ROW THAT BOAT, BABY!
The Buccaneers raised the flags, fired the cannons, and defended the bay as they beat down the Chicago Bears — on Sunday afternoon — beating them 38-3 at Raymond James Stadium.
The offense was rolling as they scored a franchise-record 35 points in the first half. And the defense was giving rookie QB Justin Fields all he could handle on their way to creating five turnovers on the day — all of this resulted in one of the more dominant performances of this season in what could have been a “trap game” for this Bucs team.
There was plenty of “GOOD” in this one. In fact, you could make an argument that it was all “GOOD“. But that would make this article too easy to write, wouldn’t it? It’s my job to nitpick this performance as much as possible to find what little “BAD” and “UGLY” there might have been throughout the game. The stuff that many of us missed during the live game. So while I do think this was one of the best OVERALL games that this Bucs team has played this season, it wasn’t their best. We haven’t seen this team’s best yet. Maybe we never will. But here is the “GOOD, BAD & UGLY” that I saw in the Bucs vs Bears game.
The Run Offense
The Bucs rushed for a season-high 182 yards on Sunday, averaging nearly 6 yards per carry. That’s their most in a home game since 2015. Leonard Fournette led the way with 15 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and Ronald Jones had 10 carries for 63 yards for an average of 6.3 yards per carry. Even Ke’Shawn Vaughn got into the act with 5 carries for 27 yards and a 5.2 yards per carry average. The Bucs offensive line manhandled the Bears’ defensive line that was missing two starters in Akiem Hicks and Robert Quinn. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite get the job done inside the 5-yard line.
The Pass Defense
The Buccaneers’ pass defense was exceptional on Sunday. Of course, they weren’t exactly facing the Rams or Cardinals passing offenses. In fact, they were facing the worst passing offense in football — an offense that hadn’t passed for more than 200 yards all season, even when Andy Dalton was running it. Even though rookie Justin Fields completed passes to nine different receivers, none of them had more than 43 yards receiving. This makeshift secondary held Fields to 184 yards for a 5.8 yards per attempt average and picked him off three times.
Tristan Wirfs has quickly become one of my favorite players on this team. He’s a beast. He has now gone over a year without giving up a sack. In fact, the ONLY sack he’s given up in 27 games was last year against this Bears team and Khalil Mack. This time, Wirfs was even better. Not only did he NOT give up a sack, but Mack had just one tackle in 52 defensive snaps. That’s impressive. The whole Bucs o-line played great, giving up just one QB hit in 39 dropbacks and opening up holes for 182 rushing yards.
The Rookie Returner
Even though rookie wide receiver Jaelon Darden only had one opportunity to return a punt in this game, he made the most of it, returning it 43 yards (the longest punt return in the NFL this season) to the Bears 32-yard line setting up the Bucs first score of the day. He also added one rush on an end-around for 11 yards later in the game. Since they waived Jaydon Mickens, it looks as though Darden will be the Bucs’ returner for the rest of the season. And he might be a pretty darn good one too.
The Wounded Warrior
Jason Pierre-Paul is just that, according to Bruce Arians. He informed the media after the game that he’s playing with a finger that’s broken in two places AND a torn rotator cuff. All he did on Sunday against the Bears was finish with 4 tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble.
I said he would, and he did. Todd Bowles dialed up blitz after blitz and disguised coverage after coverage to mess with Justin Fields psyche. It worked. The Bucs ended up with four sacks (JPP-2, Shaq-1, Winfield-1), with three of them ending in forced fumbles and forced five turnovers, the most in a home game since 2013 and the most in any game since 2017. They harassed the poor rookie for the entire game, and he didn’t have an answer for them, finishing 22 of 32 for 184 yards, no touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, matching his total number of interceptions over the first six games.
The Secondary Subs
Once again, the Buccaneers were playing shorthanded with six starters out, including three of their top four cornerbacks. Well, in this “next man up” league, this team had some guys step in and step up. Dee Delaney got the starting nod opposite Jamel Dean in place of Richard Sherman. All he did was finish with 5 tackles and an interception. Ross Cockrell played significant snaps in this game and also finished with 5 tackles. And when Delaney hurt his ankle and had to leave the game, Pierre Desir came in and also had an interception.
I know this secondary has sometimes been frustrating to watch this season with all the injuries, but when they start getting Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Richard Sherman back, things are going to be much different. These reserves are getting tons of live snaps and gaining experience in the system that they just can’t get in practice. Just think about it. When healthy, Davis should be CB1, Sherman will likely be CB2, SMB will probably move to slot/nickel, Dean will be your CB4, and they’ll still have Delaney, Desir, Cockrell, or Rashard Robinson to be CB5. That’s a ton of depth in what started out as a thin position at the beginning of this season.
The Bucs have been the most penalized team in the NFL so far this season, similar to last year prior to the Bears game. In this one, the Bucs only drew one flag, a hold on backup guard Aaron Stinnie in the third quarter, for 10 yards. It was by far their lightest laundry day of the season, so hopefully, that trend continues just like last year.
My goodness. The records just keep falling for Tom Brady and this team. He became the first player in NFL history to throw 600 regular-season touchdowns. He now has 203 completions and 21 touchdowns this season, becoming just the third player in NFL history to do so in their team’s first seven games. The other two are Peyton Manning (2013) and Andrew Luck (2018). He now leads the league in passing yards (2,275) AND touchdowns (21). Brady also broke his own record with a NEW largest gap in age between opposing quarterbacks (22 years) since 1950 with him (44) and Justin Fields (22). And with the win, the Bucs are now 6-1, their best start in franchise history.
Something that sometimes gets lost in pro sports is that these guys are human beings too. Behind all the speed, strength, and size they are just normal people. However, they have the opportunity to touch more people’s lives because of their notoriety. I wanted to point out a few instances where some of our players did that during this game because they deserve to be recognized for their generosity, even if they don’t want it.
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin gave away four game balls to people in the stands on Sunday. One that Evans gave out just happened to be Tom Brady’s 600th touchdown ball. A little piece of NFL history. Of course, Evans didn’t realize what he had done, but a member of the Bucs equipment staff immediately ran over and negotiated with the fan for the release of the ball. In return, he was given a different game ball PLUS a $1,000 gift card to the team store. Oh, and Brady said there’s more on the way. I would hope so. One sports memorabilia expert has already estimated that ball to be worth $500,000 at a minimum.
*UPDATE* You can now add two signed jerseys and a signed helmet from Brady, a signed jersey and game cleats from Evans, two years of season passes, AND a Bitcoin worth $63,000 to his haul. It’s not $500K, but it’s not bad either!
Once Blaine Gabbert entered the game; and Tom Brady was done for the day, he noticed a young boy holding a sign in the stands behind the Bucs bench that said, “TOM BRADY HELP ME BEAT BRAIN CANCER!“. He walked over, gave the kid his sideline hat, and shook his hand to congratulate him — the boy was moved to tears.
During the Dolphin game a couple of weeks ago, Leonard Fournette tried to toss a touchdown ball to a little girl in the stands wearing his jersey. Some ASSHOLE stepped in front of her, intercepted the ball, and kept it. After this game, Lenny walked over to the little girl, handed her his signed game-worn jersey, and gave her a high five — the girl was moved to tears.
Fans here in Tampa Bay may not have been blessed with the most successful teams over the years, but we’ve always had players and organizations who give back and better our community. The guys on this team are no different. We have some good ones, Buc Nation!
It hasn’t happened very often over the last two seasons, but Bucs kicker Ryan Succop missed a makeable 43-yard field goal with about 10 minutes left in the first half. I know I’m nitpicking. He’s human. I guess he’s just spoiled us these last couple of years after having so many issues in the kicking game for the last decade. We expect better from him. We just can’t expect perfection.
The Run Defense
Terrible. Absolutely terrible. Bears third-string running back Khalil Herbert had 18 carries for 100 yards and a 5.6 ypc average against the Bucs’ #1 ranked rushing defense. He’s only the third player to rush for 100 yards against the Bucs since Todd Bowles took over the defense in 2019, with the Vikings Dalvin Cook (2020) and Seahawks Chris Carson (2019) being the other two. I’m not sure if it was due to missed tackles or the lack of gap integrity, or maybe a bit of both, but they need to get it fixed before they face Alvin Kamara next Sunday, or he’s going to shred them.
Luckily, the injuries from this game don’t appear to be anything long-term. Jamel Dean left the game with a shoulder injury but came back in later. And Dee Delaney left the game with an ankle injury and never returned. Both seem to be alright and should be good to go for next week. It’s been a frustrating first seven weeks dealing with all these injuries, especially in the secondary. The good news is that Bruce Arians hopes to start getting guys back for the New Orleans game. He said he expects Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, Lavonte David, and Richard Sherman should all be ready to go for the Saints game. Now, if they could just get Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting back after the bye week, they’ll be ready for a playoff run.
Letting Off The Gas
For the second game in a row, the Buccaneers built a big lead at the half, then decided to go conservative, at least offensively. Byron Leftwich seemed to stop risking it and took his foot off the gas by running the ball more in the second half instead of continuing the aerial onslaught that happened in the first half. The results were four second-half possessions with two punts, a turnover at the Bears 1-yard line, and one field goal after getting stopped from 1st & goal from the Bears 1-yard line. After 223 total yards and 35 points in the first half, the Bucs offense only managed about 175 yards and 3 points in the second half.
1st & GOAL
I just touched on it, but I felt the need to make this my “UGLY” thing for this game. Two possessions at the Bears 1-yard line, and they came away with 3 points. It’s unusual. The Bucs have been really good in the red zone this season, so when this type of stuff happens it really sticks out. Bruce Arians said that he felt like his offense left 20 points out on the field, and these two possessions were a BIG chunk of it. The first attempt was 1st & goal from the Bears 4-yard line that ended in Ronald Jones getting stuffed at the 1-yard line. The second attempt was actually 1st & goal from the Bears 1-yard line that ended up in the Bucs losing 3 yards and kicking a 22-yard field goal. It’s shameful. With this Bucs o-line and the backs on this roster, there’s NO EXCUSE for them to come away with no touchdowns in those two scenarios. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again.
It was an impressive team win for sure. But it could’ve been even better. It should’ve been a 55-3 win for the Bucs, but we’ll just have to settle for the 38-3 victory. Oh well. The offense and defense were both dominant, at least for most of the game. As usual, there were lapses and lulls; throughout. The offense had a few lackluster drives, and the defense defended the passing game well but couldn’t stop the run for a change. Just once, I’d love to see this team play their best for a full 60-minute game. Just once. Bruce Arians says all the time that we have yet to see the full potential of this team. I agree. I suppose we can’t expect much better with so many starters out with injuries. However, the Bears were missing guys too. They just weren’t talented or deep enough to overcome those injuries. I’m not sure what’s more impressive, that they should’ve/could’ve scored 50 WITHOUT Gronk and AB or that they held the Bears to just 3 points and caused 5 turnovers while down their top three corners AND starting linebacker. Either way, it’s a win.
It’s games and seasons like this that show how quickly we forget about our past and how easily spoiled we as Bucs fans can get with a little success. Here we are sitting at 6-1, in first place of the NFC South division, having won 14 of the last 15 games (including a Super Bowl), and I’m nitpicking about them winning a 38-3 game. It’s crazy how far we’ve come in such a short period of time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for the “W”. I’m thankful to have a winning team again. I’m thankful to see Bucs fans filling Raymond James again. I’m thankful not to be walking out of the stadium with my head down after yet another home loss. I really am. I guess I just expect more from this team, regardless of the injuries. But shouldn’t we? This is the most talented roster, from top to bottom, in the entire league. They’re well-coached. They have a great mix of veteran experience and young studs. They have leadership. They have swag. They have a ring. They have it all.
Why shouldn’t we expect more?
Here’s what I expect from this team. I expect them to learn from the “BAD” things and build on the “GOOD” things from this game. I expect them to go into New Orleans on Sunday and relentlessly beat the Saints without mercy. I expect Tom to be Tom and Jameis to be Jameis. And I expect the Bucs to come out of the BIG EASY with a BIG WIN.
Until then, as always...GO BUCS!!!