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 snapped a five-game losing streak with a 15-10 win over the New York Jets in a game that left a lot to be desired from the Bucs’ offense.
TWO BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Bucs Get Much-Needed Win, But …
Dirk Koetter and his Buccaneers were desperate to snap a five-game losing streak and accomplished that on Sunday with a lackluster 15-10 win over the New York Jets, who came in with a 4-5 record. Tampa Bay’s offense continued to struggle to score points, and played without starting quarterback Jameis Winston, who is out for a few weeks with a shoulder injury, and wide receiver Mike Evans, who was suspended for Sunday’s game due to his altercation last week in New Orleans.
“That was not the most beautiful offensive game I have ever been in, but I’ve been in some beautiful offensive games and we’ve come up short,” Koetter said. “All I care about is we got one more than they got at the end of the game.”
The Bucs got a three-for-three effort out of kicker Patrick Murray and a late touchdown pass from backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to running back Charles Sims, who finally made some plays on offense this year. But this game was really won by Tampa Bay’s beleaguered defense, which recorded a season-high six sacks after coming in with just eight sacks in eight games prior to Sunday. The 10 points the defense allowed was the fewest of the year since Chicago scored seven points in the season opener.
Fitzpatrick said that this win could provide the spark needed for the Bucs to go on a roll, but after the game, Bucs wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who had a team-high six catches for 82 yards, kept it real by addressing his teammates and reminding them that they haven’t turned the corner yet.
“I’ve got a couple of words,” Jackson said after the game in a video that was featured on Buccaneers.com. “Let’s not forget where the [expletive] we came from. We can’t get too excited. It was just one game. We’re still 3-6. Have fun celebrating, but we still have to come to work. Put your hard hats on. Hey, the goal is seven in a row. Let’s turn this [expletive] around at the end of the season. Let’s go.”
Bucs defensive tackle and team captain Gerald McCoy said Jackson’s message hit home and provided the right perspective.
“He just told us to enjoy this, but this one game,” McCoy said. “Don’t forget where we came from. This is a just small piece of what we can be. We can really take this thing over. He was just reminding us. Don’t forget where we were last week. Don’t get so high on this that we don’t come back and work on Wednesday.”
Bucs defensive tackle Demar Dotson bought in to what Jackson said and hopes others do, too.
“It feels good to get a win,” Dotson said. “We lost five games in a row and we needed to get one – just one – to get that monkey off our back. We can’t get too high over this one. At the end of the day we’re still 3-6. We celebrate tonight and then put it to bed tomorrow and go for win number two.”
Tampa Bay has three straight road games at Miami, at Atlanta and at Green Bay and is still looking for the team’s first victory of the year away from Raymond James Stadium where the Bucs are 3-2 this season. Miami seems like a winnable destination, but this team felt the same way heading to Minnesota and Buffalo earlier in the year.
For Koetter, he’s still on the hot seat as his team is still three games below .500 with only seven remaining, especially with the Jon Gruden-to-Tampa Bay rumors continuing to grow by the week. Sunday’s win against the Jets was nice, but Jackson’s message rings true.
The Bucs have accomplished anything yet. They haven’t turned the corner. The Bucs aren’t back. They simply beat the Jets and are now 3-6 instead of 2-7 – with a long way to go.
STATEMENT 2: Bucs Offensive & Defensive Lines Show Post-Game Solidarity
A few minutes after I walked into the Tampa Bay locker room the offensive and defensive linemen emerged from an adjacent room hooting and hollering. In all my years covering the team I’d never seen that before and went to investigate.
I asked Bucs defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who had one of the team’s six sacks, what was said in the meeting of the men in the trenches.
“That’s confidential,” McDonald said. “But it’s the trenches. This is a game that starts upfront. If you don’t have protection up front and a push from the defensive line then it’s hard to be productive as a team. But this week we got it done. We did it and we celebrated together. This was the first time we met together like that.”
McCoy had the look of relief after winning for the first time in over a month and enjoyed celebrating with his trenchmates on both sides of the ball after the game.
“I’ve never done it before and it was actually inspiring,” McCoy said. “We feed off each other. We go against each other every day. There’s a love-hate relationship there, but for us to be able to come together and recognize that this team needs both sides as a unit. It’s cool, man. Hopefully we can keep it going because that means we’re winning.”
Dotson welcomed the defensive linemen joining the offensive line’s celebratory post-game meeting.
“Usually after every win the offensive line will get together and the defensive line decided to join us,” Dotson said. “That was the first time they decided to join us. I don’t know who prompted it, or if it was a coach, or if they just decided to do it themselves, but it was good to have them there.
“This is the first time we did it together. We went in there to celebrate each other. We recognize the hard work and the fight that they put out there and that was the first time that we all came together as two units – the D-line and the O-line – to celebrate each other. Hopefully it’s something we continue to do.”
Tampa Bay’s defensive line held New York to just 56 yards rushing and a 2.9-yard average, while racking up five of the team’s six sacks and limiting the Jets to just 10 points. The Bucs offense struggled, but still managed to produce 271 yards and enough points to win despite not being at full strength without Evans and Winston.
Both lines have come under fire this year from fans and the media for failing to perform well in most of the games this year, but it was interesting to see the men in both sides of the trenches come together for some post-game solidarity.
TWO PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Why Haven’t The Bucs Blitzed More Often?
Somewhere Bucs Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp is smiling. The QB Killa wanted more sacks from Tampa Bay’s defensive line and his former team delivered on Sunday against the Jets.
Tampa Bay had eight sacks in eight games coming into Sunday’s game against New York. But thanks to a change in the game plan from defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who (finally) decided to pressure the A gap by blitzing middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, the team finished with a season-high six sacks. The blitzes worked as the Jets converted just 20 percent of their third downs (3-of-15) opportunities as a result.
Tampa Bay got its first two sacks against New York due to blitzing. Defensive end Will Clarke IV got his first sack as a Buccaneer and linebacker Kendell Beckwith blitzed and recorded his first career sack. Those sacks seemed to open the floodgates as McCoy and McDonald, and defensive ends Robert Ayers and Darryl Tapp all got to Jets quarterback Josh McCown. Those last four sacks came from a four-man rush, as the tone was set from the early blitzes and Tampa Bay was actually operating with a lead in the fourth quarter.
Why the Bucs haven’t blitzed more is beyond me. When Tampa Bay played tight man coverage and brought pressure, it forced McCown to either hold the ball and take a sack or forced a quick, errant pass.
What a novel concept.
“I think guys have been waiting for this,” McDonald said. “We’ve been seeing the writing about other teams getting a bunch of sacks – to have one game for them to breakout and have a lot of production. It was a blessing for us to have that production because we’ve been working hard in practice and in previous weeks. This week it just came together.”
Where has this been all season?
“We just had a mindset today,” Beckwith said. “We knew what we had to do. We knew we had to get more pressure on the quarterback and I think we did a damn good job.”
“It was just a mindset. When you line up across the ball and rush the passer you have to think you’re going to get him every time.”
So where has that mindset been all year prior to the Jets game?
“That’s a good question,” Beckwith said. “That’s a real good question. I don’t know.”
Smith needs to be bolder in his play calls and bring more blitzes on third down to create some early sacks and get some momentum on defense. With opposing quarterbacks rattled and offensive lines on their heels, the Bucs’ defensive line might then be able to do some damage by rushing with the front four. It sure worked on Sunday.
QUESTION 2: Is Murray A Godsend Or What?
It took Bucs general manager Jason Licht longer than expected to find a competent kicker in Tampa Bay, but it looks like he finally found one in Patrick Murray. After cutting Nick Folk, who went 6-of-11 (54.5 percent) and missed all three field goal attempts in a 19-14 loss to New England, the Bucs signed Murray, who kicked for Tampa Bay in 2014 as a rookie.
Murray is now 7-of-8 (87.5 percent) on field goals this year, and is perfect on his extra point attempts this season. His lone miss was a 54-yarder in New Orleans last week, but he’s already nailed two 50-yard kicks this year.
On Sunday, Murray connected on field goals from 29, 49 and 37 yards to help the Bucs build a 9-3 lead in the fourth quarter.
“Pat is doing a good job,” Dotson said. “That’s what we brought him in here for. We were struggling in the kicking game. It’s good to know that once you get down there that you have a good chance of getting three. That’s the kicker’s job – to put it through the goal posts. We’re glad to have Pat.”
TWO BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Tampa Bay’s Defense Doesn’t Give Up 30 In Miami
I have no idea if the Bucs are going to beat the Dolphins in Miami last week. I’ll have to dig into Tampa Bay’s win a bit more and investigate how Miami is faring recently before I make my game prediction.
But I will go out on a limb and say that the Bucs defense doesn’t surrender 30 points to the Dolphins next Sunday. Miami has only scored 30 or more points once this year, and that was a 31-28 win over the New York Jets three weeks ago. The Dolphins have only scored more than 20 points twice this year, so I’m liking the Bucs’ chances of not allowing 30 points in a game for the time on the road this year.
It’s hard to believe, but Tampa Bay’s defense has allowed 34 points at Minnesota, 38 points at Arizona, 30 points at Buffalo and 30 points at New Orleans two weeks ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow the Dolphins scored 27 points on the Bucs defense because it plays so bad on the road – but not 30.
PREDICTION 2: Griffin Will Start Sooner Or Later
Yes, Fitzpatrick got the win for the Bucs and helped snap the team’s five-game losing streak. But he wasn’t pretty in doing so. Fitzpatrick completed 17-of-34 passes (50 percent) for 187 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Fitzpatrick had a QB rating of 64.2, which was worse than any of the injured Winston’s QB ratings in any of his games outside of the Carolina loss in which he threw two interceptions and no touchdowns and produced a QB rating of 49.2
Fitzpatrick threw some very ugly incompletions, and some of those should have been picked off. If the Bucs actually played a good team on Sunday they would have lost with just 15 points worth of offensive production. I have no idea how this Jets team won four games this season.
A couple more losses this year will eliminate the Buccaneers from playoff contention and I expect Winston’s season will be shut down at that point to allow him to be 100 percent healthy for 2018. When that happens, look for Tampa Bay to start Griffin to see what he can do in a regular season game when the objective of those final contests becomes as much about evaluating personnel for next season as it is about winning.