It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. Tampa Bay ventured to New York to take on the hapless Giants, who had just one win coming into Monday night, but wound up with a fight on its hands. The Bucs trailed at halftime 14-6, but prevailed thanks to two Tom Brady touchdown passes in the second half and a pass break up by rookie safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. on Giants’ two-point conversion attempt. The Bucs escape from New York with a 6-2 record thanks to a 25-23 victory.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
STATEMENT 1. 6-2 Bucs Show Growth In Ugly Win
Last week I said these Brady-led Bucs looked super following a 45-20 blowout win over the Raiders in Las Vegas. This week Tampa Bay played down to the level of its opponent, the one-win Giants, and escaped New York with a dramatic, 25-23 victory to improve to 6-2 on the year. This was an ugly win, but it was a win nonetheless and kept Tampa Bay ahead of New Orleans – its next foe on Sunday Night Football – in the NFC South.
Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: USA Today
The Bucs didn’t play up to their potential, but found a way to come back and win in the second half after trailing 14-6 at halftime. After taking a 25-17 lead late in the fourth quarter, quarterback Daniel Jones led the Giants on a potential game-tying touchdown drive with 15 seconds left, converting two fourth downs in the process. But rookie safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. broke up a two-point conversion pass to Dion Lewis to preserve the win.
An official threw a flag on Winfield for pass interference, but after huddling together with other refs the flag was picked up and there was no foul on the play.
“The ball hit Antoine in the back,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “To me, it was no pass interference. I thought it was a good call. I don’t know why it took so long. He had his hands out, there was no contact and the ball hit him in the back.”
After Tampa Bay recovered an onside kick attempt, the Bucs boarded their plane with a big sigh of relief.
“The last time we had a close call, we lost,” Arians said, referencing his team’s 20-19 loss at Chicago on Thursday Night Football a few weeks ago. “This one we won, so we draw on something as a team. It wasn’t our best effort, but it was enough to win.”
After being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, Tom Brady had a lousy start to the month of November. Brady was off at the beginning of the game, overthrowing several receivers and targeting reserve receiver Jaydon Mickens five times and hitting him just twice for 11 yards. Meanwhile, Mike Evans was targeted just three times and had one catch for 14 yards at halftime.
Brady was a pedestrian 10-of-17 for 79 yards before the final drive at the end of the second quarter. He was just 16-of-24 for 132 yards in the first half, but was better in the third quarter, completing 7-of-10 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski that gave Tampa Bay a 15-14 lead after a missed two-point conversion pass.
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: USA Today
That touchdown was the 93rd such scoring connection between Brady and Gronkowski, moving them ahead of Hall of Famers Steve Young and Jerry Rice (92), and trailing only Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison (114). And that touchdown tied Drew Brees for the all-time passing TD mark with 560. Brady, who finished 28-of-40 for 279 yards, would surpass Brees with number 561 with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Evans in the fourth quarter to give the Bucs a 25-17 lead. Evans, who has had his battles with cornerback James Bradberry dating back to his days in Carolina, finished the game with five catches for 55 yards and drew a critical pass interference penalty on Bradberry in the fourth quarter.
The difference in this game was that Brady protected the ball and didn’t have a turnover, while Jones threw two second half interceptions to cornerbacks Carlton Davis III and Sean Murphy-Bunting. Davis recorded his team-leading fourth pick of the year, while Murphy-Bunting notched his first INT of the season. Pressure from outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett played a role in Jones’ two costly interceptions.
“He caused both of them,” Arians said of Pierre-Paul. “His numbers aren’t the same [as 2019], but he’s getting a lot of push. He had the quarterback in the grass both times. The young quarterback (Jones) – he’s still trying to do too much. When you’re in the grass with those guys, it cost them basically the ballgame throwing those two picks. God bless him – he is hard to handle and he’s a kid that thinks he can make a play.”
Bucs kicker Ryan Succop was the unsung hero of the night, connecting on all four of his field goal attempts to improve to 88 percent on the season and making his lone extra point attempt, as Tampa Bay’s offense bogged down too often, especially in the first half.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
“We just didn’t play anywhere near the way we’re capable of playing,” Brady said. “Execution – that’s all it comes down to. We need to execute a lot better. I had guys open that I missed and I’ve got to hit those guys that are open.”
Arians agrees with Brady that the team needs to execute better – especially on Sunday night when the Bucs battle the Saints in a highly anticipated rematch.
“Monday Night Football has always been so exciting. To lay around all day – I’ve never driven to the Meadowlands and the scene is empty. We did not find energy fast enough. We got kicked in the mouth and credit Joe Judge – he had his team ready. They played their tails off. But, we made enough plays to win the game and you never apologize for winning.”
STATEMENT 2. Bucs Defense Made The Plays When It Counted
It was not a sterling night for Todd Bowles’ unit, but the Bucs defense came up with some big plays when it mattered the most. Interceptions by Davis and Murphy-Bunting were clutch in the second half, and Winfield’s heroic pass break up sealed the Bucs’ win.
While Barrett didn’t record a sack, his two quarterback pressures were key in forcing Jones to throw those interceptions. Meanwhile Jason Pierre-Paul did get to Jones in his return to New York, notching his 6.5 sack of the season, which leads the Bucs. Pierre-Paul was tied for the team lead with seven tackles along with Winfield, cornerback Jamel Dean, who had an off night, safety Jordan Whitehead and linebacker Devin White.
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: USA Today
Pierre-Paul also had a pressure that led to a sack by Ndamukong Suh, who now has four on the year, and White recorded the team’s first sack on Monday night and notched his fifth QB capture in three weeks.
Knowing that the Bucs aren’t that big in the front seven without Vita Vea and with the Giants struggling to pass protect, New York used two tight end sets often to help establish a surprisingly effective ground game and control the line of scrimmage. Tampa Bay had the No. 1 ranked run defense and entered the game allowing just 66 yards per game on the ground. The Bucs gave up 63 yards rushing in the first half alone, but played better against the run in the second half and finished by allowing 101 yards on the night.
“Defensively, I don’t like to see people run the ball on us, but we made the plays that counted,” Arians said.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Who Did The Bucs Miss More – Godwin Or Vea?
Tough call, but I’ll go with Chris Godwin. Yet, let’s talk about the Bucs missing Vita Vea first.
The Giants ran the ball surprisingly well on Monday night, especially up the middle where Tampa Bay truly Vea, the team’s big nose tackle, for the first time this season. Even with rookie Shane Lemieux starting at guard in place of Will Hernandez, the Giants were able to run the ball up the gut right at defensive tackles Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Steve McLendon, who are both undersized, especially compared to the 347-pound Vea. The Giants outgained the Bucs on the ground 101 yards to 81, with Wayne Gallman leading the way with 44 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries (3.7 avg.).
Bucs WR Chris Godwin – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
But the Bucs offense seems to stall and underwhelm whenever Godwin isn’t in the lineup. Godwin was absent in Week 2 when Tampa Bay beat Carolina in a game that was closer than the 31-17 score would indicate. And of course the Bucs missed Godwin terribly in their 20-19 loss at Chicago on Thursday Night Football.
Jaydon Mickens played the “F” receiver role that Godwin plays and came up with a career-high five catches for 36 yards, including a clutch fourth down conversion, but Mickens is no Godwin. Tampa Bay hopes that Godwin, who broke a finger in last week’s win at Las Vegas, can play on Sunday Night Football against New Orleans. The Bucs need Godwin.
QUESTION 2: Do You See Why The Bucs Signed WR Brown?
Absolutely. It might stink from a character standpoint, as Antonio Brown is not a good dude and has a civil suit pending, but this offense needs his play-making ability for the final eight games of the season.
Bucs WR Antonio Brown – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Without Chris Godwin in the lineup this offense simply bogs down too much. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich deserved a healthy share of the blame on Monday night, running the ball too much in predictable situations like first down against the Giants’ strength – their interior defensive tackles. Without Godwin in the game, Leftwich’s offense has struggled to find its rhythm too often.
As well as Jaydon Mickens, Scotty Miller and rookie Tyler Johnson have played in spurts, none of them has the ability or experience that Brown does. Adding Brown was a mercenary move by Tampa Bay, but it’s a move that just might pay off if he can rein in his behavior and just play football to help the Bucs win.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Fournette Will Continue To Outperform Jones
For the second straight game, Leonard Fournette outgained and outperformed Ronald Jones II, the Bucs’ starting running back. Fournette rushed for 52 yards on 15 carries (3.5 avg.) and had three catches for 19 yards, while Jones had 23 yards on seven carries (3.3 avg.) and four receptions for 23 yards.
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: USA Today
Jones had a huge gaffe in the first half, fumbling the ball after a catch at the Tampa Bay 12-yard line after a big hit from Giants middle linebacker Blake Martinez. Three plays later, New York took a 7-3 lead on a 7-yard reception by Dion Lewis.
Last week in Las Vegas, Fournette had 50 yards on 11 carries (4.5 avg.) while Jones was held to 34 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries (2.6 avg.). Fournette also chipped in 47 yards receiving on six catches against the Raiders, while Jones had just one catch for two yards. Don’t be surprised if the Bucs keep turning to Fournette now that he’s healthy.
PREDICTION 2: Brown Scores A TD On Sunday Night
New Bucs wide receiver Antonio Brown will make his Tampa Bay debut on Sunday night as the New Orleans Saints come to town in an NFC South rematch from Week 1. Brown has been staying at Tom Brady’s house and there is no doubt that Brady played a role in getting Brown in Bucs red and pewter.
Bucs WR Antonio Brown and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
The fact that the two Bucs are bunking together leads me to believe that Brady will be looking for Brown a decent bit on Sunday night. In their lone game together last year in New England, Brady targeted Brown eight times and the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver had four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. I predict Brown catches a touchdown against the Saints in his Tampa Bay debut.
Will the Bucs win and beat the Saints? Well, I’m not quite ready to make that prediction just yet.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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