NFC South: Steve Young

Can Freeman follow past Bucs' QBs?

September, 26, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. – Maybe losing his job as the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the best thing that could happen to Josh Freeman.

Freeman
With Wednesday’s news that rookie Mike Glennon will take over as the starter, it’s fair to say Freeman’s tenure in Tampa Bay is just about over. He’ll either be traded this season or be allowed to walk away as a free agent afterward.

While those might not sound like great options, the history of the Buccaneers suggests otherwise.

Doug Williams, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer all went on to win Super Bowls after departing the Bucs. Vinny Testaverde went on to have a long and productive career. Can Freeman be as successful as those former Tampa Bay quarterbacks?

I think the talent is there. But Freeman is going to have to land in the right place. After what he has been through with Greg Schiano, Freeman needs a different style of coach. Freeman’s laid-back ways and Schiano’s militaristic style didn’t work well together.

There are plenty of people around the league who believe Freeman has what it takes to be a successful quarterback. Someone will give him a shot at a starting job.

Maybe Schiano ruined Freeman forever. Or maybe Freeman can do what Williams, Young and Dilfer did once they got a change of scenery.
ESPN analyst Steve Young made a great point when he talked about what’s at stake for the Atlanta Falcons in the postseason.

“Everyone in the playoffs, everyone has sudden death, but maybe there's just more here and more than any other team, more can be gained by the Falcons than anybody else in the playoffs,’’ Young said Thursday in a conference call with the national media.

Young is exactly right. The Falcons do have more at stake than any other team in the playoffs. That’s due to the fact that they haven’t won a playoff game in the Mike Smith-Matt Ryan era. Just about the whole world knows that and there’s a lot of pressure on the Falcons to show that they really can win when it matters.

Young said that pressure might be a good thing and he pointed to last year’s 24-2 playoff loss to the New York Giants as something that might motivate the Falcons when they host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

“I just think you're going to -- what happened last year -- and you're going to see overzealousness that I think will pay off," Young said. “The fact that they scored two points, we've been hearing that. They won game after game this fall and even people at home were saying, “Oh yeah, but you scored two in January"."

Young said the Falcons have the opportunity to silence their critics once and for all.

“The fact that their coach is 03 and the history of the Falcons, I think this is the chance," Young said. “This is the moment. This is the one, so you're going to see a ferocity from them. There's not going to be an inch that they’re going to give."

Freeman, Bucs breaking new ground

November, 15, 2012
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This really has been true for only five weeks, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the most exciting offense in franchise history and they have a true franchise quarterback for the first time.

Start thinking about the history of this franchise, because that’s a part of why I feel comfortable making those statements. We’ll run through that inglorious history in just a moment, but let’s start with the past five games.

In that stretch, Josh Freeman, who entered the season as a huge question mark, has established himself as a big-time quarterback. Rookie running back Doug Martin has become such a phenomenon that he finally might have shed that nickname he doesn’t like. And wide receiver Vincent Jackson has turned out to be worth every penny of that five-year, $55 million contract he signed back in March.

In each of the past five games, the Bucs have scored at least 28 points. When’s the last time that happened?

Never.

What’s happened in the past five games has vaulted the Bucs into the league lead in average yards per play (6.21). They’re averaging 28.9 points per game, which ranks them behind only New England (see Brady, Tom) and Denver (see Manning, Peyton). Speaking of Manning, he’s second in the league with an average of 8.20 yards per pass attempt. Freeman is No. 1 at 8.27.

Martin had a 251-yard, four-touchdown game at Oakland and has turned out to be the “all-purpose back” that coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik talked about on the night they drafted him.

Jackson’s leading the league among players with at least 30 receptions by averaging 21.4 yards per reception. Heck, teammate Mike Williams is second at 18.3.

Heck, if this keeps up, we might be calling Freeman, Martin and Jackson “The Triplets,” the way Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin used to be referred to in their Dallas glory days. At times, some people got carried away and called the Cowboys’ stars “The Quadruplets” because they actually thought Alvin Harper was good.

That’s a perfect way to jump back into the history of offensive football and the Buccaneers. Harper was the receiver the Bucs signed in the mid-1990s to be their Irvin. Instead, the thing most Tampa Bay fans remember about him is that he got part of his finger sliced off in a training room accident.

For their entire existence, including the good years, the Bucs have been anywhere from dismal to mediocre on offense. They won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson as their quarterback and Monte Kiffin commanding a defense for the ages. They won a lot of games and tasted their first sustained success under coach Tony Dungy ... with Kiffin commanding a defense for the ages.

At one point in the 1990s, Tampa Bay’s bread-and-butter offensive play was having Errict Rhett run into Mike Alstott’s back and fall as far forward as possible. They later upgraded and had Warrick Dunn run into Alstott’s back and actually make a cut or two.

Even back during the first rise to prominence (1979), Tampa Bay was much more defined by Lee Roy Selmon and the defense than it was by the offense and Doug Williams.

Speaking of Williams, he was the best quarterback in franchise history -- until Freeman’s emergence. Between them, the Bucs have trotted out the likes of Steve Young (before he became Steve Young in San Francisco), Vinny Testaverde, Craig Erickson, Trent Dilfer, Shaun King, Brian Griese and Jeff Garcia.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin, Mike Williams, Vincent Smith
Matt Stamey/US PresswireA supporting cast that features receivers Mike Williams (19) and Vincent Jackson (83) and running back Doug Martin makes the Bucs' offense so fearsome.
Although Young, Testaverde and Dilfer had talent, they never had a chance in Tampa Bay because they didn’t have a supporting cast. Williams was easily the best quarterback in Tampa Bay history, but I’m not sure you can call him a franchise quarterback because his tenure lasted from 1978 until he left for the United States Football League in a contract squabble following the 1982 season.

Freeman’s not going to follow a similar route. He’s under contract through 2013, but, after what he has shown this season, I think it’s safe to say Freeman’s going to be around a lot longer than that. Sometime in the offseason, the Bucs almost certainly will give Freeman a big contract extension.

Freeman has bounced back from the disastrous final season of the Raheem Morris era. He’s turned out to be everything Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said he would be upon their arrival. Schiano and Sullivan said they wanted to build an offense that ran the ball consistently and they wanted to take some shots downfield in the passing game.

That formula’s working. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Freeman leads the league with 19 completions on throws of 20 yards or more. Jackson leads the NFL with 10 receptions on throws of 20 yards or more.

Mike Williams has revived a career that seemed to stall last year. The Bucs plucked receiver Tiquan Underwood off the scrap heap and he’s turning in big plays. Martin is making things happen in the running game and as a receiver, and the offense is clicking, despite the fact the Bucs are without injured Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph.

For the longest time, there was a joke in Tampa that the most exciting offense the region ever saw was the “Fun and Gun” orchestrated by Steve Spurrier and the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits, who, briefly, were more popular than the Bucs in the 1980s.

Those Bandits were wildly entertaining, but part of the reason they’re so fondly remembered is because the Bucs always were boring -- and usually bad -- on offense.

Until now.
One common complaint we talk about often in these parts is how the NFC South sometimes gets lost in the shadows of divisions or teams with bigger markets and higher profiles.

Well, maybe we should be careful what we wish for. The NFC South is about to take center stage on a national platform for all the wrong reasons.

The scandal involving the New Orleans Saints and what the NFL says was a “bounty program" designed to reward defensive players for intentionally injuring opponents, will be the topic of an hourlong NFL Live special on ESPN at 4 p.m. ET Monday.

Trey Wingo is scheduled to host. He’ll be joined in studio by Tedy Bruschi, Darren Woodson, Mike Golic and Marcellus Wiley. Former NFL quarterback Steve Young and former NFL defensive back and head coach Herm Edwards will join them via satellite, and there could be other special guests.

Saints put too much on Drew Brees

January, 14, 2012
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Drew BreesThearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesDrew Brees attempted 63 passes Saturday, 14 more than in any regular-season game this season.
Drew Brees is capable of many great things. But you can’t go to the miracle well 63 times in a game and expect it to produce every time.

That was proved Saturday as Brees and the New Orleans Saints lost 36-32 in a divisional playoff game to the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park.

History will tell us this was one of the best games in playoff annals, coming as it did with four lead changes in the final 5 minutes and San Francisco’s winning touchdown with 9 seconds remaining. History will be right, because this game was exciting all the way around.

But the surrounding hysteria might get in the way of history, so let’s go ahead and go on the record with one very important item that cannot be overlooked: You can’t go deep into the postseason with Brees and Brees alone.

That’s what the Saints tried to do, and it came painfully close to working. They had Brees attempt 63 passes. He completed 40 of them, and it looked like he had the miracle the Saints needed when he hit tight end Jimmy Graham with a 66-yard touchdown pass with 1:37 left.

But football -- particularly when it’s in the postseason and on the road -- is about much more than a quarterback, even if he’s surrounded with Graham, Darren Sproles and Marques Colston.

You must have defense, special teams and a running game. The Saints had none of those things against the 49ers, and that’s why they lost.

They simply asked too much from Brees, and they should have known better.

Just go back and look at New Orleans’ three losses during the regular season. There’s a little lesson here.

In the opener at Lambeau Field, Brees attempted 49 passes -- a number that would end up as his regular-season high. He lost a shootout to Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay, and there’s no shame in that. But look closely at the Saints' other two losses, because they came against inferior opponents. In an Oct. 16 defeat to Tampa Bay, the last game the Buccaneers won, Brees attempted 45 passes.

Oh, and then there’s that inexplicable loss to St. Louis two weeks later. Brees attempted 44 passes in that game. Win either the St. Louis or Tampa Bay game, and the Saints are the No. 2 seed and playing at home, where they were undefeated in the regular season.

There’s a line of demarcation where too much Brees becomes a bad thing. It’s somewhere in the low 40s. Yeah, Brees threw 44 times in victories against Houston and Jacksonville, 45 times in a three-point win over Carolina and 47 in a December victory against Tennessee. But none of those was pretty, and Houston was the only playoff team among that bunch.

In games in which Brees attempted 43 or fewer passes, the Saints were 8-0. They also were at their best in those games. They had a running game, some defense and no huge mistakes by the special teams.

But the Saints apparently didn’t notice that trend. They put too much on Brees on Saturday, and they did have some valid reasons for that. Brees didn’t help matters with two interceptions, and the Saints turned the ball over three times in the first quarter.

They fell behind 17-0. Then, they let Brees bring them back but didn’t do anything to help him. The running game, which had been so much better than last season’s, was nonexistent. Sproles, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas combined for only 13 rushing attempts and 32 yards.

Thomas left the game with an apparent concussion after losing a fumble near the goal line in the first quarter. Without him, the New Orleans offense became predictable. When Ivory was in the game, it was obvious the Saints were running. When Sproles was in there, it was obvious they were throwing.

And they threw way too often against a defense that can generate pressure. On his 63 drop-backs, Brees was sacked three times. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Brees was under duress an additional 17 times. When under duress, Brees completed five of 16 attempts (31.3 percent). Brees also threw away five passes after throwing away only eight during the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs.

Again, there should have been a lesson from the regular season. The most times Brees was sacked or under duress (17) was in the St. Louis loss. Against Green Bay, Brees was sacked or under duress on 12 of his drop-backs.

The more often you have Brees drop back, the more you’re asking for trouble, especially when you have two All-Pros at guard but very ordinary tackles.

However, the biggest letdown of all came from the defense. It happened twice after Brees brought the Saints all the way back to take the lead.

The New Orleans defense was pretty good in the 2009 championship season, but it’s fallen off dramatically since then. After doing a decent job against the 49ers most of the game, it totally collapsed in the final four minutes.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireWith no running game to help out, Drew Brees faced heavy pressure from the 49ers defense.
The Saints allowed Alex Smith to score on a 28-yard run, the longest of his career. No one should ever confuse the slow-footed Smith with Steve Young. But now, in addition to Young, he’s going to get compared to Joe Montana.

After the late touchdown to Graham, Smith took the 49ers on a drive for the ages. He hit tight end Vernon Davis with a 14-yard touchdown pass to win the game with 9 seconds left. Matched up against strong safety Roman Harper most of the game, Davis finished with seven catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

The Saints should have known going into the game that Harper on Davis was a huge mismatch, but they kept letting it happen and they kept making Smith look great when it mattered most.

This game showed what’s been suspected since after the Saints won their Super Bowl. Their defense isn’t that good anymore.

That’s obvious now, and there are bound to be ripples, maybe even big waves, after this loss. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ contract just expired, and there already has been speculation he could be joining his old buddy Jeff Fisher in St. Louis. Coach Sean Payton, who once gave up part of his own salary to get Williams, might not stand in the way of a move after this one.

It’s going to be a busy offseason for the Saints. They must sign Brees to a new contract because his deal is up. The Saints have other expensive potential free agents such as Colston and guard Carl Nicks.

There’s no doubt the Saints will keep Brees and, in the process, probably make him the league’s highest-paid quarterback. But as they look at their salary-cap situation after taking care of Brees, they should take a long, hard look at their roster.

It’s time for some changes. You can do all sorts of flashy things and break lots of records by letting Brees carry your team. But he can win a championship only when he has some help around him.

It’s time to give Brees that help.

Wrap-up: 49ers 48, Buccaneers 3

October, 9, 2011
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Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 48-3 loss against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park:

What it means: You can blame it on the long trip across the country. Or you can blame it on the short week after the “Monday Night Football’’ victory against Indianapolis. I’m not taking either route. I’m thinking the Bucs weren’t as good as their record might have indicated. We’d seen some holes even when the Bucs were winning against ordinary or bad teams. The 49ers are pretty good, but it’s not like Joe Montana or Steve Young is leading this team. San Francisco was able to exploit all sorts of Tampa Bay's problems on offense and defense. The Bucs (3-2) fell out of their tie for first place in the NFC South with the New Orleans Saints, who improved to 4-1 with a victory against Carolina.

Injury of note: Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy suffered what appeared to be a serious ankle injury in the first half and did not return. That would be a huge loss if McCoy is out for an extended period because the second-year pro recently had been emerging as a force in the middle of the defensive line. Fellow second-year pro Brian Price also has been playing well. The Bucs can fall back on Roy Miller and Frank Okam, but neither of them has McCoy’s potential for explosiveness.

Stat of the week: Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. That gives Freeman six interceptions for the season. That’s the same number of interceptions he threw all of last season.

Stat of the week II: The Bucs had a chance to put together their first four-game winning streak since Raheem Morris took over as coach in 2009. That didn’t happen.

What’s next: The Buccaneers host the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The schedule doesn’t get any easier after that. The Bucs will leave soon after the Saints’ game to head to London, where they will play a “home’’ game against the Chicago Bears. After that, the Bucs get a bye week, but they have to travel to New Orleans to play the Saints again the following week.

Looking back at Sunday by the numbers

October, 3, 2011
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With some help from ESPN Stats & Information and the individual NFC South teams, let’s take a look at some interesting numbers and facts after Sunday’s games.
  • New Orleans’ Drew Brees now has thrown a touchdown pass in 31 straight games. That broke his tie with Dan Marino and gives Brees the third-longest streak in NFL history. Johnny Unitas (47) holds the record and Brett Favre (36) is second.
  • New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham caught 10 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown Sunday. That makes him the first primary tight end (not including wide receivers who sometimes lined up at tight end) to catch 10 passes in a game for the Saints since Cam Cleeland on Dec. 27, 1998.
  • New Orleans’ win was the first regular-season victory ever for an NFC South team in Jacksonville. Prior to Sunday, the four NFC South teams were a combined 0-8 in Jacksonville.
  • Carolina’s run defense continued to struggle against Chicago. Matt Forte rushed for a career-high 205 yards on 25 carries. That’s the most by a Chicago player since Walter Payton ran for 275 yards in Week 10 of the 1977 season.
  • Carolina rookie quarterback Cam Newton completed 27 of 46 passes for 374 yards with one passing touchdown and two rushing touchdowns. He and Steve Young (Week 3 of the 1994 season) are the only players since the AFL-NFL merger to have 350 passing yards, a passing touchdown and two rushing touchdowns in a game.
  • Newton has 1,386 passing yards in the first four games of his career. That’s 286 more yards than Billy Volek, who held the previous record.
  • Carolina receiver Steve Smith had 181 receiving yards Sunday. He is the first player since Tim Brown in 1997 to have at least 150 receiving yards in three of his team’s first four games.
  • Atlanta’s Michael Turner carried 26 times against Seattle. The Falcons now are 23-1 in games in which Turner has at least 25 carries.
  • Julio Jones had his second straight 100-yard receiving game. He’s the first Atlanta rookie receiver to have multiple 100-yard receiving games in a season since Alfred Jackson in 1978.
  • The Falcons scored a touchdown on their opening drive for the first time this season.
  • Atlanta now has forced a turnover in 23 consecutive regular-season games, the longest such streak in the league.
  • The Falcons now are 5-0 in regular-season West Coast games since Mike Smith took over as coach in 2008.
  • Under Smith, the Falcons are 13-3 following a loss.

NFC South weekend mailbag

July, 2, 2011
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Let’s take a plunge into the NFC South mailbag.

Kyle in Blacksburg, Va., wrote to ask if the Panthers might pursue quarterback Carson Palmer, if he is available.

Pat Yasinskas: There’s been a lot of speculation about Palmer’s future in Cincinnati and it’s possible he could become available. He’s an experienced quarterback and coach Ron Rivera has said he’d like to add a veteran to go with Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen. But that veteran clearly is going to be asked to take on a mentor role. Palmer’s been a starter throughout his career and I’m not sure he’s ready to accept a backup role or even willing to come into a situation where he might be a short-term starter. But, if Palmer does hit the market, I think the Panthers would be wise to at least talk to him and see what kind of role he’s looking for.


Joel in Cary, N.C., saw our post on Brett Favre and Steve Young, a pair of guys who had brief stints with NFC South teams before going on to greatness elsewhere and said he can imagine Clausen following the same path in the future.

Pat Yasinskas: It’s at least possible. If Newton works out well in Carolina, then Clausen’s not going to stick around for the long term. It’s not really fair to judge Clausen on last season, because he was in a horrible offense and a terrible situation. But there are plenty of people around the league who think Clausen can be an NFL quarterback. Time will tell.


JP in Inverness, Fla., asks if Aqib Talib and Tanard Jackson might have helped their chances of staying with the Bucs by showing up for the recent players-only minicamp.

Pat Yasinskas: Well, they certainly didn’t hurt their chances of staying with the Bucs by showing up. Obviously, the coaching staff wasn’t involved in the workout because of the lockout. But the Bucs monitor everything and you can bet they’re well aware Talib and Jackson showed up. Showing that they’re focused on football at least sends a positive message to the Bucs.


Christian in Denver saw Kevin Seifert’s item on Julius Peppers’ Hall of Fame chances and asks if Peppers makes the Hall of Fame will he be pictured in a Carolina or Chicago jersey.

Pat Yasinskas: The Pro Football Hall of Fame doesn’t work that way. The Baseball Hall of Fame requires a player to decide which hat he wants on his plaque. But there are no uniforms or logos on Pro Football Hall of Fame busts and players who played for different teams don’t have to declare one as their primary team. They represent every team they played for.


Mike from Marrero, La., asks if the Saints and Falcons will ever reach a point where they have a nationally recognized rivalry like the Colts and Patriots.

Pat Yasinskas: If both teams continue playing the way they have the past couple of seasons, absolutely. These teams really don’t like each other and it shows up on the field. A few more great games between these two teams could make Atlanta-New Orleans one of the league’s top current rivalries.


Dan in Tampa thinks Reggie Bush could be a perfect fit in Tampa Bay’s backfield.

Pat Yasinskas: If Bush comes available from New Orleans, I could see him in Tampa Bay. The Bucs have LeGarrette Blount as their starting running back, but Cadillac Williams is a potential free agent. If Williams leaves, the Bucs have a big void at third-down back. Bush certainly has the receiving skills to be successful in that role.
In this Insider postInsider, Football Outsiders takes a look at the 10 biggest oversights in NFL history. Basically, they’re looking at guys that started out with one team, didn’t do much of anything there and went on to greatness elsewhere.

Favre
Favre
Young
Young
Well, guess what? The No. 1 and No. 2 guys on the list come from teams that are now part of the NFC South.

Brett Favre came in at No. 1 and Steve Young is No. 2. Yep, I know it’s ancient history, but Favre and Young each spent a little time with teams now in the NFC South.

Favre was drafted by Atlanta and spent a year with the Falcons. It’s easy to look back and say the Falcons and then-coach Jerry Glanville made a huge mistake in trading away a guy who’s sure to be in the Hall of Fame. But that’s not really a fair way of looking at it. Fact is, Favre was wild in those days and has admitted he was out of control.

There are stories about the Falcons posting a security guard at his door so he wouldn’t sneak out the night before a game. There’s also the legendary story about Favre missing practice and telling Glanville it was because he was in a car accident.

Glanville’s response: "You are a car accident."

Favre put things together when he got Green Bay. But things were never going to work in Atlanta if Favre had stayed on the same path.

Saying the Bucs were flat-out wrong in giving up on Young after two ugly seasons isn’t right either. It just wasn’t the right place or the right time for Young to even have a chance. In the late 1980s, the Bucs were as dysfunctional a team as you’ll ever see. Young spent most Sunday’s running for his life because the Bucs couldn’t protect him.

They gave up on him and traded him to San Francisco, where he prospered after serving some time as Joe Montana’s backup. Tampa Bay turned around and drafted Vinny Testaverde as the franchise quarterback. Testaverde also had enormous talent, but could never get things going with the Bucs because there was so little talent.

Don't overlook Josh Freeman's feet

February, 3, 2011
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As Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman emerged as a franchise quarterback in 2010, a lot of people compared him to Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger.

Freeman
Freeman
Understandable. Both of them are the size of a tight end, can throw the heck out of the ball and can bounce off defenders. But one other comparison got overlooked. In some ways, you can put Freeman in the same class as Michael Vick.

The Philadelphia quarterback is known for his running ability, particularly his speed. Freeman’s not nearly as fast and most of his runs aren’t by design. But look back at the quarterback rushing statistics from the 2010 season and Freeman was the closest thing there was to Vick.

Vick was the league’s top rushing quarterback with 100 carries for 676 yards. But Freeman was second with 364 yards on 68 carries. That put Freeman ahead of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Jacksonville’s David Garrard, who are known as strong runners.

Freeman also finished second in rushing first downs by quarterbacks with 29. Vick was first with 38. Freeman had one more than Garrard and seven more than Rodgers, who were third and fourth.

Freeman tied for the league lead in percentage of converting third-and-1 rushing opportunities into first downs. He was successful on all seven attempts. Eight other players also had perfect percentages, but none had as many attempts as Freeman.

Oh, if you want to compare Freeman to another big-name quarterback who was known for his rushing, try Steve Young. He spent a couple years with the Bucs back in the 1980s and set the team’s rushing record for quarterbacks with 425 yards on 74 carries in 1986. Doug Williams’ 370 yards on 58 carries in 1980 rank second and Freeman’s 2010 output is third.
With the voting for the 2011 class of Pro Football Hall of Fame members coming up Saturday, we previously have talked about Willie Roaf and Deion Sanders as the NFC South candidates.

Even that’s not entirely true. Roaf spent time with Kansas City at the end of his career. But he spent the bulk of his career with New Orleans, so he’s typically viewed as a Saint. Sanders bounced around quite a bit and might have had a higher profile in stretches with Dallas and San Francisco, but he spent a good chunk of his career in Atlanta, so a lot of people will view him as a Falcon.

[+] EnlargeTim Brown
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaTim Brown finished up his 17-season career in Tampa Bay.
But there’s one other guy who played in the NFC South that we haven’t talked about here who has a real chance to get in. That’s wide receiver Tim Brown. Yes, he really did play in the NFC South and unlike Roaf and Sanders, he actually played in the division after it came into existence. Roaf left New Orleans for Kansas City in 2002, the year the NFC South started, and Sanders’ time in Atlanta was long before divisional realignment.

But Brown played for Tampa Bay in 2004, the last year of his career. He spent the rest of his career with the Raiders and came to Tampa Bay to finish up with former Oakland coach Jon Gruden.

Brown didn’t do much in that season with the Bucs. He appeared in 15 games, started four, made 24 catches for 200 yards and a touchdown. If he goes in, you won’t view him as Tampa Bay’s second Hall of Famer after Lee Roy Selmon. It’s kind of the same thing as Steve Young, who spent a couple years with the Bucs early in his career, not being considered a true Tampa Bay guy.

The next real Hall of Famer from the Bucs will be either Derrick Brooks or Warren Sapp. But Brown could at least give the Bucs a sliver of representation in the Hall of Fame.

Forget 'Ice,' it's Matty 'Elite' Ryan

December, 20, 2010
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Anytime someone calls Atlanta’s Matt Ryan an elite quarterback, it seems to spark debate. So feel free to hit the comments section below or the mailbag.

I’m not sure what the exact definition of an elite quarterback is. But if you simply look at the following numbers (from ESPN Stats & Information and Elias Sports Bureau), I think you have to come to the conclusion that Ryan is elite. At very least he’s walking in elite company.

As we first pointed out last week, Ryan has been winning at an incredible pace in his first three seasons in the league. After Sunday’s victory in Seattle, Ryan’s career record as a starter is 32-12. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only one quarterback has won more games in his first three seasons. The guy’s name is Dan Marino.

For the record, Marino went 33-10 in his first three seasons. That means Ryan can tie Marino’s victory total with a win against New Orleans on Dec. 27. If he does that, Ryan can break the record with a victory against Carolina in the regular-season finale.

Speaking of Ryan and elite names, he threw three touchdown passes Sunday to bring his career total to 63. That ties him for fourth place in NFL history (going back even before the merger), for touchdown passes in the first three years of a career. The guy he's now tied with? Joe Namath. The only quarterbacks with more touchdown passes in their first three seasons are Marino (98), Peyton Manning (85) and Jeff Garcia (74). All right, Garcia might not quite fit with the other names. But remember, he was taking over for Steve Young and a San Francisco offensive machine that still was mostly in place.

One other stat on Ryan: He now has won nine consecutive starts in December and January, and the Falcons are 9-1 overall in games Ryan has started in December and January during his career.

Double Coverage: Cards-Saints

January, 13, 2010
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Warner/BreesUS PresswireKurt Warner, left, and Drew Brees will square off Saturday in the Superdome.
The Arizona Cardinals won the highest-scoring playoff game in NFL history Sunday. The New Orleans Saints are coming off the highest-scoring season in franchise history.

The Cardinals and Saints aren't the only ones putting points on the board this week.

NFC West blogger Mike Sando and NFC South counterpart Pat Yasinskas scored a few of their own while breaking down the Cardinals-Saints divisional playoff game set for Saturday in the Superdome.

Mike Sando: Ken Whisenhunt has a 4-1 postseason record as Cardinals coach. He has been to a Super Bowl. Sean Payton seems to be the coach with the most at stake in this one.

Pat Yasinskas: There's a lot at stake for Payton and a lot of pressure on him. He has the potential to go from being considered a very good offensive mind to being considered a very good head coach. He has been in the playoffs only once before and that was 2006. They split a pair of games. Getting to 13 wins this season was a huge step for Payton, but the way the season ended, with three losses, sets up the scenario where a playoff loss would be extremely disappointing.

Fans in new Orleans were talking about a Super Bowl when this team was undefeated. Not getting even a playoff victory would open Payton to criticism. Having the bye week has also upped the pressure and panic among fans in New Orleans, but I think Payton used the time wisely as far as game-planning offensively and getting his banged-up defense healthy.

Mike Sando: Watching the Saints from afar, quarterback Drew Brees seemed unusually disappointed when New Orleans lost for the first time this season against Dallas. It was only one game. I wondered if that was the right reaction. Seems to me the Saints should have been focused on the bigger picture. Was I reading too much into that or was there something to it?

Pat Yasinskas: The Saints sincerely believed they had a shot at going undefeated. Their confidence was sky high because at times they were steamrolling opponents. Even in games when they were not playing their best, they always seemed able to pull it out in the fourth quarter. All that changed with the loss to Dallas. I think the Saints know deep down that they are a good team still, but their momentum took a hit and they haven’t been able to get back on course in the regular season. Getting that on the upswing will be a real test of Payton's motivational skills.

Mike Sando: The Saints' defense seems to be at its best when playing with a lead. The Cardinals jumped to a 31-10 lead against the Packers in the wild-card round. Arizona has scored at least 14 points in seven first quarters this season and postseason, same as the Saints. As poorly as the Arizona defense played against Green Bay, the Cardinals did force turnovers early (and late, of course). I think New Orleans could be in trouble defensively if Kurt Warner gets going early and Arizona takes a big lead.

Pat Yasinskas: Absolutely. The Gregg Williams defense counts on playing aggressively and basically their phrase back in camp was something like, "We set the tone." They are all about playing aggressively. Williams likes to blitz. The other big thing is Darren Sharper early in the season was looking like a true center fielder and was a turnover machine. In the second half of the season, when Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer got hurt, they couldn’t let Sharper roam any more. He was playing more like a Cover 2 safety. He was not freed up to make plays. I do think having Greer back at full strength is going to help tremendously.

I’m not saying they are going to shut down Arizona. But they can play. Let’s face it. This is probably going to be a high-scoring game, but defense will be a factor. Whichever defense can force a turnover or two can decide this game.

Mike Sando: The Saints pressured with five or more rushers 49.4 percent of the time this season, trailing only the Jets. Warner can be tough to blitz because he knows where to go with the football quickly. He also benefits from an improved running game. The quarterbacks will win or lose this game, most likely, but Beanie Wells was the player I singled out as a potential X factor. Wells has become a bigger part of the Arizona offense. He had 14 carries for 91 yards against the Packers. The Saints' run defense hasn't been all that great this season.

Pat Yasinskas: The Arizona running game is a concern for that defense. It has been a problem area and Sedrick Ellis has been the key there. He has been in and out with injuries. When he is in, they are OK against the run. When he is out, it changes everything. Having Charles Grant out helps their pass rush because Bobby McCray is better, but Grant was good against the run. The Cardinals might try to exploit that. McCray could be more of a pass-rush situational guy. Anthony Hargrove, who has played inside a fair amount, may move outside on running downs.

Mike Sando: The Saints' pass defense ranked third among NFL teams in holding opposing quarterbacks to low passer ratings. Here's the thing, though. The Saints faced Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman (twice), Jake Delhomme (twice) and Chad Henne. Marc Bulger had 298 yards against them and nearly won the game. Kurt Warner is in another class, particularly in the playoffs. Warner already has more playoff victories in fewer games than Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. He had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four) Sunday.

Pat Yasinskas: Warner has the track record and has been there many times. For Brees, much like Sean Payton, this is a big game to show he truly is one of the elite. Brees has been so precise, not only this year but the last couple of years, that I think he is more than ready to take the next step. Despite the way the season ended, I think the Saints will rebound. This is too talented a team to waste a 13-win season. More important, they lost their last two games in the Superdome and I don’t see them losing there again because their fans will not let them.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals have to love their chances. They hammered a 12-4 Panthers team on the road in the divisional round last season. They have Warner, one of the best big-game quarterbacks ever. These Saints are so much more dynamic offensively than Carolina was last season, though. New Orleans was too good during the regular season to go quietly. A few injuries and a short week will work against the Cardinals. An upset would not shock me, and if the Cardinals win this game, it's one of their finest victories.

Mailbag: Tampa Bay Buccaneers edition

October, 24, 2009
10/24/09
7:30
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

We’ll start our weekly team-by-team mailbags with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Joey in Vero Beach writes: I just want to start by saying that I love your blogs and look at them every day! You are never biased and I really enjoy your articles. I think it’s about time for Josh Freeman to start against GB? Think about it. It’s at home and the Packers are not the best team.

Pat Yasinskas: I’m with you. I’ve been saying for months I thought Freeman would start the game after the bye, which is against the Packers. I think the Bucs wanted all along to get through the New England game before putting Freeman on the field. They’re almost to that point now and I think it’s time to start finding out what they have in their first-round pick.


Dylan in Las Vegas writes: We know the Bucs wanted a youth movement and was part of the reason Josh Johnson is starting. But does it hurt Freeman that he does not have a strong veteran starting QB to learn from the way Eli did with Warner, Rogers did with Farve and Young did with Montana?

Pat Yasinskas: My gut says that’s not a big deal. Freeman does have a veteran to lean on in Byron Leftwich. Even though he’s no longer playing, Leftwich is a team guy and he does his best to help Freeman. But offensive coordinator Greg Olson is the one most in charge of Freeman’s development. I think the veteran thing might be a little overrated. For instance, I’m sure Steve Young learned some things from Joe Montana, but the fact is the two of them were far from close and that created some division in the locker room.


Jason in Medway, Ohio writes: What is going on with the Bucs LB core? My biggest concern is why Barrett Ruud was not resigned during the offseason to a long-term deal. He is their defense. Any talks going on between the Bucs and him, or will this wait till after the season? I can't see them letting him leave or franchising him, so the lack of a new contract when he asked for one seemed confusing to me. Any insights you have would be greatly appreciated.

Pat Yasinskas: I’m also surprised that nothing has happened with Ruud. I thought the Bucs would have extended his contract by now. But there’s not a big rush. He still has another year on his contract. I think the Bucs want to make sure they have something special in Ruud before giving him a huge contract. A few big plays from time to time would help his case.


Gerald in Bradenton writes: Do you think coach Morris will be there next year, or is his job in jeopardy?....(the play calling has been horrible)

Pat Yasinskas: The Bucs didn’t hire Raheem Morris just to fire him after one season. They’re hoping he’s there for a long time and things turn around. That said, Morris needs to win a few games and the Bucs need to show progress. If they go 0-16 or 1-15 and don’t show much hope for the future, it would be tough to keep Morris.


Ben in Arlington, Va. writes: Who votes for the NFC/AFC awards for Offensive / Defensive / Special Teams Player of the Week?

Pat Yasinskas: Those awards are selected by the NFL office in New York. Not sure there's an actual vote as much as there is a consensus decision. I know the public relations directors for teams around the league lobby hard when they’ve got a candidate for an award because the awards mean a lot to players and teams. Some players even have clauses in their contracts that call for them to get bonuses for winning awards like this.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Since the Bucs just re-signed quarterback Luke McCown, we'll strike while the iron is hot and make Tampa Bay the next stop on our team-by-team mailbag tour.

By the way, co-worker John Clayton just got some details on McCown's contract. It's a two-year deal that should be worth about $7.5 million, with $5 million guaranteed in salary and bonuses for 2009. However, the deal also has some incentives that could make it worth up to $14 million.

Pete in Largo writes: I just read that the Buc's just resigned McCown?...who pulled the trigger on this? Do you see this as a quick fix to get us through the year until next year's draft? How does this impact bringing up Josh Johnson?

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, the Bucs have re-signed Luke McCown. I'd strongly suspect that general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris pulled the trigger on this. It's the first significant move of their regime. Not certain McCown is the answer, but there are a lot of personnel folks out there who think he has a lot of upside. Dominik and Morris were around McCown in practice every day last year and I think the fact they re-signed him speaks a lot about what they think of him. Not sure that this move has a big impact on Josh Johnson. He was a project under Jon Gruden, and I think he's still a project.


Walter writes: Hey Pat, I'm a big fan of your blogging. I have a couple questions actually. 1.) Who will start at QB for the Bucs in 2009? 2.) Who wins the NFC South crown in 2009? Thanks man!

Pat Yasinskas: Even with the McCown signing, I still could see the Bucs making another move at quarterback, perhaps in the draft. As it stands right now, they've got McCown, Johnson and Brian Griese under contract. Jeff Garcia can become a free agent, and I suspect he will. If the Bucs stay with their current roster of quarterbacks, I think McCown emerges as the starter, Griese the backup and Johnson No. 3. As for predicting the NFC South, let's hold on a bit. I want to see what happens in free agency and the draft before making any calls on that.


Miles in Orlando, Fla., writes: Just saw in the chat that the bucs resigned Luke McCown. What do you think the odds are that he ends up the starter next year? And is this an indication that they don't want to draft a QB? And since everyone's all abuzz about the cap space the bucs have, what do you think the most likely names will be to end up in pewter next year?

Pat Yasinskas: Again, I don't think the McCown signing necessarily means the Bucs are done at quarterback. I still think they could draft one. This just means they don't absolutely have to go out and make a desperate move for a quarterback. As far as free agency, I expect the Bucs to be very active at a number of positions and we'll discuss some names in the questions below. But, one thing to keep in mind with all that cap space is, the Bucs need to use some of that to keep some of their own free agents, mainly receiver Antonio Bryant.


Daniel in Tampa writes: what are the chances of the bucs getting boldin... and what would they have to give up to get him.

Pat Yasinskas: Anquan Boldin has made it pretty clear he wants out of Arizona, and I suspect the Bucs, like a lot of other teams, are monitoring the situation. Even if the Bucs do re-sign Bryant, they still need another receiver. I think Boldin would be a consideration, but I think the outcome will be determined on what his market value is and some teams may be more aggressive than the Bucs as potential trade partners. I can't see Dominik and Morris giving away a large chunk of their first group of draft picks.


Charles in Mt. Dora, Fla., writes: Check out Doug Williams' career stats. Trent Dilfer won the Super Bowl too. Williams is extremely overrated.

Pat Yasinskas: I'm well aware of Doug Williams' career stats. I'm going to disagree with you and say the guy was underrated. Yeah, his stats weren't always pretty, but think back to what was around him and the style of offense the old Bucs played. I'm not saying he's Johnny Unitas, but I'd take Doug Williams in his prime as my quarterback any day. The guy had great intangibles and was as good a leader as you'll ever find.


Casey in Phoenix writes: Just curious on your thoughts about several Bucs vets, including Joey Galloway, Michael Clayton and Jeff Garcia. It is obvious that all were in Gruden's doghouse for one reason or another and that probably played a major role in why they didn't play at times. What are the chances that these three, or various combinations, are back next year to prove that they still have something to give. I'm not totally sold that Galloway is washed up and the same for Clayton. I'd personally like to see what they really can do with a fresh start, but hopefully that doesn't have to come from a new team.

Pat Yasinskas: I think the signing of McCown is the end of the road for Jeff Garcia in Tampa Bay. But I think he has something left and can help another team. I also think Joey Galloway is on his way out. His age, cap number and injuries last season work against him. I think the Bucs will look heavily at wide receivers in free agency. Michael Clayton might be a slightly different story. If Jon Gruden had stayed, I'd say Clayton definitely would be gone. With Morris and Dominik taking over, I think there's at least a chance the Bucs try to re-sign Clayton. He's got some talent and a new coaching staff might be enough to inspire him.


Dean in parts unknown writes: Lee Roy Selmon the only past Buc in the HOF? Did you forget that Steve Young played two seasons with the Bucs. How about coaches, Joe Gibbs was an assistant on the Bucs staff in the early days.

Pat Yasinskas: I think you got my point. Lee Roy Selmon is the only real Buccaneer in the Hall of Fame -- for now. Do you seriously count Steve Young and Joe Gibbs? Young was a nobody in his brief time with the Bucs and made his career in San Francisco. If you want to claim Joe Gibbs, I think there are some fans in Washington who might argue with you on that. If you really want to go overboard, why don't you add Anthony Munoz to your list, too? He once practiced a few times with the Bucs in training camp before deciding his career was over. Selmon will have some company in a few years when Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp join him.


Roderick in Brooklyn writes: Pat how's it goin I'm a extremely happy Bucs fan now that Gruden is gone but I was wondering w
ith the problems in the D-Line do you believe the Bucs will try to purse a player like Julius Peppers or Albert Hanesworth(If he becomes available) and could you enlighten me on what OC Jeff Jagozinski's offensive style is because I'm a bit unfamiliar with him.

Pat Yasinskas: The defensive line is an area I expect the Bucs to be very aggressive with. Chris Hovan and Kevin Carter wore down at the end of the year, Jovan Haye is a free agent and Gaines Adams still is a work in progress. The Bucs certainly have enough cap room to make a play for Julius Peppers or Albert Haynesworth, and I suspect they'll at least test the waters. As for Jeff Jagodzinski's offense, it's going to be different than Gruden's and I think that can be a good thing. Jagodzinski favors a vertical passing game and the Bucs were way too horizontal last year. I also think you'll see a pretty fair split between the run and pass.

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