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. The Bucs blew an 18-point halftime lead to lose to rookie quarterback Daniel Jones and the New York Giants, who were without star running back Saquon Barkley in the second half. Rookie kicker Matt Gay accounted for 18 points, but missed two extra points and a last-second potential game-winning field goal as Tampa Bay fell to 1-2 on the year in a 32-31 loss.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Winston-To-Evans Connection All For Naught In Loss
Quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans had monster games for Tampa Bay, but in the end, it didn’t matter as the New York Giants stunned the Bucs with an amazing second-half comeback in a 32-31 win.
Winston completed 23-of-37 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns – all to Evans – with one interception. One of Winston’s biggest throws of the game was a 44-yard strike to Evans downfield to the Giants’ 9-yard with just 13 seconds left. That set the Bucs up for a potential 34-yard game-winning field goal from Matt Gay – only to see the rookie miss it to the right by inches.
Gay’s 34-yard field goal attempt should have been from 29 yards, but head coach Bruce Arians inexplicably took a delay of game to back the field goal up.
“I just took it on purpose,” Arians said. “That field goal is easier back five yards, no sense hurrying. We wanted to move the ball over, put in the middle and make it an easy field goal.”
Wow. I don’t understand the logic there – at all.
If Gay had attempted it from 29 yards it would have been good. Gay had missed an extra point from that distance and had one blocked in the first quarter. So Arians wanted to replicate a kick from that distance? To be fair to Gay, he did make his last two extra points and four straight field goals before his critical miss as time expired.
But back to Winston and Evans and the Bucs offense, which finally came to life after two lackluster games to start the season. Tampa Bay produced 499 yards, including an eight-catch, 190-yard, three-touchdown day from Evans. The Bucs will need a similar type of offensive production next week as the team travels to Los Angeles to play the Rams.
Winston started the game 3-of-4 for 53 yards with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans on third-and-6. That score capped off a 10-play, 75-yard drive to give the Bucs an early 6-0 lead after Gay missed the extra point, which would prove to be costly
On the Bucs’ next drive, Winston hit Ronald Jones with a 41-yard screen pass, then found tight end O.J. Howard with a 21-yard strike down the middle of the field before tossing his second touchdown to Evans to give Tampa Bay a 12-3 lead after Gay’s extra point was blocked, which also proved to be costly. In the first quarter, Winston completed 7-of-10 passing for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
On Tampa Bay’s third drive, Winston hit Evans with a 55-yard pass to set up a 47-yard Gay field goal to give the Bucs a 15-10 lead. With that catch Evans went over the century mark for the first time in 2019 with five catches for 111 yards.
Winston remained hot on the Bucs’ fourth scoring drive, throwing a bullet to Howard to pick up 30 yards down to the Giants’ 12. Gay’s field goal increased Tampa Bay’s lead to 18-10.
But Winston wasn’t done. He hit Evans with a 20-yard touchdown strike – their third scoring connection of the first half – on the next series and Tampa Bay added another field goal to increase its lead to 28-10 at halftime. Winston was 14-of-22 for 263 yards and three touchdowns at halftime, while Evans had seven catches for 146 yards and three scores – after coming in to Sunday’s game with six receptions for 89 yards in the first two games.
Sunday’s game was a tale of two halves, and as the old adage goes, “It’s not how you start, but how you finish” that mattered. The Bucs offense scored just three points in the second half, while Tampa Bay’s defense allowed New York to score 22.
Winston significantly cooled off in the second half, completing just 9-of-15 passes for only 117 yards with one interception and no touchdowns. The Bucs were running the ball well, rushing for 144 yards while averaging 4.5 yards per carry, but it was as if Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich were playing around Winston after his interception, not fully trusting their QB.
Winston had just 73 yards passing until his 44-yard strike to Evans with 13 seconds left – and that was Evans’ lone catch of the second half.
Evans’ big day marks the third time in Tampa Bay history that a Buccaneer has caught three touchdowns in one game. Bucs Ring of Honor tight end Jimmie Giles had four in a 1985 loss to Miami. Morris Owens had three scores in a 1976 loss to Miami.
Winston and Evans have now combined for 26 touchdowns, which is the most in Tampa Bay history, surpassing Josh Freeman and Mike Williams, who had 24 together.
But in the end, the big days from Winston, Evans – and even from the Bucs’ running game, which was led by Ronald Jones II’s 80 yards rushing – were all for naught as Tampa Bay fell to 1-2 in heartbreaking fashion.
STATEMENT 2: Bucs Defense Fails To Stop Rookie QB
Gay’s missed field goal provided some cover for Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, whose unit allowed the Giants to mount a second-half comeback and win the game.
After rushing for 142 yards and scoring three touchdowns in last year’s 38-35 Giants win against the Bucs in New York, Tampa Bay was determined to stop Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley. And the Bucs defense did just that.
How did Tampa Bay do it? Sure tackling at the line of scrimmage and in space. The Bucs were determined not to let Barkley beat them and force rookie quarterback Daniel Jones to do that instead, which he did – unfortunately.
Barkley was held to 10 yards rushing on eight carries and four catches for 27 yards in the first half before leaving the game with an ankle injury. Barkley was hit hard by rookie safety Mike Edwards right before halftime on a 6-yard reception and injured his ankle. He did not return to action and was on crutches and in a walking boot in the second half.
Ironically, the Giants didn’t seem to miss him too much because they scored 10 points at halftime and trailed 28-10. New York rallied in the third quarter without him, scoring 15 points to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 28-25 before ultimately winning, 32-31, on Jones’ 7-yard touchdown on fourth-and-5.
A stop on that play wins the game for Tampa Bay, but Jones played with remarkable poise, rushing for two touchdowns and passing for two more scores while completing 23-of-36 passing for 336 yards and just shredding the Bucs defense in the second half. Jones even weathered five sacks from Tampa Bay, including four from outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who forced two fumbles on strip-sacks.
The Bucs’ young secondary played well during the first two weeks of the season but had several communication errors on Sunday that led to several wide-open receivers, especially in the second half. In the end, the Giants had three receivers with at least 80 yards, including tight end Evan Engram, who had six catches for 113 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half to give New York a spark.
To update the stat in Friday’s SR’s Fab 5 column, rookie quarterbacks in their first career start are now 5-1 against the Bucs since 2007, with Tampa Bay losing to Jones, New York’s Geno Smith, St. Louis’ Austin Davis, Jacksonville’s Quinn Gray and Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota.
Giants rookie Daniel Jones is just the second player in NFL history to throw for 300+ yards with 2+ pass TDs and 2+ rushing TDs in his first NFL start as he did in beating the Bucs today. The first? Well, it’s Eric Hipple, who did that with the Lions in a 1981 win vs. the Bears.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Can The Bucs Still Count On Gay?
Yes – for now. Despite a missed extra point, a blocked extra point and a missed 34-yard field goal, I’m not giving up on Gay just yet, and neither are the Bucs.
“Yeah, he’s fine,” Arians said after the gut-wrenching loss following Gay’s miss.
Gay entered the Giants game connecting on all four extra points and 3-of-4 field goals (75 percent), and he did make his last two extra points and four consecutive field goals before his last-second miss.
“I had some good warm-up kicks on the side, kicking into the net,” Gay said. “I was super confident going on the field. I felt really good about it. I went out there, still felt really good and took my steps, went through my whole process, got back there, had my line, and just didn’t hit it clean. I’ve got to make that every single time. Again, I’ve got to make my extra points as well – we’re not in that situation if I put those first two through. So, yeah, this loss is 100 percent on me. I’ve got to be a lot better than I was tonight.”
Gay, Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick, is now 7-of-9 on field goals (77.7 percent), and his field goal percentage actually increased on Sunday despite his missed 34-yarder. Of course his extra point percentage declined from 100 percent to 75 percent, and in a one-point loss, those two missed extra points loomed large.
“I’m going to definitely go back and look at the kick and see what went wrong on that,” Gay said. “I know I didn’t hit the ball clean – it felt like I got a little ground before I took the ball. I didn’t allow my leg swing to come through. But again, in those moments, it’s no excuses – you’ve got to put it through – so that’s just 100 percent on me. I’ve got to make it.
“I bounced back. I felt really good. I made my field goals, I made my extra points through the rest of the game and was really confident going into that kick, like I said. I was confident kicking on the sideline, confident when I walked on the field all the way through until I actually made contact with the ball, so nothing different on that kick. I just didn’t hit it clean and it didn’t go in.”
I don’t think Gay is the second coming of Roberto Aguayo, but we’ll see. Arians didn’t do Gay any favors – that’s for sure. And Gay is right, he has to make that kick.
QUESTION 2: How Good Is Barrett At Rushing The Passer?
Really, really good. In fact, he’s excellent.
With the Bucs leading 18-10 before halftime, Bucs outside linebacker Shaq Barrett pushed his sack streak to three consecutive games as he recorded four more sacks on Sunday against New York.
Barrett now has eight sacks in three games to lead the Tampa Bay – and the NFL.
Barrett, who was named the NFC Defensive Player of Week for his three-sack performance in Carolina in Week 2, established a new career-high with four more sacks versus the Giants. Barrett entered the game with four sacks, which ranked second in the league.
For Barrett’s fifth sack of the season, he stripped rookie quarterback Daniel Jones of the ball right before halftime. Outside linebacker Carl Nassib fell on the loose ball near midfield to help set up a Matt Gay field goal.
In the second half, Barrett had two more sacks on the same drive that forced a Giants punt, and added another sack-fumble in the fourth quarter. Barrett, who was signed to a one-year, $4-million contract in this offseason hit a $250,000 performance bonus for reaching eight sacks. Barrett will collect another $250,000 bonus if he reaches 10 sacks this year.
Tampa Bay finished the game with five sacks, which was a season-high for the team, as Nassib also recorded his first QB capture of the season.
Barrett has recorded the most sacks in Bucs history through three games and tied New Yorks Jets legend Mark Gastineau (1984) for the most in NFL history. Barrett was just the third player in team history to record four sacks in a game, joining Marcus Jones (October 19, 2000) and Simeon Rice (October 12, 2003).
Barrett broke Warren Sapp’s Bucs record of 5.5 sacks through three games and became the first player in franchise history with three or more sacks in back-to-back games. The last player in the NFL to do that was Detroit’s Ezekiel Ansah in 2017. The last Buccaneers defender to record a sack in three-straight games was Jason Pierre-Paul, when he recorded a sack in six-straight games in 2018.
Barrett had 14.5 sacks in five seasons in Denver before coming to Tampa Bay this offseason. Meanwhile in Denver, the Broncos don’t have any sacks this season. That’s zero for Pro Bowler Von Miller, who had 14.5 sacks in 2018, and zero for 2018 first-round pick Bradley Chubb, who had 12 as a rookie last year.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Bucs Will Focus On Red Zone/Third Down Woes
The emphasis this week at the AdventHealth Training Center will be fixing Tampa Bay’s problems on offense on third down and in the red zone. The Bucs entered Sunday’s game ranked 29th in offensive red zone efficiency (2-of-6) and finished 1-of-5 against the Giants. That’s too many field goals, not enough touchdowns for Tampa Bay’s offense.
A week after converting 3-of-14 (21.4 percent) third downs in Carolina, Tampa Bay’s offense continued to struggle on third down, converting just 4-of-14 (29 percent) against New York. For the season, the Bucs are a woeful 14-of-40 (35 percent) on third down. That has to get fixed in a hurry for Tampa Bay’s offense to produce more scoring drives that end in touchdowns.
“That’s one of the things you look at each week,” Arians said. “Different coverages, different down-and-distances. These were short, other than a couple penalties where we were in third-and-long.”
PREDICTION 2: Bucs Might Pull Off An Upset In L.A.
I’m not forecasting a Tampa Bay win out in Los Angeles.
But this is a very, very strange start for the Buccaneers thus far. In fact, this is Bizzaro World for Tampa Bay.
I’m 0-for-3 on my Bucs predictions thus far. The entire PewterReport.com staff is – predicting home wins against San Francisco and New York and a loss at Carolina in Week 2.
Everything is pointing to a Bucs’ loss in L.A., but the same could have been said about the Bucs losing in Week 2 on the road against the Panthers on Thursday Night Football.
The Bucs are healthy, and the silver lining in Sunday’s loss was that the offense came to life. That’s a must for Tampa Bay, which will have to match points with the Rams’ high-powered offense. Can the offense put up 31 points and nearly 500 yards again? Perhaps more importantly, can the offense fix its issues on third down and in the red zone this week in practice?
Can Gay rebound and nail all of his kicks? Can the Bucs secondary work out the communication kinks and cover better? Can Barrett keep up his pass-rushing tour de force for a fourth straight week?
If so, these Bucs might just be 2-2 next Sunday evening … in a way no one saw coming with two home losses and two upsets on the road. We’ll see if I make this bold prediction in this week’s Pewter Preview and Predictions on Friday. I’m considering it.