It’s time for Scott Reynolds’ 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game.
Tampa Bay has now won three games in a row after a 28-22 victory in Philadelphia. Running back Leonard Fournette ran for two scores and topped 100 yards of total offense while Tom Brady tossed a pair of scoring passes to O.J. Howard and Antonio Brown. The Bucs had a 28-7 lead before the defense, which played great for three quarters, gave up 15 points in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay is now 5-1 on the season and has the weekend off.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
STATEMENT 1: Thursday Night Lenny In Effect
Last season “Playoff Lenny” became “Lombardi Lenny” after helping the Bucs win Super Bowl LV. Running back Leonard Fournette ran for a key third quarter touchdown to essentially seal Tampa Bay’s 31-9 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and claim the franchise’s second world championship. Fournette had 89 yards rushing and a TD to go along with four receptions for 46 yards in the biggest game of his life this past February.
On Thursday night in Philadelphia, Fournette turned in a similar performance in a 28-22 win that pushed Tampa Bay to 5-1 on the season. Fournette ran for 81 yards and two touchdowns and caught six passes for 46 yards. It was the third time in as many weeks that Fournette had over 100 yards of total offense for the Bucs, which is something he did in three out of four postseason games last year.
After dubbing himself “All Season Lenny” in last week’s 45-17 win over Miami where he had 67 yards rushing and his first TD of the year to go with 43 receiving yards, Fournette gave himself a new nickname after beating the Eagles in prime time.
“Yeah Lenny has been really, really good,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “Really solid. Run and pass and pass protection. He’s playing as a really good three-down back at a high level.”
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: USA Today
Fournette ripped off two big plays with a 20-yard run against the Eagles and an 18-yard reception. And like he has in the previous two weeks, Fournette is winning with power and also with some juke moves. He’s winning as a rusher and a receiver. And he looks so comfortable this year, like he did in last year’s playoffs when he scored a touchdown in every postseason game.
“I came in two weeks before our first game, so just having that year under my belt makes a big difference understanding it,” Fournette said. “Especially playing with my guys for a year – trusting them and them trusting me.”
Gotta love Fournette giving himself new nicknames on an almost weekly basis. Can’t wait to see what he has in store for the Bears. And what his new nickname will be.
Fournette is reinventing himself in Tampa Bay on a weekly basis, and the Bucs are certainly the beneficiary of it.
“He’s a great back,” Bucs quarterback Tom Brady said. “He’s big, tough, catches it, runs, blocks, does everything for us. [It’s] great to have him in there. Obviously when he’s rolling, it’s tough to stop us.”
STATEMENT 2: Brown Is Becoming Bucs’ Best Receiver
Tampa Bay has the league’s best trio of wide receivers, and Antonio Brown might end up having the best season out of the three. Brown entered Thursday night’s game as the third-most productive receiver with 20 catches for 325 yards and three touchdowns. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin each had 29 catches to lead Tampa Bay with Evans having 394 yards and four touchdowns, and 364 yards and two scores for Godwin. That was with Brown missing the Rams game in Week 3 with COVID-19.
After Thursday’s nine-catch, 93-yard, one-TD performance, Brown is asserting himself as Brady’s favorite and most reliable weapon on offense. And he mustered up that level of production while only playing 49 percent of the snaps on offense in Philly. Brown now has 29 catches for 418 yards (14.4 avg.) with four touchdowns and is really narrowing the gap.
Bucs WR Antonio Brown – Photo by: USA Today
Brown, who had a 23-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter to help Tampa Bay build a 14-7 lead, picked up two key first downs on the Bucs’ final drive to insure victory. Brown had a 10-yard catch, followed by a 27-yard catch on third-and-7 from the Philadelphia 45. Bucs quarterback Tom Brady rolled out to his right and found Brown, who was the third read and broke off his route to get open.
“It was probably the third [read],” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “The first two quick ones he breaks contain and just finds him. It’s one thing that he does. He’ll run and get to an open spot when he sees the quarterback moving.”
Had Tampa Bay not converted that third down, the team would have had to punt the ball back to Philadelphia, which trailed by six points.
“It was huge,” Arians said. “Great route and hell of a throw when you’re trying to get out of the pocket. It’s a couple times this year he’s thrown out of the pocket to the right and made a big play down the field.”
Evans now has 31 catches for 420 yards (13.5 avg.) on the year after being held to just 27 yards on two catches in Philadelphia. Godwin, who started off the night with five catches for 43 yards in the first half, was shut out in the second half. He has the most catches now in Tampa Bay this season with 34 and has 409 yards (12 avg.) and two scores.
All three Bucs receivers are over 400 yards and seem destined to hit 1,000 yards apiece if they stay healthy. But by the end of the season the explosive Brown may be on top with the way that he’s playing.
After nearly rushing for 1,000 yards a year ago, the playing time of running back Ronald Jones II has severely diminished. Jones played just 14 snaps on Thursday night, rushing for 20 yards on five carries. That’s only two snaps more than seldom-used Giovani Bernard (12) and two snaps less than reserve tackle Josh Wells (16), who serves as the team’s jumbo tight end!
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: USA Today
Jones has rushed for just 118 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries (3.8 avg.) in six games. That puts him on pace to run for only 401 yards this season. Not exactly what he expected in his all-important contract year. Leonard Fournette has become a productive, three-down starter in Tampa Bay while Jones has still struggled in the passing game, although he did have one catch for nine yards.
Jones’ camp was unhappy with the Bucs over his lack of playing time after Week 1, and surely hasn’t gotten any happier as Fournette has asserted himself as the feature back. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Jones request a trade before or during the bye week. I doubt general manager Jason Licht wants to do that though, given how depth was key to the Bucs’ Super Bowl run a year ago.
With the way things stand right now Jones won’t be back in Tampa Bay next year. He’s still viewed as a liability in pass protection to play on third downs, and the Bucs put a premium on that given that the team has a 44-year old quarterback. Yet if Fournette got injured, Tampa Bay would rather start Jones with Bernard playing on third downs. For that reason they’ll hang on to RoJo for the rest of the year.
QUESTION 2: Where Was Tryon-Shoyinka?
Rookie pass rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka was on the bench Thursday night – outside of 19 plays on defense and three special teams snaps. Meanwhile 31-year old veteran Jason Pierre-Paul played 41 snaps, which was 79 percent of the plays on defense. While he had his cast club off for Thursday’s game, Pierre-Paul was largely ineffective with just two tackles and a half-a-sack that he split with Shaq Barrett.
JPP played hard, but looked gassed at times, which is understandable, as the team’s oldest outside linebacker played his second game in five days and is still not 100 percent with a shoulder injury. Pierre-Paul played without the cast club that hurt his play last week when he couldn’t wrap up, but it was clear that Barrett was the best pass rusher on Thursday night. Yet Barrett, who finished with a team-high five tackles, two tackles for loss and half a sack, played four fewer snaps than JPP did!
Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett and Eagles QB Jalen Hurts – Photo by: USA Today
I appreciate Pierre-Paul’s game and the energy he brings to the defense. But JPP can be just as energetic on the sidelines for a few more plays, while a healthier, younger, fresher, faster Tryon-Shoyinka gets more reps and more experience as a result. There is no reason why Pierre-Paul needs to be leading the Bucs outside linebackers in snaps other than he’s the alpha and vocally dominates the position room to get his way.
When JPP was 28 years old like Barrett is now, playing 95 percent of the snaps is fine. But three years older with two knee surgeries, an ailing hand and an injured shoulder, there is no reason for Pierre-Paul to try to be a hero and play all of the snaps, especially in Week 6 when there are still 10 more games left before the playoffs. It’s time for outside linebackers coach Larry Foote to step up and lead the room and put a limit on Pierre-Paul’s snaps and get Tryon-Shoyinka more playing time, which he needs.
There is no reason why Tampa Bay’s first-round pick, who played virtually every snap on defense for games at Los Angeles and at New England, should play 22 fewer plays than JPP and just seven more snaps than Anthony Nelson (12). Barrett, the Bucs’ $17 million man, should play the most snaps on one side, and JPP and JTS should live with a 55-45 percent split on the other. Not as lopsided as we saw on Thursday night.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Bucs Won’t Make Any Moves At CB
Bucs CB Pierre Desir – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Despite Richard Sherman going down with a hamstring injury on the first series of the game, I don’t think the Bucs will sign any replacements at cornerback. Jamel Dean is playing well, and the team got solid play from nickel cornerback Ross Cockrell and Dee Delaney, who stepped in for Sherman and played well. Tampa Bay has veteran Pierre Desir to lean on, and can promote Rashard Robinson from the practice squad.
That’s five cornerbacks. So the team has enough able bodies until Sherman and injured starters Carlton Davis III and Sean Murphy-Bunting can return in a few weeks after the bye, which is coming up in Week 9. Safety Mike Edwards can also play some nickel cornerback in a pinch, and the return of starting free safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. from a concussion for the Bears game should also help the ailing secondary.
PREDICTION 2: Penalties Will Haunt The Bucs In New Orleans
There will be some real voodoo happening on Halloween in New Orleans when the Bucs play the Saints. That’s when the team’s penchant for penalties will come back to bite them. So far, Tampa Bay has been able to squeak by lesser teams like New England and Philadelphia on the road despite a lot of penalties.
Saints QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: USA Today
But when the Bucs play another good team like the Saints in two weeks, they’ll have to play a much cleaner game than they did on Thursday night. Tampa Bay entered Thursday night’s game as the second-most penalized team in the league behind Philadelphia. The Eagles had 50 penalties for 341 yards, while the Bucs had 40 penalties for 351 yards.
Tampa Bay was flagged seven times for a season-high 120 yards in prime time. Two of those penalties were pass interference calls of 45 and 50 yards, which comprised most of the penalty yardage. Still those penalties were big as they led to two Eagles touchdowns. The Bucs have to play much cleaner football next week against Chicago, but especially against the Saints. If Tampa Bay has more than six penalties in New Orleans it could be a frightening outcome for the Bucs on Halloween.
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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