The Bucs, who pulled off a comeback in Minnesota last year, seem to be on an uptick.
By BRIAN HALLFS North
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered their Week 5 bye having lost three straight games and looking to still establish their identity with a new coaching staff led by Greg Schiano, who had come from the college ranks at Rutgers.
Tampa Bay's early struggles could have been expected. The Buccaneers might have been one team to benefit from an early bye, something most coaches don't appreciate. Schiano and his team were still searching for something in those early weeks that could been found, at least offensively, during the bye.
"I think it was really good for us just because in coming in as a new staff and kind of establishing the work ethic we want to have around here, we probably pushed harder than we may ever do again," Schiano said during a teleconference with Minnesota reporters in advance of Thursday's game against the Vikings. "I think our team really worked their tails off July 26 until we got that bye. It came at a good time for us. I'm not sure I'd like that early bye every year, but this year it was good."
Since then, the Buccaneers have put up two of the biggest offensive performances in team history. Tampa Bay has split its two games since the bye, including last week's tough 35-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
However, the offense has scored 66 points in the two games and has tallied 976 total yards. The 513 yards on Sunday against New Orleans ranked second in team history. The Buccaneers' 463 yards against Kansas City a week earlier was good for 10th on the franchise's all-time single-game list.
"We would have loved to come out of the gates a little bit better than we did," said receiver Vincent Jackson, who had 216 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. "Again, that's just part of the growing process. But we're very confident in the things that we do and what this offense can be."
Jackson, who signed a big-money contract in the offseason, leads the team with 27 catches for 586 yards, the sixth-highest total in the league. He has scored five touchdowns, including four in the past three weeks, and has developed a chemistry with quarterback Josh Freeman, who's done some developing of his own.
Drafted No. 17 overall in 2009, Freeman is coming off a rough 2011 season in which he threw for 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. Sunday, he threw a season-high 42 passes, completing 24 for 420 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. Offseason additions of Jackson and tight end Dallas Clark had their biggest games of the year. Jackson had a season-high seven catches, and Clark had five catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, rookie running back Doug Martin has more than 120 combined yards, rushing and receiving, each of the past two weeks.
"I think Josh has played at a high level," Schiano said. "He's been able to connect with our receivers, and we've been able to run the ball. Not as well as I'd like, but better than we had previously. It's a work in progress of course.
He added: "We're figuring it out, and if Josh can keep throwing the ball efficiently like he is, avoiding mistakes, those kind of things and our receivers can keep making plays down the field, then we have a chance to continue to produce on offense."