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 improved to 2-1 on the year with a blowout win over the banged up Broncos in Denver, 28-10. The Bucs defense was the story once again, registering a season-high six sacks, including one for a safety, and forcing two takeaways as Tampa Bay won the turnover battle, 2-0, to record the team’s first road win of the season.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
STATEMENT 1. Barrett Leads Bucs’ Sack Attack
You could feel this coming.
Shaquil Barrett, the league’s leading sacker with 19.5 last year, didn’t have a sack through the Bucs’ first two games. But that would change in his return to Denver where he spent the first five years of his NFL career.
Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett – Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Barrett, who made his first Pro Bowl last year in his first season in Tampa Bay, returned to form on Sunday, recording two of the Bucs’ six sacks, including a safety in the third quarter that increased the team’s lead to 25-10.
Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles blitzed Jeff Driskel with regularity throughout the game, often up the A-gaps, taking advantage of Broncos rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry III, who struggled mightily. Barrett’s sack for a safety came up the middle on a well-executed stunt. Driskel got hit a total of 10 times in the Bucs’ win.
Tampa Bay’s defensive backs recorded just two sacks last year, as safety Mike Edwards and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting each notched a QB capture during the 2019 campaign. Through three games this season, the Bucs DBs already have three sacks with rookie safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. getting one on Sunday, his second sack in as many weeks, and fellow safety Jordan Whitehead also recording his first sack of the season against Denver.
In the second half, second-year outside linebacker Anthony Nelson didn’t get a sack, but he lowered the boom on Driskel as he threw the ball, resulting in a wobbly pass that fluttered into the arms of linebacker Lavonte David, who recorded his first interception of the year. That takeaway led to a 35-yard field goal that gave the Bucs a 28-10 lead to start the fourth quarter.
Edwards came up with Tampa Bay’s second interception on the day, which came against backup quarterback and Driskel replacement Brett Rypien. Edwards made a great read in the end zone on a pass intended for rookie wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, jumping the route for a one-handed pick, the first of his NFL career.
Bucs NT Vita Vea – Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Edwards came in at safety in the second quarter after Sean Murphy-Bunting went down with a hamstring and groin injury. Winfield moved from safety to nickel cornerback to replace Murphy-Bunting.
Defensive tackle Vita Vea and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul also recorded second half sacks for the Bucs. Vea played a dominant game against Cushenberry, recording three tackles in addition to his first sack of the season. Pierre-Paul had a sack-fumble, which was his third sack of the season. Pierre-Paul now has one sack in each of the Bucs’ games this year.
STATEMENT 2. Brady’s Big First Half Propels Bucs
A week after Bucs quarterback Tom Brady suffered through three dropped touchdown passes in a 31-17 win over the Panthers, Brady’s receivers were more sure-handed in Denver in Sunday’s 28-10 win over the Broncos. Brady had three touchdown passes by halftime, helping Tampa Bay build a 23-10 lead. Brady was 15-of-24 for 166 yards in the first half, and finished the game completing 25-of-38 passes for 297 yards.
Bucs defensive lineman Patrick O’Connor blocked the Broncos’ first punt, recovered it and returned it to the Denver 10-yard line to set up the Bucs’ first score, which was a 10-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin. Unfortunately, Godwin couldn’t finish the game as he left with a hamstring injury after catching five balls for 64 yards.
On Tampa Bay’s second touchdown drive, Brady threw a 47-yard strike that was right on the money to wide receiver Scotty Miller. A few plays later, Brady threw a smoke route to Mike Evans, who barreled into the end zone from 1-yard out.
On the Bucs’ next touchdown drive, Brady threw a perfect, 33-yard strike to tight end O.J. Howard, who was well covered but made a great catch. A few plays later, Brady threw another 1-yard touchdown pass to Evans – this time on a fade pass.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Getty Images
Sunday’s game was the first time that Brady did not thrown an interception in a Buccaneers uniform. That was key because, for the second week in a row, Tampa Bay’s offense came out sluggish in the third quarter, producing just three points in the second half. Penalties, some predictable play-calling and poor run-blocking stymied several Bucs drives. Brady was sacked three times, Ronald Jones II was held to just 53 yards on 13 carries and Leonard Fournette was held to only 15 yards on seven carries.
“We’ve started fast in every ballgame – we get a lead and we have to develop a better finish,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “I won’t say a killer instinct – just a finish. We came out, we answered – when they scored, we scored. But again, way too many penalties offensively. First-and-20 every series, it seemed like. I liked the way we ran the ball and finished it out.”
When asked if he thought this was Brady’s best performance in a Bucs uniform to date, Arians said it was.
“I think so far for sure,” Arians said. “We put a lot on him today and he delivered.”
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: How Good Of A Year Is Evans Really Having?
It’s been an interesting start to the year for Evans. Brady has thrown six touchdown passes this season and Evans has caught four of them. Yet despite those four TDs, Evans has to be driving fantasy football players nuts so far, as he has just one 100-yard receiving game this year – last week’s seven-catch, 104-yard day against Carolina. Evans was limited to just one catch in Week 1 – a 2-yard touchdown, and finished with just two catches for two yards – both were 1-yard TDs – in the first half at Denver.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and WR Mike Evans – Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
So Evans has 10 catches for 108 yards and four touchdowns thus far in 2020. Those 1-yard scores are killing his average, which is just 10 yards per catch, but Evans is averaging more than one TD per game, and is on pace to record 21 touchdowns this year. Hall of Famer Randy Moss owns the NFL record for the most TD catches in a single season with 23 in 2007 when he played with Brady in New England. Hall of Famer Jerry Rice recorded 22 receiving touchdowns in 1987, so 21 TDs would not only shatter Evans’ own Bucs single-season record of 12, which he set in 2014 and tied in 2016, but would put him in some elite company.
However, Evans is on pace to record just 48 catches for 576 yards this year, which would be career lows in both categories. In fact, Evans has recorded six straight 1,000-yard seasons in each of his first six NFL seasons, which tied Moss’ record. You can bet that Evans’ production will pick up over the remaining 13 games as the team wants to see him post 1,000 yards again en route to the playoffs.
QUESTION 2: Isn’t Gronkowski Just A Blocking Tight End?
Nope. Tight end Rob Gronkowski teased the media on a Friday conference call, saying he was just a “blocking tight end, baby,” but the 31-year old future Hall of Famer still showed that he could still be a weapon in the passing game. After being a non-factor in Tampa Bays’ first two games, the tight ends played a much larger role in the game plan on Sunday in Denver.
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: Getty Images
Howard had three catches for 49 yards and was targeted four times, while Gronkowski was targeted seven times and caught six passes for 48 yards. Brady missed a wide-open Gronkowski in the end zone in the first half, overthrowing his good friend.
“I just knew that if I kept week-in, week-out just practicing hard, doing what we need to do, it was going to click,” Gronkowski said. “I’ve been in the league for a while and there are some games where you just get any looks and then there are some games where you get a lot of looks. There are some games where I’m just not clicking and everything’s just not clicking. I’m here just getting better week-in, week-out and fix the problems when there [are] problems and things aren’t going right. That’s the grind of the football season. I did definitely have the faith that I was going to get involved in the passing game and it happened today. I truly believe that we can keep getting better.”
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Succop Will Remain Perfect – Sort Of
Technically, new Bucs kicker Ryan Succop is perfect on his field goal and extra point attempts that have gone beyond the line of scrimmage. The only issue is that Succop has had a field goal blocked as well as an extra point blocked. The blocked PAT occurred on Sunday in Denver when a Broncos defender leaped over the Bucs offensive line to deny Succop and Tampa Bay of an extra point. There wasn’t anything Succop could have done about that.
Succop did connect on a 43-yard field goal in the first quarter and a 35-yard field goal in the third quarter, and was true on his first two extra points. Succop is officially 4-of-5 (80 percent) on field goals this year, is 6-of-7 on extra points (85.7). As long as he doesn’t have any kicks blocked on Sunday, look for Succop to have a perfect day against the Chargers on Sunday.
PREDICTION 2: Bucs Will Continue To Take Advantage Of Backup QBs
After the Bucs dispatched Broncos backup quarterback Jeff Driskel on Sunday, Tampa Bay will continue to take on some backup quarterbacks in the coming weeks. Up next is Los Angeles QB Justin Herbert, the Chargers’ first-round pick.
Chargers QB Justin Herbert – Photo by: Getty Images
Herbert is 0-2 as a starter, as the Chargers (1-2) lost to the Panthers on Sunday, 21-16. Herbert, who is filling in for starter Tyrod Taylor, who has a broken rib and is also recuperating from a punctured lung, passed for 339 yards in the loss with one touchdown, one interception and one fumble.
The following week, the Bucs travel to Chicago to play the Bears (3-0) on Thursday Night Football. The Bears benched starter Mitchell Trubisky in Sunday’s win at Atlanta and Nick Foles engineered the comeback. The Bucs should win the next two games against the lesser quarterbacks, although Foles beat Brady head-to-head in Super Bowl LII when he was the QB of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Expect a heavy dose of blitzing from defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who blitzes more than any defensive coordinator in the NFL, against Herbert on Sunday. The Bucs defense has recorded 12 sacks this season, and is averaging four QB captures per game. Pittsburgh leads the league with 18 sacks through three games, followed by Washington with 14 and then Tampa Bay.
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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