Josh Freeman held the ball too long and got blindsided by defensive end Jared Allen for a sack on the game’s opening play. He redeemed himself on the next drive by scrambling on third-and-3 for a 12-yard gain. After that however, Freeman and the offense did next to nothing for the rest of the first half and he finished 7-of-11 for 52 yards.
Things changed dramatically in the second half as Freeman was able to use the play-action pass with running back LeGarrette Blount having success in the running game. After having not rhythm in the first half, Freeman was sharp in quarters three and four. He moved well in the pocket to avoid any pressure coming his way and was able to deliver the ball to his playmakers on point. Freeman’s only blemish came on a throw intended for tight end Kellen Winslow in the endzone, which he threw late and got picked off by Husain Abdullah. Other than that, Freeman was on the money in the second half, which included a beautiful 25-yard touchdown toss to wideout Arrelious Benn on a go route. Freeman finished 22-of-31 for 243 yards with one TD and one INT. He also had three carries for 16 yards, two of which resulted in first downs.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson tried to shove LeGarrette Blount down the Vikings throat in the first quarter, but got little results from it. Blount had virtually no room to run and had a putrid four yards on five carries in the first half.
However, instead of being phased out of the gameplan down by 17 points, Olson stuck with Blount in the second half and it paid off. On Blount’s first carry of the third quarter, he burst through a gigantic hole over the right side of the offensive line and scampered 27 yards for a touchdown. After looking tentative in the first half, Blount flashed his power and quickness in the second half and ended up with 71 yards on 13 carries with two touchdowns, the second of which was a four-yard score that gave Tampa Bay the win.
Backup Earnest Graham was his usual productive self out of the backfield. He averaged 6.0 yards on his three carries, and provided Freeman with a nice security blanket in the flat with five receptions for 21 yards.
On the first ball thrown his way, Arrelious Benn had a costly drop that would have given Tampa Bay a first down deep in their own territory. Freeman threw a strike, but Benn let the ball bounce right off his hands. The 2010 second-round pick also had a costly illegal motion penalty that would take a Mike Williams’ touchdown grab off the board. Benn would only get one catch all game, but it was a big one. With the Bucs down 20-10, Benn ran a go route and caught a 25-yarder for a TD. Meanwhile, fellow starter Mike Williams was virtually non-existent, finishing with one catch for minus-4 yards.
While Freeman and Blount will get most of the credit for the comeback victory, backup Preston Parker is the unsung hero. With Benn and Williams struggling, Parker, who is seeing action due to Sammie Stroughter’s foot injury, played lights out when he was on the field. He caught nearly everything thrown his way and made several big grabs. He had a 51-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter that setup a Connor Barth field goal. Parker also had a clutch grab on third-and-4 with less one minute to go in the game to give the Bucs a first down at the Vikings’ 4. The catch allowed Blount to score the game-winning TD on the next play. Parker had a career day with six catches for 98 yards. Dez Briscoe also chipped in some big catches and finished with four receptions for 42 yards.
Kellen Winslow put up a very Kellen Winslow-like stat line: four catches for 44 yards. Winslow had the longest play of the first half for Tampa Bay (18 yards) when he got wide open on a play-action pass in the first quarter. Rookie Luke Stocker caught his first NFL pass in the third quarter and it was a good one. Stocker caught a play-action pass on the Bucs’ first play of the second half and got upended on the tackle, but held onto the football. That completion setup a 27-yard TD run by Blount on the next play. Third-stringer Zack Pianalto was active, but did not see any significant action.
Left tackle Donald Penn struggled early against Jared Allen. Allen’s sack on the first play from scrimmage was not Penn’s fault, but he did allow Allen to get a hit on Freeman on the Bucs’ second drive that resulted in an overthrown ball. Penn was also flagged for a false start in the second quarter. The unit as a whole also failed to open up any holes in the running game for Blount to go through. Blount was constantly met by defenders at or behind the line of scrimmage and it caused the Bucs to face several third-and-long situations. In the second quarter, center Jeff Faine was whistled for a false start that put the offense in a second-and-15 hole.
The O-line played much better in the second half. Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood opened up a huge hole for Blount on his first TD run. They also protected Freeman much better, which allowed him to churn out first downs to keep Adrian Peterson off the field in the second half.
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