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 got its first win of the season with a 31-17 victory over NFC South rival Carolina. The Bucs defense came up with five sacks and four takeaways, while Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette each had 100-yard performances and combined for three touchdowns as the Panthers’ fourth quarter comeback fell short.
TWO BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Bucs Defense Became A Big-Play Unit
For a minute it looked like Tampa Bay was going to collapse again. After racing out to a 21-0 at halftime, the Panthers cut the Bucs’ lead to 21-14 and then to 24-17 at different points in time during the fourth quarter. This game looked like it might be a replay of Tampa Bay’s 32-31 loss to the New York Giants in which the Bucs blew a 28-10 lead at halftime.
Until cornerback Carlton Davis III came up with a big interception in the fourth quarter to stop Carolina’s comeback attempt. Davis’ pick was the fourth takeaway by a Bucs defensive unit against the Panthers that didn’t record a single takeaway in last week’s 34-23 loss at New Orleans.
“We have to finish this thing out,” said Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans, who had seven catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. “We have to win games like this, and that’s true because in the past we’ve lost games like this. Last year, specifically against the Giants, we came out with a big lead and in the second half we lost it. This year, we’re trying to win games like that.”
Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead came up with the first takeaway for Tampa Bay’s defense this year when he intercepted Teddy Bridgewater, who overthrew a screen pass intended for running back Christian McCaffrey. Later in the first half, he made another stellar play – this time on special teams.
On fourth-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 36, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule called for a fake punt with rookie up-back Jeremy Chinn taking a direct snap. But Whitehead sniffed it out and stopped Chinn a yard short of the first down with a clutch tackle that created a turnover on downs.
Speaking of clutch tackles, Bucs rookie safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. made a touchdown-saving tackle by Winfield on a 9-yard run up the middle on Carolina’s first drive. On Carolina’s next drive, Winfield, who finished with a career-high 11 tackles, came up with his first NFL sack, hitting Bridgewater from behind and forcing a fumble that was recovered by outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul at the Carolina 23. Bucs quarterback Tom Brady found wide receiver Evans for a 23-yard touchdown on the next play to push the Bucs’ lead to 14-0 in the first quarter.
After registering just one assisted tackle last week at New Orleans, Ndamukong Suh made his impact felt in the first quarter, recording his first sack of the year and then tracking down McCaffrey on a screen pass on third-and-17 on the next play. He finished with a game-high two sacks. Pierre-Paul added his first sack of the day and his second of the season on Carolina’s final drive of the first half. The Bucs defense limited the Panthers to just 109 yards and zero points at halftime.
The takeaways continued in the second half as linebacker Lavonte David forced and recovered a fumble to quickly end Carolina’s first second half possession, but the Panthers offense found some rhythm, while the Bucs offense was suddenly out of sync in the second half. Defensive end Will Gholston got his first sack of the season and the Bucs’ fourth sack of the day when he brought Bridgewater down early in the fourth quarter.
Bridgewater passed for 367 yards on the day and Carolina saw two receivers, D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, both top the 100-yard mark while Christian McCaffrey added two touchdowns on the ground with 88 total yards before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle sprain. Despite the Panthers’ offensive eruption in the second half, the Bucs were able to halt the comeback attempt due to Davis’ timely pick, and 15 tackles from inside linebacker Devin White.
“Turnovers come in bunches – they’re week-to-week,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “We had our hands on balls last week [and] we didn’t catch them. I thought defensively we set the tone with this whole ballgame getting turnovers. I thought we were a little leaky in our run defense. But, that was a big interception to start the second half and we give it right back to them [and] let them back in the game. Carlton has a great interception to ice this thing with Leonard [Fournette’s] run.”
STATEMENT 2: Brady-To-Evans Connection Comes Up Big For Bucs
No Chris Godwin, no problem for the Buccaneers offense.
At least in the first half.
Tampa Bay cruised to a 21-0 lead at halftime thanks to Mike Evans’ five catches for 91 yards and a touchdown, as Tom Brady targeted the Pro Bowl receiver eight times in the first half. Brady finished the day completing 23-of-35 passes for 217 yards with one touchdown and one interception, but it could have been so much better.
Wide receivers Scotty Miller and Cyril Grayson and running back LeSean McCoy all dropped touchdown passes from Brady, but Evans was the steady consistent target for Brady all day – even though he was held to just two catches for 13 yards in the second half.
In the first half, Brady read quarters coverage and fired a perfect pass to Evans, who took the ball 50 yards down the field to the Panthers’ 21. A personal foul on rookie defensive tackle Derrick Brown gave the Bucs a first-and-goal on the Panthers’ 7-yard line and Ronald Jones II would score on the next play, stiff-arming safety Juston Burris.
“We have to do that every week,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “We can never let Mike just sit still and be somewhere where everybody can double cover him. Tom did a great job of finding him – especially deep down the middle. Again, that was a good design by Byron [Leftwich] to set that play up with Mike in the middle.”
Evans’ 23-yard score was the next Tampa Bay touchdown on the board and gave the Bucs a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. That touchdown was Evans’ 50th of his career.
TWO PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Is Fournette The Bucs’ New Starting RB?
He should be. In just his second game with Tampa Bay, Leonard Fournette produced a 100-yard game with 103 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries in a 31-17 win against Carolina. Ronald Jones II has suited up in red and pewter for 26 games over three seasons and has produced just one 100-yard game.
Fournette showed his explosiveness with two runs over 20 yards against Carolina, including a 46-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to seal the win and produce the final score of 31-17. Jones ran hard and finished the game with 23 yards on seven carries (3.3 avg.) and a touchdown, while also catching two passes for four yards. But Fournette is a more dynamic player and it showed as he averaged 8.6 yards per carry and also caught four passes for 13 yards.
Fournette demonstrated why he was the fourth overall pick in 2017 and Jones showed why he was a second-round pick in 2018. There is a difference in talent, and that was recognized by all who saw what Fournette could do in just his second game with the Bucs. Bucs head coach Bruce Arians likes to split carries between his running backs. We saw that last year with Jones and Peyton Barber sharing the load.
But Fournette has quickly earned the right to get the lion’s share of the carries moving forward. He’s simply the best running back on the Buccaneers.
“It’s nice to have a hell of a player with fresh legs in the fourth quarter,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “Our guys did a good job – I thought – of mixing the backs in. Shady (LeSean McCoy) did a great job catching balls [and] making first downs. I know he wants that one back that he dropped for a touchdown, but he’ll make some more in the future. [In] the running game, I thought our line blocked well all day. RoJo – we fumbled that ball and we can’t have that on a handoff. Overall, Leonard, as he keeps practicing, learning and doing some things, we’ll keep getting him more and more touches.”
QUESTION 2: Why Is Grayson On The Team?
I have no idea. Bucs wide receiver Cyril Grayson showed in training camp that he doesn’t have good hands, dropping over five passes in one practice alone. I have no idea why he’s on the roster. I have no idea why he was active on Sunday. I have no idea why he was in the game.
But I do have an idea why a potential touchdown pass bounced off his helmet in the third quarter – because Grayson is a track guy and not a football player. For some reason, the Bucs are trying to make a football player out of a guy who is not a football player. Grayson is fast – really fast – but that speed does him no good if he doesn’t make the catch, especially when he’s wide open. Grayson ran track at LSU, but did not play football.
“Yeah, that was a big one,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “Tom [Brady] found him late and the wind was wicked coming across that sideline and blew it across. One thing about Cyril [is] he’s got great hands. That’s why he’s in there and it hit him in the head. That play would have been a huge play for us, yes.”
Great hands? That’s awfully generous praise from Arians, and I beg to differ. If Grayson had great hands he would have caught it. It’s as simple as that.
Chris Godwin’s absence made it necessary for Grayson to dress on Sunday, but Jaydon Mickens, a more accomplished reserve, should have been on the field and not Grayson. That dropped touchdown pass was deflating and would have put the Bucs up 28-7 in the third quarter had Grayson been able to come up with the ball and score. Instead, Carolina drew to within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, 21-14. The Bucs need to pull the plug on the Grayson experiment and send him packing. Find a slower receiver that can actually catch the ball.
TWO BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Bucs Go Streaking In Denver
Tampa Bay got its first win of the season over Carolina in its home opener in Week 2 and will begin a winning streak in Denver with back-to-back victories. Denver fell to 0-2 on the year after losing at Pittsburgh, 26-21. Perhaps more importantly, the Broncos lost starting quarterback Drew Lock to a right shoulder injury against the Steelers and did not return to the game.
Lock was 1-of-5 for 20 yards before leaving the game, but backup Jeff Driskel kept the Broncos in the game by completing 18-of-34 passes for 256 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Yet Pittsburgh’s defensive front recorded seven sacks against an over-matched Denver offensive line that was under siege for most of the day. Already without Pro Bowl pass rusher Von Miller, the Broncos are now without Lock, and top receivers Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy are also battling injuries.
The Bucs should be able to take advantage of the Broncos’ shortcomings and get their first road win of the season in Denver. Tampa Bay’s pass rush is revved up after a five-sack day, and Shaq Barrett, who had 19.5 sacks to lead the league last year, but doesn’t have a QB capture through the first two weeks of the 2020 season, will get his first sack of the year against his former team. In fact, he’ll get two of them to help the Bucs win.
PREDICTION 2: Quinn Won’t Be Coaching The Falcons When They Play The Bucs
While Tampa Bay won on Sunday to improve to 1-1 on the season and dropping Carolina to 0-2 in the process, the Atlanta Falcons choked in Dallas, losing to the Cowboys, 40-39, in epic fashion to also fall to 0-2 on the season. The Falcons were up 26-7 at one point in the first half, and led 29-10 at halftime before Dallas came roaring back in the second half, scoring 17 points in the final 4:57 of regulation.
Quarterback Matt Ryan tossed four touchdowns and Atlanta won the turnover margin 3-0, but still lost the game. It was a crushing defeat that was reminiscent of the Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl LI when they blew a 28-3 lead over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
The Falcons had 39 points with zero turnovers in their loss against the Cowboys.
Entering today, teams were 440-0 when scoring 39 points with 0 turnovers since 1933, when team turnovers were first tracked, according to Elias. pic.twitter.com/LZdqzwQZyD
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 20, 2020
Head coach Dan Quinn entered the 2020 campaign on the hot seat and will be fired before Tampa Bay travels to Atlanta to play the Falcons for the first time this year on December 20. New defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, who used to coach the Bucs, also might be gone by then as the Falcons defense has surrendered 38 points and 40 points in back-to-back weeks.