The Tampa Bay Buccaneers reached the halfway point in their third season under coach Raheem Morris last week with a middling 4-4 record that suggests they have been as disappointing as they have gratifying.
But with a 2-1 record in the NFC South division, including victories against New Orleans and Atlanta, the team's goal of winning the division title and reaching the playoffs still is within reach.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look back at some of the superlatives and negatives that characterized the Bucs' play during the first half the season.
Offensive MVP: QB Josh Freeman
Freeman has thrown more interceptions this season (10) than all last season (six), but his completion percentage is up, he's on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards and he's still solid, if not spectacular, in the clutch. Freeman's decision-making has been a little shaky at times, but when the Bucs have won he's been the biggest reason.
Defensive MVP: CB Ronde Barber
At age 36 and in a system that requires him to play more man coverage, Barber has been the most consistent player on either side of the ball. He may not get to Hawaii, but with 38 tackles, two interceptions, a sack and a safety, he is having another Pro-Bowl caliber year.
Biggest surprise, offense: WR Preston Parker
Thanks to Parker's clutch performances, the team has not suffered a bit from the Week 1 loss of slot receiver Sammie Stroughter to a foot injury. Among the league leaders in third-down receptions, Parker also has come up big on special teams, where he leads the team in punt and kick returns.
Biggest surprise, defense: DT Brian Price
There was some thought Price might not even play this year after having surgery to re-attach both his hamstrings to his pelvis. Price has not only played, but proven an a valuable disruptive force – and all while playing at about 75-percent efficiency.
Biggest disappointment, offense: Receivers
The pass catchers have been among the league leaders in dropped passes this year and that may not be the worst of their problems. Penalties, poor route running and an inability to shake defenders also helped derail the offense. Morris likes to say his receivers drive the bus. In the first half, they almost drove it off the rails.
Biggest disappointment, defense: Linebackers
WLB Geno Hayes was benched last week for inconsistent play. Critics thought SLB Quincy Black should have taken that seat. Suffice to say the Bucs have not gotten what they were looking for or need from either of their outside linebackers.
Rookie of the Year: LB Mason Foster
It didn't take long for MLB Mason Foster to quiet the critics who questioning the decision to let Barrett Ruud go. Foster is still raw, but already handles the defensive play-calling duties. With 41 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble, Foster has quickly proven to be an impact player and a growing leader of the defense.
Quarterback: Freeman's confidence has betrayed him at times, but he's still good on third down and in the fourth quarter. Grade: B-
Running backs: The Bucs haven't leaned on these guys enough, though they've often excelled. Grade: B+
Receivers: There have been far too many dropped balls and not enough open spaces between them and defenders. Grade: D
Offensive line: This group has been solid, but the Bucs need more from its most veteran unit. Grade: C
Defensive line: This unit has been inconsistent, but you can expect that from so many young players. Grade: C
Linebackers: When rookie Mason Foster is your best and most consistent performer, you've got problems. Grade: D
Secondary: The defensive backs have dropped too many interceptions, but made a lot of big plays. Grade: B-
Coaching: The Bucs have been inconsistent, which is understandable, but their lack of on-field discipline is hurting them. Grade: C-