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TAMPA, FLA. (AP) - The surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers keep finding different ways to win.
Young quarterback Josh Freeman and an improved offense have been instrumental to a strong start that has the NFL’s youngest team in contention for a playoff berth. However, an old trusted ally keyed the club’s latest victory.
In a performance reminiscent of a decade-plus of defensive excellence, the Bucs forced two turnovers, sacked Troy Smith six times and limited San Francisco to 189 yards total offense in Sunday’s 21-0 rout of the 49ers.
It was Tampa Bay’s first shutout win since 2004.
“It was nice,” linebacker Barrett Ruud said Monday. “They’re hard to get,”
Even though coach Raheem Morris is fond of saying that statistics are for losers, shutting down the 49ers enabled to the Bucs (7-3) to climb from 22nd to 16th in total defense and nearly double their season sack total after having a league-low eight through nine games.
“A complete game is what we needed to play. Not so much the yards or the shutout, even. It was more playing 60 minutes, mistake-free,” Ruud said. “Before, we’d played well but we had given up a few plays here and there. When you do that in the NFL, they wind up being touchdowns.”
Rookie Gerald McCoy, the third pick in this year’s draft, had the first sack of his career. The team’s oldest player, Ronde Barber, became the first player in NFL history with at least 40 interceptions and 25 sacks.
Barber’s fourth-quarter interception set up Tampa Bay’s final touchdown. On Monday, the team received a call from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, requesting the jersey and gloves Barber wore against the 49ers.
The dominant effort reminded the 35-year-old Barber of the heyday of the Bucs defense, which spurred the team’s Super Bowl run eight years ago.
But Ruud was quick to say it would be inaccurate to refer to it as a return to what the team once affectionately called “Buc ball.”
“Our offense is better. Buc ball, you win 10-6. We don’t have to do that any more. We’ve got an explosive offense now,” the sixth-year pro said. “We’re just trying to be an opportunistic defense. We’re trying to get the ball back for our offense or score ourselves. It’s kind of nice actually not having to win the old Buc ball way.”
The offense did its part, rushing for 162 yards and getting another efficient performance from Freeman, who completed 13 of 20 passes for 136 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Rookie receiver Mike Williams, playing two days after being arrested on a DUI charge, had three catches for 54 yards and one TD.
The fourth-round draft pick out of Syracuse was arrested early Friday after authorities spotted his black Escalade speeding and weaving in and out of traffic. According to a breathalyzer test, the receiver had a .065 blood-alcohol level, which is below Florida’s 0.08 percent legal limit. Toxicology results are pending.
The receiver asked to take an independent drug test that came back negative a few hours after the arrest.
“We’re very pleased with the result. … He’s completely clean,” Morris said. “We’re going to let the due process take its course.”
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