ANOTHER WIN CLOSER TO THE BIG DANCE!
It’s become a weekly thing for Tampa Bay fans, but the Buccaneers were able to overcome one of their ugliest first halves of the season and come back from a 17-0 halftime deficit and beat the division rival Falcons 31-27 in Atlanta on Sunday.
It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for Bucs fans this season, both during games AND week to week. This team’s inconsistency has consistently been on my “BAD” list throughout the season and they haven’t been able to put together 60 minutes of good football all year. The closest they’ve come was against the Packers and we all saw what can happen when they do play up to their potential.
This game, like most of them this season, started off slow for the Bucs before they FINALLY decided to play football in the second half. As usual, there was some “GOOD“, some “BAD” and an easy pick for my “UGLY” in this game. So here’s what I came up with this week.
With all the offensive talent on this roster, I’m not surprised that Mike Evans hasn’t been quite as productive as he has been in the past. The Bucs currently have four players (Evans, Godwin, Gronkowski and Miller) with over 475 yards receiving with Evans as the leader at 779 yards. After finishing this game against the Falcons with 6 catches for 110 yards, Evans is now just 221 yards shy of his NFL record seventh straight 1,000 yard season to start his career. Luckily for him, the Bucs face the Detroit Lions on Saturday who possess the 27th ranked passing defense in the league and then the Falcons again in Week 17 who are ranked 30th in that category.
After missing three weeks and two games with a concussion, Jamel Dean was back into the lineup against the Falcons and played pretty well. He finished with 6 tackles and made a couple of really BIG plays in the second half to give the defense a boost.
The leader of the Buccaneers defense continued his campaign for Defensive Player of the Year against the Falcons finishing with a team leading 12 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. All three of those sacks came in the second half and it gives him 8 sacks for the season. The Bucs are close to having three players on this defense with 10+ sacks for the first time in team history (Pierre-Paul- 10.5, Barrett- 8, White- 8). The last time it was done by ANY team in the NFL was back in 2014 by the Buffalo Bills. The Bucs have had two players with 10+ sacks in a season just twice. There’s only six players in the entire NFL who have 50+ tackles AND 8+ sacks this season and three of them are Buccaneers. Jason Pierre-Paul has 50 tackles and 10.5 sacks. Shaq Barrett has 54 tackles and 8 sacks. And Devin White has 130 tackles and 8 sacks. White is also the ONLY player in the NFL since 2000 to have multiple games of 10+ tackles AND 3+ sacks. This just in…he’s pretty good.
The Offensive Line
You might not have realized it during the game, but the Bucs o-line had a pretty solid showing on Sunday. They didn’t run the ball very often since they got down early, but when they did run it, they ran it effectively. And when they needed to run it, they ran it well. According to Pro Football Focus, they had the highest COMBINED run block grade in the league. They were just as productive in pass protection. In fact, guards Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa were the 2nd and 5th highest graded guards for Week 15. Rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs continued his exceptional play allowing ZERO pressures (second week in a row) on 48 pass block snaps. He is just one of three right tackles in the entire league to have at least a 75 grade in BOTH run blocking AND pass blocking.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Buccaneers don’t have a kicking problem this year for the first time in about a decade. Ryan Succop is quietly having one of the most successful kicking seasons in team history. He’s on pace to break Matt Bryant’s team record of 131 points in a season AND he’s 25 of 27 in field goals (92.6%) just behind Connor Barth’s team record of 92.9% back in the 2011 season.
The Third Quarter
The first half of this game may have been one of the ugliest of the season, but the Bucs third quarter was a thing of beauty. After being shutout in the first half on the road for the first time since 2017 and the second time this season (didn’t happen at all in 2018 or 2019), the Bucs scored 21 points in the third quarter. That matches to most by ANY team in the third quarter of ANY game this season (Seahawks had 21 points against the Vikings in October). It also matches the franchise record for most points in a third quarter (against the Lions in 1993 and the Raiders in 2012). The 31 points they scored in the second half was the most by ANY team in ANY half of ANY game this entire season.
The Comeback Win
The Bucs have had nine games in their franchise history where they’ve trailed by 17+ points and come back to win the game, but this game against the Falcons was the latest (until 3:44 left in the third) that they’ve trailed by that much and STILL rallied to win. In fact, the last time they trailed by that much, that late and still won, was way back in 1982 against the Bears.
So how’d they do it, you ask? Well to put it bluntly, they simply got their heads out of their asses. They were down 17-0 at halftime. They had been outgained 261-60 in total yards. The defense couldn’t get off the field giving up seven third and fourth down conversions. The Bucs didn’t have a play longer than 14 yards in that first half while the Falcons had eight plays of 14+ yards. In that second half, the Bucs had 12 plays of 13+ yards while the Falcons had just three plays of that length. After totaling just 60 yards of offense in the first half, the Bucs had scoring drives of 80 yards, 75 yards, 76 yards, 42 yards and 78 yards in the second half.
As bad as Tom Brady was in the first half, he more than made up for it in the second. He went 21 of 29 for 320 yards and 2 touchdowns after halftime. It’s the third most in a half in franchise history AND the most by ANY quarterback in the second half of ANY game this season. This was the 39th fourth quarter comeback of Brady’s career and his third this season. He’s second all time in that category behind Peyton Manning (43).
The Buccaneers have really cleaned up their act when it comes to penalties over the last 8 games or so. Since Week 6, the Bucs have committed five or fewer penalties in all but one game (8 in Week 12 vs Chiefs). Against the Falcons on Sunday, they were flagged just one time and it was for a block in the back on special teams. If they can continue to limit the penalties and turnovers, it will really help them in the postseason.
Same Start, Different Game
The Bucs biggest issue this season has been getting off to slow starts in games. Sometimes, like against the Falcons, it takes an entire half for them to get going. But the real problem has been in the first quarter, where the Bucs were ranked 30th in points scored and 32nd in points allowed. This game didn’t help those numbers. Coming into this game, the Bucs had been outscored 52-7 in the first quarter in the last 5 games. It wasn’t just the first quarter in this one though. For the second time this season, the Bucs were shutout in the first half. That hadn’t happened at all over the last two seasons. This team will likely make the playoffs, but if they want to make any noise when they do get there they’ll need to get off to much better starts.
I’m a fan of this kid and I know the Bucs are too, but he has not been playing good football this season. At 6′ tall with 32″ arms, he has the prototypical size and length. With 4.42 speed and a 42″ vertical, he has the athleticism. He’s got the talent. He’s got the football IQ. And he’s one of the more versatile players on this Bucs defense with his ability to play inside and outside. So why is it that he’s been the weakest link in their secondary this season?
According to Pro Football Focus, SMB has allowed 57 catches out of 70 targets for 739 yards and 6 touchdowns this season. That’s an 81.4% completion percentage and 13 yards per catch while having just one pass break up, one interception and 11 missed tackles. On Sunday, he allowed 7 catches on 8 targets for 131 yards and 2 touchdowns. I like the kid and I think that eventually he’ll be a valuable piece of this young Bucs secondary. But it might be time to sit him down and let the veteran Ross Cockrell play instead. At least until SMB can get his head right.
The Calvin Ridley Coverage
Despite the Falcons missing Julio Jones, the Bucs could not figure out how to cover Calvin Ridley in the first half of this game. He finished with 10 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown. The Bucs were playing a lot of off coverage and soft zone in the first half and Ridley took advantage of it. Luckily, the Bucs played more man coverage in the second half and limited his catches after halftime.
The First Half Defense…Again
There’s no excuse for why this defense plays the way it does early on in games. None. They don’t have the same excuse as the offense. This is not their first year in the scheme. This is not their first year playing together. This is their second year under Todd Bowles and this defense should be humming like a well oiled machine at this point. Instead, they gave up 17 points and 260 yards of offense by halftime, letting the Falcons offense do pretty much whatever they wanted. Even Bruce Arians said in his Monday press conference that the defense needs to get themselves figured out and start playing better football in the first half of games. That’s evident by them being ranked 32nd in points allowed in the first quarter.
I’m getting tired of writing about it, but it continues to be one of this team’s biggest problems. The ONLY game that they’ve put together 60 minutes of good football was in Week 6 when they destroyed the then undefeated Packers 38-10 at Raymond James. It was the most complete game that this team has played all season. It was also the game where they had ZERO turnovers, ZERO penalties and gave up ZERO sacks.
This game was a tale of two halves. The first half was about as ugly as we’ve seen this Tom Brady led Bucs team play this year, both on offense AND defense. Then the second half might have been one of their best halves of the season, especially on offense. Just think about what this team could do IF they could just put all four quarters together for a change. They’ve already given us a glimpse against Green Bay…but they could be even better. After the Falcons game, Bruce Arians asked the team “If you can play like that for 30 minutes, then why can’t you play like that for 60 minutes?“. It’s a fair question. And I’d like an answer to it before the playoffs start in a few weeks.
The First Half
Do I even have to rehash it. The offense had 60 total yards and the defense allowed 260 total yards resulting in a 17-0 halftime score. It was one of the uglier halves this team has played all season. Lucky for us, they bounced back and won this game.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
The Bucs are now 9-5 and have just their third winning season since 2007, which was the last time they made the playoffs. According to the New York Times NFL Playoff Simulator, Tampa Bay now has a 98% chance of making the playoffs. They’re sitting solidly in the sixth spot and the only teams that could potentially knock them out of that spot are the Cardinals and Bears. A Bucs win on Saturday OR a Bears loss on Sunday and they’re in.
At this point, the Bucs control their own postseason destiny. Win these last two games and they earn the fifth seed and will face the NFC West champ, either the Seahawks or Rams. If they stay in the sixth seed, they’ll play the NFC East champ, which will either be the Giants or the Redskins (I refuse to call them the other name). Win out AND have the Saints lose their final two games against the Vikings and Panthers, then the Bucs win the NFC South and a top three seed. Lose these last two games to finish 9-7 and they’re likely still in the dance. However, there is a scenario where they could be in a four way tie with the Rams, Cardinals and Bears in which case, the Bucs would lose on tie breakers and be out of the playoffs.
Got it? Good.
This team will probably make the playoffs. They have a 98% chance as of right now and I don’t see them losing either one of their last two games. That being said, I’m not convinced that they can win when they do get into the playoffs. This slow start thing is going to come back and bite them in the postseason. If they can actually start playing good football for 60 minutes, then they can beat anybody. But if they continue to dig themselves into halftime holes like they have been, even the G.O.A.T. Tom Brady won’t be able to keep bailing them out against playoff caliber teams.
The Bucs went into Atlanta and got a win. We should be ecstatic about that. Even if the Falcons have struggled this season and were playing without Julio Jones. The Bucs are 9-5 and will finish 2020 with a winning record. We should be happy about that. Even if we did have higher expectations for this team than just finishing with a winning record. The Bucs will probably be in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. We should be thrilled about that. Even if they’re not playing like a playoff team right now.
This team still has two games left to get things going in the right direction. Win those games convincingly, then we can start talking about doing some damage in the playoffs. Struggle with those games, and the doubts whether they belong in the postseason will be lingering. The second half of this Falcon’s game showed us how dangerous this team could be when it’s clicking on all cylinders. The question is, can they continue the momentum into the next game? We’ll see on Saturday when they go to Detroit to play the Lions.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!