HOME SWEET HOME!
Boy, it sure was nice to have a home game again. It was nice to be back, tailgating with friends, it was nice to be back inside Raymond James Stadium, and it was REALLY nice to FINALLY see this Buccaneers team win a game at home. It had almost been a year since that happened. I’d almost forgotten the feeling of walking out of RayJay after a win. It was nice.
As for the game itself, it was a shit show. These Bucs went down to the wire with a bad Cardinals team led by a rookie quarterback, but ended up gutting out the win in the last two minutes. It was ugly, but it was a win. A win is a win no matter how it comes. Speaking of “ugly”, there was plenty of GOOD, BAD & UGLY in this game so let’s get right into it.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY
The Win – These players needed one. The home fans needed one. Bruce Arians needed one. The 30-27 win over the 3-5-1 visiting Arizona Cardinals was just what the doctor ordered. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t easy, and it came down to the last seconds. But wins have been few and far between so we’ll take them however we can get them. The victory improves the Buccaneers to 3-6 and hopefully gives them a shot of confidence going into another home game against their division rival New Orleans Saints.
The Hero – Last week, rookie corner Jamel Dean was the scapegoat in Seattle and for good reason. This week, he was the hero. What was the difference? Preparation and practice. He was thrown into a starting role against the Seahawks due to an injury to Carlton Davis in pregame warmups. He didn’t get any work in practice as the Bucs starter. This week he did. This week, he stayed late with his coach to watch extra film. This week, he was ready for that starting role. This week, he had another 4 pass breakups and an interception that probably saved this game for his team. That gives him 8 pass breakups in the last 2 games. To put that number in perspective a bit, no Bucs corner had more than 6 pass breakups in all of last season. I picked him as one of my second half superstars, and if he keeps playing like that, he will be.
The Juice – Bucs tight end OJ Howard has been missing in action all season long, whether it was the injury that sidelined him for 2 games or just not producing when he was on the field, he had been a no-show in the Bucs offense until last Sunday. Howard finished with 4 catches for 47 yards (11.8 YPC) and his first touchdown of the season. He was another one of my picks to be a second-half superstar, so hopefully, this performance will propel him into bigger and better things in these last 7 games.
The Thirds – The Bucs defense didn’t play great, but they played well enough to win. One of the things they did do really well was being able to hold the Cardinals to just 1 for 10 on third downs. They were 2 for 3 on fourth downs, which hurt, but the Bucs D was able to get off the field at times in this game.
The Catchers – Jameis Winston must have been feeling generous on Sunday because he passed the ball around to eight different receivers. Four players had 45+ yards receiving including Mike Evans (4 for 82 yards), Chris Godwin (6 catches for 74 yards), Ronald Jones (8 catches for 77 yards), and OJ Howard (4 for 47 yards and a touchdown). Rookie receiver Scotty Miller even got involved with 2 catches for 33 yards.
The Leg – Rookie kicker Matt Gay continued his impressive season, making all six of his kicks (3 FGs, 3 XPs) against the Cardinals on Sunday. He is now 19 of 22 on field goals for the season (86%), including 11 of 13 from 40+ yards, and 23 of 25 on extra points (92%). Yes, that miss against the Giants still haunts this team and the fans, but since that game, he is 12 of 13 on field goals and 18 of 18 on extra points. I think it’s safe to say that we have FINALLY found our kicker, Tampa Bay!
The Front – Even though the Bucs defense only finished this game with 2 sacks (Suh and Barrett), they kept rookie quarterback Kyler Murray pressured and out of the pocket a lot. They also held the Cardinals, who are a good running team, to 75 rushing yards total between Kenyon Drake (35), Kyler Murray (38), and David Johnson (2). Besides his one run for 17 yards, Drake averaged just 2 YPC on his other nine runs. Murray got 32 of his 38 yards on one run and Johnson only averaged .4 YPC on each of his 5 rushes.
The Finish – For the first time since Week 2 in Carolina, the Bucs defense was able to hold on to a fourth-quarter lead with a last-minute defensive stand. The offense also came through in the clutch with a 92-yard touchdown drive to gain the lead with just under two minutes left. As Jameis Winston said in his postgame presser, it was a true team win because they played complementary football. It was nice to see this team finally finish a game for a change, but they sure made it interesting in the end.
The Records – It’s hard to celebrate franchise records in a loss, so since they won, we can recognize some milestones that were reached by a few individuals on Sunday. Jameis Winston became the first quarterback in Buccaneers history to throw for 300+ yards in four straight games, Mike Evans set a new team record with 924 receiving yards through the first 9 games, and Shaq Barrett set a new team record with 11.5 sacks through the first 9 games.
The Redzone – A huge difference in this game was red zone efficiency. The Bucs were 3 of 4, scoring in the red zone and the Cards were 1 of 4 on scoring opportunities. The three that resulted in no points for the Cards ended in a turnover on downs, a lost fumble, and the interception by Jamel Dean.
The Fans – The attendance for Sunday’s game was just over 40,000, which was the lowest in Raymond James Stadium in 23 years. Not good; and yes, there were some “fans” who left the game early after Ronald Jones fumbled that ball away with less than 4-minutes left. However, the ones who did stay ROCKED THE HOUSE! I haven’t heard RayJay that loud in a long, long time. The ones who did stay were rewarded with the chance to witness the first home win by the Buccaneers in almost a year.
The Benching – Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves was benched in the second half of the game because of his lack of hustle on a long catch and run by Cardinals receiver Andy Isabella. Backup corner Ryan Smith came in for him and ended up getting torched for a long touchdown by Christian Kirk. Hargreaves made it back into the game later in the fourth quarter after MJ Stewart got injured and almost cost his team the game with a pass interference call on fourth down that kept the Cardinals’ final drive alive momentarily. Hargreaves is playing for his life in Tampa Bay right now. If he doesn’t get his act together, the Bucs are not going to pay him the $9M next season. (UPDATE: Tuesday morning, he was waived by the team)
The Blocking – The play from the big guys up front was disappointing on Sunday. The Bucs leading rusher was running back Peyton Barber with 43 yards. Their second-leading rusher was quarterback Jameis Winston with 40 yards. Even though Barber averaged almost 4 YPC, the Bucs didn’t run the ball effectively. They also gave up 4 sacks to the Cardinals, adding to their record-breaking total for this season. Winston threw the ball 48 times against Arizona, and it seemed like he was either sacked, pressured, or hit on nearly half of them.
The Secondary – It’s the same old story here. The Bucs back end of the defense once again allowed an opposing receiver to gain 100+ yards (Christian Kirk- 6 catches for 138 yards and 3 touchdowns), and once again, gave up 300+ yards and 3 touchdowns to the opposing quarterback (Kyler Murray- 27 of 44 for 324 yards and 3 touchdowns). Kirk had ZERO TOUCHDOWNS for this season heading into this game. Murray’s 3 touchdowns match a season-high for him. This group even gave up a long pass by the Cardinals punter for a first down on a fake punt for goodness sake. Besides the damage done by Kirk, they also allowed Larry Fitzgerald 8 catches for 71 yards and rookie Andy Isabella 3 catches for 78 yards. This group is young and they’re taking a bunch of lumps this season. Hopefully, they’re learning as they go, and this group can be a strength in the near future, instead of a liability.
The Special Teams – This group has been hot and cold this season. Against the Cardinals, they were cold. The return game wasn’t working very well, plus they gave up a first down on a fake punt flea-flicker play that kept a drive alive that resulted in a touchdown. They’ve got to be better.
The Win – I know I had this in my GOOD section as well, but this win was UGLY, too. Jameis Winston even said so. In fact, they shouldn’t have won this game. They were better than the Cardinals in most statistical categories on Sunday. They had more total plays (78 to 65), more total yards (457 to 417), more first downs (26 to 20), fewer penalties (9 to 11), better third-down percentage (7 of 15 to 1 of 10), and more time of possession (36:03 to 23:57). But they also had more turnovers (3 to 2), and the Buccaneers are 2-22 in their last 24 games where they’ve lost the turnover battle. The difference was that the Bucs defense only gave up 3 points off of those 3 turnovers and got the ball back from Arizona twice afterward.
The QB – I’m not sure if Jameis belongs in this section or not. He wasn’t GOOD in this game, but he wasn’t BAD either. He was kind of in between, but he did enough to get the win. He made some unbelievable throws in this game into some tight windows. He made some good decisions, either tucking the ball away and running, or throwing it away when nothing was there. Despite the two interceptions, he managed the game well for the most part. I’m not even that concerned with the picks. The first one was a tight throw to Chris Godwin on the sideline, and the corner just made a really good play on the ball. The other bounced off the hands of his receiver and popped straight up in the air into the hands of Cardinals LB Jordan Hicks. What I thought was UGLY was the few deep balls that he threw on Sunday. He was missing by a mile on them. However, they got the win, and that’s what matters to him.
The Officiating – The Bucs have not had very good luck with officiating crews this season, and this game was no different. There were 19 penalties called in this game between the two teams (Cards 11 Bucs 8), and it seemed like most of the Bucs penalties came late in the game. There were once again some questionable pass interference calls on the Bucs secondary. Bruce Arians was asked after the game if he could define exactly what pass interference was right now. His reply was, “No clue!” He said that he even threw that third challenge flag when Kyler Murray’s knee appeared to be down before throwing the ball away, knowing he didn’t have one left just to prove a point of how bad the officiating was in this game.
The Turnovers – As it usually is the case, turnovers were the story against the Cardinals on Sunday. The Bucs had 3, and the Cardinals had 2 of their own. The difference was that the Bucs defense only allowed 3 points off of those 3 turnovers. Coming into this game, the Cardinals had a league-low 4 turnovers in their first 9 games. They had zero turnovers in their previous 5 games. The fumble forced and recovered by Lavonte David was their first lost fumble of the season, and the interception thrown by Murray was his first since September.
It had been so long, I almost forgot what walking out of Raymond James after a win felt like. Victory Monday, oh Victory Monday, I missed you so much. I don’t care if it was ugly or not it was a win. A long-awaited, well deserved, hard-fought win. Now the question is, can they build on it?
They don’t get much of a break with the division-leading New Orleans Saints coming to town next Sunday. And it’s probably a pissed off Saints team at that after losing 26-9 to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. However, it does get a little easier with road games against the Falcons, Jaguars, and Lions and home games against the Colts, Texans, and Falcons. I’ve seen Bucs fans talking about this Bucs team “winning out” after barely beating the 3-6-1 Cardinals. Let’s not get carried away here. This team may have won on Sunday, but it wasn’t for lack of trying to lose that game. All they did was figure out how NOT to lose a game. Now they have to learn how to actually win a game. If they can take care of business at home against the Saints, then we can start playing the “what if” game. Otherwise, it’s just another win against a bad football team.
A win next week could be BIG. First, it’s a division game. Those are always important. Second, it puts them at 4-6 and back “in the hunt” for a wildcard spot in the playoffs. Third, those two wins, back to back, are the start of what’s called a winning streak. Do you guys even remember what that is? It’s when a team wins three or more consecutive games, which the Bucs haven’t done since late in the 2016 season when they reeled off five straight wins to finish 9-7 for their new head coach Dirk Koetter. IF they can beat New Orleans, then their schedule reads like this: At Falcons, at Jaguars, Colts, at Lions, Texans, and Falcons. I’m still not convinced just yet, but the opportunity is there to get on a roll and finish this season strong. First things first, though, gotta beat the Saints!