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 traveled to Las Vegas to beat Jon Gruden and the Raiders in a pirate clash, 45-20. Bucs quarterback Tom Brady led the team’s high-powered offense with five total touchdowns, while linebacker Devin White had a career-high three sacks and 11 tackles in a win that propels the Bucs to 5-2.

2 BIG STATEMENTS

STATEMENT 1. These Brady-led Bucs Look Super

Tampa Bay looks super this year, racing out to a 5-2 record after an impressive 45-20 victory over former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders.

And it’s not just the fact that the Bucs look super in the original red and pewter uniforms that they wore while winning four division titles (1999, 2002, ’05, ’07) and a Super Bowl (2002).

It’s the fact that the Tom Brady-led Bucs actually look super – as in a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

A week after destroying the Green Bay Packers – perhaps the top team in the NFC not named the Seattle Seahawks – 38-10, Tampa Bay won its next game in convincing fashion, too. The Bucs have never won back-to-back games by 25 points or more until these last two weeks, and Sunday’s win in Las Vegas came against a Raiders team that has beaten the New Orleans Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Bucs will get a rematch with the three-time division-winning Saints in Tampa Bay in two weeks, and will face the Chiefs at home at the end of November. Don’t be surprised if the Bucs are favored in each game. They’re that good.

Bucs QB Tom Brady
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today

“I want to congratulate Tampa Bay – that was an impressive football team,” said Gruden after the game. He’s right. Tampa Bay is an impressive football team, and perhaps the best team in the NFC outside of Seattle thanks to the play of Brady, who had another masterful performance in a game that was supposed to be played on Sunday night if not for some positive COVID tests in Las Vegas.

With 18 touchdown passes, two touchdown runs and just four interceptions, Brady is playing at an MVP level right now. Only Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has accounted for more scores this year with 22 touchdown passes.

For the second straight game Brady wasn’t sacked, and for the third straight game he hasn’t thrown an interception. Brady completed a season-high 73.3 percent of his passes for 369 yards with four touchdowns and a rushing TD on a QB sneak at the 1-yard line to get Tampa Bay on the scoreboard.

“We did not get enough pass rush today and if you let Tom Brady stand back there and survey the field, he’s proven for 20 years – and he’s proved it for 21 years – that he is still one of the very, very best,” Gruden said after the game. “They have an arsenal of weapons. It’s a credit to them.”

Bucs QB Tom Brady and WR Chris Godwin
Bucs QB Tom Brady and WR Chris Godwin – Photo by: USA Today

Brady has only been sacked eight times this year, which are the third-fewest sacks allowed this season through seven games. Wide receiver Scotty Miller took advantage of Mike Evans being double-teamed virtually the entire game to have a career outing with 109 yards and a touchdown on six catches, while Chris Godwin had nine receptions for 88 yards and a score. Evans was held to two catches for 37 yards, but drew two defensive pass interference calls. In all, Brady hit nine different Buccaneers with passes.

It was a landmark win for Brady in that he moved past Saints quarterback Drew Brees into first place for the most touchdown passes in a career with 559. Brees, who passed for two scores in a 27-24 win against Carolina, is now in second place with 558.

After the game, Bruce Arians said that Brady’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Miller with 17 seconds left before halftime was the game-changer, as it put Tampa Bay up 21-10.

“I thought the drive at the end of the half was big in the ballgame,” Arians said. “I thought it flipped the whole game around to get a touchdown before the half and finish it. We knew the way they were going to play Mike, that Scotty was going to have a game and have opportunities. We just have to get him back in shape so he can do more of those things. We had it one more time and almost ran out of gas, but I thought Tom did a great job of finding him every time we had a shot.”

Bucs QB Tom Brady and WR Scotty Miller
Bucs QB Tom Brady and WR Scotty Miller – Photo by: USA Today

The Raiders tightened the game with a field goal to make it 27-24 early in the fourth quarter, but the Bucs offense erupted with two more Brady touchdowns and a 1-yard run from Ronald Jones II in a 21-point quarter to put the game away.

With 4-2 Arizona dropping previously unbeaten Seattle to 5-1 with a 37-34 overtime win on Sunday night, the Bucs are not only a game ahead of the Saints in the NFC South, but thanks to Brady’s stellar play, Tampa Bay is just one game back behind Seattle and 5-1 Chicago in the entire NFC playoff picture.

STATEMENT 2. Gronk Celebrates National Tight Ends Day

After starting his first year in Tampa Bay with just nine catches for 88 yards in the team’s first four games, future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski is really heating up as he caught five passes for 62 yards and another touchdown in the Bucs’ 45-20 win at Las Vegas. In his last three games, including Sunday’s victory over the Raiders, Gronkowski has caught 13 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns.

Gronkowski caught his second scoring pass, a 5-yard TD, in as many weeks from Tom Brady to give the Bucs their first lead, 14-10 in the second quarter, that they would never surrender throughout the rest of the game. His second Gronk Spike in red and pewter was in order as he celebrated National Tight Ends Day in style.

That score marked the 80th-career touchdown between Brady and Gronkowski, surpassing Dan Marino and Mark Clayton (79) for the fourth-most in NFL history. Including the postseason, Brady and Gronkowski have now connected for 92 TDs, tying San Francisco’s Steve Young and Jerry Rice for the second-most in league history and trailing only Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison (114).

Bucs QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski and RB Ronald Jones II
Bucs QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski and RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: USA Today

Gronkowski now has 22 catches for 282 yards and two touchdowns as a Buccaneer, which is just three receptions behind wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin (25) for the team lead. Gronkowski is tied for second on the Bucs in TD catches behind Evans’ six, and is third on the team in receiving yardage behind wide receiver Scotty Miller (365) and Evans (318)

2 PROBING QUESTIONS

QUESTION 1: Did The Bucs Even Need To Sign Brown?

Yes, the Bucs do need Antonio Brown. While I don’t necessarily endorse signing a questionable character guy like Brown, I understand why the team did it. Bucs general manager Jason Licht, head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Tom Brady all saw the offense struggle and bog down in the red zone in a 20-19 loss at Chicago on Thursday night a few weeks ago. The Bucs played without Chris Godwin, and Mike Evans and Scotty Miller were hurt and hobbled the entire game.

“It’s an insurance policy,” Arians said. “When we don’t have Mike and we don’t have Chris why not have another Pro Bowl-caliber player that’s available and fits our cap and fits everything else? So why not? We have good players but you can’t have enough of them. In Chicago we had one of our top guys out there on one leg (Evans), why not have another one of them?”

Bucs WR Antonio Brown
Bucs WR Antonio Brown – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The addition of Brown, a seven-time Pro Bowler gives Brady another elite weapon to throw to, and is really a low-cost, eight-game rental for the Bucs this season, as he’s not eligible to practice until after the Giants game due to an eight-game suspension he’s serving for misconduct over sexual assault allegations. After an illustrious nine-game career in Pittsburgh, Brown only played in one game in 2019 with Brady in New England after being released by Oakland during training camp.

Arians said that if Brown acts up or if the legal system finds him guilty of the sexual assault charges he will be released immediately.

“I think he’s matured and I believe in second chances,” Arians said of Brown. “Everyone wants to say that Tom picked him, Tom didn’t have anything to do with it. This is something that Jason and I have talked about for weeks, ever since the injuries to our other guys. And when the time was right, would we see if we could pull the trigger and fit it into what we want to get done and we’ll see. If Antonio does what I think what he’s going to do, he’s going to be fine.

“I think let the court system do its’ job. As far as the allegations, I’ve been around a lot of players who have allegations that weren’t true. Some were. So, let the court system handle it and if it’s found out to be true, he won’t be with us.”

QUESTION 2: What Was Up With The Bucs Defense?

It was a puzzling performance for Todd Bowles’ group in Sunday’s 45-20 win over the Raiders, as the Bucs defense played well enough, but not as great as it did in last week’s 38-10 drubbing of the Packers. Las Vegas was without three starting offensive linemen by the end of the game, but Tampa Bay couldn’t really capitalize on that and registered just five quarterback hits and three sacks – all by inside linebacker Devin White, who had a career day rushing the passer (although two of his sacks did come on plays where he was in coverage and rallied to the ball).

Bucs ILB Devin White and Raiders QB Derek Carr
Bucs ILB Devin White and Raiders QB Derek Carr – Photo by: USA Today

Leading sacker Jason Pierre-Paul didn’t show up on the stats sheet, and Ndamukong Suh had a sack stripped from him due to a defensive holding penalty on nickel cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, who had a poor outing in coverage. Tampa Bay’s run defense was still dominant, led by White’s 11 tackles and five stops from new defensive tackle Steve McLendon, who was making his Bucs debut on Sunday. The Raiders were held to just 76 yards rushing, which marked the 13th straight game in which the Tampa Bay defense has held its opponent under 100 yards rushing, tying the third-longest streak in the NFL since the merger (Minnesota Vikings, 13 games, 9/24/06-12/21/06).

The Bucs are still second in the league with 25 sacks, just one sack behind Pittsburgh (26) for the league lead, and Tampa Bay came up with another takeaway on defense, as safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. recorded his first career interception. As a team, Bucs are tied with the Titans for second in the league with nine interceptions this year – one behind Indianapolis (10).

While Bowles’ unit held the Raiders under 300 yards passing and less than 100 yards rushing while helping the Bucs win the turnover margin 1-0, Tampa Bay played quite a bit of zone coverage and struggled at times to cover Raiders receiver Nelson Agholor (five catches, 107 yards, TD) and tight end Darren Waller (six catches, 50 yards, TD). Still, the Bucs held the Raiders to just 20 points, which was 10 points below their season average.

2 BOLD PREDICTIONS

PREDICTION 1: Bucs Finish First Half Of The Season 6-2

Tampa Bay travels to New York to face the hapless Giants on Monday Night Football next week. The Bucs will get an extra day of practice in, as a result, and the outcome won’t be good for the 1-6 Giants, who lost a heart-breaker to Philadelphia, 22-21, on Thursday Night Football. New York’s only win this year came against an awful 1-5 Washington team, a 20-19 victory, two weeks ago.

Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett
Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Giants are without star running back Saquon Barkley and have really struggled to put up points this year, averaging just 17.4 points per game. Tampa Bay can’t wait to exact some revenge on QB Daniel Jones and New York after blowing an 18-point halftime lead last year in a 32-31 loss, and will roll to its third straight convincing win in a row on Monday Night Football that will propel the Buccaneers to 6-2 at the midway point.

PREDICTION 2: The Patriots Don’t Make The Playoffs

Who was going to miss whom the most – Bill Belichick or Tom Brady? That was one of the big questions in the NFL heading into 2020 as the football marriage between Belichick and Brady ended after 20 seasons in New England this offseason, with Brady’s move to Tampa Bay in free agency. The answer after seven weeks is simple – Belichick misses Brady more.

And it’s not even close.

Patriots QB Tom Brady and Bill Belichick
Patriots QB Tom Brady and Bill Belichick – Photo by: Getty Images

Brady and the Buccaneers moved to 5-2 after a convincing 45-20 victory in Las Vegas and seem poised for a playoff run, while the Patriots fell to 2-4 after being drubbed by San Francisco, 33-6, in New England. Cam Newton, who replaced Brady as the Patriots QB this season, threw three interceptions against the 49ers and was benched in favor of backup Jarrett Stidham in the second half. Newton now has seven interceptions on the season, while Brady only had eight in New England during the entire 2019 campaign.

This year as a Buccaneer, Brady has only thrown four interceptions, and none since his pick-six against the Chargers in Week 4. Brady was the NFC Offensive Player of the Week while throwing five touchdowns to help offset that INT against L.A. The Patriots are three games behind Buffalo (5-2) for the lead in the AFC East, and still have to play the Bills twice, including next week’s game, in addition to upcoming games against Baltimore (5-1), Arizona (5-2) and the Los Angeles Rams (4-2).

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