By Max Luckan
It was a surprisingly close game at halftime with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers holding a 10-7 lead over the Denver Broncos, but then Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver offense came to life. The Broncos scored three straight touchdowns in the third quarter, which opened up an 18 point lead that would give the Broncos a nice cushion. The Bucs played well in the first half, limiting the Broncos’ offense, but the second half made all the difference, as Manning was able to get into a rhythm.
The Bucs tried to get back in the game, but in the end, the Broncos simply overmatched the Bucs and held on for a 31-23 victory. And with the loss, the Bucs dropped to 6-6 and the Broncos improved to 9-3 and won the AFC West.
The coaching was questionable at times, as the Bucs seemed ill-prepared at the beginning of the game against the Broncos. However, as the game progressed, many adjustments were made by head coach Greg Schiano and his staff.
Twice, the Bucs were penalized for having too many men on the field, which shows a lapse in concentration, and there were a few other penalties in the game early on. However, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan did a solid job calling plays overall, as he was able to find a good balance of running and passing plays, and really perplexed the Broncos’ defense at times. The clock management was adequate overall, so there weren’t many issues there. Grade: B
The offense had a few highlights throughout the game, but also a few poor moments. The offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Josh Freeman against the Broncos’ pass rush, and Freeman took many unnecessary hits.
However, Freeman didn’t back down and made some excellent throws while under duress. But, he also made some mistakes. In the third quarter, Freeman threw an interception to Von Miller, who returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. Freeman was wildly inaccurate most of the afternoon, which resulted in a stagnant Bucs’ offense. Freeman’s mistakes certainly overshadowed the positives on Sunday.
Running back Doug Martin wasn’t able to get going, and the Bucs disappointed on offense against a solid Broncos’ defense. Freeman showed some life at the end of the game, but it was too little, too late. Grade: C-
In the first half, the Bucs’ defense was, surprisingly, able to hold Peyton Manning to 108 yards through the air and the Broncos’ offense to only seven points. This can be attributed to solid secondary play. Although there wasn’t much pressure on Manning, defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan approached the high-powered Broncos’ offense in an interesting manner. Sheridan opted to limit the complexity of the defense, which appeared to have confused Manning a bit. The Bucs opted to go with a very generic look on defense, which was largely effective.
However, in the second half, specifically the third quarter, the Bucs gave up 21 unanswered points, and Manning was able to pick apart the secondary. While the Bucs were, as usual, able to slow down the running game, they had no answer in the passing game in what was a poor performance overall. Grade: C-
On the Bucs side of special teams, they weren’t able to get much going in the return game. LeQuan Lewis, who has returned kicks for the past couple of weeks, was ineffective on Sunday against the Broncos.
However on the flipside, Broncos kick returner Trindon Holliday was able to help the Broncos in the field position battle with a few big returns. Solid field position led to a much shorter field for Manning, which in turn, led to easier points for the Broncos.
Kicker Connor Barth, who missed a crucial field goal against the Atlanta Falcons last week, returned to his usual solid form and kept the Bucs in the game. Overall, the Bucs’ special teams has been fairly consistent this season. 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.