TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay’s running game has slowed down during a two-game losing streak, and the Buccaneers know they need to get rookie Doug Martin going again to remain in playoff contention.
Nevertheless, coach Greg Schiano said Monday he’s not overly concerned that Atlanta and Denver were able to contain the budding young star, who’s third in the NFL in rushing and second in total yards from scrimmage despite not finding much room to run lately.
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Schiano said Martin appeared to be on his way to a nice day against the Broncos before Peyton Manning threw a couple of touchdown passes and Von Miller returned an interception for a touchdown in the third quarter to force Tampa Bay (6-6) to become one-dimensional on offense during a 31-23 loss on Sunday.
“He had 48 yards at the half. … Usually if the game remains close, those runs only get more — they don’t get less — as you wear people down,” Schiano said. “I thought he was right on stride to have a really good production day, but then we got behind by three scores. … So you take away, really, the prime real estate for rushing the football, and that’s the fourth quarter when people are worn out.”
Martin carried three times for 8 yards after halftime, finishing with 56 yards on 18 attempts. The Falcons limited him to 50 yards on 21 attempts — a season-low 2.4 yards per carry — in a 24-23 Atlanta victory two weeks ago.
“Overall, I thought Doug ran the ball well. And if we had been able to continue to do that … I think we would have had a good day,” Schiano said. “So, I think we’ll be fine there.”
With Martin bursting onto the scene with a 251-yard, four-touchdown rushing effort against Oakland on Nov. 4, the Bucs averaged 171 yards rushing per game during a four-week stretch in which they turned their season around following a 1-3 start.
Now, they’ve rushed for fewer than 100 yards in three of the past four games.
Tampa Bay led 10-7 at halftime Sunday. But after throwing a first-quarter TD pass to Dallas Clark, Josh Freeman couldn’t get the Bucs into the end zone again until late in the fourth quarter.
“It’s just when you are behind, your whole game plan turns one-dimensional,” said receiver Mike Williams, who caught Freeman’s second TD. “We know we are a two-dimensional team. We know Doug is a valuable part of our offense. When we are behind like that and we turn … one-dimensional, it’s going to be hard.”
Only Adrian Peterson (1,446) and Marshawn Lynch (1,138) have rushed for more yards this season than Martin, who’s closing in on Tampa Bay’s rookie record with 1,106 yards. He’s second behind Peterson (1,641) with 1,480 total yards from scrimmage.
Martin, who’s also closing in on Warrick Dunn’s Bucs rookie record for yards from scrimmage, is confident the team will be able to get the running game back on track.
The rookie attributed his 3.1 yards per carry average Sunday to the Denver defense playing up to its billing as one of the league’s best.
He also felt the Bucs showed something by finding a way to get 13 fourth-quarter points and make the score respectable at the end.
“That’s the thing about us, we got a lot of fighters on the team. We have a lot of competitors that want to win and will give it their all to win the game,” Martin after the game. “That’s something that I personally appreciate about this team, that we have a lot of fighters and competitors.”