Bucs RB Martin breaks out against Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS – In order to understand the Metrodome, one has to understand stagnancy.
Scraps of trash flutter from the upper deck, directly down, down, down. Paper airplanes fly dead straight, coasting on the absence of breeze.
But the building is more complicated than that. In the best and loudest of moments, it is stagnancy exploded. There's no air to carry away the piercing cheers, and that balloon-like roof pushes them back to the turf. You'd think it would pop, but instead, it compresses the volume.
To Doug Martin, it was loud. To Greg Schiano, it was cranked. To Josh Freeman, it was deafening. Any halfway a sane bystander would have demanded earplugs to dull the kind of noise that leaves ears ringing into the night.
And it was there, in the most hostile of atmospheres, that Martin burst forth. His team was the underdog. His opponent was still riding its surprising 5-2 start. He had been building all season, adjusting to the pace of the NFL, which can leave rookies like him scrambling to catch up.
But on Thursday, the running back out of Boise State put forth his best performance yet as a pro, finishing the night with a Buccaneers rookie record 214 yards from scrimmage. He had a 41-yard rush and a 64-yard reception, scoring two touchdowns on the way to a 36-17 win.
Welcome to the NFL, Doug Martin.
It's not as if Thursday's performance was a fluke, and that's what makes it even more special. Martin has been working toward this since Schiano named him the team's starting running back in the preseason. Since then, he has averaged more than 100 total yards in four of seven games, and on Thursday, he surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in his short career.
No one was shocked.
"When you get to a game, it's a big game, it's a Thursday-night, nationally televised game," Freeman said. "In the NFL, it's Doug's first big primetime game. It's been a short week, a lot going on, and that guy gets ready to go. The moment's never too big for Doug."
On paper, this shouldn't have happened now. The Vikings have been too good, and their defense has kept them in games when Christian Ponder has faltered. Martin hadn't hit his stride yet, and what odds would say he'd do it on just three days rest? Only these odds, the ones that account for the Buccaneers' growing chemistry and the impatience of a rookie to get himself on the track toward greatness.
Since Tampa Bay's bye three weeks ago, the team has gone 2-1, winning against the Vikings and the Chiefs. The Bucs' loss last week to New Orleans was close, 35-28, the result of a blown lead against one of the league's best quarterbacks. In fact, the Buccaneers are far better than their record; all four of their losses have been by seven points or less against solid teams. It doesn't take a football genius to see that they're the kind of team that can play spoiler.
On Thursday, they were that and more.
"I just think that guys are getting more comfortable with what they're doing and with each other," Schiano said. "I think we're getting better. That's what you're supposed to do.
"I thought overall, they just battled. What they did was they answered the bell when we needed them to."
In Schiano's mind, his team responded. But that's not how Martin sees it. To the rookie, it was less about responding than accepting. The game came to him, he said, his eyes crinkling with the kind of smile that dares you to disagree. But it makes sense. Seven games in, Martin has been adjusting for months. He has been transitioning from college, learning the pace of his new team and its offense. He has been figuring out whatever it means to play "Buc football, that physical football," which the stage for a night like Thursday.
And then it came.
"It's just a feel thing," Martin said. "You've got to have a rhythm at running back and get comfortable with the offense and have that game-time experience."
When the highlights roll, we'll remember the big plays from Thursday's game, that 64-yard touchdown run chief among them. But at that point, the game was close enough to turn, 27-10 with two full quarters remaining. Martin had his theatrics, but it was his eke into the end zone a quarter later that sealed it.
"Doug Martin, 1 Yd run" the stat sheets read. Boring? No. That was the moment the life seeped out of the Metrodome.
Deafening became just stagnant. The air finally moved, as body after body churned toward the exits. The Vikings fan in Section 123 who had been acting out the game in his own silent monologue was still. No more lurching forward with the offense or pointing in thanks toward some imaginary football god lodged in the Metrodome roof. No more referee signals or pantomimed tackles from this fan or any. The coats were on, the scarves bundled.
The Vikings' bubble had burst, thanks to Martin and Freeman, and the Minnesota cold bit that much harder.
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