Chip Scoggins: 'Youngry' Buccaneers' turnaround is job won

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 18, 2011 - 11:55 PM

After a miserable first half, Tampa Bay responded to a simple request from its coach to beat the Vikings.

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Tampa Bay's Arrelious Benn (17) caught a 25-yard touchdown pass while being defended by Cedric Griffin (23) in the fourth quarter, Benn's only catch of the game.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris didn't burst through his locker room door at halftime Sunday and kick over a trash can.

He didn't rant and rave, or threaten to find new players. He didn't take a blow torch to his game plan.

Instead, he delivered a clear and succinct message to his players after they trudged through the first 30 minutes like zombies.

"The drastic adjustments was 'Do your job,' " Morris said.

Wait, that's it? Do your job? There had to be more to it than that because the Bucs looked dead in the water. Except worse.

"Do your job," he reiterated.

Sounds simple, but the young Bucs took it to heart with a second-half performance that left the Vikings stunned and their fans irate. Like a kid on a teeter-totter, the Bucs went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs to escape Mall of America Field with a 24-20 victory.

"We couldn't have played worse in the first half," Morris said. "Arguably our worst half of football since I've been the head coach."

That was being generous. The Bucs looked so overwhelmed and disjointed that you'd think the final score was a misprint if you turned the game off at halftime with the Vikings leading 17-0.

The Bucs managed three first downs and 62 total yards in the half. They treated Adrian Peterson like he was wrapped in "handle with care" stickers, allowing him to rip off 83 yards rushing. Their offensive line was jittery because of the crowd noise and Jared Allen's pass rush.

They were a complete mess.

"That's how the NFL goes sometimes," tight end Kellen Winslow said. "[Morris] challenged us to stop being soft and go out and play like men."

Do your job.

"Honestly everybody thinks we made these big adjustments," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "We didn't. He said stick to the game plan and we did our thing."

They staggered the Vikings with a flurry of punches at the start of the second half. They held the Vikings to three-and-out on the first series, needed only two plays to reach the end zone on their first possession and then successfully executed an onside kick.

The Bucs didn't convert the onside kick into points, but the momentum had vanished from the Vikings sideline. Everything flipped at that point. The Bucs got their running game on track with LeGarrette Blount. The defense swarmed to Peterson, holding him to 37 yards after halftime. They became the aggressors while the Vikings stumbled along with sloppy play and poor decisions.

"We were fortunate to wake up in time," quarterback Josh Freeman said.

Freeman acted as their alarm clock once again. He completed 15 of 20 passes for 191 yards after halftime to guide yet another comeback. He's now engineered eight fourth-quarter comebacks in his 26 career starts.

That's a dangerous script to follow, but Freeman is one cool customer. He didn't even look rattled after throwing a horrendous pass to Winslow that was intercepted by safety Husain Abdullah in the end zone in the third quarter.

Freeman just shrugged it off and kept churning.

"What am I going to do?" he said. "There's nothing you can do. Once you throw it, you've thrown it. I just had to go out and find a way to do better the next time."

Freeman remained calm even when the Bucs trailed by 10 points with less than 10 minutes to play.

"Three words: I love him," receiver Preston Parker said of his quarterback.

The 23-year-old Freeman is the poster child of this young, talented team. The Bucs have 35 players who are 25 years old or younger on the roster. Morris coined the term "youngry" to describe his squad -- young and hungry. He waved off the suggestion that a young team occasionally will play like the Bucs did in the first half.

"No, youngry was the second half," he said. "The first half was badly."

Morris preaches to his players to never blink, regardless of the circumstance. The first half tested that mindset. Morris insists he wasn't mad at halftime though.

"There's no such thing as mad in this game," he said. "My job is to motivate. Hopefully I motivated those guys to come out in the second."

Just a friendly reminder to do their jobs.

Chip Scoggins • chip.scoggins@startribune.com

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