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 four-game losing streak by beating San Francisco, 27-9, thanks to a dominating effort from the Bucs defensive line and an efficient, turnover-free game from Jameis Winston, who was making his first start at quarterback since the Cincinnati game.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Carl Nasty Leads Bucs’ Sack Attack
Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht made quite a find in waiver wire pick up Carl Nassib, as the third-year defensive end continues to pile up the sacks. In the first quarter alone, Nassib had a sack, a tackle for loss and a QB hit against San Francisco and 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens. That set the tone for the Buccaneers defensive line, which would record four sacks in Sunday’s 27-9 win over the 49ers, and bring Nassib’s personal sack total to 5.5 this season, which is a new career high.
Carl Nassib is no more. I’m now calling him Carl Nasty.
“Carl Nasty, I like it!” said Bucs defensive Vinny Curry when I asked about Nassib. “Carl is playing on fire right now. With me going down with my ankle, he stepped up big time. He has great momentum and he’s playing great. I love to see that from young guys. As an older guy, all I can do is encourage him. You’ve got to love it.”
Over the last six games, Nassib has matched Jason Pierre-Paul’s production as each has 5.5 sacks over that span, and they have become quite the bookends in Tampa Bay down the stretch. With less than three minutes left in the second quarter, Pierre-Paul got into the mix and recorded a sack, No. 10.5 on the season, which ended the Bucs’ 13-year drought of not having a double-digit sacker. The last Buccaneer to accomplish that feat was Simeon Rice, who had 14 sacks in 2005.
“They just take advantage of it,” Bucs defensive line coach Brentson Bucker said of Nassib and Pierre-Paul. “Carl knows that JPP is going to get a lot of attention and his production is going to come early. And JPP knows that once Carl gets his production it’s going to be to time for him. It’s a great back and forth thing when they feed off each other like that.”
Nassib was robbed of a sack in the third quarter – or at least an intentional grounding call – when he drilled Mullens, who threw the ball down at his side. But Tampa Bay’s six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy got into the act with his sixth sack of the season, and was really instrumental in helping the defensive line takeover from the beginning. During the player introductions prior to kickoff, the entire defensive line waited until every starter was announced over the loudspeakers in the stadium before running out of the tunnel together.
“That was a really cool moment,” Nassib said. “That was Gerald McCoy’s idea and I liked it a lot. We tried to play more as a unit and I think we did that today.”
Pierre-Paul agreed with Nassib, and credited McCoy for his leadership.
“We came out as a unit,” Pierre-Paul said. “It caught me by surprise because I didn’t know we were coming out like that. That’s what we did. That’s what made us play even harder. It was special.”
Nassib, Curry, Pierre-Paul and McCoy weren’t the only ones playing inspired football on Sunday. Rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea, who was Tampa Bay’s No. 1 pick this year, had a breakout game with four tackles, including three tackles for loss and a sack, which was his second sack of the year.
Mullens hadn’t been sacked in his first two NFL games before Sunday, and entered the game completing 70 percent of his passes. By the end of the game, the Bucs defensive line had registered four sacks, had nine hits and helped force two interceptions in the fourth quarter. Mullens finished the game completing 18-of-32 passes for 221 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and a QB rating of 62.1.
Tampa Bay’s defensive line also came up big in a goal line stand in the third quarter, stopping San Francisco from scoring twice from the 1-yard line and holding the 49ers to a field goal.
“They took it all the way down to the one [yard line],” Koetter said. “I thought that was a huge turning point in the game to stop them. It’s hard to stop a team three times from the one-yard line. That was great.”
The defensive stand near the goal line had the players fired up.
“That’s a defense’s dream, to hold offense on the goal line like that,” Vea said. “A dream come true for us again.”
For just the second time all year the Bucs wound up winning the turnover margin at plus-two, and the nine points the 49ers scored were the fewest given up all year – thanks to a dominant effort from Tampa Bay’s defensive line.
“Look, today the defensive line dominated that game from the start to the finish,” Curry said. “Everybody played well.”
STATEMENT 2: Santos Claus Delivering Early Presents
The Buccaneers kicker carousel has stopped on Cairo Santos, the replacement for Chandler Catanzaro this year, who was the replacement for Patrick Murray, who was the replacement last year for Nick Folk last year, who was the replacement for Roberto Aguayo the year before … you get the idea.
And judging by Santos’ kicks thus far in Tampa Bay, the kicker carousel might stop on him permanently, which would be a great thing for the Bucs and for Licht, who has struggled to find a reliable kicker since he took over the franchise in 2014.
Santos got off to good start in New York last week, making all five of his first extra points against the Giants. He continued that trend on Sunday against San Francisco making all of his kicks once again, including both of his first field goal attempts – from 41 yards and 39 yards – in red and pewter as well as all three extra points.
Christmas is still a month away, but Santos has been the early gift that keeps on giving to a team and a fan base that has seen nothing but Grinch-like missed kicks over and over again from naughty kickers year after year in Tampa Bay.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Can Winston Continue This Style Of Play?
I hope so. This is the type of quarterback play that Jameis Winston is capable of playing. Football games typically come down to a handful of plays – four or five plays – that really decide the outcome. Winston has shown the desire to want to make more than that many plays, and too often his greediness has resulted in costly turnovers.
A great case in point was his first start of the season in a 34-29 loss at Atlanta where he threw for 395 yards while completing 73.2 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions. The difference in that game was Tampa Bay’s minus turnover margin, which came from Winston’s interceptions.
On Sunday against San Francisco, Winston was very efficient, completing 29-of-38 passes for 312 yards with two touchdowns, no turnovers and a QB rating of 117.4. Instead of trying to do too much and make seven or eight big plays and risk interceptions or fumbles, Winston wisely made just a handful – and it was enough for a victory that snapped a four-game losing streak.
“Jameis, he played quarterback the way you really need to play it in the NFL until you get into desperation time, which we never did today,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “Jameis wasn’t perfect, but he played a damn good game. [I’m] proud of him, it’s been a difficult road. He sees what that looks like. He needs to consistently play like that and he can be one of the best.”
Winston hit Mike Evans, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark and finished with 116 yards, on a 42-yard pass to set up Tampa Bay’s first touchdown. A few plays later, Winston rolled to his right and found tight end Cameron Brate in the end zone for the score.
Winston also made plays with his feet, and scrambled for 24 yards on seven carries, including a 15-yard run to pick up a first down. In the second half, Winston looked like he was going to pick up yardage with his legs again as he scrambled out of the pocket to his right, but spotted wide receiver Adam Humphries open in the middle of the field.
While the cardinal rule for quarterbacks is not to throw late across your body across the middle of the field, Humphries was wide open and it was a safe, smart play. Humphries took the pass and ran 28 yards into the end zone for a score that put the game away in the fourth quarter.
“He was wide open and it was a decisive decision,” Winston said. “When you’re decisive with the ball, there is no thinking about it – just trust your instincts, make the throw and he made some good YAC (yards after catch) so I’m happy he did that for me. … I felt I was very decisive. But it’s one game, we have to keep on keeping on.”
Winston did a fine job moving the chains against the 49ers as the Bucs rolled up 412 yards and 25 first downs while completing 7-of-13 (54 percent) third downs. Next up is a much more challenging defense with Carolina that will test Winston’s patience and play-making ability.
QUESTION 2: Does This Bucs Defense Look Familiar To You?
Yes, it looks like Tampa Bay’s defense in the fourth preseason game back in early September. It’s crazy to think about.
The PewterReport.com staff was talking about it after the game. In the fourth quarter the secondary consisted of cornerbacks Javien Elliott and Ryan Smith, who was in for the injured Carlton Davis, with Isaiah Johnson, Jordan Whitehead, Andrew Adams and newcomer Josh Shaw rotating in at safety. The only veteran in the defensive backfield was Brent Grimes.
Tampa Bay’s linebacker corps consisted of Riley Bullough, Adarius Taylor and Devante Bond – all special teams guys. Those reserve linebackers and the reserve defensive backs truly resembled the lineup the Bucs would throw out there for the fourth preseason game. To their credit, Bond and Whitehead made a key tackle on a goal line stand, while Smith and Johnson recorded their first career interceptions in the fourth quarter to help seal the Bucs’ victory.
I’m not going to make excuses for Tampa Bay’s 4-7 record this year, but over the last several games, including Sunday’s win over San Francisco, the Bucs have had to play with a back seven that ideally would play on special teams and not defense. Defensive coordinator Mark Duffner and the Bucs defensive coaches deserve praise for having those young, inexperienced players ready to play – and win – against the 49ers.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Santos Stays Hot
Look for Santos to remain perfect next week against Carolina, as the Bucs may have found their permanent kicker moving forward. I don’t necessarily want to jinx it, but I have to make a bold prediction and I feel confident in Santos and the way he’s striking the ball.
PREDICTION 2: The Bucs Lose To Carolina
I think the Buccaneers have a chance to win one more divisional game this year, but it won’t be to Carolina next week or the Saints later in December. Instead, I think Tampa Bay will beat Atlanta in the season finale to end the year on a high note. And I think the Bucs have a chance at beating the Cowboys in Dallas – but not the Ravens in Baltimore, so a 6-10 finish is possible.