WILL THE REAL JAMEIS WINSTON PLEASE STAND UP?
When I saw that Chris Godwin was out, Donovan Smith decided not to play, and Julio Jones couldn’t go, I knew two things had to happen in this game for the Bucs to win. First, the defense had to step up BIG. That happened. Next, someone other than Mike Evans had to step up and make a BIG play on offense. Breshad Perriman took care of that. The results? The Bucs win their second straight game on the road to open up this season.
It wasn’t pretty. And at least for the first three quarters, it was a little boring to watch if you like offense. However, the Buccaneers came to life in the third quarter and blew the game wide open in the second half. So let’s take a look at what I thought was the GOOD, the BAD, and the UGLY of this first 2022 matchup between the Bucs and the Saints.
The Bucs had not beaten the Saints in the regular season since 2018 and hadn’t beaten them in New Orleans since 2017. A road win against a division opponent that had won seven straight regular-season matchups against them. What a gutsy win and such a statement win for the Buccaneers.
Chris Godwin was already out. Donovan Smith decided not to play. Julio Jones gave it a try in pre-game but was a game-time scratch. They lost Josh Wells to a calf injury. They lost Akiem Hicks to a foot injury. And Mike Evans got ejected. Nothing seemed to be going their way. But this team kept fighting (literally) and stayed together. This was a brawl from beginning to end, and the Bucs are the ones who were left standing at the bell.
The Offensive Line
Despite being down to their third-string left tackle, a rookie left guard, a second-year backup center, and a new right tackle, the Bucs only gave up one sack to the Saints’ formidable defensive front in 35 dropbacks. They only produced 260 total yards of offense, including 188 passing and 72 rushing, but they were solid considering their opponent and the circumstances. Josh Wells has already been ruled out for Sunday, but hopefully, Donovan Smith can return for the Packers game. If he doesn’t, then the Bucs seem pretty confident in Brandon Walton to hold the fort down until he does come back.
I said they’d have to come up BIG to get this win, and they did. They allowed New Orleans to march down on their opening drive and kick a field goal, but after that; NADA. Nothing. Zero. That is until there were three minutes left in the game and the Saints were able to squeeze in a touchdown during garbage time. The Bucs’ defense had 6 sacks, 3 interceptions, and forced 3 fumbles in this game. They are now the league’s #1 scoring defense, boasting the highest graded coverage unit in the NFL. The 13 points given up in these first two games is the fewest in a 2-game stretch since Todd Bowles arrived in Tampa Bay.
These guys are really earning their name so far this season. They are now the highest graded coverage unit in the NFL through the first two weeks of the season. They’re allowing the second-fewest yards per attempt (4.6 yds) and the second lowest completion percentage (56.1%). They’ve only allowed one touchdown in two games while snagging the second most interceptions (4) and helping their guys up front (the Funeral Directors) to grab a league-high 10 sacks.
The Special Teams
Once again, the Buccaneers’ special teams unit stepped up big on the road. The kick coverage was fantastic, especially versus a dangerous return man like Deonty Harty. Ryan Succop was 4 for 4 (2 FG and 2 XP) on his kicks, including a clutch 47-yarder. And the rookie punter Jake Camarda punted six times in the game, ending up with a better net average (39.2) than the actual punting average (38.2) because the Saints’ only return of the game was for -6 yards. Apparently, this group was a concern in training camp, but it looks like they’ve figured out the gunner issues and this unit is playing inspired football.
The Next Men Up
With Jensen out, Robert Hainsey stepped up. With Stinnie out, Luke Goedeke stepped up. With Godwin and Jones out initially, then losing Evans during the game, Breshad Perriman stepped up. With Smith out, then losing Wells during the game, Brandon Walton stepped up. With Hicks going down during the game, Rakeem Nunez-Roches stepped up. In fact, the run defense seemed to be better with Nacho in and Hicks out. See my point here? Jason Licht and his staff have put together not only a great group of starters, but they have created depth on this roster that is proving to be extremely valuable.
I just touched on them a little bit, but the injuries continue to be an issue for the Bucs. It started with Ryan Jensen (knee) and Aaron Stinnie (knee) in training camp and preseason; then it was Donovan Smith (elbow) and Chris Godwin (hamstring) in Week 1. Now, it’s Julio Jones (knee), Josh Wells (calf), and Akiem Hicks (foot) in Week 2. Luckily, so far, the Bucs depth has stepped up and played well enough to help them win. But I’m not sure that they can lose any more players and have continued success.
It wasn’t just “BAD“; it was horrible. And not just for the Bucs. The terrible calls were going both ways, including three very questionable “unnecessary roughness” calls (two for the Bucs and one for the Saints). Maybe the crew was just trying to keep the game under control by calling weak penalties because they knew these two teams have a history. Still, the zebras need to let the players play football and stop trying to control the outcomes.
It’s been an issue in both games; so far this season, and it needs to stop. In this game, Scotty Miller dropped one. Ko Kieft dropped one. Rachaad White dropped one. Breshad Perriman dropped one. But it wasn’t just the offensive guys, it was the defensive guys too. Devin White dropped another interception. And Carlton Davis had his hands on one that he should’ve caught. In fact, Buccaneers receivers have dropped eight passes through the first two games, giving them the league’s highest drop rate. And you question why Tom Brady is throwing helmets and tablets on the sideline? Drops are bad enough at any level of football, but they are simply inexcusable at the NFL level. To help remedy this problem, the Bucs have now signed “Mr. Dependable” free agent wide receiver Cole Beasley to their practice squad and will probably elevate him to the active roster for the Packers game.
The Actual Fight
Well, it was bound to happen. We almost expect it at this point when Mike Evans and Marshon Lattimore face off. Maybe we shouldn’t call it a fight. It was a squabble. Just some pushing and shoving and jawing back and forth. Except now, Jon Runyan, the VP of NFL Operations, has decided that Evans should be suspended for one game for his role in the altercation. It seems like an excessive punishment to me. But when I found out that Runyan’s son plays guard for the Packers, the suspension makes sense. Of course, a father would want to give his own son as much help as he can. His way of doing it is taking away Tom Brady’s biggest weapon for the game, so his son’s team has a better chance of winning.
THE WRAP UP
This was the typical Bucs/Saints game that we’ve come to expect, except for the outcome, of course. It was a physical and emotional battle from start to finish, just as any rivalry should be. Both defenses played very well, but it was the Bucs’ D that capitalized and made the plays when it counted. Once Jameis Winston started doing “Jameis Winston-type” things, the Bucs’ d-line got him rattled, and the secondary finished him off. The offense could’ve played better, but you can chalk that up to all the injuries. In any case, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sailed into New Orleans and made the Saints go marching into their locker room holding a big “L“. And that is smooth jazz music to Bucs fans’ ears!
Stay tuned for the next installment of ON THE CLOCK! where I take a look at the upcoming Week 3 “Battle of the Bays” between the Bucs and Packers right here in our very own Raymond James Stadium!
Until then, as always; GO BUCS!!!