The Tampa Bay Buccaneers improved by three wins from last season and finished 2012 with seven wins and nine losses. The game early in the season against the New York Giants seemed to sum up the entire season for Tampa Bay. The Bucs came out with all cannons blasting but just ran out of ammo. The Buccaneers season began with high hopes and had fans thinking playoffs after a 6-4 record after 10 games.
Josh Freeman and company on offense looked as good as the Buccaneers ever had but the defense was never able to recover after the losses of defensive end Adrian Clayborn and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Eric Wright. The wins in Oakland and in Minnesota were the culmination of Freeman’s progression and development with new acquisitions Vincent Jackson, Dallas Clark and Doug Martin.
The signature moment of the season was the incredible comeback against the Carolina Panthers. Freeman’s pass to Jackson with time running out in the fourth quarter seemed to be the play that would propel the Bucs into ‘contender’ status in the NFC. However, the winning-touchdown pass to Dallas Clark in overtime was seemingly the last big play that Freeman would make in 2012.
Statistical analysis of Freeman offers some positive points for the young quarterback. Freeman finished in the top 10 in the NFL in both yards and touchdowns. Freeman threw for more yards than Matt Schaub, Joe Flacco and Eli Manning. The bad number is his 81.6 quarterback rating, that ranks 41st in the entire league and is just plain unacceptable if Freeman is the guy to get Tampa Bay to the next level.
The worst moment of the season was certainly the last-second touchdown by the Philadelphia Eagles to beat the Bucs at home and end their playoff chances. Tampa Bay lost 23-21 after leading 21-10 in the fourth quarter. The 41-point shutout loss against New Orleans the following week is a very close second for the worst moment of the season. Not only did the loss to the Eagles kill Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes, they also spoiled the Buccaneers 10-year anniversary Super Bowl celebration.
The defensive secondary is the obvious weakness of the Pewter Pirates and that should be the focal point of the offseason. The offense could also use a few more pieces. Receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams both flourished in the first half of the season but once defenses forced Freeman to look elsewhere the other options were not the caliber of Jackson and Williams. Tiquan Underwood, Roscoe Parrish and Arrelious Benn all occupied the slot receiver position and none of them played it well. The expected loss of Legarrette Blount in this offseason also will prompt general manager Mark Dominik to pursue another tailback in either the draft or via free agency.
Head coach Greg Schiano certainly brought a new attitude and new style to the Buccaneers but the in-game coaching was often called into question by both fans and media alike. Schiano made the Buccaneers a better team but not by much, the ‘anti-victory’ formation in hindsight is just sophomoric and does nothing but anger opposing teams and risks injuries. Schiano eliminated the ‘bad apples’ of Aqib Talib and Eric Wright. Wright was part of the free-agent acquisition overhaul that the Bucs made but his suspension for Adderall use will cost him $10 million. The cornerback position is the most important need for the Bucs. Expect an almost entirely different secondary next season.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan has been allowed to interview with other teams for a possible head coach position and if the Buccaneers lose him, Freeman will be forced to learn a new offense for the fourth time in his career.
The Chicago Bears’ firing of head coach Lovie Smith makes him a possible option for the Buccaneers defensive coordinator position. Smith was a Bucs’ defensive coach under Tony Dungy. There is a good chance however that Smith lands a head coaching job elsewhere and a new coordinator will mean little if the players don’t improve on the defensive side of the ball.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was the anchor in the middle of the Buccaneers’ stout run defense that ranked first overall in rushing-yards against and his stellar play earned McCoy his first Pro Bowl selection. Rookie Doug Martin finished fifth in the NFL in rushing yards and along with Vincent Jackson and Ronde Barber, was chosen as an alternate for the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
The 2012 season was full of excitement early and disappointment late for the Buccaneers and their fans, but there were plenty of bright spots, especially on offense. Doug Martin is perhaps the most exciting Bucs’ back since Mike Alstott and will certainly be a fan favorite for years to come. The results at the end of the season will damper many of the hopes of the Buccaneer fans but the coming offseason will certainly bring some of the much needed changes that Tampa Bay needs to once again reach the playoffs.
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