If you would’ve told me a month ago that the Buccaneers would beat the Chiefs and Seahawks back-to-back, I would’ve said you’re crazy.
If you would’ve told me a month ago that the Bucs would score just 14 points against Seattle – at home – and still win the game – I would’ve said you’re crazy.
Well, there is nothing crazy about the way Tampa Bay is playing right now. The Bucs beat a very good Seahawks team at Ray-Jay on Sunday, 14-5. Yes, it’s one of those oddball-looking scores but you won’t find me or any other Bucs’ fans complaining about it.
This one was all about the defense, which was getting shredded week after week during the first half of the season. But in the last three games, we’ve seen a complete turnaround. On Sunday, they sacked Russell Wilson six times, picked him off twice, and kept the Seattle offense out of the end zone. One of those interceptions was by Alterraun Verner, who was on the field just two days after his father passed away. If you haven’t seen his reaction yet, you’ll have a tough time not crying. It was a scene very reminiscent of Kwon Alexander’s performance in Atlanta one year ago.
As for the offense, Mike Evans caught two more touchdown passes from Jameis Winston, both in the first quarter. The offense didn’t do much the rest of the way, but the strong performance of the defense bailed them out.
So where do things stand with five games to go? The Bucs are 6-5, still one game behind Atlanta in the NFC South. They are a half-game behind Washington for the #6 seed in the conference. Their remaining games are against the Saints (twice), the Panthers, the Chargers and Cowboys. Yeah, I had to sneak that Dallas reference in at the end. It won’t be easy, but the Bucs are peaking right now; they just have to keep it going.
When the schedule first came out, many Bucs fans like me probably had a trip to Kansas City penciled in as a loss. Sometimes it’s okay to be wrong.
Tampa Bay went into Arrowhead on Sunday and knocked off the Chiefs, 19-17. Don’t look now, but the Buccaneers are now 5-5. And most importantly, they’re only one game behind Atlanta in the NFC South. Heck, there are just two games separating the four teams in this division.
Consider some of the things we saw in this game:
*Another solid performance by Jameis Winston, who overcame an ugly fumble in the opening quarter.
*Chris Conte, who was getting beaten by just about every receiver imaginable through the first eight games, came up with a pick for the second straight week. This time, it was the biggest play of the afternoon: picking off Alex Smith and the end zone and returning it more than 50 yards.
*The end result of the aforementioned interception was a Winston TD pass to Alan Cross. ALAN CROSS! Last week, it was some guy named Freddie Martino who found pay dirt. These no-names are coming up with key plays, and that’s a pretty big deal.
*Mike Evans went over the 100-yard mark once again.
*Roberto Aguayo made all four of his field goal attempts. He seems to be settling down. Hopefully that trend continues.
The Bucs at one point were 1-3. They won two in a row, then lost two in a row, now they’ve won two straight. Hopefully they can keep it up against another powerhouse team, Seattle, next Sunday.
The Buccaneers needed this game in the worst possible way. And they got it.
With the exception of one play, the Bucs dominated the Bears on Sunday, winning 36-10.
After the defense looked downright awful the past two games, they actually decided to show up against Chicago. They sacked Jay Cutler four times. They forced four turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown by the much-maligned Chris Conte. They also forced a safety, and shut out the Bears in the second half.
So what was that “one play?” Cutler completed a Hail Mary for a touchdown on the final play of the half that made it a seven-point game. But on the first drive of the third quarter, Jameis Winston pulled off another magic act. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’m sure it’ll be on every NFL highlight reel. He escaped a bunch of Bears, avoided a major sack, scrambled around and launched one downfield that Mike Evans came down with. That was the play of the game. Two plays later, Winston threw a long TD pass to Freddie Martino (who?) and the Bucs were in control the rest of the way.
It was great to see Doug Martin back on the field. The Bucs need him desperately. And while the running game struggled mightily behind a makeshift offensive line, he did find the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
But this day was really about the defense finally showing up and playing a good game. And heck, it’s about time the Bucs won a game at Ray-Jay. They only won one of three consecutive home games.
Tampa Bay is now 4-5. Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans all lost, so this was good day all the way around for the Buccaneers. A tough trip to Kansas City awaits next Sunday.
So I’ve been out of the blogging mix for a couple of weeks. Blame it on Las Vegas. When Vegas comes calling, I have to defer to my favorite vacation destination.
But I’ve been keeping an eye on what the Buccaneers have been doing. And it hasn’t been pretty.
I was watching from a distance inside one of the casinos in Vegas when the Bucs let the Raiders beat them in overtime, despite Oakland committing a record number of penalties. And I was watching from my living room on Thursday night, when the Buccaneers got blown out at home by the Falcons.
We are halfway through the season, and Tampa Bay has a 3-5 record. All of its wins have come on the road. The ghost of Ray-Jay continues.
There is plenty of blame to go around, as you would expect. But the biggest problem – and biggest disappointment – has to be the play of the defense. Despite the moves the Bucs made in the offseason, this defense looks identical to the one that cost Lovie Smith his job. They can’t cover. They can’t tackle. They commit penalties at the worst possible times; the one that comes to mind immediately is the one on 4th down that would’ve won the game against Oakland. The defense has given up 1,087 yards over the past two games, and allowed Derek Carr and Matt Ryan to complete nearly 70 percent of their passes (thanks to ESPN staff writer Jenna Laine for those tidbits.)
Head coach Dirk Koetter looks like he’s over his head. I cannot figure out some of his decisions. Why is he afraid to get points on the board at the end of a half when he’s got timeouts in his pocket? And here’s an idea: when the opposition is flagged for a personal foul, don’t be afraid to push them back and not basically concede three points. That was a key moment in Thursday night’s abysmal effort against Atlanta.
Mike Evans is really the only thing the Bucs have going for them right now. The guy is a beast. They really, really need Doug Martin to get back on the field. Still, it may be too little, too late.
Or maybe it isn’t. There are a lot of “meh” teams out there this year. Tampa Bay is one of them. But they have to start winning at home. They have another chance next Sunday when the Bears come to town.