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Buccaneers offense thriving on deep passing game

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Buccaneers offense thriving on deep passing game

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Josh Freeman resists any temptation to gloat when he talks about the sudden emergence of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense, insisting he doesn't pay attention to critics.

The fourth-year pro has rebounded from one of the worst performances of his career to jumpstart a sputtering attack with an aggressive downfield passing game that not only helped the Bucs (2-3) stop a three-game skid with a rout of Kansas City but also has turned Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams into one of the NFL's most productive receiving tandems.

Jackson is averaging 18.5 yards per catch on a team-leading 20 receptions with four touchdowns. Williams is averaging a league-best 22.1 yards per catch on 15 receptions and has scored three TDs.

``Nothing anybody says outside of our building has any effect on us,'' Freeman said. ``People will say they want to throw the ball deep or they want to run the ball, but we know who we are and you just have to continue to work, continue to prepare like we've been preparing, then go out on Sundays and just play. We've got the talent, we've got the pieces, we just have to go out and play.''

Freeman threw for a season-high 328 yards and three TDs in Sunday's 38-10 victory over the struggling Chiefs, who paid dearly for trying to single-cover Williams and Jackson, who caught touchdown passes of 19 and 17 yards. Williams scored on 62-yard reception, making an acrobatic catch and continuing up the sideline for Tampa Bay's first TD.

``He makes those catches. If you have 1-on-1 with a DB, you just give him a high ball, give him a chance,'' Freeman said of Williams, a third-year pro who has benefited from the offseason acquisition of Jackson, who played the past seven seasons with the San Diego Chargers.

``I can't say I've ever seen or played with a guy with the ball skills like Mike,'' Freeman added. ``It doesn't really matter where you put it, he's going to find a way to make a play on it.''

Freeman averaged 12.62 yards per pass attempt against the Chiefs, the third highest in franchise history, and spread 15 completions among six receivers who averaged a collective 21.9 yards per catch.

Two weeks after becoming first pair of Tampa Bay players with 100-yard receiving days in the same game in 20 years, Williams finished with four catches for 113 yards and Jackson had four receptions for 66 yards.

Reserve Tiquan Underwood had a 62-yard reception and running back Doug Martin turned a short pass into a 42-yard gain to boost Freeman's numbers, too.

``That's the way we play. ... We are going to take our shots each and every week,'' Jackson said. ``You know if we get a 1-on-1 matchup we are going to be aggressive. We always talk about being aggressive toward the ball. We may not make every play, but we're going to fight for it and we'll win our share of battles out there.''

Freeman has elevated his play since throwing for just 110 yards in a six-point loss to the Dallas Cowboys last month.

He overcame a slow start in a two-point loss to Washington the following week with second-half completions of 65 yards to Williams and 54 yards to Jackson, grabbing the attention of coach Greg Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.

The Bucs used part of their bye week to review film and pore over the playbook to determine what Freeman does best.

Schiano still wants to build a tough, physical team that thrives on running the ball, the first-year coach concedes one thing his 6-foot-6, 245-pound quarterback is comfortable doing is throwing deep passes.

Especially with Williams making play after play. The 62-yard TD reception on Sunday was the longest of his career, and he's the first Tampa Bay receiver with consecutive 100-yard games since Antonio Bryant in 2008.

``He's definitely playing at a high level. He's always had those ball skills, even when he was back at Syracuse and we used to play him when I was at Rutgers. That is a gift,'' Schiano said.

``But his focus, his concentration, his concentration, his commitment to working to be the best he can be is really good right now,'' the coach added. ``I just want it to continue because I think he can be a force for us moving forward.''

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Wizards notebook: Backing Bradley Beal; Downhill for Decker

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Wizards notebook: Backing Bradley Beal; Downhill for Decker

Back to back Beal?

Losing rarely leads to awards. The Wizards lost Monday in Indianapolis, 109-101. They also rallied from 25 points down to pull within one at 98-97 with 4:45 remaining. The comeback against the Pacers occurred with no John Wall (ankle) from the start and sans Otto Porter (knee contusion) after the opening seven minutes.

Lineups included a player making his Washington debut, combinations rarely used and a scoring Kelly Oubre, who shined for the locals with 23 points in one of his more controlled performances.

They also included the newly minted Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

Bradley Beal’s work Monday puts him in line for a repeat performance especially from those that consider leadership in the equation. Beal finished with 30 points, 19 coming in the second half as he played the final 24 minutes. He wasn’t peak efficiency (10 of 27 field goals, four turnovers), but the All-Star battled when crawling into a hole made sense. Beal had two of his three steals in the fourth quarter and finished 4 of 9 on 3-pointers.

Quick reminder: The Wizards lost for a second consecutive game heading into Wednesday’s clash with the Celtics. 

Pacers center Myles Turner dominated inside with 26 points, 12 rebounds and five emphatic blocks. Ex-Wizard Bojan Bogdanovic had 22 points. All five Indiana starters, none named Victor Oladipo, scored in double figures. 

Like many of Washington's opponents, Indiana knocked down shots from deep (10 of 20 from beyond the arc). The Pacers, tops in scoring defense, held the Wizards to 8 of 23 (34.8 percent) from the field in the fourth. 

Tired legs and minds hurt the cause late, but the shorthanded Wizards fought back. This isn’t amateur hour so simply trying doesn’t deserve praise. That the Wizards struggled in that area for chunks of this season makes such performances worth noting, as does the team following Beal’s lead. Keep this up, but pick up wins -- three games this week against the Celtics, at Nets, vs. Lakers -- and perhaps Beal earns another award.

Dekker hustle

It’s also downhill from here for the newest Wizard. Seriously, Sam Dekker, what’s the encore after the team goes on a 19-0 run after you enter for the first time in a Washington uniform?

The 6-foot-9 forward only finished with two points. We don’t take plus-minus seriously most games so that plus-20 is more oddity than reality of the situation. Still, we received a sneak peek at what Dekker could offer going forward once he learns the system, his teammates and gets back into game shape. This marked his first game action since suffering an ankle injury Nov. 5.

Dekker, who added two steals, runs the court with ease and offers energy from the forward position. It’s conceivable he falls outside the rotation most nights when all are available. Then again, if the former University of Wisconsin keeps running the court, his play might eventually badger head coach Scott Brooks into finding him minutes.

 Where art thou Okaro White?

Word came Monday morning that Wall would not face Indiana. Seeing as he acknowledged giving it a go in Saturday’s loss at Cleveland was probably a mistake considering his overall physical condition, cool. 

Around the same time, we found out that rookie swingman Troy Brown Jr. and forward Okaro White would remain with the Capital City Go-Go. The G-League squad plays in Arizona Tuesday.

That meant the Wizards would only have 10 active players in Indiana, a group including Sam Dekker, who only officially joined the team over the weekend. Reminder: Dwight Howard remains sidelined and the 15th roster spot sits empty. 

Perfect world Washington might not use more than nine players in a game so no whoop. As observers of this team know, there’s no such thing as a perfect world this season.

Sure enough, foul trouble struck Tomas Satoransky and Markieff Morris early, as did Porter’s injury. Other than Dekker’s 10 minutes and seven from Ian Mahinmi, Washington effectively used a seven-man rotation.

Nobody would dare suggest having Brown, White or either of their two-way players (Devin Robinson, Jordan McRae) available changes Monday’s result. Brooks might have bypassed all especially the kids. The G-League exists to offer players like Brown and Robinson a place to get in on-court work. It’s also how a team supplements its roster when needed. 

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Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night

Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night

The Washington Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers 109-101 on Monday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Another loss: The Wizards just can't seem to put together a full, 48-minute performance, a collective effort good enough to beat a team that isn't among the worst in basketball. On Monday, they saw a Pacers team that despite missing Victor Oladipo is still very good, and they fell short of what could have been an epic comeback.

The Wizards stormed back from down 25 points, only to collapse in the final minute and get outscored 11-4 to close the game. The final result was another loss, their second straight. They are 11-16 on the year with the Boston Celtics up next on Wednesday.

The defeat spoiled another big night from Bradley Beal. He had 30 points, the fourth straight game he's dropped 27 or more. 

2. Otto went down: The Wizards found themselves in a tough situation on Monday with only nine available players after Otto Porter Jr. left in the first half with a right knee contusion. John Wall and Dwight Howard were already out, meaning the Wizards were down three starters. Markieff Morris then got into early foul trouble, giving head coach Scott Brooks a real dilemma.

Though Porter's injury doesn't seem serious, the Wizards can ill-afford losing anyone right now. It's worth a reminder that, as bad as the Wizards have started this season, they have done so with few injuries to blame.

3. Oubre came through: Not long after Porter went down, Kelly Oubre Jr. stepped in to fill the void. He had one of his best games of the season with 23 points, five rebounds, three steals, and a block.

Oubre shot poorly against the Cavs on Saturday, but overall he has been playing very well lately. This was the fourth straight game he's reached double figures and the third time in that stretch he's scored 19 or more.

In addition to scoring, Oubre did a lot of the things Brooks wants him to do. He drew an offensive foul, brought down two offensive rebounds and forced a few turnovers. Oubre's best attribute is his length and his ability to cause havoc defensively, especially off the ball. He came into this game sixth in the NBA in total deflections and second in deflections per 36 minutes.

4. Dekker debuted: The lack of options for Brooks detailed above and the lopsided score at least brought one positive and that was the debut of Dekker, who checked in with just under four minutes to go in the third quarter. 

Dekker actually played fairly well considering the circumstances and happened to help key a nice little run for the Wizards. Washington closed the third quarter on a 13-0 run once he came in. On one play during that stretch, Dekker got a steal and then finished with a dunk on the other end.

The run with Dekker on the floor extended to 19-0 in the fourth quarter and kept the Wizards within striking distance the rest of the game. Maybe Dekker was the missing piece all along.

5. Turner is good: For the second straight game, the Wizards had no answer for an opposing big man. Last game it was Tristan Thompson, this time it was Myles Turner. 

Turner had a huge first half on the defensive end and found his scoring groove in the second half. He had a monster stat-line of 26 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks.

The strategy for opposing teams at the moment appears to be to attack the Wizards in the middle, knowing they are just trying to make do with Thomas Bryant and a collection of small-ball fives. Teams may keep doing that until the Wizards stop them.

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