ONE DOWN, NINETEEN TO GO!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicked their season off on the right foot by kicking in the door to “Jerry’s House” and pillaging as pirates do. Despite losing Donovan Smith and Chris Godwin early on, the Bucs were able to dominate the Cowboys from start to finish, carried by the legs of Leonard Fournette and a stingy Bucs defense on their way to a 19-3 win on the road.
If you’re new to Buc Nation or just need a reminder, this segment is where I talk about the GOOD, the BAD, and the UGLY things that I saw in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game each week. So let’s get into it, shall we?
Obviously, it’s a win. It may not have been a pretty one; but it’s a win nonetheless. And a conference road win at that. It was also rare. Over the last 5 years, the Bucs are 2-15 when scoring less than 20 points in a game. A new center, a rookie left guard, and a backup left tackle for 3 quarters, and the offense was still able to produce 19 points and 347 total yards, including 152 rushing. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s definitely something to build on. All three phases contributed to a complete team win. Sure there are things to clean up across the board, but it was a small glimpse into what this team is potentially capable of.
Leonard Fournette was a wrecking ball in every way possible Sunday night. He had 21 carries for 127 yards averaging 6 yards per carry. He also added 2 catches for 10 yards and pass-protected his ass off. In fact, there was a play where he chip-blocked Micah Parsons lifting him off the ground and putting him on the turf. After the game, Parsons went on Twitter complaining about the hit and whining about it like a baby. Lenny responded to his tweet with a crying face emoji. Todd Bowles stuck up for his running back today in his press conference, saying that it was a legal hit and that they’ll always play within the rules. Fournette is off to a good start to the season, and the Bucs look like they might be a more balanced offense under Bowles.
Jones finished with 3 catches for 69 yards in his Bucs debut. The 33-year-old reached 20.62 mph on his 48-yard reception, which was the third fastest in the NFL for Week 1 behind Jaylen Waddle’s (23 years old) 20.8 and Zay Jones‘ 20.64 (27 years old). He was even faster than Tyreek Hill’s 20.33 mph. Since coming to Tampa Bay, Jones has begun working with Tom Brady’s TB12 method, and apparently, it’s paying off. Todd Bowles says that he looks like the “old Julio“, and that should scare any defensive coordinator the Bucs are facing this season.
The O-Line, Kinda
Not only did they produce 152 rushing yards, but they only allowed 2 sacks (both by Micah Parsons) to a very solid Cowboys defensive line. Not too bad considering Tristan Wirfs was the only starter remaining from last year’s o line after Donovan Smith left the game. A backup left tackle, a rookie left guard, a new second-year center and a new right guard is how the Bucs played the entire second half, and they were still able to be productive. Even the rookie held his own. According to ESPN’s Jenna Laine, Luke Goedeke had a pass block win rate of 87.5% (14 of 16); and a run block win rate of 70.4% (19 of 27) DESPITE making his first start after transitioning from a right tackle in college to an NFL left guard. Sure there’s room for improvement, and it would be nice if they could get healthy and back to full strength, but this was a pretty decent outing against a pretty good d-line. And bonus, they committed just one penalty in 62 offensive snaps. Hats off to the big boys up front.
The “Big D” and I Don’t Mean Dallas
The Bucs’ defense came up BIG on Sunday, giving up just 244 total yards on 64 plays, including 173 passing and 74 rushing yards. Last year, the lowest total offense for Dallas was 290 yards in a loss to Denver. The Cowboys never ran a play inside the Bucs’ 30-yard line. With the exception of the opening drive, they didn’t even cross midfield until the final minute of the third quarter. The 3 points allowed matches the lowest score for the Cowboys under Mike McCarthy, and it’s the second-lowest scoring output in a season opener in Cowboys history. It was the second-lowest points allowed by a Bucs defense in a season opener and matches the fewest points allowed since 2019 when Todd Bowles took over.
Tampa Bay Held The Cowboys’ “Big Three” in Check For Most of The Night.
Dak Prescott finished 14 of 29 for 134 yards and an interception, Ezekiel Elliott had 10 carries for 52 yards, and CeeDee Lamb had 2 catches for 29 yards. The Cowboys’ biggest contributors were no-name wide receiver Noah Brown with 5 catches for 68 yards and tight end Dalton Schultz with 7 catches for 62 yards.
Devin White led the way with 8 tackles and 2 sacks, while Vita Vea and Anthony Nelson; also added a sack each. Antoine Winfield Jr. had the Bucs’ only turnover of the night with an interception from Dak Prescott.
The Bucs really dodged a bullet in this game. Chris Godwin went out with a tweaked hamstring, and Donovan Smith went out with an elbow injury early on in this game. Luckily, neither injury looks to be anything long-term. They’ll have to wait to see how Godwin’s hammy responds to treatment this week, and Smith’s elbow was just a hyperextension and is more of a pain tolerance issue. So both guys have a chance to play next Sunday against the Saints.
Also, in this game, Dak Prescott banged his thumb on Shaq Barrett’s helmet and left the game in the second half. It turns out; that his injury will require surgery, and he’ll miss 6-8 weeks. So that pretty much takes the Cowboys out of contention.
“Deadzone”; Not Redzone
The RedZone was an issue for both teams Sunday night, but for very different reasons. The Cowboys only reached it once all night and came away with nothing; the Bucs, on the other hand, reached it four times and came away with two field goals and a touchdown. The other trip ended with a missed 36-yard field goal by Ryan Succop. That can’t happen. The Buccaneers’ offense had a chance at 28 points in these four series and walked away with just 13 points. That’s not gonna cut it, folks. The good news is they will get better.
Look Ma! No Hands!
Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean only allowed 42 receiving yards between the two of them, but even though the “Gravediggers” did a pretty good job shutting down the Cowboys’ passing attack, they could’ve been even better. Antoine Winfield Jr. had the only interception of the day for the Bucs’ defense, but they had multiple opportunities for others. I can remember at least three or four others that Buccaneer defenders had a shot at, and they either dropped them or just couldn’t make the plays. Devin White, Jamel Dean, and even Winfield Jr. all had balls that could’ve, or should’ve; been interceptions, but they didn’t come down with them. For a group that put an emphasis on getting picks this offseason and set high expectations for the regular season, they’re not off to a very good start; however, it was their first game, so we’ll cut them some slack.
This may be nitpicking here. Since the Bucs only had 5 penalties for 25 yards, however, they were ALL PRE-SNAP PENALTIES! Three false starts and two offsides. That’s ridiculous; I know, it’s only five penalties. I know it’s only Week 1. But pre-snap penalties? Come on, man, there’s no excuse for those. They’ve got to clean that stuff up before next weekend.
Not only was it unusual, but it was ugly, too. Tom Brady only threw 12 interceptions all season last year, so we’re not used to seeing our QB mess up like that. The pick he threw in this game was especially ugly. Brady knew it and admitted it after the game. He tried to force a ball to Mike Evans, who was being covered pretty well already and didn’t see the defender cutting underneath. It was a poor decision and an ugly throw, for sure, and not one that Brady makes often.
Well, that insanely difficult first four games the Bucs had for their 2022 schedule aren’t looking so bad anymore. They went into Dallas and won convincingly. Next week, they go to New Orleans to play the Saints, who barely beat a bad Atlanta team on Sunday. Then it’s home to face the Packers, who looked terrible against the Vikings. They still have the Chiefs after that, but these first three games don’t have me as worried: as much as they did a few months ago.
The defense and special teams looked like they were in mid-season form already, but the offense wasn’t quite there yet. Yes, I know it’s early in the season, and the new guys on offense need time to gel, but those are just excuses. The Bucs don’t have time for excuses — this is Brady’s last run. The time is now. There are 19 more teams standing in the way, and the next one up is our NFC South rival New Orleans Saints. So enjoy this Week 1 win for now, but by Wednesday, it’ll be time to put it in the rearview and move on. It’s OFFICIALLY Saints week in Tampa Bay!
Until then, as always: GO BUCS!!!