TAMPA — After failing to sit on narrow leads the past two weeks and with his defense held together by wire and duct tape, Bucs coach Raheem Morris finally asked for help.
"He said in the meeting the other day, 'We always put it on our defense. It's our offense's time. You've got to go out and win us a game. Go out and win us a game,' " rookie WR Mike Williams said. "He said it in the team meeting, and that's what we've got to do. He put it on us."
More specifically, Morris finally remembered what he said midway through last season when he gave the reigns to QB Josh Freeman: It's all about (No.) 5.
Since then, Freeman has done nothing to disappoint. This season he has six fourth-quarter comebacks and was working on No. 7 before the Bucs' patchwork defense allowed the Lions to drive the length of the field in the final 1:39 with no timeouts, send it into overtime with a field goal on the final play, then win it with another kick in the extra period.
"We've been talking from the beginning of the season, (Freeman) being the leader of this football team and everything revolving around No. 5," Morris said. "There's no question right now our offense is healthier, our offense has more ability to lead us right now than we do on defense. That's who we lean on, and that's up to the head coach."
Morris openly second-guessed his decision last Sunday to play conservative and settle for a field goal late in the fourth rather than give Freeman a shot to win the game by throwing the ball.
It's typical of coaches with a defensive background. In this case, Morris is the coordinator, so it was personal. Typically, defensive coaches believe any lead should be safe in the fourth.
But with five defensive starters on injured reserve — Aqib Talib, Cody Grimm, Gerald McCoy, Quincy Black and Kyle Moore — the Bucs have to open up the playbook for Freeman.
"We've got to make our players aware how important every possession is," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "That's the biggest thing we've talked about offensively."
That's not to say Morris wants to turn every game into a shootout. In some instances, like today against Seattle, he may want to shorten it by controlling clock with a punishing running game.
But a week from now, when the Bucs visit New Orleans and the Saints' high-flying offense, they may throw away caution, and a lot of footballs.
"Every game is different how they play out. Raheem still has a tremendous amount of confidence in the defense," Olson said. "It depends on what offense you're playing. A week from now, we may say we need to get into some no-huddle and some of that."
MR. INTENSITY: The Bucs really like rookie LB Tyrone McKenzie, who goes about his job and life very seriously. That's why he was stunned to find out he was fined for being late to a meeting while still on the practice squad a few weeks ago.
"We're pretty stuck how we run our meetings," Morris said. "We come in at 8 o'clock. I don't say a word. I don't say, 'Good morning, men.' The door closes and I say, 'Good morning, men.' And the meeting starts.
"I was told Tyrone McKenzie missed the team meeting. I said, 'Okay, fine him.'
"McKenzie comes up to me after practice and says, 'What's this?' I look at it and said, 'Oh, you got fined. You missed the meeting this morning.' He looked at me and with a straight face and says, 'I don't do late, Coach. You go get the man who said I was late and tell him to point me out.' "
Then McKenzie began to recite the speech Morris gave in the meeting.
"He looks me right in the face and says, 'Morning men,' " Morris said. "And then goes on to repeat everything I said in the team meeting, from the opening line to the end. It was frightening."
Not only was the fine rescinded, Morris took the letter informing him of it and ripped it up.