The Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that we’ve all been waiting for FINALLY showed up in Atlanta and beat the Falcons in the “Battle For the Basement” in the NFC South. The 35-22 score was closer than the game actually was because the Bucs dominated Atlanta on both sides of the ball. This was the Bucs team that Tampa fans have been expecting to see ever since Bruce Arians was announced as the head coach. The question we’ll be asking until next Sunday will be, “Is this the team that we can expect for the rest of the season?”
The Falcons were coming off back-to-back wins after beating the Saints 26-9 in Week 10 and the Panthers 29-3 in Week 11. The Bucs didn’t care. They sailed into Mercedes-Benz Stadium and pillaged it. After a rocky start where Jameis Winston threw two interceptions in the 1st quarter, they buckled down and simply dished out a good old fashioned “Dirty Bird” beat down. There was a ton of “GOOD” in this game, but I was able to nitpick and find a couple of “BAD” and “UGLY” things as well. So let’s get into it!
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY
The Big Boys – The offensive line had arguably their best game of the year, and Bruce Arians even said so in his Monday press conference. ZERO SACKS were given up, and only one QB hit allowed. They also got the job done in the ground game, rushing for 133 yards. Ronald Jones, once again, averaged more than 4 yards per carry with 12 carries for 51 yards and a touchdown. These guys get criticized an awful lot by this fan base, so it’s only fair to give them credit when it’s due. They only allowed negative yardage on 3 out of 62 offensive plays, and the last time they didn’t give up a sack was in Week 1 of the 2018 season. It was only the second time in the last 48 games. They also led touchdown drives of 95 yards and 97 yards. They’re the ONLY team in the NFL to have two 95+yard drives in the same game this season. Great job boys!
The Big Dawgs – The defensive line feasted on the Falcons offensive line in this game. They finished with 4 sacks by 4 different guys (Shaq Barrett, Carl Nassib, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Vita Vea), with linebacker Devin White adding two of his own, as well as 13 QB hits. They kept Matt Ryan so uncomfortable in the pocket all game that he was only 23 for 46 (50%) for 273 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. They also held the Falcons to 57 rushing yards, and their leading rusher only had 20 yards. Vita Vea also had 2 passes defensed, and Jason Pierre-Paul forced a fumble by Matt Ryan that Ndamukong Suh scooped up and ran in for his second touchdown of the season.
This was the d-line that we’ve been wanting to see all year. For the first game this season, they were healthy. This was the first game where Jason Pierre-Paul, Carl Nassib, Shaq Barrett, Sam Acho, Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, Will Gholston, Beau Allen, and Rakeem Nunez-Roches have all played together, and it was a thing of beauty.
The Dynamic Duo – Mike Evans and Chris Godwin BOTH reached the 1,000-yard mark for the season in this game on Sunday. Evans only needed 7 yards, and he finished with 4 catches for 50 yards, but it was Godwin, who stole the show with 7 catches for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns. This is just the second time in franchise history that the Bucs have had two teammates with 1,000 receiving yards. The other was in 2014 when Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson did it. They also became the first pair of teammates in NFL history to each have three games of 150+ yards in a single season.
The Bounce Back – Jameis Winston caused every single Bucs fan watching this game to simultaneously curse when he threw an interception on his first pass attempt of the game on Sunday. Then he caused half the fans watching on TV to change the channel when he threw his second pick in the 1st quarter on a bad jump pass intended for Dare Ogunbowale. However, from that point on, he was brilliant, finishing 18 of 28 for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also rushed for 38 yards. It was his 6th straight 300-yard game this season. The only streak longer in the last five seasons was Patrick Mahomes with eight straight last season. His 11.2 yards per attempt is the third highest in his 67-game career, and the highest ever in a Buccaneers win. The Bucs are now 13-9 when Jameis has 30 attempts, or less, so maybe it’s a good idea that he doesn’t throw the ball 51 times as he did against the Saints last week.
There’s no doubt that Winston has a turnover problem. He now has 100 of them for his career, leading the league since 2015. The impressive thing about him, though, is his ability to shrug it off and move on to the next play. He never flinches. He just keeps playing and keeps throwing. I love that about the guy.
The Young Bucs – The Bucs young secondary has been getting hammered by opposing offenses and Bucs fans all season, for good reason. They’ve been one of the worst pass defenses all year ranked 31st in the league going into this game. Nobody expected this group to come into Atlanta against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley and handle them, but they did just that. Even though the Falcons had four receivers with 50+ yards (Russell Gage 8-76, Jaeden Graham 1-53, Calvin Ridley 6-85, Julio Jones 5-68), they didn’t give up a 100-yard receiver AND didn’t give up a receiving touchdown for the first time all season. Julio Jones, who’s averaged 157 yards per game and scored 6 touchdowns in his last 5 games against the Bucs, was held to just 68 yards and kept out of the endzone. Matt Ryan only completed 50% of his passes (his second-lowest percentage in the last 8 years) and was held without a touchdown pass.
The Bucs finished with an insane 16 passes defensed in this game. Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean had five each, the first time two teammates have done that in the NFL since 2000. To put that feat into perspective, Brent Grimes and Ryan Smith led the Bucs with six each last season. Davis only had four in his entire rookie year. With his five, Dean now has 13 passes defensed for the season in just 3 games. To put that number into perspective, the Patriots Logan Ryan entered last weekend as the league leader in that category with 16 in his 10 games. This stat goes hand in hand with winning. They have 37 passes defensed in their four wins and 26 in their seven losses.
The Big Win – I realize that this isn’t the same Atlanta Falcons’ team that the Bucs are used to playing. They’ve been struggling for most of the season, and they aren’t really a good football team. However, this team needed this win, the fans needed this win, and I think this coaching staff needed this win. A division win on the road in hostile territory against a team that was on a roll with two straight impressive wins is not easy by any stretch. Yet these Bucs sure made it look that way. This was an even more dominant performance than the 55-40 win against the Rams in Los Angeles. This victory gets them to 4-7 and mathematically keeps them alive for the NFC wildcard. I’m not saying that we should get our hopes up, but if they can keep playing like this, you never know what might happen. Their schedule is favorable with road games against the 4-7 Jaguars and 3-7-1 Lions, and home games against the 7-4 Texans, the 6-5 Colts and the 3-8 Falcons. Three of their five remaining games are against teams with a losing record, and three of the five are at home. They would have to win all five games to get to 9-7 and have any chance at the playoffs. This is the third straight season that the Bucs have been 4-7 after 11 games. In the two previous seasons, they lost four of their last five games to finish 5-11. Their best finish after a 4-7 start was in 1998 when they ended up with an 8-8 record. The next season they finished 11-5 and won the division. Let’s hope that this win against the Falcons is the turning point this season, and they can continue to build on it and finish strong.
The Big Potential – This game against Atlanta gave Bucs fans a glimpse of what this team is capable of when this offense and defense play complementary football. It gave fans a glimpse of what this offense can do when it’s balanced and running the ball effectively. It gave fans a glimpse of how good this defense can be when the defensive line is getting pressure on the quarterback, and the secondary is playing well, and it reminded fans of the talent and potential that this young team possesses.
The Bright Future – Since this season has been so disappointing, we’ve lost sight of the fact that this is the second-youngest roster in the NFL. The only team younger is the Miami Dolphins. This team has a really talented, young core on both sides of the ball. The average age of the starting offense is just 26 years old, and that’s WITH 34-year-old right tackle Demar Dotson who most likely will not be returning next season. The average age of the starting defense is just 25 years old, and that includes 32-year-old Ndamukong Suh, 30-year-old Jason Pierre-Paul, and 29-year-old Lavonte David. We have endured a long period of terrible teams and bad football here in Tampa Bay, but I feel like this nucleus that Jason Licht has pieced together over the last few years is going to grow into something very special together. That is IF they can stay together.
The Point Afters – Rookie kicker Matt Gay has been lights out since missing that game-winning chip shot against the Giants in Week 3, making 20 straight extra points and 13 of 14 field goals. However, against the Falcons, he had a bad day. He was only 2 of 5 on extra points, flat out missing two of them, and getting one blocked. He did, however, suck it up and nail his only field goal attempt of the day from 32 yards out. I’m not worried about the kid, and you shouldn’t either. Jason Licht picked a good one this time, and he will be the Bucs’ kicker for years to come.
The Start – As I mentioned before, Jameis Winston got off to a not-so-solid start in this game with the 2 interceptions in the 1st quarter, but he bounced back and ended up having a really solid game. The defense-first series wasn’t that great either. They allowed a 53-yard pass down the seam to Falcons tight end Jaeden Graham (his ONLY reception of the game), and it looked like it was going to be a long night for the Bucs secondary. But they tightened up, held Atlanta to a field goal, and just got better from there. Luckily, the Bucs were able to overcome their “UGLY” start and come home with a convincing road win.
Look I’m trying not to read too much into this win. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ecstatic about it, but the Falcons haven’t been a very good team this year. In fact, none of the teams they’ve beaten have been very good this year. Their opponents, in all four of their wins, have a combined 17-26 record this season, although they have been competitive with the good teams they’ve played too. I’m just saying that I’ll save my excitement until I see them play like that in consecutive games. Here’s a chance for them to start stacking some wins and finish this season on a good note. It started in Atlanta, and now it continues in Jacksonville. Next Sunday, we’ll see if this team has FINALLY turned that corner towards being a good team or if this was just another fluke win by a bad team.