders, as Tampa Bay racked up 515 yards of total offense, including a record 251 rushing by RB Doug Martin. It took a little while for the line to mesh, with Jeremy Zuttah moving from center to left guard and backup G Ted Larsen starting at center, but they kept Oakland in check.
"I think guys started to settle down and get more comfortable," Dotson said. "And we started gelling as a unit. We knew that we were going to go out there and fight. They've got a good front seven, especially a good front four, we knew it'd be a dogfight from start to finish. We were up for the challenge. We knew we weren't going to get punked out."
Coach Greg Schiano said the line wasn't completely where it needed to be, but he was "happy with how they battled and fought." QB Josh Freeman was sacked once in the first game without Nicks (toe), who was put on injured reserve last week. Joseph suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.
"Nobody is going to give us a chance," Dotson said. "You read stuff in the media about 'patched-up linemen' and all that crazy stuff," Dotson said. "It makes you want to go out and show all the naysayers that say you can't do it. That's who we are, we've got a bunch of guys that are hard workers and want to show everybody that we can get the job done."
ON THE MARK: Lost in Martin's big day was the continued strong play by Freeman, who was 18-for-30 for 247 yards and two touchdowns. Schiano has been impressed with how Freeman has taken care of the ball. In Freeman's past four games, he has thrown for 11 touchdowns and one interception.
"Overall, I think he's moving and operating the offense the way we want him to," Schiano said. "And he's doing the most critical thing, that's taking care of the football. If you do that, you're going to have a chance to win every week."
HIGH PRAISE: Martin isn't the only rookie making a huge impact. LB Lavonte David and S Mark Barron have smoothly stepped into starting roles, with David the team's leading tackler (67) and Barron third (48).
"I think what Lavonte has done has been very consistent from Game 1 all the way through Game 8," Schiano said. "He's made plays every week. … He's playing at a high level, certainly playing un-rookie like."
PASSING FANCY: The Bucs continue to struggle with pass defense, which ranks last in the league at 321 yards per game, including 402 in Oakland.
It won't get any easier with Chargers QB Philip Rivers coming to Tampa on Sunday.
"It's not just any one person, not any one thing, we just need to get better,' Schiano said. "We'll work very hard at that this week with Philip Rivers coming to town, that's going to be a challenge. We need to get it fixed in a hurry."
Schiano praised three key interceptions by the Bucs on Sunday. Rookie CB Leonard Johnson had a pick, his second in two games. "The more playing time you get, the more confident you become," he said. "That comes with experience."
tv update: The Bucs said they need to sell just under 9,000 tickets by 1 p.m. Thursday to avoid a local TV blackout for Sunday's game.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]