What a difference a WIN makes! Everything is better after a Buccaneers victory.
The birds chirp louder.
The sun shines brighter.
The air smells cleaner.
My coffee tastes better.
The future of football in Tampa Bay looks more promising.
Last week, the sky was falling, and the world was ending. This week, the sky is the limit, and the world is ours for the taking. The Bucs were able to bounce back from an ugly offensive showing against the 49ers in Week 1 and went into Charlotte with winning in mind.
In what I considered a “must-win” game, the Buccaneers dominated the trenches and were able to grab an always important divisional win on the road. It was a “must-win” for a number of reasons.
For starters, it was their first NFC South division game. It was also their first meeting with the Panthers. Why is that important? Because their second meeting with the Panthers won’t be at home. It will be in London.
Lastly, this was a “must-win” because they had to make up for that game in Week 1. If they had lost their first two games, who knows what the mindset of this young team would be entering Week 3 against the Giants. It probably wouldn’t be good. Now they have that first win out of the way. Now they have some confidence. Now they know how it feels when THIS team wins a football game, and hopefully, now they want that feeling to continue.
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY
The Quarterback – Jameis Winston responded to his poor Week 1 performance with a solid game in Carolina, pulling off his first road win since December of 2016 breaking a 12-game losing streak. Biggest difference? NO TURNOVERS! He was efficient. He protected the football. He made good decisions. He made good throws, with the exception of one underthrown pass to Breshad Perriman that fortunately went through the hands of Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. Jameis threw the ball well, finishing 16 of 25 for 208 yards for a 64% completion rate and 1 touchdown. If he can continue to play that kind of football every week combined with a solid run game and this defense, the Bucs just might have a chance at the playoffs this year.
The Defense – For the first time in about 15 years, it appears that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a defense. A fast, strong, aggressive defense. Sure Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw for 333 yards, but he was only 25 of 51 for a 49% completion rate and had zero touchdowns. They also held the Panthers to 39 yards rushing yards total. Running back Christian McCaffrey, who had 19 carries for 128 yards and 2 touchdowns along with 10 catches for 81 yards against the Rams in Week 1, was smothered by the Bucs finishing with 19 carries for just 37 yards and 2 catches for 16 yards. After averaging more than 6 yards per carry last week, he only managed 2.3 yards per carry against the Bucs. The only Panther player that really did some damage was tight end Greg Olsen, who finished with 6 catches on 9 targets for 101 yards and that’s only because he got loose a couple of times for big chunk plays. The Buccaneers had 5 passes defended in this game, including four by defensive backs. The other was by rookie Anthony Nelson, who also had a forced fumble in the game. Cam Newton was under siege all game. Shaq “Sack” Barrett had 3 sacks in a 7-minute span, bringing his season total to four, to go along with 6 QB hurries. Vita Vea, Carl Nassib, and Ndamukong Suh were also in Newton’s face all night long, causing him to rush throws and throw off balance. They also held the Panthers offense to a 21% third-down conversion rate, 352 total yards and they managed just four field goals. In two games so far, this defense has only allowed one touchdown, which was a 37-yard pass against the Niners. On top of all this, they closed the game out with their third 4th down stop of the game. I said it last week, and I’ll say it again until they prove otherwise…DEFENSE IS BACK IN TAMPA BAY!
The Run Game – For the second straight game, the Bucs offensive line run blocked pretty well. The difference here was for which running back they were blocking. Last week, it was Ronald Jones running for 75 yards on 13 carries. This week, it was Peyton Barber, who got the touches finishing with 23 carries for 82 yards and 1 touchdown. The Bucs seem to have a nice two-headed monster in the backfield with these two guys, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a typical “running back by committee” offense. Arians simply rides the hot hand. Against the Niners, it was Jones. Against the Panthers it was Barber. The good news is that the Bucs have two running backs capable of producing each week. It’s a nice “problem” to have on this team.
The Offensive Line – Once again, the o-line run blocked pretty well AND also protected Winston for most of the game, giving up just 3 sacks to a pretty good Panthers defensive line, which included a motivated Gerald McCoy. I haven’t re-watched the game yet, but, if I recall correctly, at least two of the sacks were more coverage sacks than breakdowns in pass protection. Winston had a clean pocket for a majority of his dropbacks, and Peyton Barber averaged 3.6 yards per carry. Not great, but still effective. This group is still learning how to play together as a unit. The more games they play together, the better they’ll get.
The Closing – Last season, this would’ve been a LOSS for the Bucs. That team didn’t know how to finish games. They didn’t know how to protect late-game leads, and they couldn’t come back from late-game deficits. This year’s team seems different under Arians and Bowles. This team grabbed the second-half lead and never gave it back. They held up at the end of the game and closed it out in dramatic style. That will really pay off later on this season when the offense does get rolling (and it will soon) scoring some points and building leads.
The Penalties – It wasn’t easy finding “bads” for this game, but I did, and this was a big one: For the second game in a row, this team put itself in bad situations committing 12 penalties against Carolina. Whether it was on offense with holding penalties, defense with interference penalties or special teams with illegal blocking penalties, they just continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. It comes as a surprise to me considering how disciplined and accountable Bruce Arians likes his teams. They have now committed 20 penalties in two games, which is unacceptable. Hopefully, they can get these mental errors corrected soon, or they will continue to shoot themselves in the foot until it costs them a game.
The Receivers – This group has to be better…period. They have to do a better job of catching the football. They have to be better at getting open for their quarterback. They just have to be better all around. This wide receiver group was supposed to be second-to-none, but so far they have struggled to get anything going. And it’s not just the receivers, it’s the tight ends, as well. Cam Brate only had 2 catches for 10 yards, and OJ Howard didn’t even record a catch. Chris Godwin was the only one to do any real damage with 8 catches on 9 targets for 121 yards and 1 touchdown. Despite supposedly being over his illness and healthy again, Mike Evans finished with just 4 catches for 61 yards. They simply have to be better, and I think they will. Arians offense is complicated and calls for precise route running from the receivers. As soon as this group gets the offense down, they’ll be tough to contain.
The Youngsters – All rookies make mistakes. It’s a part of the growing process to be a professional. Unfortunately, some of the mistakes the Bucs rookies made in Carolina came at very inopportune times. Rookie cornerback Jamel Dean was called for an illegal block in the back, which negated a 46-yard punt return by Bobo Wilson. Second-year cornerback Carlton Davis had two big penalties called on him late in this game, which could’ve been costly. One was an illegal contact call, and the other was a personal foul facemask on third down that kept the Panthers final drive alive. That gives Davis 5 penalties for 55 yards in the first two games of this season. He only had seven for 75 yards in all of 2018. I’m all for being aggressive, but these youngsters need to clean it up before they cost their team more than a few yards.
The Injury – Early on in the first quarter, rookie linebacker Devin White left the game with a knee injury and never returned. Luckily, veteran linebacker Kevin Minter was able to step up and fill in for him nicely. The Bucs defense didn’t skip a beat. White had an MRI on Friday, which was negative, and the Bucs are saying he suffered a “Grade-1” MCL sprain. He is considered “day-to-day” and could be ready to play the Giants in Week 3. It’s good news all around. It’s great that White shouldn’t miss much time, if any, but Bucs fans can rest easy knowing that we have a very capable veteran who knows this defensive system and can step right in like Minter did Thursday night.
The Kick – Calm down, Bucs fans. Yes, rookie kicker, Matt Gay missed his first field goal of the season from 41 yards out. Guess what…he’ll probably miss again eventually. It’s not the end of the world. The good news is that he made one earlier in the game from 40 yards and another later in the game from 32 yards to give the Bucs a 6-point lead. He’ll be fine. Just to put a positive spin on it, at least he’s missing the same way every time. Both field goals that he’s missed (one here and one in preseason) were just outside the right upright. That’s because Gay kicks with a bit of a draw, which means a right-to-left flight pattern, so he lines his kicks up accordingly. Every now and then, just like in golf, that draw doesn’t happen as planned, and the ball stays outside. I’m not making excuses for the kid, but at least it’s better than Aguayo who was missing in all directions.
The Timeouts – Head coach Bruce Arians almost cost his team this game. When the Panthers offense made it down inside the Bucs five-yard line with less than two-minute to play in the fourth, Arians mistakenly called back-to-back timeouts which is not allowed. The Bucs were penalized for a delay of game, and the ball was moved half the distance to the goal which put Carolina on the two-yard line. Luckily, the defense was able to make a fourth-down stand and close out the game despite the brain fart by their head coach.
The Weather – It’s not unusual for a Buccaneers game to have a weather delay, especially early in the season when Tampa is still getting the summer afternoon thunderstorms. However, this game was in Charlotte. The lightning popped. The thunder rolled. The rain poured down. And the game got delayed for about 30 minutes due to all of it. Luckily, it didn’t seem to affect either team once they came back from the delay and they were able to finish without any further issues.
In closing, this divisional road win was just what this team and it’s fan base needed after that Week 1 debacle against the 49ers. I can already tell through social media that Buc Nation is re-energized and excited about the season again. Hopefully, it does the same thing to this team. The NFL just announced that the Buccaneers have the second-youngest roster in the league this season, averaging just 25-years old (the Miami Dolphins have the youngest just in case you were wondering). Now that these kids have gotten a taste of victory, maybe it will propel them towards a winning streak. Their next game is against the struggling New York Giants right here at home, so they should be able to string back-to-back wins together before hitting the road for three straight games against the Rams, Saints, and Panthers (in London). This next game is a BIG one! It’s another “must-win” as far as I’m concerned. After those three road games they have a bye in Week 7 but then go to Tennessee in Week 8 and to Seattle in Week 9. If they don’t get on a roll now, this team could be in some trouble by mid-season. You all know how the New York fans show up and pack out the lower bowl of Raymond James, so we need a strong showing from the home fans on September 22 for that Giants game to help our team out as much as possible. I’ll see you out there!
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!