By Max Luckan
Two teams appear to be going in opposite directions. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers improved to 5-4 on the season with a 34-24 win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Chargers dropped to 4-5, despite a strong performance from quarterback Philip Rivers, who completed 29 of 37 passes for 337 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. The Chargers started off strong, but really took their foot off the gas in the second half, which allowed the Bucs to take advantage of a few mistakes made by Rivers. And while the Bucs didn’t have a particularly great day statistically on offense, they still managed to find a way to score points in other ways.
The coaching was fairly consistent throughout Sunday’s game, and there weren’t any glaring mistakes readily apparent. In fact, the clock management late in the fourth quarter, as the Bucs were running out the clock, was actually quite brilliant. Head coach Greg Schiano wanted to go for it on fourth-and-three in Chargers’ territory, but in reality, only sent the offense out to take additional time off the clock near the end of the game. The result was a field goal by Connor Barth that gave the Bucs a 10-point lead that would stand for the remainder of the game.
If there’s one caveat to an otherwise solid coaching performance, it would have to be the lack of pressure on Rivers, who was able to torch the Bucs’ secondary like so many other quarterbacks this season. Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan didn’t dial up enough blitzes to rattle Rivers, which resulted in a few big plays. Grade: A-
The Bucs’ high octane offense was surprisingly low-key on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean it was nonexistent. Quarterback Josh Freeman completed 70 percent of his passes for a mere 210 yards and threw two touchdowns, but the Bucs only gained 75 yards on the ground against the Chargers.
Doug Martin, who rushed for 251 yards last week against the Raiders, was held to 68 yards on 19 carries. While the Bucs may not have put up huge numbers this Sunday, the offense didn’t turn the ball over once and scored an early touchdown that kept them in striking distance.
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who went up against his former team, had five catches for 59 yards and the Bucs tried to get him involved early and often.
Overall, there was a good balance of run and pass, a limited number of penalties, an absence of turnovers, and Freeman was well-protected most of the game. Grade: A-
The defense, especially the secondary, continues to be a work in progress for the Bucs. The front seven played well against the Chargers and held running back Ryan Mathews to 54 yards on 17 carries. The defense also didn’t allow a rushing touchdown and continues to play at a high level against the run. Linebacker Lavonte David is becoming a real force to be reckoned with in pass coverage and in stopping the run.
However, the secondary remains just short of a catastrophe. Eight different receivers had at least one reception on Sunday, and Danario Alexander had five for 134 yards and a touchdown. There were gaping holes in the secondary on multiple occasions and a lack of pressure on Rivers, which resulted in big pass plays that led to 24 points by the Chargers.
Leonard Johnson did return an interception for a touchdown and LeQuan Lewis also recorded his first career interception, however, so the defense remains a mixed bag of positives and negatives. Grade: B-
The Bucs have had some issues on special teams in recent weeks, but those were not evident in Sunday’s win over the Chargers. Adam Hayward returned a blocked punt by Dekoda Watson for a touchdown and kicker Connor Barth made two field goals.
LeQuan Lewis returned the kickoffs for the injured Arrelious Benn and didn’t really get a chance to do much. Likewise, there was limited return room for Roscoe Parrish on punts.
Punter Michael Koenen was able to pin the Chargers deep in their own territory on one occasion and the punt coverage was solid overall.
Despite the absence of Benn, the Bucs managed to not turn the ball over on special teams, and even scored off the blocked punt. Grade: B+
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.