The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their second BIG game in a row after traveling to the “Death Star” in Las Vegas and convincingly beating Jon Gruden’s Raiders 45-20 on Sunday afternoon. What was supposed to be a Sunday Night Football primetime game turned into a 4:05pm kickoff after a positive COVID-19 test for Raiders right tackle Trent Brown. The time change didn’t seem to effect the Bucs too much though. They came to play and handed Las Vegas their worst defeat of the season.
It was an impressive win, especially coming fresh off of the BIG win against the Packers. When you factor in that the Raiders were coming off of their bye week AND that their last game was a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, it could be considered an even more impressive win than last week.
This game was interesting. Rough start. Then long runs of dominant play interrupted by small spurts of frustrating football plays. Overall, it was a solid road win for this Tampa Bay team. There was a ton of “Good” things, some “Bad” things, and even an “Ugly” thing about this win that now puts them at 5-2 for the season. So here’s what I came up with.
For all those that said Mr. Tom Brady was “all washed up“, how ya feeling about him now? He finished this game 33 of 45 for 369 yards, 4 touchdowns passing, a rushing touchdown and zero interceptions. He completed passes to nine different receivers throughout the game. All four of his touchdown passes were to four different receivers. It was just the second time in Buccaneers history that a QB had thrown for 350+ yards and 4+ touchdowns without throwing an interception. In his first two games as a Buc, Brady had 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. In his last five games, he’s had 15 touchdowns and 1 interception. It’s just the third time in his career that he’s had a five game stretch where he’s had 15+ touchdowns and 1 interception or less. The other two times were in 2007 and 2010. It’s only been done once by a Buccaneer quarterback in 2002 by Brad Johnson. And just in case anyone is curious, here’s a comparison to last year with Jameis Winston’s first 7 games.
2019 Winston: 153 of 263 (58%), 2,072 yards, 14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 2-5 record
2020 Brady: 176 of 268 (66%), 1,910 yards, 20 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 5-2 record
Just before halftime, the Bucs scored on a beautiful pass from Tom Brady to Scotty Miller that gave them a 21-10 lead. It capped off a 13 play drive that began on their own 12 yard line with almost three minutes left on the clock. That 2nd down play was from the Raiders 33 yard line. Brady dropped back looking right at Mike Evans, which caused the deep safety to cheat his way. As soon as he knew he had one on one coverage on Miller, he let it go and dropped a dime right into “Scooter’s” bread basket. That throw traveled 55.5 yards in the air according to Zebra Technology. That is the most of any of his throws since Week 1 of 2017. That throw also had a 16% chance of being completed according to the guys at ESPN’s Sports Science. But most of all, that throw showed that Tom Brady’s arm is far from being done and that he’s more than capable of playing at a high level despite his age.
The New Guy
About a week ago, the Bucs traded a 2022 sixth round pick to the New York Jets for their 2023 seventh round pick and DT Steve McLendon. They were looking to fill some of the void left by the season ending injury to Vita Vea. It looks as though it was a smart move. Despite playing just 25 snaps, or about 35% of the plays, McLendon finished his first game as a Buccaneer with 5 tackles and a tackle for loss. Since Vea got hurt, the Bucs defense has faced two of the best rushers in the league from this season. The results, Packers Aaron Jones– 10 carries for 15 yards and Raiders Josh Jacobs– 10 carries for 17 yards. Next up is a Giants team that’s only averaging 98 yards per game on the ground.
After two games where he had 2 targets with 1 catch for 6 yards COMBINED, the Bucs leading receiver got back into the action finishing this game with 9 targets and 6 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. It was Scotty Miller’s first 100-yard game, but it was his fourth game of 73 yards or more. As I predicted back when the Bucs signed Tom Brady, Miller is having a HUGE season.
With Ronald Jones not producing in this game, Leonard Fournette stepped up in his place finishing with 11 carries for 50 yards and a 4.5 yards per carry average along with 6 catches for 47 yards. On defense, Devin White was a man possessed finishing this game with 11 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 QB hits, 1 tackle for loss and a forced fumble.
It still amazes me when I see it. Mike Evans. Chris Godwin. Scotty Miller. Justin Watson. Tyler Johnson. Rob Gronkowski. Cam Brate. Ronald Jones II. Leonard Fournette. LeSean McCoy. And they’re about to add Antonio Brown to this group as well. It’s just not fair. Tom Brady has finally learned how to use all of his new toys and that’s NOT good news for the rest of the league. He’s completed passes to 14 different players and thrown touchdowns to eight different players this season. They’ve scored at least 31 points in four of their last six games. And they still haven’t played their best football for an entire game yet. And think about this. They’ve been productive and winning WITHOUT big contributions from their best receiver Mike Evans who only has 25 catches for 318 yards and 6 touchdowns this season.
For the second straight game, the Bucs offensive line did not give up a sack on Tom Brady. In fact, they’ve only given up 8 sacks in their seven games this season. In all his time with the Patriots, he only had one season where he was sacked less in the first seven games.
The 45-20 win over the Raiders means the Bucs now have a 5-2 record. The last time the Bucs were 5-2 was in 2010, when they finished 10-6. They’ve been 5-2 in six other years as well, making the playoffs in three of them. Beating the Packers last week by 28 points and now the Raiders by 25 points, it marks the first time in team history that they’ve won back-to-back games by 25+ points. They did it twice in three games during their Super Bowl year, but never back-to-back. The Bucs are just the third team in the NFL to do it since the beginning of the 2019 season. The 45 points scored was the second highest total under Bruce Arians AND it was the most by any team against the Raiders since 2014. Over the last 10 years, NFL teams who start the season 5-2 make the playoffs 77% of the time.
So what’s this group done over the last two weeks? They held the highest scoring offense in the league to just 10 points last week. And they held the 6th ranked offense in the league to just 20 points in this game. In fact, they’ve held their opponents to 20 points or less in five of their seven games this season. They had done it just seven times over the last two seasons combined. They’re on pace for 11 games this year, which would match their highest total since they did it 13 times during their 2002 Super Bowl season. The Bucs are first in the league in point differential at +80. The next closest team in the NFC is the Arizona Cardinals at +57 points. The Bucs have finished a season at +80 or better just two other times in franchise history; 2000 and the Super Bowl season of 2002 when they finished at +150. They’ve outscored opponents by 24 points in the first quarters, 18 points in the second quarters, 17 points in the third quarters and 21 points in the fourth quarters. The Bucs are only giving up 66 yards rushing per game. The Steelers are next with 68 yards per game. After that, the next closest team is the Colts at 88 yards per game.
This game was still very much in question going into the fourth quarter. The Bucs were clinging on to a 24-20 lead until they scored 21 points in the final 12 minutes of play. Not only did the offense come up with two big scoring drives, but the defense produced the only turnover of the game when safety Mike Edwards tipped a pass up into the air and rookie Antoine Winfield Jr came down with it. The offense proceeded to turn that into more points. It was good to see them close out a game like this on the road after that loss in Chicago.
The new guys are getting comfortable with the new system and their new teammates. The offense is getting better each week. The defense is getting better each week. Tom Brady has changed the culture of this team. He’s changed the locker room. He’s changed the attitude of this team. He’s changed the work ethic of this team. He’s holding guys accountable. He’s leading them. They showed how they respond to adversity after that tough Bears loss by beating the Packers. And they showed how they handled the success of that Packers win by backing it up with a strong showing against the Raiders. Now they need to prove they can win the games that they’re supposed to win by beating the Giants on Monday night.
By now most, if not all of you know that the Bucs have signed wide receiver Antonio Brown to a one year contract worth a max of $2.5 million. It’s a $1 million base salary with a $750K bonus for a Super Bowl win and three $250K bonuses for receptions, yards and touchdowns. NONE OF IT IS GUARANTEED. It’s literally a risk free deal for the Bucs. Bruce Arians says that Tom Brady had nothing to do with bringing Brown in and that he and Jason Licht had been talking about it for a while. He added that he’s an “insurance policy” since Mike Evans and Chris Godwin have been battling injuries this season. He can start attending meetings and working out with strength coaches once he clears the COVID-19 protocol this week, but he can’t start practicing with the team until the week of the Saints game. Chris Godwin says “We’re looking forward to adding another really good piece“. Scotty Miller says that he’s “excited and eager to learn from one of the best“. Tom Brady says that “he’s a tremendous football player and a hard worker“. Bucs fans seem to be split. Some are excited. Some are upset. But all of us are anxious to see what happens.
Even though he’s had his issues off the field, there’s no arguing about his successes on it. We’re talking about a guy that had six consecutive seasons of at least 101 catches, 1,284 yards and 8 touchdowns from 2013 to 2018.
The dude can play. He’s also got 4 career punt returns for touchdowns. It may work out here in Tampa and it might not. But if anyone can keep him in line and accountable, it’s Tom Brady.
Three and outs and drive killing penalties on offense. Underneath throws on crossing routes and drive extending penalties on defense. The team is getting better as a whole, but they still have lapses here and there. I know that no team is perfect, but the more that they can keep limit these things then the less likely they are to beat themselves. The good news is that they seem to have a handle on the penalties and turnovers. They had zero penalties against the Packers and just 4 for 20 yards against the Raiders. And they’ve only had 2 turnovers in their last 5 games matching the fewest in any five game stretch in team history.
The Missing Mike
After catching 6 touchdowns in the first five games, Mike Evans has disappeared from this offense almost completely. Despite the Bucs scoring 83 points over the last two games, Evans only has 4 targets with 3 catches for 47 yards and no touchdowns. With Chris Godwin out for this week’s game against the Giants, I feel like Evans is due for a BIG game. When the Bucs faced the Giants last season, Big Mike feasted with 8 catches for 190 yards and 3 touchdowns. Look for him to have another BIG game on Monday Night Football.
The RoJo No Show
In the Bucs first two drives of this game, Ronald Jones had 6 carries for 28 yards. The rest of the game he only managed 7 carries for 6 yards and 1 catch for 2 yards. He averaged just 2.6 yards per carry, which was his worst of the season. It was a bit surprising since going into this game the Raiders were giving up 120 rushing yards and 5 yards per carry a game. Despite the poor outing, he still has 506 yards fourth most in the league. He’s also averaging 4.6 yards per carry, which is fourth best among the top ten rushers in the league. He’s still on pace to have the first 1,000 yard season of his young career.
The Lack O’Sacks
The Bucs were hanging around Raiders quarterback Derek Carr all game long, but they just weren’t getting to him. They finished with just 3 sacks, all by linebacker Devin White. What might be the most frustrating thing is that the Raiders were having offensive line issues from the start. They came into this game already missing their starting right tackle. They also lost their backup right tackle, who started this game, AND their starting center throughout the game. This Bucs defensive line should’ve feasted on that group and it never happened.
The Murphy-Bunting Dilemma
Sean Murphy-Bunting started this season on a good note playing opposite Carlton Davis as the Bucs starting cornerbacks. However over the last few games, he hasn’t been the same player. I’m not sure if he’s lost some confidence or what’s going on, but the Bucs might need to figure out something to do with him. When the Bucs go into their nickel defense, he typically moves inside to the nickel corner spot and Jamel Dean takes over outside. Maybe the Bucs should look into making that the norm until he regains his confidence or figures out what’s wrong with his game.
I may be nitpicking again, but the start of this game might have been the ugliest thing about it. The Bucs got the ball first and proceeded to go three and out. Then the Raiders marched right down the field going 70 yards in just 6 plays to score the first touchdown of the day. From that point on, it was pretty much all Buccaneers. But those first two series were not the way the Bucs would like to start any game.
The Good News
This week, the 5-2 Bucs hit the road again to play the 1-6 Giants on primetime Monday Night Football. The Giants are a bad football team. Without Saquon Barkley, their offense is struggling big time scoring more than 21 points just once this season. And that was against the Cowboys terrible defense. In fact, they’ve scored 16 points or less in four of their seven games. They’re 31st in the league in points and 30th in yards per game. Quarterback Daniel Jones is 4-15 as a starter, with three of those four wins coming against Washington. However, that fourth win was against the Bucs last year in his first career start. Otherwise, he’s 0-15 against everyone else.
This is a dangerous game for the Bucs that will really say a lot about how much this team has matured since the arrival of Tom Brady. If this was college football, we would call this a “trap game“. The Bucs come in riding high off of two BIG wins in a row. They’re playing a struggling Giants team that has been playing bad football all season. And they’ve got their NFC South division rivals the New Orleans Saints coming to town next week. It would be easy for a young team to overlook this Giants team looking ahead to the revenge game against the Saints. Hopefully, Tom Brady doesn’t let that happen. Hopefully, they take this Giants team seriously and remember what happened last season. Hopefully, the guys that were here last year for that loss want some revenge for it. And hopefully, they win this very winnable game like they should. We’ll see on Monday night!
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!