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 wins again at home, 38-3, over an over-matched Chicago Bears team. Todd Bowles’ defense harassed rookie quarterback Justin Fields into three interceptions and sacked him four times. Meanwhile, Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns, including three to Mike Evans, and the Bucs offensive line paved the way for 182 yards on the ground in a big win that improves the Bucs’ record to 6-1.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
STATEMENT 1: Home Sweet Home For Bucs
There is nothing like playing at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs bashed the Bears, 38-3, on their home turf on Sunday to improve to 6-1 on the season. It’s the best start in franchise history.
Tampa Bay remains undefeated at home in 2021, and has won seven straight at Raymond James Stadium dating back to a 26-14 win over Minnesota in Week 14. That includes the team’s 31-9 win over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV. The last time Tampa Bay lost was to Kansas City, 27-24, in Week 12 last year before the bye week.
The Bucs are 4-0 at home this season and have done it with style points.
While scoring lots of points, too.
The Bucs averaged 41.3 points per game heading into the game against the Bears. That fell a little bit to 40.5 on Sunday as Tampa Bay failed to top 40 points, despite having a couple of point blank opportunities.
Tampa Bay’s 2021 Home Wins
Bucs 31, Cowboys 29
Tampa Bay 48, Falcons 25
Bucs 45, Dolphins 17
Bucs 38, Bears 3
Tampa Bay led 35-3 at halftime and the team’s 35 first half points were the most in franchise history. The previous record was 34 points against the Lions in Detroit last year in a 47-7 victory.
Quarterback Tom Brady wasn’t particularly sharp, missing six consecutive throws at one point in the first half. He finished the game completing 20-of-36 passes – just 55.5 percent – for 211 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Offensively, we left about 20 points out there, but overall, it was a really good team win,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said.
Tampa Bay was only 3-of-10 on third downs and got stuffed for no gain on a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line and a fourth-and-goal on the next play. Had the Bucs been more efficient in the red zone in the second half, Tampa Bay easily could have surpassed 40 points for the third straight home game. But two trips inside the Bears’ 5-yard line netted only three points.
“To be stopped inside the twos as many times as we did, that’s ridiculous,” Arians said.
Will the Bucs go undefeated at home this season? It’s too early to tell, as there are four games left at Ray-Jay in the 2021 season. The best home record Tampa Bay has ever achieved is 7-1, which came in 1999 as the team lost its’ season opener, 17-13, to the New York Giants, but won the remaining seven games at Ray-Jay.
The Bucs’ margin of victory at home this year is 22 points, winning by an average of 40.5 – 18.5. It’s a different story on the road where Tampa Bay is 2-1 on the season, and has yet to score 30 points in any game.
The Bucs are averaging just 23.6 points per game away from home – 16.9 points less per game. Even worse, Tampa Bay is allowing 24.3 points per game on defense on the road, which is 5.8 points per game more than the Bucs allow at home.
Up next Sunday is a big road trip at New Orleans. Tampa Bay will likely need to score 30 points against the Saints to get the win. That’s what happened in the 2020 NFC Divisional Playoffs when the Bucs beat the Saints, 30-20.
STATEMENT 2: Bucs Go Bear Hunting
It was clear that Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was going to go after rookie quarterback Justin Fields right from the start. Bowles didn’t waste any time, sending safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. on a blitz on Fields’ first pass attempt. The result was a sack-fumble, although cornerback Ross Cockrell couldn’t recover the loose ball.
Winfield had three sacks and two forced fumbles as a rookie, but hadn’t recorded a sack since Week 14 last year against Minnesota. That would be the first of four Bucs sacks on the day. Outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul had two and a forced fumble, while outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett had a strip-sack and recovered a fumble. Pierre-Paul admitted after the game that he’s playing with a broken finger and a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder.
Those sacks helped hold Chicago to 0-of-7 on third down in the first half and 2-of-11 in the entire game.
Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. and OLB Shaquil Barrett – Photo by: USA Today
Tampa Bay’s banged-up secondary, which saw the injured Richard Sherman coach the cornerbacks on the sideline today, came through with three interceptions. Dee Delaney, who started in place of Sherman, got his first career interception before leaving in the second half with an ankle injury. His replacement, veteran Pierre Desir, got his first interception as a Buccaneer. Safety Jordan Whitehead also snagged his first pick of the season on Sunday.
“It was awesome. I think Todd loves seeing rookie quarterbacks,” Arians said. “That was a situation where they had a great plan to get after him and really disguise coverages and utilize a bunch of different pressures. It was outstanding defense.”
The reason why the Bucs pass rush and pass defense came away with four takeaways and four sacks is because the units were playing in concert. The pass coverage was helping the pass rush get home and get to Fields. And the pass rush was forcing some errant throws by Fields, which were getting picked off by the opportunistic secondary.
The pass rush and the pass coverage weren’t playing complementary football earlier in the season, and that’s why the sacks and interceptions were slow to come. Next up is former Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, a player who has been known to take too many sacks and throw too many picks in his career. But Winston has only been sacked nine times and thrown just three interceptions so far this season, while tossing 12 touchdowns.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Is This Evans’ Best Season Yet?
Yes and no. Evans has a team-leading seven touchdowns in the first seven games this season, which is the most he’s ever had over that span. With six catches for 76 yards and three touchdowns against the Bears, Evans, who caught Tom Brady’s 600th career touchdown pass on Sunday, now has 37 receptions for 496 yards in 2021.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
That’s not his best start statistically. Evans had 46 catches for 770 yards and three touchdowns in the first seven games of the 2018 season. He finished that year with 86 catches for a career-high 1,524 yards and eight touchdowns. Last season, Evans had six touchdowns in the first seven games along with 25 receptions for 318 yards before finishing with a franchise-record 13 receiving touchdowns. That broke Evans’ own record set in 2014 and tied in 2016 when Evans caught a career-high 96 passes for 1,321 yards.
Last season, Evans finished with 70 catches for 1,006 yards. The Bucs’ three-time Pro Bowl receiver is on pace to record 89 receptions for 1,204 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.
As well as Evans has played this season, he’s not Tampa Bay’s leading receiver. That’s Chris Godwin, who had a team-high eight catches for 111 yards and a touchdown against Chicago. Godwin leads the Bucs with 42 receptions for 519 yards. He also has three touchdowns.
QUESTION: Is Darden The Bucs’ Return Specialist Now?
It appears that way. The Bucs brought veteran Jaydon Mickens back to the practice squad after releasing him last week in a roster move to clear reserve offensive lineman John Molchon off injured reserve. Mickens had done a yeoman’s job as the return specialist, averaging 25.8 yards per kick return and 6.8 yards per punt return this year.
But the Bucs wanted to see what Jaelon Darden, the team’s fourth-round pick, could do, in addition to finding a way to use his speed and explosiveness on offense. Darden had a pair of 24-yard kick returns in Week 3 at Los Angeles, in addition to a 4-yard punt return, but was inactive in the other five games.
Darden’s first punt return on Sunday went for 43 yards down to the Chicago 32 to set up Tampa Bay’s first touchdown. That was the longest punt return in the NFL so far this season. He also had a 17-yard kick return, and an 11-yard run on an end around on offense to pick up a first down. With a couple of splash plays against the Bears, it looks like the return job is now Darden’s to lose.
“I thought special teams set the tempo for the game,” Arians said. “We have really good, physical guys on our special teams and happy to see Jaelon pop that return. I think next time he won’t freeze up and [he’ll] score.”
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Brady Throws For 51 TDs – Or More – In 2021
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady passed for a career-high 50 touchdowns in New England during the 2007 season, helping the Patriots to an undefeated regular season. Those 50 TDs were the most in the NFL in a single season at the time and earned Brady the league’s MVP honors. Peyton Manning would go on to throw 55 touchdowns in 2014 to break Brady’s record and become the NFL MVP that year.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
In his first season in Tampa Bay, Brady threw for 40 touchdowns, which broke the Bucs’ single-season record. That’s also the second-most TD passes Brady has thrown in any season. Brady, who is the league’s all-time career touchdown pass leader, made NFL history by throwing his 600th TD pass. That was one of four scores on the day for Brady, who has 21 touchdown passes in the first seven games of the 2021 campaign.
That puts Brady on pace for 51 this season, which now features 17 regular season games. He’s got a real shot at breaking Manning’s all-time single season touchdown record if he stays close to his current pace.
PREDICTION 2: Barrett Going Back To The Pro Bowl
Bucs outside linebacker Shaq Barrett picked up another sack on Sunday, No. 5.5 on the season. He also forced a fumble and recovered a fumble against the Bears. Filling out the stat sheet is a great way to get Pro Bowl voters’ attention. Barrett now has two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception in the stats column in 2021, in addition to those stats.
If Barrett hadn’t been robbed of another sack-fumble against Atlanta in Week (he was flagged for being offsides when he really perfectly timed the snap), and had a forced fumble at New England taken away by a bad instant replay call, the 2019 Pro Bowler would have 6.5 sacks and four forced fumbles on the year. Barrett, who signed a four-year contract extension worth an average of $17 million this past offseason, is earning every penny of his new deal so far. When it’s all said and done, Barrett will wind up with at least a dozen sacks and another Pro Bowl.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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