Rookie running back Doug Martin ripped the Minnesota Vikings for 214 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns to lead the Buccaneers to a 36-17 victory in the Metrodome on Thursday night. It ended a nine-game road losing streak for the franchise, but any streak dating to last season is outdated.
This Bucs group is different. After being blown out often last season, they have been competitive every week this season. (No team has beaten them by more than seven points.) Martin is a thrilling, patient, three-down runner who has a knack for making the first man miss. Wide receiver Mike Williams is back to making big plays. Vincent Jackson has come as advertised.
The only thing that had been missing from Martin this year: big plays. He rectified that against Minnesota with a 41-yard touchdown run and a 64-yard touchdown catch. The comparisons to Ray Rice are apt.
"Ah, he is definitely an asset to our football team," cornerback Ronde Barber said, via The Associated Press. "For a young guy to have that kind of vision, to have that kind of patience as a runner, it's pretty impressive."
While Josh Freeman can be a little inconsistent, he easily was the better young quarterback Thursday night compared to Christian Ponder. The Vikings had some momentum in the second half after a touchdown and a big-and-bloody sack by Jared Allen.
Freeman's response when he got the ball again: a nine-minute touchdown drive that included five third-down conversions, four of which came on third-and-long. That's a big-boy drive. That's a drive that builds confidence.
Watch this Bucs team enough, and it's easy to see Schiano is building something.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.