At the start of the season if you told a Buccaneer fan the team would be competitive each week and finish around .500 they would have been hard pressed to be upset. Expectations were low after finishing 4-12 last season. A new coach had been hired and the roster was filled with questions. At different times throughout this season answers seemed to emerge. However, after losing three straight and backing their way out of playoff contention at 6-7, there is uncertainty surrounding the Bucs entering the final three weeks.
Last year Tampa Bay lost 10 straight games to finish the season. The closest the Bucs got over the final five weeks was a 31-15 home setback against Dallas. When Tampa Bay began this season 1-3 it was not shocking. But then the team put together five wins in six games and at 6-4 were well positioned for a playoff push. Three loses by eight points of less later and questions have reemerged.
There is no greater question than at quarterback. Now in his fourth year as a starter Josh Freeman ranks among the top 10 in the NFL in QB Rating and touchdown passes. He compares closely to Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers with similar numbers in all but one major statistical category. Freeman is elite in everything but completion percentage. He ranks above only John Skelton and Chad Henne completing 54.7 percent of his passes. This has doomed Tampa Bay the last two weeks.
When the Bucs have won Freeman has completed 59-percent of his passes while tossing 14 touchdowns and being picked off only three times. In loses Freeman completes a shade under 52-percent of passes throwing for 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. The last two weeks Freeman has hit on 32 of 73 attempts for a miserable 44-percent.
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Inconsistency has also been present at running back. It would be impossible to be disappointed in rookie Doug Martin's first campaign. The Boise State product is third in the league with over 1,200 yards on the ground. Not surprisingly Tampa Bay has won during Martin's best games.
In the season opener Martin burst onto the scene racking up 95 yards on the ground in Tampa's win against Carolina. The next three weeks he failed to reach 70 rushing yards and the team lost each game. In Martin's three biggest outputs of the year, the Bucs knocked off Minnesota, Oakland, and Carolina as part of the team's strong mid-season push. Two of the last three weeks he has failed to top 60 yards on the ground and the team has faltered.
The level of competition plays a major factor. Tampa has beaten just one team with a winning record while loses have come against Atlanta, Denver, the entire NFC East, and New Orleans during the Saints lone winning stretch of the year. It will take three straight wins to finish the season in order to have hope for the playoffs. However, even if the Bucs fail to qualify for postseason play, being competitive throughout the season and explosive at times is a major improvement over last year and bodes well for the future of Greg Schiano's team.