Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Unlike last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held onto a late lead Sunday against the Cleveland Browns

In the final two minutes against the Browns, with the Bucs leading by three, Tampa Bay defensive end Tim Crowder hits quarterback Jake Delhomme, resulting in an incomplete pass to bring up third and 10.


In the final two minutes against the Browns, with the Bucs leading by three, Tampa Bay defensive end Tim Crowder hits quarterback Jake Delhomme, resulting in an incomplete pass to bring up third and 10.

TAMPA — Since late in the 2009 season, the Bucs have taken steps toward proving they can pull out fourth-quarter victories.

Coming from behind has become something of a specialty for quarterback Josh Freeman, who has three late-game comebacks in four wins as a starter.

Conversely, the defense proved last season that it was pretty good at losing leads in the closing minutes.

In their opener against Cleveland on Sunday, the Bucs held on to a late lead for Freeman in their 17-14 win.

"I was proud of how we finished the game off," linebacker Barrett Ruud said.

After Freeman connected with Micheal Spurlock on what proved to be the winning touchdown pass with 6:56 left, the defense slammed the door on Cleveland, ending hopes of a rally with an interception by cornerback E.J. Biggers and, later, an assault on quarterback Jake Delhomme.

Three times last season, the Bucs gave up winning scores with fewer than two minutes remaining in a game.

On two of those occasions — at Miami and at Atlanta — the defensive collapse came after offensive heroics allowed Tampa Bay to take a late lead.

The Bucs let Carolina drive 80 yards on 16 plays to set up running back DeAngelo Williams' winning touchdown with 1:21 left in their 28-21 loss Oct. 18.

Atlanta quarterback Chris Redman engineered a 15-play drive that culminated with the winning touchdown pass to Roddy White with 23 seconds left in a 20-17 Bucs loss Nov. 29.

Perhaps most disappointing was the breakdown that allowed the Dolphins to rally for a win Nov. 15. The Bucs' sideline erupted as Cadillac Williams scored to put them ahead 23-22 with 1:19 left. This was followed by the Dolphins advancing from their 16-yard line to set up the winning 25-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining.

"It definitely was (frustrating)," Ruud said. "As bad as we played last year, we still should have won a few more games just executionwise. I think you have to give credit to what we've done in the offseason. We've done some things, and I think it's showing on the field."

A few factors are at work. The biggest one is that the Bucs are more comfortable playing coach Raheem Morris' defense — Morris took over for deposed coordinator Jim Bates late last season — so players' reaction times are quicker and mistakes are fewer. That's critical in a two-minute situation, when the offense likely is in no-huddle mode and defensive substitutions are next to impossible to make.

"You have to be quick on your feet," linebacker Geno Hayes said. "We showed that when everybody's on the same page and you're on your P's and Q's, (the defense) can be great."

If you thought some defenders looked a little lost in some of those fourth quarters last season, you might be right.

"(The breakdowns) were disappointing," Hayes said. "Now you understand what's going on, and guys are really on point.

"In the two-minute (offense), you have to really be on point. You have to know what (the offense's) tendencies are, and the down and distance and their passing routes. It's good that all the young guys, including myself, got into the laboratory and started doing some research on that stuff."

Ruud also cited the team's tackling as a factor. Late in Sunday's game, defenders kept ballcarriers inbounds on several key plays, keeping the clock running.

Then there's this: Maybe this defense, which ranked 27th in the league last season, is just better.

"There were just signs of the defense just growing and developing and learning together (Sunday)," said Morris, still the defensive coordinator.

"In that second half, with the five three-and-outs (for the Browns' offense), it felt great. And we come off the field and all 45,000 that were there were chanting 'defense' again and getting that feeling back (for) our team."

Roster moves

The Bucs reactivated cornerback Aqib Talib from the suspended list and created an open spot on the active roster by releasing rookie defensive end Erik Lorig. The seventh-round pick from Stanford was inactive Sunday, joining another inactive defensive end, Michael Bennett, on the sideline.

Talib served a one-game suspension for a 2009 arrest in St. Petersburg for a run-in with a cab driver. He was suspended before this season for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

Lorig could be signed to the practice squad if he is not picked up by another club.

Meanwhile, punter Brent Bowden was released from the practice squad. Bowden, a sixth-round draft pick this year, was replaced by guard Brandon Carter, an undrafted free agent just released from the Saints' practice squad. Carter was a first-team All-Big 12 selection last season at Texas Tech.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at

Bucs at Panthers

1 p.m. Sunday, Bank of America

Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

TV/radio: Ch. 13; 620-AM, 103.5-FM

Unlike last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held onto a late lead Sunday against the Cleveland Browns 09/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 8:06am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Luke Del Rio regains UF starting job, for now


    GAINESVILLE — Luke Del Rio is once again the starting quarterback for No. 21 Florida.

    Luke Del Rio provided a needed spark when he replaced starter Feleipe Franks and rallied Florida past Kentucky.
  2. Four questions the Lightning still has to answer

    Lightning Strikes

    FORT LAUDERDALE — The Lightning made its biggest round of cuts Monday, with some of the big-named prospects heading out.

    Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) looks on from the bench during a shift change at Lightning hockey training camp in Brandon on Monday (09/18/17). In background on right is Nikita Kucherov (86). DIRK SHADD   |   Times  

  3. Nine Florida football players, 62 felony complaints in fraud scandal


    GAINESVILLE — The fraud scandal that has engulfed the University of Florida's nationally ranked football team for weeks exploded Monday with the first detailed accounts of criminal accusations that threaten to derail the Gators' season.

    Florida Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) runs the ball during the Outback Bowl in January at Raymond James Stadium. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  4. Where Rays shortstop Matt Duffy's lost season leads

    The Heater

    BRADENTON — In a perfect world Matt Duffy would have been in New York on Monday with his Rays teammates enjoying the final off day of the year. Instead, he was on Field 4 at Pirate City on a sweltering afternoon, trying to restart his season.

    Rays shortstop Matt Duffy plays in his first game (since rehab was aborted) with the club's instructional league on Monday at the Pirate City baseball field and spring training complex in Bradenton [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  5. Vinny Lecavalier's jersey retirement will be another classic Vinny moment

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — He was the face of the franchise. He was taken first overall in the 1998 NHL Draft by a franchise at the bottom. Art Williams, the nutty Tampa Bay Lightning owner at the time, proclaimed the 18-year-old from Ile Bizard, a Montreal borough, "the Michael Jordan of hockey."

    Vincent Lecavalier makes a break for the net while playing an exhibition game on Sunday (9/24/17) with the 2017 U.S. Women???‚??„?s National Team at Amalie Arena in Tampa. Lecavalier was the captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 2000???‚??€œ2001 season and between the 2008???‚??€œ2013 and spent his first 14 NHL seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning before signing with the Philadelphia Flyers.