What a game.
The Bucs used two defensive touchdowns to achieve a 24-14 halftime lead in Phoenix, then lost the lead in the 4th quarter after a furious comeback by the home team left Tampa Bay trailing by four late in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Josh Freeman, in just his second year with the club, engineered yet another late drive to make the score 38-35, and the defense made it stand after a few more changes of possession.
The win puts the Bucs near the top of the NFC with a first-place showdown looming with the Atlanta Falcons. I'll skip talking smack about that game because the Bucs have suffered humbling losses to Pittsburgh and New Orleans this year. Instead, I'm going to emphasize the goodness of the 5-2 record all things considered.
Yes, the Bucs have played so-so competition so far. But every team has to play the schedule the way the NFL makes it. Every win counts. And though I'm an optimist (I'd have predicted nearly 10 wins this year), I expected two things that have not materialized.
1) A solid season by the defense led by a secondary featuring Tanard Jackson at safety.
2) A solid running game featuring Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and speedy Kareem Huggins.
Tanard Jackson may be the best player in the Bucs' secondary, but after flunking a test for substance abuse he was lost for the season. Coach Raheem Morris surprised many of us by inserting rookie Cody Grimm into the lineup instead of Piscitelli. Grimm has responded with solid, if imperfect, play.
Cadillac Williams has had a terrible time running the ball. Huggins only carried a few times before suffering a season-ending ACL injury. The Bucs' running game remains a work in progress, but waiver-wire claim LaGarrette Blount has come through to bolster the running game.
Meanwhile, the Bucs' offensive line has suffered injuries at center, left guard and right tackle and has cycled through three different starting punters since preseason.
Most teams that suffer those problems hover near .500 or worse. Hardly anybody picked the Bucs to finish over .500 in the first place.
Obviously there's no guarantee of even one more win this season. But the team's performance so far has at least made the season exciting and enjoyable so far for Buccaneer fans.
Bring on the (beatable) Falcons.