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By Taylor Gaines, Newsome High
As the Bucs enjoy their bye week, they sit at 4-3, in second place in the NFC South. They are behind the New Orleans Saints (5-3) by only a slim margin because of the Saints' loss to the St. Louis Rams Sunday, and they are tied with the Atlanta Falcons (4-3). In head coach Raheem Morris’ third season, the Buccaneers are certainly in the thick of the playoff hunt with nine weeks to play.
Here are five things to watch out for during the rest of the season:
A tough final stretch: The Buccaneers, who are the youngest team in the NFL, will have to mature quickly. They play five of their last nine games against teams with winning records, including the currently undefeated Green Bay Packers. Not to mention three of their final five games are against divisional opponents. Last but not least, five of their last seven games are on the road, where they are currently 1-1.
The mysteriously missing Mike Williams: Tampa Bay WR Mike Williams, in his second professional season out of Syracuse, has disappeared as an elite receiver for Josh Freeman so far this year. After catching 65 passes for 964 yards last season, he has totaled just 31 catches for 317 yards through seven games. His yard per catch average has dropped dramatically from 14.8 to 10.2. He has also vanished in the red zone, catching just one touchdown this season after leading all rookie wide receivers with 11 last year. He hasn’t had a game with more than 80 yards receiving and has had just two games with more than five receptions. It remains to be seen if the late emergence of Dezmon Briscoe and Preston Parker will help Williams work his way back into the offense.
The health of LeGarrette Blount: Second year RB LeGarrette Blount is off to a rough start as well, missing two games with a left knee injury and rushing for nearly a yard less per carry than last year. After becoming the Bucs first 1,000-yard rusher since Cadillac Williams in 2005, Blount has rushed for only 328 yards so far this season. With backup Earnest Graham out for the season due to an Achilles injury, Blount now must get healthy and step up if the Bucs want their rushing attack to return to form. They currently rank 22 in the league in rushing yards per game (100.1).
Josh Freeman’s not totally off the hook either: Although he is nearly on pace to eclipse his yardage total from a year ago, Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman has certainly under-performed so far in 2011. After throwing just six interceptions a year ago, Freeman has already thrown 10 picks in seven starts this season. He currently sits at seven touchdown passes and is on pace to throw nine fewer touchdowns than the 25 he threw a year ago. His QB rating is down 22.8 points and he must step up as the leader of the Bucs offense in his third season at the helm.
The Comeback Kids: Coach Morris has got to be tired of the Cardiac Kids routine the Buccaneers put on weekly. They have trailed at the half in six of their first seven games and still managed to pull out four victories. In all, they have been outscored 169-131. If they want to beat the elite teams in the National Football League, they cannot continue to fall behind week after week. They can only make so many comebacks as a team. The Buccaneers need to play from start to finish if they want to end the regular season strong and make it into postseason play for the first time since 2007 under Jon Gruden.
Photo: Chicago Bears defensive tackle Amobi Okoye sacks Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 23, at Wembley Stadium in London.