TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did more than shake off a nine-game losing streak at Minnesota on Thursday night.
They also put to rest questions about trading up into the first round last spring to draft 5-foot-9, 223-pound running back Doug Martin out of Boise State.
Martin broke out with a huge game in the Bucs' 36-19 victory against the Vikings, running for 135 yards and a touchdown and sprinting 64 yards with a screen pass for another touchdown. Martin was the largest of several impressive offensive factors in Tampa Bay's first victory on the road in more than a year.
"From the beginning we've been saying this guy's got some special abilities," head coach Greg Schiano said Friday. "He just keeps getting better and better and I think things are slowing down for him like they do often-times for very talented rookies."
Martin was having a decent rookie year through his first six games, but Thursday night's game vaulted him up to eighth place on the NFL rushing list with 543 yards.
"I wasn't really aware that this was going to be a breakout game," he said Thursday night. "I just wanted to come in and focus on my job and do my job and the rest would take care of itself."
A 41-yard run early in the game was Martin's first clue that this could be a special night for him, but he says he is still adjusting.
"As a rookie running back it is hard to come from college to the NFL," he said. "The speed of the game has definitely increased. It's a feel thing; you have got to have that rhythm as a running back and get comfortable in the offense and have that game-time experience. I believe I'm definitely there, right where I need to be."
The Bucs, who have 10 days to prepare for their next game at Oakland, will be searching for the right balance of getting the most out of Martin without wearing him down. He had 29 carries Thursday night and has 129 for the season.
"We do keep a close eye it because we don't want to find him in the latter part of the game unable to go, or get him bumped up," Schiano said. "But the really special backs that I've been around, they want it and they get in the groove and they feel it.
"I could see that Doug was feeling it and he wanted carries. Now I also saw when he got gassed a little bit and I thought Earnest (Byner, the Bucs' running back coach) did a good job of getting him out when he could sense that. We're going to have to do a good job of regulating his carries, but . . . the last thing you want to do is take your guy off the field when he's feeling it because those guys get stronger."
Notes: The Bucs' last victory on the road had been on Sept. 18, 2011, also at Minnesota . . . Michael Koenen's NFL-record streak of 21 straight touchbacks ended Thursday night when the Vikings finally ran a kickoff out of the end zone. When told it was the longest streak since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970, the 46-year-old Schiano replied: "What merger? That's a record that will probably last for a while."
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