FO’ IN A ROW BABY!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sailed into Detroit and, despite suffering some casualties, came out with the victory. The win was their fourth in a row and their fifth in the last six games. Even though the playoffs are out of reach, this team is ending this disappointing season on the right note. They now have the longest current win streak in the NFC and are tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the second-longest win streak in the league behind the Baltimore Ravens. Pretty good, right?
Speaking of “GOOD”, there was a whole lot of it in this game. There wasn’t much “BAD” or “UGLY” in this one, but the little bit of both that was here was really “BAD” and really “UGLY”. So without any further adieu, we’ll dive into what I found for this game.
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY
The Franchise – There’s been a bunch of speculation on the future of Jameis Winston lately, but I think he is starting to show why this team needs to re-sign him to a new long-term contract once this season is over. He had yet another record-setting, career day completing 28 of 42 passes for 458 yards with 4 touchdowns and an interception. The 458 passing yards breaks his own single-game record set last week and is now the third-highest in Buccaneers history. It also made him the ONLY PLAYER IN NFL HISTORY to have back-to-back games with at least 450 yards passing. Prior to last week, the Bucs only had four 400 yard/4 touchdown games in franchise history. Winston has now had two of those in a row. His 308 yards in the first half are the second most since “by-the-half” stats started in 1991. He threw for 315 yards in the second half of a 2015 game against the Rams. He now has an NFL high 4,573 yards, extending his own team record, and is on pace for 5,226 yards, which would be the fourth most in NFL history behind Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning. Not bad company. He also has 30 touchdowns, which extends his own team record of 28 set back in 2016, and is just 3 touchdowns behind NFL leader Lamar Jackson. He was able to produce a record-setting day like this despite not having Mike Evans and Donovan Smith, losing Scotty Miller and Chris Godwin during the game AND playing with a fractured thumb on his throwing hand. If he hasn’t earned a new contract this offseason, then I’m not sure what else he can do to get one.
The Win – Four in a row. The Bucs haven’t done that since 2016 when they ended with a 9-7 record. After finishing last in the NFC South in seven of the last eight seasons, the Bucs can now finish no worse than tied for second with their seven wins, which is their second-most for a season in the last nine years. The 21-point margin of victory was their largest in a game since their 2017 opener against the Bears where they won 29-7. It was also just the fourth win by 20 or more points in the Jameis Winston era.
The Shaq-A-Sack – After adding another sack in this game, Shaq Barrett now has 16.5 this season matching Warren Sapp for the most in a single season in Buccaneers history. He still has two games left to add to that total. Both the Texans and the Falcons are in the top 10 for most sacks allowed this season, so there’s a good chance that Barrett increases his total over the last two weeks.
The Young Ones – Despite having “old men” like Jason Pierre-Paul (30) and Ndamukong Suh (32) on the team, the Bucs defensive starters have an average age of just 25 years old. And those young guys have been showing up lately, especially in the secondary. This season, the Bucs rookies and second-year starters have totaled 343 tackles, 5 sacks, 16 QB hits, 17 tackles for loss, 7 interceptions, 61 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, and 2 touchdowns. Carlton Davis (18) and Jamel Dean (16) are both in the top 5 of the league in passes defensed, and Sean Murphy-Bunting leads all rookies with 3 interceptions. Devin White now has 78 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 5 QB hits, 1 interception, 3 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and a touchdown in just 11 games this season. Jason Licht catches a lot of criticism from fans about his drafts, but over the last three years, he’s added a number of players who are contributing significantly to this team’s success.
The Now #1 WR – Mike Evans was out with a hamstring. Chris Godwin went down with a hamstring. Scotty Miller went down with a hamstring. Someone had to step up. That, someone, was Breshad Perriman. Jameis Winston threw passes to eleven different receivers in this game, but it was Perriman who stole the show finishing with 5 catches for 113 yards and 3 touchdowns. After totaling just 95 yards and a touchdown in the first 10 games this season, he now has 314 yards and 4 touchdowns in the last 4 games. He’s never even had more than 3 touchdowns in an entire season yet, Sunday he became just the fourth Buccaneers player in franchise history to catch three in one game. With Evans and Godwin probably finished for the season, Perriman will become the Bucs new #1 receiver and will really have to step his game up.
The Defense – I already touched on how well the young players are performing for this defense, but the defense as a whole is much improved. They now have five defensive touchdowns this season, which ties them for the most in the NFL with the Ravens, Patriots, and Jets. They are still 1st in run defense, but have climbed up to 16th in total defense and 30th in passing defense. They have 36 sacks, 95 QB hits, 73 tackles for loss, 11 interceptions, 83 passes defensed, 18 forced fumbles and 23 fumble recoveries this season. The pass defense has shown the most improvement, especially since Vernon Hargreaves was waived. Over their first 9 games with Hargreaves, the Bucs defense was giving up 299 passing yards per game (32nd in the league), 64% completions (16th in the league), 2.4 touchdowns per game (30th in the league), an opposing QB rating of 100.3 (24th in the league) and averaged just .7 interceptions per game (19th in the league). In the last 5 games, they are giving up just 237 passing yards per game (19th in the league), 58% completions (5th in the league), 1.4 touchdowns per game (10th in the league), an opposing QB rating of 77.6 (9th in the league) and are averaging 1 interception per game (12th in the league). In this game, they only allowed 56 yards of total offense in the first half. They outgained the Lions by 200 yards on Sunday, 495 to 295. That’s back-to-back weeks of doing so after doing it just twice in the previous 119 games dating back to the 2012 season. This defense is FINALLY coming together and playing as a unit. They seem to be buying into Todd Bowles scheme, and it’s starting to pay off big time.
The Unappreciated – With 8 tackles on Sunday, Lavonte David went over the 100-tackle mark (104) for the seventh time in eight seasons. Only Derrick Brooks has more 100-tackle seasons in Buccaneers’ history. It’s a shame that one of the best all-around linebackers in football may get snubbed again in the popularity contest, otherwise known as the Pro Bowl.
The Ground Game – The Bucs run game on Sunday was atrocious. They had just 29 attempts for 49 yards and a 1.7 yards per carry average. That was the lowest average per carry in 424 games with 25-plus carries in Buccaneers history. That abysmal number dropped them down to 3.49 yards per carry for the season, which would be their lowest for any season since 2001. As of right now, they rank 27th in the league in rushing offense. However, they are ranked 30th out of all 32 teams when it comes to yards per carry.
The Hamstrings – I’m not sure what’s going on at One Buc, but I think Bruce Arians needs to have a little conversation with his sports science staff. For whatever reason, this team has had an ongoing issue with hamstring injuries all season long. Scotty Miller and Anthony Nelson have been battling with injuries for most of the season. Now Mike Evans is out for the season. Chris Godwin is probably out for the season. Jordan Whitehead went down with a hamstring injury in this game. Devante Bond had a hamstring issue earlier this season. Breshad Perriman missed some games with a hamstring. Demar Dotson, Mike Edwards, and OJ Howard all missed games with them. I realize that it’s a fairly common sports injury, but this seems to be a bit much. In all, ten different players have had hamstring issues this season. Bruce Arians took a little responsibility for the issue, saying that he may be running these guys too much in practice, but that they need the work. Another possible scenario is that Arians doesn’t have any on-the-field team stretching during practice. He says that the players should be stretching on their own time, not his. Maybe they’re not.
The Penalties – The Bucs once again had problems with penalties totaling nine for 70 yards. Two of them were costly and came courtesy of the same player, Jason Pierre-Paul. The first was a block in the back on an interception return by Andrew Adams that negated a 64-yard return in the 3rd quarter. Instead of having the ball on the Detroit 9-yard line, the Bucs ended up back on their own 48 and settled for a field goal. The second was an offsides penalty on a 1st downplay that resulted in an interception by Lavonte David. Two boneheaded plays by a normally smart veteran player. Luckily, neither of them cost the Bucs the game.
The Pick – It’s nitpicking at this point, but Jameis Winston’s one mistake of the day was an interception on the Bucs very first offensive series. Bruce Arians said that it was a hot read to Ronald Jones, which Jameis was a second late with the throw, and the linebacker dropped into coverage at the last second. This time though, the Bucs defense stood their ground and didn’t give up any points despite the turnover. No harm, no foul on this one. Oddly enough, the Bucs are now 3-1 this season when Jameis throws a pick on the opening drive. Maybe that’s why Arians said for him to just get it out of the way and let’s go get this win.
The Kick – Rookie kicker Matt Gay has been outstanding all season long (with the exception of the Giants game). Even though he was 6 of 7 on his kicks on Sunday, he did miss one from 54-yards out. Still, it’s only his fourth miss of the season. He’s now 25 of 29 on field goals, 14 of 17 from 40+ yards, for 86% this year.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 7-7 going into Week 16 of the regular season. The last time that happened was way back in 2003 under Jon Gruden. They ended up losing their final two games to finish 7-9. This team has a chance to do something that they have only done once since the 2010 season, which is finish with a winning record. They won six of their last eight games in 2016 to finish 9-7 under Dirk Koetter. To accomplish that, they’ll have to do something they haven’t done this century, which is winning six straight games. Back in 1999, the Bucs started the season 2-3 before winning six straight and nine of their last eleven games to finish 11-5 under Tony Dungy. Only the 9-5 Houston Texans and the 5-9 Atlanta Falcons stand in the way.
The Texans are fighting for their playoff lives and the Bucs would love to play the role of spoiler. It won’t be easy though. The Bucs offense has been hit hard with injuries on the offensive line and at wide receiver. Luckily for them, Houston has the 28th ranked defense in the league, ranked 28th in passing and 19th in rushing. Even with the injuries, that should be a good matchup for the Bucs 3rd ranked offense and #1 passing offense. The problem could be with Houston’s offense, which is ranked 7th in the league. They are 11th in passing and 8th in rushing, which also matches up well with the Bucs 1st ranked run defense. Saturday will be a tough one, but I think the Bucs can pull it out if they jump on the Texans early.
Sunday was a statement game for this team. Sure, it was against an injury-riddled and struggling Lions team, but it was still a statement. It was a “trap game”. It was a game that the Bucs should have won and did. That’s not something you could say about this team earlier this season. Look at the Giants game, for example. But on Sunday, this team went on the road and beat a desperate team handily like a GOOD team is supposed to do. Now they have another challenge. A different kind of challenge. They have a good football team coming into their place and who’s playing for something. It’s not a game that they’re supposed to win, but it’s a game that they could win. It’s another statement game. Except for the statement made by winning this game is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the real deal. If they win this game, they just might be.
We’ll find out on Saturday.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!