Behind enemy lines: Bucs bring it with Blount

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a closer in running back LeGarrette Blount. For the second week in a row, the Bucs were able to drive the ball for the go-ahead score Monday night against Indianapolis and then run out the clock on offense using their 250-pound bell cow. But it might be more difficult to rely on that formula this week against the 49ers and their formidable front seven on defense.

Blount scored the winning touchdown on a 35-yard run in the Bucs' 24-17 victory over the Colts, breaking a 17-17 tie with 3:05 remaining in the game. It capped a nice comeback by Tampa Bay, which rallied from deficits of 10-0 and 17-10.

The Bucs kept pounding with Blount, and he wore down the Colts while finishing with game-high totals of 127 yards on 25 carries, averaging 5.1 yards a pop.

A week earlier, Blount had 23 yards on five carries in the final four minutes of Tampa Bay's win over Atlanta. Against Indianapolis, Blount rushed eight times for 61 yards during the Bucs' final two possessions of the fourth quarter.

"We embrace the four-minute drill," coach Raheem Morris said. "That's where you want to be in football games, especially when you got a great offense, and we're working our way to becoming a great offense. So we want to be in four-minute offense with LeGarrette Blount and Josh Freeman making smart decisions.

"We did not make a smart decision at the end of the half there; that's why we couldn't get off our field goal. But, to get better and better throughout the game, to finish the way we finished, is what I want and what I like."

Blount, who rushed for 1,007 yards as a rookie, recorded the fifth 100-yard rushing day of his career against the Colts.

"I feel like I should have had a 100-yard game by now," Blount said. "My offensive line has been awesome, so there were a few plays that I left on the field the last few games and could have had a 100-yard game, but I'm happy that we got it out of the way. Hopefully I'm going to send one of those (offensive linemen) to the Pro Bowl."

Blount enters Sunday's game against the 49ers at Candlestick Park 12th in the NFL with 294 yards rushing on 67 carries, a 4.4 average, to go along with three touchdown runs.

The Bucs won't be changing their approach with their big back against a San Francisco defense that ranks fourth in the NFL against the run, surrendering just 74 yards a game.

"What we like to do is run the football with LeGarrette Blount, and I don't think that's a secret," Morris said. "I don't think anybody in this room or anybody in this league tries to go out and deal with secrets. We deal with doing what we do best, executing what we do."

The Buccaneers followed that formula to success in their trip to San Francisco last November. Tampa Bay controlled the football for more than 36 minutes behind Blount, who lugged the ball 26 times for a game-high 82 yards rushing to lead the Bucs to a 21-0 victory.

Tough stretch for Bucs

The Buccaneers begin a torturous second quarter of the season in which they travel to play the 49ers, return home against the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints, fly across the Atlantic Ocean to play the Chicago Bears in London, then, following a bye week, travel to New Orleans for a rematch with the Saints.

First thing's first. Sunday's battle between 3-1 first-place teams at Candlestick Park.

Niners coach Jim Harbaugh has his team off to a surprising fast start, especially considering he had virtually no offseason to implement his system. But the 49ers are playing extremely physical on both sides of the ball and the defense, led by middle linebacker Patrick Willis, has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 26 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Bucs have rebounded from their season-opening loss to the Detroit Lions with their first three-game winning streak since 2008. Tampa Bay also has rediscovered its identity in the process – a smashmouth offense behind Blount.

Tampa Bay also has shown tremendous improvement on its defensive line. The Bucs have recorded at least four sacks and not allowed a 100-yard rusher in each of their last two games. Defensive ends Michael Bennett and Adrian Clayborn are playing at a high level and each have two sacks. Defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price have been disruptive inside.

But playing their first Monday Night Football game at home since 2003 and flying to the west coast for a game in a short week could take its toll on the young Bucs.

"Obviously the flight to San Francisco is a long one and you kind of have to get yourself into the mindset to keep things business as usual," quarterback Josh Freeman said. "Even though we will be on the other side of the country, still have to go about our business the same way. Things will be a little changed. We are leaving on Friday. We will have a chance to go there and get acclimated with the time, and just be ready to go on Sunday."

There are some key changes from the 49ers team the Bucs beat last year: It's now Harbaugh and quarterback Alex Smith leading the way, not coach Mike Singletary and QB Troy Smith.

Harbaugh has brought an all-business approach to the Niners and has them buying in to his physical style of play after a tough training camp in which the team was in pads every day and occasionally tackled to the ground.

The Niners are coming off a big comeback win at Philadelphia, so confidence is not a problem for either of these teams and their brash young head coaches. In fact, Morris and Freeman were tired of apologizing for slow starts and want more credit for their strong finishes.

"I think that's just the NFL," Freeman said. "Most teams win ugly. There are very few blowouts and very few glamorous wins. The way this league goes you are going to have tight games more often than not. I feel like we are built to get into those situations and find a way to pull it out at the end."

Buccaneers report card: Tampa Bay 24, Indianapolis 17

PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Freeman passed for 287 yards and a touchdown against the Colts. He was patient and fairly accurate, but the Buccaneers' wide receivers dropped several passes, especially in the first half. Overall, the pass protection was good. Still way too many penalties on offense.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Blount had the first 100-yard rushing performance of the season, including a game-winning 35-yard touchdown run. Credit the Bucs offensive line, which was able to grind it out on the ground and run out the clock in the fourth quarter.

PASSING DEFENSE: C -- The Bucs allowed two long TD passes from Curtis Painter to Pierre Garcon. The other negative is the Bucs dropped two potential interceptions. Painter, who was making his first NFL start, was sacked four times, twice by DE Michael Bennett.

RUSHING DEFENSE: B -- For the second straight game, the Bucs failed to allow an opponent to rush for 100 yards in a game. DTs Gerald McCoy and Brian Price controlled the line of scrimmage, and the Bucs played a lot of eight-man fronts with S Sean Jones in the box.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- PK Conner Barth missed his first field-goal attempt after starting the season 6-for-6. Michael Koenen did his thing on kickoffs and punts, but the Tampa Bay return game was nothing special.

COACHING: C -- Credit coach Raheem Morris for the Bucs' first three-game winning streak since 2008. That is the goal, after all. But the Bucs had more than 100 yards in penalties, made critical clock-management mistakes at the end of the first half and were fortunate those mistakes didn't cost them.

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