SWEET, SWEET VICTORY!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their first “HOME” game in Raymond James Stadium on Sunday and had there actually been fans in the stands, they would not have left disappointed. The Bucs came out with a 31-17 WIN against their NFC South division rival Carolina Panthers. It wasn’t all good. It wasn’t all bad. And it wasn’t all ugly. But I talk about a little bit of all three in this week’s edition of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Week 2.
After not creating a single turnover last week in New Orleans, the Bucs defense had four against the Panthers. Safety Jordan Whitehead and cornerback Carlton Davis each snagged their second career interceptions. Linebacker Lavonte David forced AND recovered a fumble. And there was a forced fumble on a sack by rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr that was recovered by outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul. They were the story of the game. Despite turning the ball over twice themselves, the Bucs ended up winning the turnover battle, and eventually the ball game because of it.
The Run Defense
It wasn’t quite as good as last week, but it was still effective. The Bucs defense held Carolina running back Christian Mccaffrey to just 18 carries for 59 yards and a 3.3 yards per carry average with a long run of 9 yards. Since he came into the NFL in 2017, the Buccaneers have been able to contain McCaffrey, unlike most other teams. He also had 4 catches for 29 yards, bringing him to 88 yards of total offense. In his last 18 games, he’s had 15 games of 90+ total yards. The other three games, where he didn’t, were all against the Bucs.
The Special Teams
After a terrible outing against the Saints where they gave up 15 yards per return, had a field goal blocked, and muffed a pooch kick, the Bucs special teams unit bounced back in a BIG way against Carolina. The Panthers actually finished with negative yards for the four punts they fielded, AND punter Bradley Pinion pinned them inside the 20-yard line twice. They also snuffed out a fake punt attempt on 4th & short AND recovered the onside kick late in the game to help seal the win.
The First Half
The Buccaneers dominated the first half of this game taking a 21-0 lead into halftime. Tom Brady threw for nearly 200 yards, and Mike Evans almost had 100 yards receiving in the first two quarters alone. The defense held Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to less than 100 yards passing and no touchdowns plus kept running back Christian McCaffrey in check as well. It was a glimpse into what we were all expecting from this team this season. Unfortunately, the second half was a COMPLETELY different story.
Last week against the Saints, the Bucs had over 100 yards in stupid and untimely penalties. This week, they had just 5 total penalties for 37 yards. Don’t get me wrong, penalties are never good, but if the team can make that kind of improvement each week, it will go a long way towards keeping them from beating themselves on Sundays.
Against the Saints, not only did the Bucs o-line give up 3 sacks, but the d-line didn’t produce any sacks either. This week was just the opposite. The o-line didn’t give up any sacks to the Panthers at all and only had one QB hit. And the d-line came up with 5 sacks on Teddy Bridgewater, including two from Ndamukong Suh, who had just 2.5 sacks in all of last season. The o-line also got the run game going a little bit, finishing with 122 rushing yards and a 5.5 yards per carry average.
The New Guy
Leonard Fournette came in late in the game and blasted off his new Buccaneer career in a BIG way. He finished the game with 12 carries for 103 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an 8.6 yards per carry average. He closed the game out with 84 yards in the final ten minutes of the ball game, including a 46-yard breakaway run to end the game and seal the win for Tampa. He became the first Bucs back to have 100 yards and 2 touchdowns since Doug Martin in the 2015 season. In fact, it’s only the fourth time it’s happened since 2011, and it was the first 100 yard rushing game in a win since Jacquizz Rodgers in 2016.
They weren’t quite as bad as last week, but they were still there. An overthrow to tight end Rob Gronkowski ended up in the hands of Panthers cornerback Donte’ Jackson for Tom Brady’s third interception of this season. And a botched handoff from Brady to running back Ronald Jones Jr. ended up being recovered by Carolina. Turnovers are bad, okay. If the Bucs have ANY in a game this season, they’re going to be listed in my BAD parts of the game. This time, Tampa Bay was able to win the turnover battle 4-2 and pull out the victory.
It’s not really fair to say that the offense was “bad” in this game. They put up nearly 200 yards passing and 21 points in the first half alone AND had their first 100-yard rusher of the season. However, the Panthers offense had more total plays (71>57), more total yards (427>329), more passing yards (340>217), more first downs (24>20), and more time of possession (34:32>25:28). That can’t happen. This offense has WAY TOO MUCH TALENT to be getting outproduced by a team like Carolina. We’ll chalk it up to a lack of chemistry still this early in the season, but at some point, these guys have to get on the same page and start lighting up the scoreboard.
The Second Half
The second half of this game was atrocious, both offensively AND defensively. After nearly 250 yards of offense AND the defense pitching a shutout in the first two quarters, the Bucs couldn’t get ANYTHING going in the final two. Tom Brady was 6 of 12 for 19 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception in the second half on Sunday. Teddy Bridgewater was 22 of 27 for 278 yards in that same second half. The Bucs nearly blew a 21 point halftime lead in this game, but luckily that lead held up, and they were able to pull out the win.
Drops in the NFL are inexcusable. Period. Bucs receivers had seven of them worth about 125 yards and possibly 3 touchdowns in this game. To be fair, the Bucs did still score a touchdown and a field goal after two of those drops however, they did miss out on another 11 points, or so, because of them. Tom Brady finished this game 23 of 35 for 217 yards and one touchdown. Of his 12 incompletions, only 3 were deemed “uncatchable.” Had those seven different receivers DONE THEIR JOBS, he potentially could have finished 31 of 35 for 342 yards and 4 touchdowns. At his Monday press conference, Bruce Arians said that “Drops are never EXPECTED, and they’re also never ACCEPTED.” He went on to say, “If you’re a professional wide receiver getting paid to catch the football, then you should catch the football.” Brady caught a lot of criticism after his lack of production in the Week 1 game against the Saints. His receivers didn’t help him put that to rest after this Week 2 game against the Panthers. Whatever the issues are, they need to get them fixed quickly.
Some of you may not have even noticed that Bucs starting left tackle Donovan Smith came out of the game for a play in the second quarter after injuring his knee. Smith walked off the field on his own and seemed fine, but had to sit out a play since the refs called an injury timeout. Reserve tackle Josh Wells came in to replace him for that play and proceeded to let Panthers defensive end Brian Burns blow right past him on an inside move and tackle LeSean McCoy in the backfield for a 5-yard loss. It was only one play in the game, but it showed Bucs fans why Smith is still the starting left tackle on this football team.
The Old Guy
Maybe it’s not fair to say HE was bad. He wasn’t at all. He’s not too old or too washed up. In fact, Bruce Arians said that he was “outstanding” on Sunday. Tom Brady is still Tom Brady, and he can’t let what happened in the second half of that game happen ever again. No, it wasn’t all HIS fault. He had seven different receivers drop seven catchable passes worth about 125 yards and possibly 3 touchdowns. That didn’t help his stat line. But Brady has got to figure out a way to get the offensive chemistry going soon because the defense may not be able to bail them out every week like they did here.
Yes, it was a WIN, and I’ll take it any day of the week and twice on Sundays. But it was ugly, especially that second half. They almost blew a 21 point halftime lead AND almost lost a second straight NFC South division game. An ugly win is still a win, but the win doesn’t make it any less ugly. This game should’ve been an embarrassing blowout against this mediocre Panther team, and it did start out heading in that direction. But it didn’t end up that way, and it’s Brady’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen EVER again.
After their win on Sunday, the Bucs are now 1-1 and tied with the Saints for the lead in the NFC South. Sure, I know we’re only two weeks into the season, but I still like to hear that the Bucs are in first place. Next week, they’re heading to Denver to play an injury-depleted Broncos team, who will now be without linebacker Von Miller, cornerbacks AJ Bouye, Davontae Harris, running back Phillip Lindsay, defensive ends Dre’ Mont Jones and DeMarcus Walker, wide receiver Courtland Sutton, and quarterback Drew Lock.
This looks like an “easy win” on paper for the Buccaneers, but NOTHING is easy in the NFL. Backup quarterback Jeff Driskel will be the starter, and we all know the Bucs track record against backup QB’s. The Broncos may be 0-2 and hurting right now, but it’s still Denver, which is a difficult place to play.
DO NOT OVERLOOK THIS GAME!
In college, this would be considered a “trap game.” Coming off of a good win last week and facing a weak opponent this week with a good opponent coming to your house next week. You let your mind start thinking ahead and BOOM! You lose this game. THAT is how you get beat by teams like Georgia Southern (Sorry Gator fans). But I think Bruce Arians and Tom Brady will have this team ready. They won’t let that happen. And hopefully, they won’t let what happened against the Panthers happen again either. We’ll see on Sunday.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!