With a convincing 36-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday, October 25, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved to within a game of .500 with a 3-4 record after 7 games. As the season nears its mid-way point, the triumph was essential to any hope of playoff contention in a division that contains the NFL's sole undefeated team. Fans can further take comfort in that the game also represented the club's first road win of 2012, since the Bucs next travel to California to meet the Oakland Raiders this weekend. Here is a look at 5 players who stepped up to earn this much-needed victory.
1.) Doug Martin -- Though Martin has impressed all season, by posting the first 100 yard rushing game of his career, the win over the Vikings may prove to be the rookie's coming out party. The 23 year-old ran for 135 yards on 29 carries, capped off by a 4th quarter touchdown that put the game out of reach. Additionally, Martin served as his quarterback's top weapon and added 79 receiving yards, including a 3rd quarter screen pass that the dynamic rookie turned into a 64 yard touchdown. The performance helped the Bucs dominate time of possession and Martin can proudly claim that he outplayed the always-dangerous Adrian Peterson.
2.) Ronde Barber -- The 37 year-old continues to enjoy a stellar campaign in his initial season playing safety. Barber racked up a game-high 8 tackles and again resembled a ball hawk at his new position. The veteran was also responsible for the turning point of the game. With only a 13-7 Tampa Bay advantage, the Vikings were driving in the 2nd quarter and had just converted a 3rd down. Following a 6 yard gain by Peterson on the next play, Barber stripped the ball from the feared rusher at the conclusion of the scramble. Linebacker Quincy Black opportunistically recovered the fumble. With a beneficial short field, the Bucs soon got into the endzone to pad the halftime lead.
3.) Josh Freeman -- For the 3rd consecutive game, the Bucs' quarterback tossed for 3 touchdowns in this contest. More importantly, the 4th year player went interception-free for the 2nd consecutive game, as evidence continues to mount that Freeman is rebounding strongly from 2011's disappointing effort. The 24 year-old connected on 19 of 36 attempts for 262 yards and played steadily against a Vikings' defense that has over-achieved in 2012. Freeman now possesses a 14-5 touchdown to interception ratio, which offers a stark contrast from last year when his turnovers continually doomed Tampa Bay.
4.) Mike Williams -- In the prior week's 35-38 loss to the New Orleans Saints, new addition Vincent Jackson turned in a performance for the ages with 216 receiving yards. Minnesota took notice and clearly focused on containing the free agent addition. However, such a scenario was undoubtedly anticipated by Tampa Bay, who is depending on secondary option Mike Williams returning to 2010 form. The 3rd year played indeed stepped up his game last Thursday by reeling in 6 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. Williams certainly benefits from the intimidating presence of Jackson in the offensive arsenal.
5.) Michael Koenen -- The Bucs' kickers notoriously reside among the NFL's best paid special teams players, but the duo definitely earned their money in this game. Firstly, kicker Connor Barth drilled all 3 field goal attempts in bouncing back from 2 uncharacteristic misses in the prior 2 weeks. Meanwhile, punter Michael Koenen helped control the field of play with 6 strong punts for a 46.8 average. Koenen's best kick traveled a might 57 yards. The 6 year, $19 million man also impressed on kickoffs. Koenen booted 7 of 8 attempts for touchbacks, which greatly limited the potential for return specialist Percy Harvin.
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Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.