AtlantaFalcons.com contributing writer Daniel Cox takes a listen to Wednesday's conference calls--- with the Atlanta media from Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris and quarterback Josh Freeman to break down what the opposing team is saying and thinking as it heads into a Week 9 meeting with the Falcons.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. —The Falcons aren't the only team in the NFC South with some late-game heroics.
Of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' five victories, four have come on scores in the fourth quarter, including their last two wins.
It's an impressive resume for the league's third-youngest team, but head coach Raheem Morris believes they've still got a ways to go.
"They're a young team that just believes," Morris said Wednesday. "They've been playing smart. They've been playing hard. They've been playing fast and they're just trying to put some consistency together. We, by no means, are a finished product yet, but we want to go out there and have fun with this young football team. We want to go out there and play our best. We want to go out there and be our best self every week, and they've been able to go out there and execute."
While it's been a team effort to execute the fourth-quarter wins with many players stepping up, including last week's hero, Aqib Talib, whose fourth-quarter interception gave the Bucs back the ball and a final chance, the wins have come at the hands of the quarterback.
Josh Freeman, at 22 and in his second season, has taken control of the offense and while his stats don't astound you, he's instinctive and makes things happen on offense.
With young playmakers in rookie wide receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn, Freeman is consistently looking down the field. Through eight weeks, the quarterback is tied for fifth in the NFL with 23 plays of 20 yards or more.
Morris likes what he sees in the makeup of Freeman and said his comeback characteristics remind him of Atlanta's own young QB, Matt Ryan.
"With the development of my young quarterback, he's really starting to show characteristics and similarities to your guys and what he's been able to do," Morris said. "He showed them that time in Atlanta. … He's starting to do that with our football team, and hopefully he can develop and become those type of guys and become that good of a football player for us."
Freeman isn't buying into his own hype. While he's quarterbacked the wins, it's been a team effort and he agrees with his head coach that the young Bucs have a never-say-die edge late in games.
"It's really just a mindset; it's a mentality," Freeman said. "When we're down, we never really feel like we don't have a chance. If the game's within reach, we're going to give it everything we've got to make something happen. Fortunately, we've been able to do that the past few games."
Backfield backup:The NFL works in mysterious ways.
You may not always get your man, a player you like in the draft process, but you still may manage to get him even once the season begins.
When concerns around LeGarrett Blount's decision-making (he was suspended his senior year for punching a Boise State player following a game) dropped him out of the draft, Tampa Bay had their eyes on him as a player they felt they could land in the post-draft free agency scramble.
Blount signed with the Titans following the draft and remained with the club through the preseason before being released Sept. 5. Reports stated Tennessee hoped to add him to their practice squad, but the Bucs changed that plan.
A day after his release, Tampa Bay added him to their roster and he finally appeared in a game in Week 3, running for 27 yards on six carries. Four games later, it appears Blount is the team's No. 1 running back.
"He was able to come here and be a part of the Buccaneers for a couple of weeks and get acclimated with our system and find out what it takes to be a pro, and be able to get around guys like Cadillac (Williams) and Earnest Graham, two veterans that we have in the building," Morris said. "They've really taken him in and shown him the ropes. Now he's starting to get a couple of carries and we're starting to see some productive running and some productive things from LaGarrette Blount. He's exciting us all and exciting everybody in our town and everywhere."
In the past two weeks, Blount has gotten more than a couple of carries. In Week 7 his 11 carries produced 72 and last week he broke the century mark, gaining 120 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns.
With Graham slowed by a hamstring issue in recent weeks and a drop in Williams' usage in the offense (seven carries last week), Blount appears to be in the driver's seat as his game is cranking up.
The inevitable question:It was only a matter of time for Morris to have to address his recent "best in the NFC" comments with the Atlanta media on Wednesday's calls.
Clearly one unafraid to make a potentially polarizing comment, the head coach didn't back down from his comments. Morris explained that his comments were an extension of a belief in his team.
"I really believe it's a mentality before it's a reality. If you don't believe in yourself, no different than I believe all of you believe in your children, no one ever will. That's what we're doing right now. I'm believing in this young football team, they're believing in their young head coach and we're believing together."
The Falcons are certainly believers in their own ability and at 5-2, are in the thick of the race to be considered the best team in the NFC. When asked about Morris' comments last week, Atlanta head coach Mike Smith had little to say, choosing to instead focus on the continual molding of his own football club to his standards.
"My thoughts are solely on improving our football team and that's how I approach it each and every week," Smith said. "We're going to take it one day at a time and we look at what we can do to get better as a football team. It really to me, it doesn't matter where you're at each and every week it's changing, its ever-changing. One week you can be up in someone's mind as the best team and the next week you can be down the list. Our thought as a football team is to continue to improve each and every week. We have some internal goals of where we want to be and the timeline on those goals are into December and January."
Alhough they may differ in how they share their team perspectives with the media, they do sound similar in how their approach to the ultimate buy in from their entire team. Both coaches believe the success of a franchise is dependent on not just the star quarterback or an elite defense, but every player on the roster believing in the common, greater goal.
"If we can somehow find a way for all 61 men on our team, including the practice squad, to all stand up together and go out and accept that challenge every single week, win, lose or draw, no matter the fight, no matter who the opponent is, we'll be fine," Morris said.