Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Martin, Bucs run wild in win over Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS - The combination seems at first to be nothing short of outrageous. That's why no one at One Buc Place has talked publicly of it. Behind closed doors, though, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaches are starting to think it may exist. Whereas they once thought they had in rookie running back Doug Martin a player similar to Ray Rice, the Bucs are suddenly starting to think Martin could prove to be something of a cross between Rice and - wait for it - Emmitt Smith. After Thursday night you can see where they're coming from. Before their 36-17 victory against the Vikings turned into a literal slugfest, Martin set the Bucs up for their second win in three weeks with a show that looked an awful lot like what you'd get if you could somehow blend Rice's skills with Smith's.Capped by a 62-yard catch and run for one touchdown and a 1-yard run for another, Martin accounted for 214 yards of total offense on a night when he ran for more than 100 yards in the first half alone. "I said that about him five months ago," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said of the Smith element Martin seems to possess. "He's definitely got a little bit of (Smith) in him. "He's got the shiftiness, not necessarily the blazing speed, but he's got it above the neck, and that's a big part of it. He's smart for a young back and he knows where the holes are and how to finish and make big plays." The effort was part of another big offensive outing for the Bucs, who have now scored 102 points in their last three games while producing nearly 1,400 yards of total offense over the same period. "We had poise in the noise," said receiver Vincent Jackson, who caught two passes for 40 yards, including a critical 26-yarder on a key third-and-10 play early in the game. "I just think that guys are getting more comfortable with what we're doing and with each other," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said afterwards. "We're getting better and that's what you're supposed to do." Martin certainly is. And it's a steadily growing comfort level, not only with the Bucs offense, but with the pace of the NFL game in general that has sparked his improvement. "It's hard to come from college to the NFL, because the game is definitely (faster) and as a running back you look for that feel and you need that game time experience," Martin said. "Now that I've got some of that, I feel like I'm there, right where I need to be." A first-round pick out Boise State, Martin has run 58 times for 296 yards the last three games, and shared the spotlight Thursday night with quarterback Josh Freeman, who threw for 262 yards and three scores. The talk of the team, if not the NFL, after this one, though, will be about Martin, who was the talk of the locker room after he showed himself to have to power and durability of a Rice along with the big-play skill of Smith. "Doug is just awesome," Freeman said. "The great thing about him is that the moment is never too big for him. The way he prepares, it's no surprise to see him blow up on a game like this." It was an outing the Bucs needed. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson matched Rice virtually play for play, running up more than 100 yards himself while quarterback Christian Ponder made enough plays to keep the game close. Peterson's strong showing came against a Bucs defense that went into the game allowing a league-best average of 3.1 yards per carry and 76 yards per game, third best in the league. The Bucs pass defense hasn't played at the same level as the rush defense this year and that trend continued Thursday, though the Bucs held just enough to bounce back from a tough loss last Sunday to the Saints at home. "We need to be able to stop that big pass," Schiano said. "We're still not doing that, but I'm really happy with the way they answered the bell tonight. We came up with the big plays when we had to." Three of those big plays were sacks as Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Mason Foster and Michael Bennett ended a two-plus game run during which the Bucs failed to record a sack. Bennett's was particularly timely, coming at a time when the Vikings were showing signs of rallying late in the game. That sack, though, all but finished off the Vikings. "Yeah, there was that one chain of events where the crowd got cranked, but then Mike comes up with that sack and that quieted everything down," Schiano said. "Again, I thought our guys really answered the bell the way they need to when you play on the road." They had to answer it quickly. The Bucs and Vikings were both playing after a short week of preparation following games last Sunday, the Bucs coming off a devastating 35-28 loss to New Orleans at home. "It's no mystery about the short week, but we got in that locker room right after the game last week and everybody was so disappointed," Schiano said. "That was hard, so I'm really happy the fans back in Tampa get to enjoy this one tonight." Martin began to show signs of enjoying things a couple of weeks ago, when he ran 13 times for 76 yards against the Chiefs, and he certainly didn't slow down during the first half against the Vikings. Martin ran 14 times for 106 yards during the first 30 minutes, helping the Bucs take a 20-10 lead that came as a result of two Freeman touchdown passes and a pair of Connor Barth field goals. Barth kicked off the scoring for both teams when he finished off a short drive on the Bucs second possession, kicking a 28-yard field goal to help the Bucs capitalize on two straight three-and-outs by the defense. Freeman helped increase that lead to 10-0 on the Bucs next drive, hitting fullback Erik Lorig from a yard out for his first TD pass of the night to finish a drive that included a clutch 26-yard pass to Jackson on third-and-10. The Bucs had a chance to put the game away one drive later but one of Martin's few mistakes - a false start penalty on a first-and-goal play from the 20 - set the drive back and forced the Bucs to settle for Barth's second field goal. That stutter breathed some life into the Vikings, who quickly cut the Bucs lead to 13-7 when Christian Ponder lofted an 18-yard touchdown pass into the arms of wideout Percy Harvin. The Bucs eventually bounced back, though. The Vikings were moving the ball well again one drive later but when Ronde Barber stripped the ball out of Adrian Peterson's hand to force a fumble that Quincy Black fell on the game turned decidedly in Tampa Bay's favor. Sparked by a 16-yard run by Martin, who dropped his seventh pass of the year one play earlier, the Bucs moved 37 yards in six plays to extend their lead to 20-7 on Freeman's second TD toss, a 3-yarder to Mike Williams. The TD pass was the 64th of Freeman's career, tying him with Brad Johsnon for fourth most among all time Bucs QBs, but he took sole possession of that spot when Martin turned his short pass into a 62-yard score early in the third.