It’s time for Scott Reynolds’ 2-Point Conversion postgame column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game.

Tampa Bay won the NFC South championship thanks to a convincing 32-6 victory at Carolina. The Bucs defense came up with a season-high seven sacks and held the Panthers to three field goals. Antonio Brown returned to action for Tampa Bay with 10 catches for 101 yards. Meanwhile, fellow receiver Cyril Grayson added a career-high 81 yards on three receptions to help the Bucs improve to 11-4.

2 BIG STATEMENTS

STATEMENT 1: Gholston Leads Bucs’ Sack Attack

After a troubling 9-0 loss to New Orleans last week, several Tampa Bay players needed to step up on Sunday. The Bucs offensive line needed to, after surrendering four sacks to the Saints. Tampa Bay’s reserve receivers and runners did too, after letting Tom Brady down big-time on Sunday Night Football. And so did the Bucs’ pass rushers, to a degree, after recording just two sacks despite New Orleans missing two starting offensive tackles.

Brady wasn’t sacked at all in Tampa Bay’s 32-6 division title-clinching win at Carolina. Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Ronald Jones II combined for 135 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Antonio Brown had 10 catches for 101 yards in his return to action, and fellow receiver Cyril Grayson came out of nowhere to catch three passes for 81 yards and add 14 more on a rush.

Bucs DE Will Gholston

Bucs DE Will Gholston – Photo by: USA Today

Perhaps even more importantly, the Bucs pass rush came to life. They recorded a season-high seven sacks on Sunday. Defensive end Will Gholston led the way with a career-high 2.5 sacks.

With the Bucs offense missing about 60 percent of its yardage firepower without Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay’s defense will need to step up down the stretch and into the playoffs. After holding the Saints to just three field goals last week, the Bucs defense held the Panthers to two – and with more ferocity.

Pro Bowler Shaq Barrett recorded his 10th sack of the season before leaving just after halftime with a minor MCL injury. Backup outside linebacker Anthony Nelson, nose tackle Vita Vea and reserve linebacker Kevin Minter all recorded sacks, too. Even backup defensive tackle Steve McLendon split a sack with Gholston.

“Everybody came in here ready to play, and ready to rush and work together to do what we had to do,” Gholston said. “Losing Shaq in the game was a big loss – (from a morale standpoint). And just from a game plan type of thing. Cam, Nelson and Joe – they all stepped up. They were ready to roll and they were humming.”

Head coach Bruce Arians praised the effort of Tampa Bay’s defense against Carolina. The Bucs’ seven sacks were the most in a game since they recorded that many on December 8, 2013 against Buffalo.

“Our defense has stepped up all year,” Arians said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries on defense and they fought through it. Now, everyone is pretty healthy. Hopefully we don’t lose Shaq. With the secondary healthy we can do a lot of different things.”

Of the Bucs’ seven sacks, three came on third down while one occurred on fourth down. Credit the play of the Bucs secondary, especially the stellar play of safety Jordan Whitehead and cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis III, for some of those coverage sacks.

At age 30, Gholston now has a season-high 4.5 sacks on the year, which is a new personal best.

“Feels great to be able to play with this group of guys,” Gholston said. “This is a great and fantastic defense. I credit my sacks to them because they get so much attention that I so happen to get free.”

Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett and Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes

Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett and Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

As much success as Tampa Bay’s offense deserved for its postseason success last year, scoring at least 30 points in every game, the Bucs defense also starred in the team’s Super Bowl run. Tampa Bay recorded three sacks and forced a takeaway at Washington. The team then had four takeaways in a win at New Orleans.

The Bucs’ pass rush came alive over the next two games, recording five sacks and two takeaways at Green Bay, and three sacks and two takeaways against Kansas City in Super Bowl LV. Tampa Bay’s defensive front pressured Patrick Mahomes over 20 times.

So Sunday’s pass rush performance by the Bucs defense was a great sign – hopefully a sign of things to come with January around the corner.

STATEMENT 2: Bucs On Record Sack Pace

Tampa Bay’s seven-sack performance on Sunday put the team on pace to perhaps reach 50 sacks for just the second time in franchise history. The Bucs have come close over the last two years, recording 47 sacks in 2019, which was the first year under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and had 48 sacks last year.

Tampa Bay has 44 sacks with two games left, and will need to average three sacks per game to hit that mark. The Bucs are tied with the Vikings for the most sacks this season, and are one sack ahead of the Steelers (43). Tampa Bay has had 14 different defenders get at least half-a-sack this season.

Bucs’ Sacks In 2021
OLB Shaq Barrett – 10
DT Ndamukong Suh – 6
DE Will Gholston – 4.5
OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka – 4
NT Vita Vea – 4
ILB Devin White – 3.5
OLB Anthony Nelson – 3
OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – 2.5
ILB Lavonte David – 2
OLB Cam Gill – 1.5
FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. – 1
ILB Kevin Minter – 1
DE Patrick O’Connor – 0.5
DT Steve McLendon – 0.5

The most sacks the Bucs have recorded in a season were 55 in 2000. The team would need another day or two like Sunday in Carolina to hit that mark, but the Bucs do play the Jets next week and the Panthers again in Week 18.

2 PROBING QUESTIONS

QUESTION 1: Can The Bucs Defense Still Be Effective Without Barrett?

Yes, and no. Tampa Bay’s run defense can still be effective without Pro Bowler Shaq Barrett because of the scheme and the other healthy defenders. And the Bucs have enough up-and-coming young pass rushers to get the job done without Barrett over the next two weeks.

Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett

Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett – Photo by: USA Today

The key is the fact that the Bucs play the Jets and the Panthers. If Tampa Bay played Dallas or Green Bay over the next two weeks, it would be a different story. But the Jets and Panthers have each surrendered 43 sacks this season, which is the fifth-most this season.

Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Anthony Nelson and Cam Gill have combined for 8.5 sacks this season. They should provide enough of an outside pass rush to be effective against the likes of Zach Wilson and the combination of Sam Darnold and Cam Newton down the stretch.

Now the Bucs do need Barrett to be back by the playoffs, and the hope is that his MCL injury is minor and that he’ll only miss the next two weeks.

“We do have a lot of guys missing with injuries,” Bucs defensive lineman Will Gholston said. “We have a next man up mentality. As long as we follow the game plan and do everything we need to execute we should be able to have this type of defense all the time.”

QUESTION 2: Did Gholston, Whitehead Help Their Cause In Free Agency In Carolina?

Yes. First impressions are great, but more recent impressions mean more, especially when it comes to contract negotiations. With recency bias being a real thing, what happens at the end of the season can mean more to a player when it comes to cashing in. Look no further than Shaq Barrett’s postseason, where he recorded a combined four sacks in wins over Green Bay and Kansas City after notching just eight in the regular season.

Defensive end Will Gholston and safety Jordan Whitehead were the two best players on the field against the Panthers on Sunday. The fact that Gholston came up with a career-high 2.5 sacks against the Panthers and has a personal best 4.5 sacks this season certainly helps his contract status. Gholston is in the final year of a contract. Even at age 30, he’s worth bringing back on a short, two-year deal worth around $5-$5.5 million per season.

Bucs S Jordan Whitehead

Bucs S Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: USA Today

Whitehead had seven tackles, three pass breakups and an interception at Carolina. He also came on a blitz that created a sack for Gholston. It will be interesting to see what kind of market there is for a 5-foot-10, 195-pound safety, but Whitehead demonstrated how he’s a perfect fit for Todd Bowles defense with an incredible performance versus the Panthers. The Bucs should be interested in re-signing him.

“After last week, it was a little bit of a sour taste in our mouth,” Whitehead said. “Coach Bowles challenged us all week to score points on defense. He challenged us to get turnovers and just play with a lot of energy. That was really the main focus on my side. With “Nacho” [Rakeem Nunez-Roches] out as the high-energy guy, Lavonte (David) out and Antoine (Winfield, Jr.) out, somebody needed to step up a little bit. It just kind of all came together. We had another game without a touchdown and that was our goal.”

2 BOLD PREDICTIONS

PREDICTION 1: Evans Returns To Get Another 1,000-Yard Season

Whether next week in New York or Week 18 against Carolina, Mike Evans will get his eighth straight 1,000-yard season. Evans has 899 yards and 11 touchdowns on 64 catches, but will get what he needs to continue his record streak before the season is over.

The three-time Pro Bowler is dealing with a mild hamstring injury. The Bucs may not want to risk Evans re-injuring himself in New York playing in cold weather. So it’s more likely he returns for the Week 18 game against Carolina.

PREDICTION 2: Tampa Bay Finishes 13-4

The Bucs won’t lose again this season. They’ll beat the Jets in New York and the Panthers in Tampa Bay. Arians said he may consider resting some starters for the playoffs in Week 18 against the Panthers. But even if that happens, Tampa Bay still has enough talent to beat Carolina and finish 13-4.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 27th 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 coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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drdneast
drdneast
4 months ago

Those are bold predictions about the Bucs winning their next two games with all the players out but I hope you are right. The Bucs team depth has been pleasently surprising.

fredster
fredster
Reply to  drdneast
4 months ago

I agree especially resting players not sure we win both. Honestly though what’s it matter if we are 12-5 or 13-4? Only thing matters is guys are back for playoffs!

aredsoxfan1
aredsoxfan1
Reply to  fredster
4 months ago

The two wins may mean nothing. Or they may mean a whole lot if the Rams lose one of their final 2 games. If the Rams lose, we can jump up to the #2 seed which would be a huge difference. The 4 seed will be on the road in week 2 while the 2 seed will be at home against a lesser team. The 2 seed could play 3 home games if GB gets upset. There’s no reason to lose either of the final two games even if Evans doesn’t play. The Jets and Panthers stink.

bucballer
bucballer
4 months ago

Just beat the Jets! One game at a time. Then finish with a victory over the Panthers. Then we can regroup and see where we stand with injuries and next opponent.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
4 months ago

“Resting players” can mean two different things: making the resting player inactive on game day, meaning they are not available at all if things are not going well during the game … and leaving them active but giving fewer snaps to those players to limit their exposure to injury. Nobody likes to lose a game, particularly to a loser team like the Jets or especially to a division opponent like the Panthers. So giving our starters fewer snaps certainly makes a lot of sense. Then if things go the wrong way during the game, bring the starters back in to… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by Naplesfan
IDGABuc
IDGABuc
4 months ago

As soon as the division was wrapped up (and even against Carolina on Sunday!) I thought it would make more sense to sit multiple players. Now that they did win the division and with the teams they play and the backup’s they have I think it is vital that we rest any injured player who is showing their injury on the field (Brady hasn’t thrown deep like he had been for 5-6 games. I knew he was injured when the offense completely changed then they finally said it was his throwing shoulder. REST HIM!) or who is out. (Sorry about… Read more »

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17
Reply to  IDGABuc
4 months ago

When did the team say that his throwing shoulder is having issues?

aredsoxfan1
aredsoxfan1
Reply to  toofamiliar17
4 months ago

They didn’t. People have misinterpreted the Bucs injury report. They listed Brady as “not injury related – resting player/right shoulder”. Even though the report explicitly states “not injury related” it hasn’t stopped several outlets from claiming he has a right shoulder injury. In actuality, the Bucs were saying they were resting Brady and his right shoulder. They did the same thing last year.