On Sunday, wide receiver Mike Williams scored the first points of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 16-10 win over the Carolina Panthers on a six-yard touchdown pass from Josh Freeman in the first quarter. Impressively, that marked the third time in as many years in the NFL that Williams has found the end zone in the Buccaneers' season opener.
Williams obviously knows how get his season revved up quickly, but this year's opening-day touchdown was his quickest one yet. His catch in the back middle of the end zone was the 13th play of an 80-yard march on Tampa Bay's first possession of the game. That was particularly encouraging to the third-year receiver and all of his teammates, because getting off to a fast start has been a point of emphasis by the Bucs' coaching staff for months.
"It felt good, especially to get it in the end zone, to go down there on the first drive and get a touchdown, because we haven't been doing that," said Williams. "It definitely sets the tone to go down and put points up. The other team feels like they've got to match you and starts to force things."
Williams is obviously referring to the 2011 season when he contrasts Sunday's game with what came before, and indeed the Bucs scored only two first-quarter touchdowns during the entire campaign last fall. That season is ancient history, as the Bucs have moved on behind a new coaching staff, but one can still examine the predictive nature of scoring early. Over the last 10 seasons, plus Sunday's opener, the Buccaneers have a record of 48-22 when they score first, a winning percentage of .686; in the same time span, they are 27-64, a .297 winning clip, when the other team scores first.
Of course, scoring on your opening drive doesn't guarantee you will score first. In the case of the Bucs' season opener, the defense helped out by getting a quick stop on Carolina's game-opening possession. That gave Freeman and company an opportunity to take early control of the game, and they delivered with a precise drive that was nearly mistake-free.
Freeman says that starts with a certain attitude on the practice field.
"It's definitely good to have a game-opening drive – especially the first one of the game – to open it with a touchdown," he said. "You want to start fast. Starting fast as an offense is something that's been emphasized, dating way back to camp. When we have morning practices, let's everybody be sharp, be assignment sound and go out and execute from play one. Don't take any time to warm up and get in the rhythm of the game. Let's get your mind right, get your body right and be in the rhythm of the game from the start."