Well, that was stressful!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came back from a 17 point first-half deficit to beat the injury-plagued LA Chargers 38-31 in front of about 6,000 lucky Bucs fans at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. It was a rollercoaster ride of emotions for Bucs fans and emotionally exhausting (at least it was for me), but they were able to pull out the win keeping their first place position in the NFC South.
That being said, it wasn’t pretty. In fact, “The Win” is my “Ugly” thing for this week’s game. As for my “Good and Bad” for this game, there’s plenty of each to talk about so let’s get to it.
The “Old Man”
Tom Brady finished this game 30 of 46 for 369 yards, 5 touchdowns to 5 different players, and 1 interception. His 369 yards is the second most EVER by a quarterback 41 years or older. Only Brett Favre (41) in 2010 threw for more with 446 yards. It was only the third time in Buccaneers history that ANY QB had thrown for 300+ yards and 5 touchdowns. He’s only the fifth Bucs QB to throw 5 touchdowns in a game. And he is now the oldest QB in NFL history to throw 5 touchdowns in a game, with Warren Moon (40) in 1997 holding the record previously. He now has 11 passing touchdowns through the first 4 games, which matches the most ever by ANY Bucs QB and ranks him third for this season behind Seattle’s Russell Wilson (16) and Buffalo’s Josh Allen (12). His “dead arm” completed a 48-yard pass to Mike Evans, a 44-yard pass to Scotty Miller, a 29-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski, and a 28-yard pass to OJ Howard. He now leads the league in deep passing yardage with 458 yards through the first four weeks. In the second half of Sunday’s game alone, he was 15 of 17 for 263 yards with 3 touchdowns and no picks. He’s not “too old“. His arm isn’t “dead“. And he’s not “past his prime“. Tom Brady may not be as young as he once was, but he’s still plenty good enough to lead this Buccaneers team to the postseason.
Ronald Jones Running
The Bucs were already down Leonard Fournette for this game. Then LeSean McCoy got injured early and recently signed Kenjon Barner suffered a concussion later. The Bucs were left with just Ronald Jones II and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn to finish the day. All Jones did was carry the ball 20 times for 111 yards and a 5.6 yards per carry average. It was just the second 100-yard rushing game of his career, but he proved what head coach Bruce Arians has been saying all year about RoJo being capable of being the Bucs primary back.
With Chris Godwin out for this game and Mike Evans hampered by what looked to be a high ankle sprain, someone had to step up and make some plays for the Buccaneers. Scotty Miller answered that bell with 7 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. It was his second game in a row with 83 yards giving him a team-high 250 yards for this season. He’s on pace for his first 1,000-yard season after totaling just 450 yards in his first two years. He’s also averaging an impressive 16.5 yards per catch. Miller has become one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets this season. It was inevitable after the connection that they formed during the off-season and training camp where Brady gave him two nicknames…”Crazy Legs” and “Scooter“.
The Rookie RB
His stat line wasn’t crazy and he didn’t get to play many snaps, but when rookie running back Ke’ Shawn Vaughn did get in he made it count. He only had 3 carries for 4 yards on the ground, but he added 2 catches for 22 yards and a game-clinching touchdown late in the fourth quarter. With Leonard Fournette still questionable and LeSean McCoy likely out for Thursday night, Vaughn will see a bigger role as the Bucs third-down back against the Bears. It’s situations like this where guys either sink or swim. It will be interesting to see what the youngster does with this opportunity under the big lights of Thursday Night Football.
The Big Boys
Zero sacks allowed. For the second time in the last three games, the Bucs opposing defense was not allowed a sack on Tom Brady. In fact, he’s only been sacked twice in the last three games combined. The Bucs ran 73 offensive plays against the Chargers and only allowed one tackle for loss while blocking for Ronald Jones 111 yards and 5.6 yards per carry average. All five Buccaneers offensive linemen have been playing well this season. However, there are two of them that have been outstanding. According to PFF, left guard Ali Marpet has the second-highest grade through the first 4 weeks (91.3) out of ALL offensive linemen. The other guy is rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs. He has been thrown into the fire to start this season facing four of the best pass rushers in the league during these first 4 games. Week 1, it was the Saints Cameron Jordan…zero sacks. Week 2, it was the Panthers Brian Burns…zero sacks. Week 3, it was the Broncos Bradley Chubb…zero sacks. And on Sunday, it was the Chargers Joey Bosa who was held to zero sacks on 46 dropbacks by Brady. After the game, Bosa complimented Wirfs saying that “he’s already a pretty good player, but he’s going to be a great one“. It doesn’t get any easier for the rookie as he will be tested by the Bears Khalil Mack on Thursday night.
The Chargers were beating the Bucs 24-7 with about a minute left in the first half of Sunday’s game. Then something happened. After Bucs punter Bradley Pinion pinned the Chargers on their 9-yard line, quarterback Justin Herbert attempted to hand the ball off to rookie running back Josh Kelley but it was mishandled. Before Kelley could fully get control of the football, Ndamukong Suh busted through the line tackling him for a loss and forcing a fumble, which was recovered by linebacker Devin White on the 6-yard line. Tom Brady connected with Mike Evans three plays later for a much-needed touchdown to cut the lead just before the half. From that point on, the Bucs outscored the Chargers 24-7 and won the game 38-31. Head coach Bruce Arians said that play by Suh was the turning point of the game and his players agreed. Before that play, the Bucs first six drives ended in TD, INT, Punt, Punt, Missed FG, and Punt. After that play, all four of their drives ended with touchdowns. It was the second-largest comeback in Buccaneers history and it was Tom Brady’s 37th fourth-quarter comeback of his career, second only to Peyton Manning (43) in NFL history. Jameis Winston never won a game with Tampa Bay when he trailed by 14+ points. It took Brady just four games.
After losing their season opener in New Orleans, the Bucs have now won three straight games and they are currently leading the NFC South division with a 3-1 record. Don’t get too excited just yet Bucs fans. Tampa Bay has started the season 3-1 on eight other occasions with 2011 being the most recent. In those 8 seasons, they only made the playoffs in just three of them with three other seasons ending in losing records. However the year they won the Super Bowl, they started the season with a 3-1 record including a Week 1 loss in New Orleans. Now they need to keep it going on Thursday night. Over the last 10 years, teams that started the season 4-1 made the playoffs 77% of the time.
The Chargers entered this game with the NFL’s best red zone defense allowing just two scores on nine trips by their opponents. The Bucs entered with the second-best red zone offense in the NFL. Something had to give here…and it was the Chargers. The Bucs scored on four of their five trips to the RedZone on Sunday.
Ronald Jones Catching
Even though he finished with his second career 100-yard rushing game, Ronald Jones II showed why the Bucs brought in veteran players like Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy and drafted rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn to be the Bucs third-down backs. Despite spending much of this off-season working on his pass-catching, Jones continues to have issues with dropped passes. I haven’t heard any official numbers as of yet, but by my count, he dropped three passes on Sunday. That can’t happen. Especially now that Fournette and McCoy are injured and questionable for Thursday’s game against the Bears.
The First Half
As they have in every game so far this season, the Bucs marched down the field and scored a touchdown with their first possession on Sunday. In fact, they had scored 31 points in the first quarter of their first 3 games this year while the defense had held their opponents to zero points during that same time. However, it was a totally different story against the Chargers. After the Buccaneers scored on that opening drive, the Chargers scored twice in the next two minutes to take a 14-7 lead. One was a 53-yard touchdown pass and the other was an interception return on Brady’s second pick-six of the season. Los Angeles added one more 19-yard touchdown pass after a 13 play drive just as the first quarter ended to go up 21-7 on the Bucs. Throw in an injury to Mike Evans and a missed field goal by Ryan Succop in the second quarter, and you have a pretty ugly first half of football. Thankfully, they were able to overcome the adversity and pull out the win at the end.
I like Whitehead. I’m not sure if he had other things on his mind during that first half or what, but he had three BIG mistakes in the game on Sunday. His first was a blown coverage on the big 53-yard touchdown pass to undrafted rookie Tyler Johnson. The second was a late hit out of bounds on Charger quarterback Justin Herbert in the second quarter, which gave the Chargers offense a big first down. And the other was missing on a sack when he failed to wrap up Herbert in the pocket. He escaped and fired a dart to Keenan Allen for a first down. Whitehead seemed to play better in the second half, but this was definitely a first half for him to forget.
The Pass Defense
It may not be fair to say that the Bucs pass defense was “BAD” in this game. It was basically “BAD” on three plays. There was the blown coverage on the 53-yard touchdown pass to UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT ROOKIE Tyler Johnson. There was the 19-yard touchdown pass to UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT ROOKIE tight end Donald Parham. Then there was the 72-yard touchdown pass to UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT second-year wide receiver Jalen Guyton. That first touchdown appeared to be on safety Jordan Whitehead, while the other two scores were on cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting. This Bucs secondary had only allowed one play of 40+ yards (46 yards to Saints tight end Jared Cook in Week 1) in the first three games. They gave up two such plays on Sunday. Those three touchdowns were those three guys ONLY catches of the entire game. Other than that, Carlton Davis held Keenan Allen to 8 catches for 62 yards and they held tight end, Hunter Henry, to just 2 catches for 39 yards.
Ryan Succop was brought to Tampa because he’s been one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. In fact, he set a new NFL record with 56 straight field goals made within 50 yards. However, in typical Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ fashion, he missed on just his fifth attempt in that range for the Bucs. He went on to make his only other attempt later in the game AND Chargers kicker Michael Badgley also missed one of his kicks as well, so the miss wasn’t costly but it was still a miss. And misses are NOT what Bucs fans want to see from their kickers.
They’ve been an ongoing issue throughout the first three games and they were once again on Sunday as well. The Bucs committed 8 penalties for 90 yards against the Chargers. Some were bad calls. Some were dumb mistakes. But all of them need to stop. It’s one of the few ways that this team is still shooting themselves in the foot. Whether it’s a holding call that kills an offensive drive or a pass interference call that keeps a drive alive for their opponent, the penalties have been hurting the Buccaneers this season and they have got to stop.
This was the first game of this season where I thought the Bucs effort was somewhat questionable at times. Especially on defense in that first half. I could be wrong. I haven’t seen the All-22 film yet so I’m going off of what I saw on live television. But there were a few plays that just looked lazy to me. Hopefully, that’s not the case. Hopefully, this team isn’t becoming overconfident. Hopefully, this team isn’t getting complacent. We should find out on Thursday night.
This game already began without Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette and Scotty Miller and Sean Murphy-Bunting fighting injuries as well. It ended with LeSean McCoy out with a leg injury, Mike Evans hampered by a high ankle sprain, OJ Howard with a ruptured Achilles, and Kenjon Barner out with a concussion. Hopefully, with the exception of Howard, the other injuries are short term and won’t be an issue after this week.
I won’t know for sure until I see the All-22 film of this game, but it sure looked like there were some questionable calls AND no calls in this game. I saw blatant holds on Shaq Barrett and Vita Vea that weren’t called. The pass interference on Carlton Davis was pretty weak. There was a hand to the face of Ryan Jensen that wasn’t called. And there were others as well. I’m not usually one to blame the refs and it didn’t really affect the outcome of the game, but I just felt like it belonged in my “BAD” category.
As I’ve said before, a win is a win, and I’ll take them, however I can get them. That being said, this game shouldn’t have even been close. I get that it’s the NFL, and there’s that “any given Sunday” crap, but there is no reason why this should’ve been a 7 point game. The Chargers were literally playing with half of their starters and a rookie quarterback, even if he is pretty good. The Bucs should’ve beat them 45-10, but instead, they squeaked out a 38-31 win after being down by 17 points in the first half. It wasn’t all “UGLY“. With the exception of a few plays, the Bucs defense played really well, holding Justin Herbert to his lowest passing total of the season, limiting the Chargers to just 46 yards rushing, and finishing the game with 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and a recovery, an interception, 6 QB hits and 3 tackles for loss. The offense scored on their first possession, but then Tom Brady threw his second pick-six of the season. Eventually, both sides of the ball got going, and the Bucs were able to gain the lead in the fourth quarter and keep it. The first half of this game may have been the “UGLY” part, but the second half was full of beautiful complementary football.
Thursday Night Football on primetime. The 3-1 Bucs versus the 3-1 Bears. Both teams need this win badly to help prove their record isn’t a fluke. Chicago’s opponents have a combined record of 1-10, while Tampa Bay’s opponents have a combined record of 4-8.
The good news for the Bucs might be that Nick Foles has been named the Bears starting quarterback. The last time he faced the Buccaneers defense, Foles went 7 of 14 for 93 yards with an interception and two lost fumbles. He ended up getting benched after the Bucs took a 25-0 lead over the Jags in Jacksonville. Last week against the Colts in his first start for Chicago, Foles finished 26 of 42 for 249 yards, one touchdown (in garbage time), and an interception. It was a very unimpressive outing, so it will be interesting to see how he fairs against an improved Bucs defense that ranks 4th in the league.
Going into the Monday night games, the Bucs were one of just three teams that were ranked in the top ten in BOTH scoring offense AND scoring defense. The other two were the 3-0 Kansas City Chiefs and the 3-1 Baltimore Ravens. That’s pretty good company. But I’m not quite convinced that this Tampa Bay team is on their level just yet. They STILL have yet to play a complete game on both sides of the ball, which is a scary thought. The offense STILL hasn’t had a full game at full strength. And Tom Brady STILL hasn’t connected with all of his offensive weapons yet…but they will.
The Bucs are improving each week. That should strike fear in the rest of the league. Once everything starts clicking with this team in all three phases, they will be tough to even compete with, let alone beat. This week should be a test on national television against a solid Bears defense. If they can go to Chicago and pull out a convincing win, then it will go a long way towards verifying the validity of this team. If they lose, then all the “just the same old Bucs” talk will surely start up again. We’ll see which Buccaneers team shows up on Thursday night.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!