|Greg Schiano's tenure as head coach got off to a strong start with Sunday's win over Carolina. (Getty Images)|
Tampa Bay finished statistically as the NFL's worst rush defense in 2011.
It was only one game, but Sunday's performance in a 16-10 win over Carolina suggested things may be much different this season.
There were many impressive things about the Buccaneers' showing in the season-opening victory at Raymond James Stadium, but the way the defense shut down the Panthers' running game easily topped the list. Carolina finished with only 10 rushing yards on 13 attempts.
While attempting to glean too much from a single game is a dangerous proposition, it's worth noting the Panthers' rushing attack was no slouch a season ago. It finished as the NFL's third-best at 150.5 yards per game in 2011 and boasted an NFL-best 5.4 yards per carry average.
As Tampa Bay's offense floundered in the second half, the defense and special teams kept the Panthers at bay. The players on offense noticed.
"If I wasn't sitting right now, I'd be bowing down to salute our defense," offensive lineman Donald Penn said. "Our fans haven't seen a defense like that since the Super Bowl year."
- Schiano era begins as rousing success: Greg Schiano's first-ever game as an NFL head coach went about as well as anyone could have possibly hoped, according to Gary Shelton of the Tampa Bay Times. The Bucs were, in so many ways, the opposite of the team they were during a miserable 4-12 season last year, which included a 10-game losing streak to end the season. In Shelton's words:
The Bucs ran the ball. They didn't throw an interception. They didn't commit a fumble. They kept the ball for almost a quarter more than they allowed the Panthers to keep it. They didn't blow assignments. And in those moments when it seemed as if Carolina might take over the game, in those moments in which they collapsed so often a year ago, the Bucs managed to make a play. In other words, yeah, Schiano did a pretty good job of saying hello.
- Quick start on offense key to victory: Tampa Bay's offense struggled late, but it made up for that with a quick start, scoring 10 points in the first quarter and helping the team jump out to a 13-0 lead at halftime. That's quite the departure from last season, wrote Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune, when the Bucs scored only 34 first quarter points -- including only a single offensive touchdown -- all year. Playing from behind was a key reason why the team's offense struggled so much in 2011. Once opponents built significant leads, QB Josh Freeman had to throw against defenses aimed to stop the pass. This was different. "Josh was 7 for 7 with a touchdown; that's starting fast," said receiver Mike Williams. "That can take the heart out of an [opponent] if you can go out and do that."
- Bucs honor Barber, who returns the favor: Schiano and the entire organization paid tribute to Ronde Barber, who started his 200th consecutive game on Sunday. Schiano allowed the longtime cornerback to play the first snap of the game at nickel corner before moving to his new position, safety. "It was a great gesture by him," Barber said, according to Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Tribune. "It was much appreciated." The Bucs certainly appreciate Barber's contribution in return, as the veteran finished with a sack, an interception and a key third-down tackle near the goal line in the team's win over Carolina. It was only the second time in his long career he finished with a sack and a pick in the same game.