FIRST PLACE, BABY!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went on the road to Denver and came away with their second win in a row after beating an injury-depleted Broncos team 28-10 on Sunday. With the Falcons, Panthers, and Saints ALL losing, the Bucs now have sole possession of first place in the NFC South with a 2-1 record.
This week’s edition of Good, Bad, and Ugly was a little difficult for me to do because it was hard to find much “bad” or even “ugly” about the Bucs getting a win on the road. That being said, I did. Call it nitpicking or whatever you want, but if this team is going to be successful, then they need to clean this stuff up as the season progresses.
Tom Brady had his best game as a Buc on Sunday, finishing 25 of 38 for 297 yards and 3 touchdowns. And for the first time since Week 13 of last year, the quarterback for the Buccaneers did NOT throw an interception. He also finished with a 115.8 passer rating in this game, spreading the ball around to eight different receivers and hitting on multiple deep balls to Scotty Miller (47 yards), OJ Howard (33 yards), and Chris Godwin (30 yards). The only negative thing that I can say is that, once again, the Bucs offense tanked in the second half. Is that ALL Brady’s fault? Not at all, but it’s his responsibility to keep that from happening.
The Buccaneers defense was DOMINANT in this game, and they should’ve been. Playing against a Broncos team with Jeff Driskel at quarterback and missing one of their best offensive players in Phillip Lindsay, the defense held Denver to just 10 points and 226 total yards. They finished with 6 sacks, giving them 12 sacks through the first 3 games, 7 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and a forced fumble. They held the Broncos to just 42 rushing yards, including Melvin Gordon III, who had 8 carries for just 26 yards. The Bucs have only allowed two runs of 10+ yards through the first three games, a league-low. The young secondary held all Broncos receivers to less than 55 yards, and both Denver quarterbacks averaged less than 6 yards per attempt. Yes, I know it was against an 0-2 Broncos team with an unimpressive offense, but this Bucs defense is playing well and will only get better each week. In fact, Todd Bowles is getting more and more aggressive with his blitz packages because of the comfort level of the team in their second season in his system. That’s evident by the team already having more sacks by defensive backs this season (3) than in all of last season (2). Rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr already has two, and safety Jordan Whitehead had one yesterday as well. This defense could be good enough to carry this team into the playoffs, so if the offense could ever get clicking on all cylinders, they could end up being a real handful for any team in the league.
Shaq Barrett had a successful return to his former stomping grounds finishing this game with 6 tackles and 2 sacks. He now has five multi-sack games since the start of the 2019 season, which ties him with the Browns Myles Garrett for the league lead.
The Field Position Battle
The Bucs special teams stepped up in a BIG way on Sunday, limiting the Broncos return game and giving the Bucs the edge in field position. Denver’s best starting field position was their own 27-yard line, with their other drives starting at the 25, 25, 16, 25, 25, 25, 8, and 15-yard lines. Meanwhile, the Bucs had eight drives that started better than the 27-yard line, including their drive that began at the Broncos 10 yard line after the blocked punt.
The Next Man Up
When Bucs cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting left the game with a hamstring injury in the 2nd quarter, Todd Bowles replaced him with Jamel Dean, moved rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr to nickel, and brought in Mike Edwards at safety. Dean finished as the Bucs leading tackler with 8, Winfield had a sack, and Edwards had a touchdown-saving interception. How’s that for stepping in and stepping up?
Then with Justin Watson already out for this game, Chris Godwin also left with a hamstring injury in the second half. Scotty Miller once again picked up the slack, finishing with a new career-high 83 yards on 3 catches. He is now the Bucs leading receiver after three games with 10 catches for 167 yards.
The Irish Guy
Pat O’Connor ended up with a game ball for his blocked punt and recovery that lead to the Bucs’ first score of the day. He’s a bit of an unsung hero putting out quality reps as a reserve defensive lineman and making plays on special teams.
The Big Guys
After plenty of criticism for not involving their talented tight ends enough in the first two games, the Bucs FINALLY threw their dogs some bones. OJ Howard finished with 3 catches for 49 yards, including a ridiculous one-handed miracle grab for 33 yards. And Rob Gronkowski had 6 catches for 48 yards. Unfortunately, Cam Brate still has no involvement in this Bucs offense. He only played 5 snaps on Sunday, had zero targets, and still has zero catches through the first 3 games.
On Sunday, the Bucs offense didn’t commit any turnovers while their defense recorded multiple turnovers. The last time that happened was in November of 2018 against the 49ers. They won that game too. In each of the last two seasons, the Bucs only had two games where they didn’t commit any turnovers. The question is, can they do it more than one more time this season?
The 2nd Half Offense
For the second straight week, the Buccaneers offense was anemic in the second half after scoring 20+ points in the first. Last week against Carolina, they took a 21-0 lead into halftime and only won the game 31-17. On Sunday, they had a 23-10 halftime lead, and the offense proceeded to score a measly 3 points in the second half. Even though he was pleased with the win, Bruce Arians said that he’d like to see the offense “finish better” and put games away. This team is averaging 27.3 points per game, which isn’t bad considering they’ve only scored 13 points total in the second half of their last two games. The Bucs offense is currently ranked 14th in scoring, 25th in total offense, 18th in passing, and 27th in rushing. It’s taking a little longer than we’d like, but this offense will eventually start running on all cylinders. And when they do, if this defense continues to play like this, then the rest of the league better run for cover.
After only committing 5 penalties for 37 yards last week against Carolina, the Bucs regressed in Denver, committing 9 penalties for 71 yards. Once again, untimely mistakes killed some drives and likely cost the Bucs some points in the second half. They need to get that type of stuff corrected before it ends up biting them on the ass.
Through the first three games this season, Mike Evans now has 10 catches for 108 yards and 4 touchdowns. He had 1 catch for 2 yards in Week 1 at New Orleans and finished the game on Sunday with 2 catches for 2 yards and 2 touchdowns. That’s only happened one other time in NFL history back in 1994. Bruce Arians did say that the Broncos were paying “extra attention” to Evans all day, which limited his opportunities, but the Bucs have to be better about getting him involved. On the flip side, his four touchdowns are good enough to lead the league right now, and it’s the most ever by a Bucs player through the first three games.
As I said earlier, both Chris Godwin AND Sean Murphy-Bunting left this game with apparent hamstring injuries. As of Monday, Bruce Arians didn’t have any further information to share other than both guys would be getting MRI’s to check on the severity of their injuries. That doesn’t sound good. Hamstring injuries tend to linger and could continue to be an issue throughout the rest of the season. Even though the Bucs had other guys step up BIG in their absence, these are two players that this team cannot afford to lose for an extended amount of time.
The Bucs pass protection wasn’t bad on Sunday, despite giving up 2 sacks to Broncos defensive tackle Shelby Harris. But the run blocking was terrible. They only finished with 68 rushing yards, including 7 carries for 15 yards by Leonard Fournette and 13 carries for 53 yards for Ronald Jones II. That’s only 3.3 yards per carry, even though Jones averaged more than 4 yards per carry with a long run of 13 yards. They have to be better. This whole offense has to be better.
I know, I know. A win is a win. Especially a win on the road. Especially in a place like Denver. However, it wasn’t pretty. The Bucs completely dominated the first half of this game on both sides of the ball, and for whatever reason, took their foot off the gas in the second half. I shouldn’t be complaining since they won by 18 points, but they should’ve won this game by 35 points considering how banged up Denver was heading into it. In fact, the last time the Bucs won back-to-back games by 14+ points was back in 2010, which happens to be the last season the Bucs won at least 10 games. Like I said, I’ll take the win. But this team needs to get that killer instinct and start putting teams away and finishing games; or they won’t be so lucky when they play better teams.
The Bucs are now 2-1 and sit alone atop of the NFC South division. The last time they were sitting in first place going into Week 4 was back in 2007 when they won the division with a 9-7 record and lost in the wildcard round to the Giants. That was their last trip to the playoffs. But let’s not get too excited just yet. The combined record of their opponents for these first three weeks is just 2-7, so they have NOTHING to brag about…yet. The 1-2 Chargers come to town this week, but after that, their next three opponents (Bears, Packers, Raiders) are a combined 8-1, and two of those games (Bears and Raiders) are on the road. The good news for this week is that Tom Brady is very familiar with the Chargers and has won eight straight games against them, including three playoff games while throwing 15 touchdowns with just 5 interceptions. That bodes well for the Bucs, who could win their third straight game on Sunday.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!