Bucs Go 11-5; Wild Card Game Up Next

If you had told me last winter that the Buccaneers would win eleven games in 2020, I wouldn’t have believed it.  Even after they picked up Tom Brady, I had the question: does he still have it at age 43?

Oh, yes, he does.  And the Bucs’ offense is on fire heading into next weekend’s wild card game in Washington.

Brady finished the regular season with 40 touchdown passes, including four more against the Falcons.  Chris Godwin is amazing.  Antonio Brown is heating up.  RoJo scored again.  But there is concern about Mike Evans, who injured his knee shortly after clinching his 7th straight 1,000-yard season.  He’s the first player in NFL history to begin a career like that.  But will the Bucs have him when they take on the Washington Saturday night?

Tampa Bay will be favored in the wild card round.  But even though the Bucs are playing a 7-9 team, don’t think for a moment that this will be a cakewalk.  Washington’s bread and butter is on defense, especially up front.  They are very, very good.  The Bucs’ offensive line needs to be stellar.

Tampa Bay has already snapped a 13-year playoff drought.  Now they’ll try to win a playoff game for the first time since the 2002 Super Bowl season.

Photo courtesy: Associated Press

Run, RoJo, Run! Bucs Bounce Back in Carolina

See?  All the Buccaneers had to do was beat Carolina, and the bad taste (much of it, anyway) would be out of our mouths.

And the Bucs did just that, using a big second half to turn a close game into a blowout.  Tampa Bay swept the season series against the Panthers.

The biggest headline from a team standpoint was the Bucs’ ability to bounce back from a humiliating defeat against the Saints in front of a national TV audience.  And I’m going to focus on Ronald Jones.  He was involved in the worst – and best – plays of the game for the Bucs.  His latest fumble – coming on the opening drive – led to the Panthers first touchdown.

But the buzz is about how he redeemed himself.  In the third quarter, with the Bucs pinned back at their 2 and up by 3, RoJo finally broke a big one, taking it 98 yards to the house.  It was the longest run in team history, and just the fourth run of 98+ yards in the history of the NFL.  Jones finished with 192 yards rushing.  We’ve been waiting for him to have that breakout game, and on Sunday he had it.

This wasn’t a perfect performance.  The defense continued to look like a sieve in the first half before tightening up considerably.  The receivers had several dropped passes.  The tackling needs to be better.  Special teams gave up a 98-yard kickoff return and had an extra point blocked (though they were not fooled on a fake punt.)

But the bottom line is this: the Bucs bounced back in a big way.  They have another big game next Monday night against the Rams – a game with major playoff implications.  Tampa Bay has struggled in prime-time this season.  The Bucs can’t afford another subpar performance under the lights.

Photo courtesy: Associated Press

Bucs Get Statement Win Over Packers

Whatever Tom Brady and Bruce Arians said to the team after that ugly loss in Chicago, wow, did it pay dividends.

On Sunday, the Bucs blew out the previously undefeated Packers at Ray-Jay, 38-10.  I’m trying to remember the last time Tampa Bay dominated a quality opponent like this.  It was a long, long time ago.

And the thing is, this one didn’t even start well.  Green Bay dominated the first quarter, taking a 10-0 lead.  But then Jamel Dean picked off Aaron Rodgers and returned it for a touchdown.  A few minutes later, another Rodgers INT, another Bucs’ touchdown.  The Bucs led 14-10, and that was only the beginning.  The Buccaneers scored 38 unanswered points.  This was blowout city.

Gronk caught his first touchdown in a Tampa Bay uniform.  The defense was incredible after Dean’s pick-six.  Ronald Jones had his third straight 100-yard rushing game.

But this may be the most impressive stat of them all: the Bucs had zero penalties in this game.  Zilch.  Nada.  Ndamukong Suh was flagged for a personal foul, but that was canceled out by an intentional grounding call on Rodgers.  How did they pull off such a clean game after what happened last Thursday at Soldier field?  I don’t know, but it was fun to watch.

The Bucs are now 4-2, and alone in first place in the NFC South as of this writing.  They’re off to Vegas next week, and so am I.  The Raiders won’t have any fans in their brand new stadium, but I’ll cheering for my Bucs someplace on the Strip.

Photo courtesy: USA Today

A Big Comeback For the Bucs Against L.A.

Yeah, this Brady guy still has it.

On Sunday, he threw five touchdown passes to rally the Buccaneers from a 17-point deficit to beat the L.A. Chargers, 38-31.  It was Tampa Bay’s second-largest comeback in franchise history.

Those who still doubt TB12 will point to the pick-six he threw in the first quarter.  But he more than made up for that mistake.  What’s more, his five touchdown passes went to five different receivers.  And he did it without Chris Godwin, and lost O.J. Howard in the second half to an Achilles injury.  Early indications are that Howard may be done for the season.  But Howard, Mike Evans, Scotty Miller, Cameron Brate and even rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn found the end zone.

This game turned in the final minute of the first half.  The Chargers fumbled away a botched handoff inside their own 10.  The Bucs took over and scored a touchdown.  Tampa Bay went into the locker room down by 10 instead of 17.  The Bucs came out firing on all cylinders after halftime.

Another bright spot: Ronald Jones finally rushed for over 100 yards.  Without Leonard Fournette in the lineup, it was nice to see the Bucs were still able to establish a running game.

Was this a perfect performance?  No.  The young secondary got burned twice for deep touchdowns by a very game L.A. quarterback, Justin Herbert.  Ryan Succop missed a field goal.  There were way too many penalties – again.

But the Bucs have won three in a row, and ¼ of the way into the season, they are alone in first place in the NFC South.  They go to Chicago to play the 3-1 Bears on Thursday night.

Photo courtesy: USA Today

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2020 Season Preview

Let’s get this party started.

I admit: until this week, I really couldn’t get excited about the start of football because of everything that’s going on in the country right now.  But with the first game on tap for tonight, it’s time for me to give my overview of the 2020 season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Why I’m so excited:

We have some guy named Tom Brady at quarterback, who’s won six Super Bowls.  Heck, the whole offense is loaded.  Brady lured Rob Gronkowski out of retirement.  Throw in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and that’s one heck of a passing attack.

The defensive line – best in the NFL against the run last year – remains mostly intact, though Carl Nassib is no longer in Tampa.  Devin White and Lavonte David are solid linebackers.

The Bucs have five primetime games.  Thanks, Brady.  Here in the greater Boston area, you’d expect many of the non-national games are going to be televised around here when they’re not opposite the Patriots playing at home.

What concerns me, for now:

The Bucs haven’t had much of a running game to speak of over the past several years.  Ronald Jones is the starter, according to Bruce Arians.  LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette have been added to the mix.  But I want to see an actual running attack before I take this off the list of “concerns.”

Can the offensive line protect Brady, especially Donovan Smith at left tackle?  First-round pick Tristan Wirfs will start the year at right tackle.  Could he move over to protect Brady’s blind side if need be?  Sure.  He played left tackle at Iowa.  But Smith is the one I’m most worried about.

The secondary is very young.  While they showed improvement in the second half of the year – especially after getting rid of Vernon Hargreaves – this is the part of the defense that I think opposing quarterbacks will pick on the most.

The kicking game is ALWAYS a concern.  Matt Gay is out after just one year.  Ryan Succop is now our kicker.  The Bucs always seem to lose about two games a year due to missed field goals or PATs.  Can Succop please find a way to make his kicks?

It’s going to be a fun ride, ladies and gentleman.  The season begins on Sunday with a big one against the Saints.  I’ll preview that matchup in the next couple of days.

Photo courtesy: Associated Press

Bucs Sign RB LeSean McCoy

The Buccaneers just keep adding more weapons to their offense.

On Tuesday, they officially signed veteran running back LeSean McCoy.  We’re talking about a guy who has the most yards from scrimmage since 2009.  Not only can he run, but he can catch the ball out of the backfield.  He will join Ronald Jones in the backfield.

We all know the Bucs need any semblance of a running game.  This should help.

Recapping the Buccaneers’ Draft

The 2020 NFL Draft is in the books, and it looks like the Buccaneers did a great job addressing their greatest needs.

This team has neglected the offensive line for years.  Not this time.  The Bucs used the 13th pick – trading up a spot with San Francisco – to take  OT Tristan Wirfs from Iowa.  This guy is huge, and that’s an understatement.  Apparently, he’ll start at right tackle, but can easily switch to LT because of his versatility.  Protecting Tom Brady is a top priority.

I don’t follow national college football that closely, and thus don’t really know much about any of the draftees.  But the Bucs got a safety in the second round, addressing their secondary.  They also drafted a couple of running backs to hopefully jump-start a running game that has been non-existent for several years.  Ronald Jones has yet to have a break-out season, and Peyton Barber is now in Washington.

The next big day on the calendar is the release of the NFL schedule.  We already know who and where the Bucs will be playing, but we will soon know when.  I’m eyeing the day when they go to Vegas.  Hopefully there will actually be sports by then.  I hope everyone’s staying safe in the meantime.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers / Associated Press

Finally, Another Win!

Winning cures everything, right?

Well, I would hardly say the Buccaneers are cured of all their problems.  But it’s always nice at the end of the day when your score is higher than your opponent’s.  Tampa Bay beat Arizona at Ray-Jay on Sunday, 30-27.

This was by no means a work of art.  Jameis Winston threw two more interceptions.  The secondary looked like, well, the secondary.  The Bucs got schooled on a fake punt.  And they got the break of the season when Arizona’s Maxx Williams dropped what would’ve been an easy touchdown on 4th down in the fourth quarter.

But in the end, Peyton Barber’s 1-yard run with 1:43 left was the game-winner.  And after the Bucs took the lead, raise your hand if you thought the Cardinals would march right down the field to tie or win the game.  Surprisingly, that didn’t happen.

There was definitely an effort to get Ronald Jones more involved in the game.  He had more yards receiving (77) than rushing (29.)  He did score a touchdown on the ground, but also lost a fumble without being touched. 

It was easy to see why both teams have losing records.  There were mistakes galore on both sides.  But Tampa Bay’s four-game losing streak is over, and it feels so good.

The Saints come to Ray-Jay next week.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Yet Another Frustrating Bucs Loss

You have to admit this about the Buccaneers: they keep finding creative new ways to lose the game.  In their 27-23 loss to the Titans, let’s take a look:

Jameis Winston committed four more turnovers: two interceptions, two lost fumbles, though the first fumble was arguably more of Ryan Jensen’s fault for a bad shotgun snap.  Tennessee’s first two TD drives covered a total of 16 yards.  Winston is responsible for ten turnovers in the last two games.  Ten.

Now let’s go to the touchdown by Mike Evans – who had monster game – right before halftime.  The score was 17-15.  Bruce Arians decided to go for two, and the Bucs were unsuccessful.  Why would you go for two that situation, with a whole second half to play?  Had they just kicked the extra point to pull within one, they would’ve needed just a field goal down the stretch.

Then there’s the play that we’re ready to murder the refs over.  Late in the fourth quarter, the Titans tried a fake punt.  Devin White clobbered the runner, forced a fumble, and Andrew Adams picked it up and ran it all the way back.  But for some ridiculous reason, the officials blew the play dead after the fumble recovery.  Why?  That play would’ve given Tampa Bay the lead with just over three minutes remaining.

And finally, at the two-minute warning, the Bucs had 4th-and-1 from the Tennessee 32.  They line up in the shotgun and…. hand the ball off to Peyton Barber?  What kind of a play call is that?  You’ve got Evans and Chris Godwin as weapons.  In my opinion, Ronald Jones is a better back that Barber.  But once Barber got the handoff – in the shotgun, 4th-and-1 turned into 4th-and-5.  And naturally, he got stuffed.  Heck, if you’re going to run, why not try a quarterback sneak?  Byron Leftwich deserves all the criticism in the world for that decision.

Speaking of play-calling, I’m baffled as to why players like Dare Ogunbowale and Breshad Perriman get their numbers called.  They are terrible.

All in all, this was yet another case of the Bucs beating the Bucs.  They made mistakes, and the Titans made them pay.  Tampa Bay is now 2-5, with a cross-country trip to Seattle staring them in the face.  Oh, my.

Photo courtesy: Tennessee Titans

Bucs Lose To 49ers in Ugly Opener

Here are some quick thoughts on the Buccaneers’ 31-17 loss to the 49ers in the season opener at Ray-Jay:

As ugly as this game was, I will start with some positives.  The Bucs actually had a running game, led by a rejuvenated Ronald Jones.  The defense looks much, much better than past years.  Vernon Hargreaves III came up with a rare pick-six.  This unit only allowed one offensive touchdown.  So how did San Francisco get 31 points?  Oh, I’m getting to that.  But first, one more positive: rookie kicker Matt Gay was perfect on the day.

Now, let’s get to the ugly stuff:

Jameis Winston had an awful game.  He had three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.  The other one, admittedly, went right through O.J. Howard’s hands.  But Winston was consistently off-target.  He fumbled a snap.  This is the year he has to break out and play like a No. 1 overall pick.  This was not a good start.  And if Twitter was a member of the Bucs coaching staff, Winston would be out on the street right now looking for work.  He MUST do better than this, or his ass is going to be on the bench very soon.

I said I was concerned about the offensive line before the season began.  They did not perform well against the ‘Niners.  Winston was sacked three times, and Demar Dotson was penalized twice for holding, which nullified would-be touchdowns.  The offensive line play makes the running game’s performance even that much more amazing.

Now, I want to take about the curious decision by Bruce Arians early in the fourth quarter.  The score was 20-14.  The Bucs kicked a field goal, but the 49ers were penalized for offsides.  Instead of making it a three-point game, Arians decided to go for it on 4th down from the 2.  Winston’s pass was batted away.  So instead of it being 20-17, the Bucs still needed a touchdown to pull it out – a score they would not get.  So, Arians is a gambler, eh?  He’s 0-for-1 so far.

Next up: the Panthers on Thursday night.  This is the Gerald McCoy Bowl, part one.

Photo courtesy: San Francisco 49ers