The Bucs accumulated over 500 yards of offense as Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for a career-high 154 yards while Jameis Winton threw three touchdowns in a 34-17 victory in San Francisco. Tampa Bay rallied from 14-0 down to win back-to-back road games and steady its record at 3-3. The Bucs continued to gain ground in the NFC South as both Atlanta and New Orleans lost on Sunday. 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.

TWO BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: ROAD MASTERY CONTINUES AS BUCS GET TO .500
With Sunday’s 34-17 triumph, the Buccaneers collected their eighth win on the road since 2014, and are a respectable 8-14 away from Raymond James Stadium during that span as I wrote in Friday’s SR’s Fab 5 column. Tampa Bay has actually won three out of its four road games this year, including two in a row at Carolina and at San Francisco. Now the real test comes at Raymond James Stadium where the Bucs have four in a row, including both home games this year, and the last two home games of the 2016 season.

Tampa Bay returns home for three straight games at Ray-Jay against Oakland (5-2), Atlanta (4-3) on Thursday Night Football and Chicago (1-6). As noted in the SR’s Fab 5 column, the Bucs have won just three games in Tampa Bay since the 2014 season. The Bucs went winless at home in 2014 for the first time since the inaugural 1976 season, and won just three games last year. The Bucs lost both of their home games against Los Angeles and Denver earlier this season.

The last two times the Bucs were .500 and had a home game, Tampa Bay lost in each of those contests. In 2015, the team was 6-6 but lost to New Orleans, 24-17, and never got back to 500 as the Bucs began a four-game losing streak that cost head coach Lovie Smith his job. This year, Tampa Bay started the season with a win at Atlanta and a loss at Arizona to return home to Raymond James Stadium with a .500 record only to lose to Los Angeles, 37-32.

Back-to-back wins – back-to-back wins on the road. We’ve got to learn how to win some games at home. We need to, let’s keep those [Oakland] Raiders jerseys out of the lower bowl. Let’s get some Bucs jerseys in there. Let’s rock that place next week. I think we’ve got three in a row at home. We’ve got to do our part. We’ve got to learn how to win at home. We’ve proved we can win on the road. I’m proud of these guys. That’s two weeks in a row. We’ve talked a lot about complimentary football and we’ve done it for the last two games.”

Only the Bucs and the Browns, who are 0-7 and 0-2 at home, are winless at home this year.

STATEMENT 2: KOETTER IN CONTROL

Credit head coach Dirk Koetter for learning quickly on the job and righting the Bucs’ ship with two road wins to get the team back to .500. Koetter has modified Tampa Bay’s game plan to establish the run early and allow the emotional Jameis Winston to settle down and get into the flow of the game before throwing the ball. Koetter has his team playing complimentary football with the offense and defense working together with ball control on offense to keep the defense fresh and creating takeaways on defense.

Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers - Photo by: Getty Images

Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers – Photo by: Getty Images

The defense and special teams forced four takeaways in a win at Carolina, and produced three more in a win at Carolina. On offense, Koetter’s play-calling helped the Bucs amass 513 yards against the 49ers. That’s the third time in 22 games under Koetter Tampa Bay has eclipsed 500 yards. The team had done that just three times in the previous 39 seasons prior to Koetter’s arrival as offensive coordinator last year.

In snapping a 10-game losing streak to NFC West teams, Koetter turned to unheralded running back Jacquizz Rodgers to set the tone offensively. The Bucs finished with 249 yards rushing, which was the fourth-highest in franchise history and only 34 yards away from the most in Tampa Bay history.

“Jacquizz is just a really solid player and a really solid guy,” Koetter said. “He’s never had a chance to be a feature guy. He’s just behind really good guys. He’s been behind Michael Turner for a while behind Steven Jackson [in Atlanta], we have good backs here so he’s never been a complimentary player. He’s just getting a chance.”

And Rodgers is making the most of it, producing back-to-back 100-yard games and had a career-high 154 yards rushing on 26 carries (5.9 avg.), including a career-high 45-yard dash. With Rodgers running the ball so well and providing balance to the offense, Winston has become a more efficient passer. He completed 21-of-30 passes for 269 yards with three touchdowns and one pick in the win at San Francisco.

TWO PROBING QUESTIONS

QUESTION 1: WHEN DID THE BUCS FORGET HOW TO TACKLE?
Lost, or perhaps overlooked, in Tampa Bay’s 34-17 win at San Francisco was the fact that the Bucs tackling was atrocious. If the Bucs were playing a team that wasn’t as hapless as the 49ers, now 1-6, poor tackling could have cost Tampa Bay a victory.

Players at every level – defensive line, linebackers and secondary – were seen flailing around, trying to arm tackle shifty 5-foot-7 running back DuJuan Harris. The former 49ers practice squad back had 39 yards on 11 carries, including an 18-yard run, in addition to two catches for 18 yards, including a 14-yard reception. Harris ran hard and fast and made several Bucs defenders look silly.

Getting quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the ground was also a challenge. Kaepernick was sacked four times on Sunday, but he was also flushed from the pocket due to several blitzes and four-man rushes, yet eluded Tampa Bay defenders on multiple plays. The Bucs’ plan was to contain Kaepernick in the pocket and force him to beat the Bucs with his arm. Kaepernick completed 16-of-34 passes for 143 yards with one touchdown, one interception and had a QB rating of 56.4.

Kaepernick was much more effective against the Bucs on the ground, rushing for 84 yards on nine carries (9.3 avg.). Kaepernick’s longest run was 17-yard jaunt.

“We were trying to keep him in the pocket,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “We were inconsistent doing that and we had other chances to get him down. The D-line kept saying, ‘Coach, he’s fast!’ No kidding. Yeah, he’s fast. He’s just not your typical quarterback. The guy can run and we didn’t tackle as well as we should have but we thought if we could keep him in the pocket and make him throw the ball we could make some plays on it.”

Bucs linebacker Daryl Smith was one of many Tampa Bay defensive players that missed Kaepernick on Sunday.

“He’s slippery,” Smith said. “You think you’re going to get a sack or get him down and he’ll convert a third down. That’s definitely what you see when you watch film of him.”

QUESTION 2: WHY HASN’T SHEPARD GOTTEN A LOOK BEFORE?
In the first game since Vincent Jackson was placed on injured reserve the Bucs needed a player to step up at the Z receiver position – or split end. Donteea Dye was given a look in practice after re-signing with Tampa Bay and filling in there for the injured Jackson last year, but was released due to rust from inaction since the preseason. Freddie Martino was signed from the practice squad to replace him, and Cecil Shorts was also active on Sunday in San Francisco.

Bucs WR Russell Shepard - Photo by: Getty Images

Bucs WR Russell Shepard – Photo by: Getty Images

But the player that rose to the occasion has been seldom-used veteran receiver and special teams captain Russell Shepard. Despite coming into the 49ers game with just 10 career catches for 113 yards and one touchdown, Shepard had a career day with five catches for 77 yards and a 19-yard score right before halftime to give Tampa Bay a 17-14 lead.

“He’s probably our best all-around player on this team as far as the passion that he comes with every day to work, as far as the leadership that he gives us and just his heart,” Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said. “His overall heart is tremendous. This was another big win for him because their head coach cut him, and that’s personal to him. We did everything in our power to help him. Shout out to Coach Koetter for getting him another touchdown against coach [Chip] Kelly.”

Shepard had his first touchdown reception last year against Kelly when he was the head coach in Philadelphia, which is where Shepard began his NFL career. With only three catches for 22 yards heading into Sunday, why hasn’t Shepard gotten more looks on offense?

Koetter wasn’t asked that question after the game, but he lavished praise on the LSU product.

“Proud of him,” Koetter said. “Shep’s a hard guy not to like. He’s got an infectious personality. He’s a fun guy to be around. He’s a fun guy in meetings, he can laugh at himself. I like guys like that. I think I just like being around guys like that. He gave a passionate speech. You know he was cut by Philly earlier and he gave a passionate speech in the locker-room before the game.

“We said with Vincent out, we needed some guys to step up and even though we rotated three guys, four guys in that spot, Shep’s the guy that made plays. That touchdown, right before the half on that little double move, we’ve been working on that thing for two years. It was awesome to see. They were in the perfect coverage. I was hoping Jameis saw and I was like ‘there it is, there it is, there it is,’ and Jameis threw that thing so early. He just threw it up to the spot and Shep made … you know I think that was the Russell Shepard drive. He had three or four catches in that drive.”

Shepard had three catches for 37 yards on that drive and deserves to start opposite Mike Evans, who finished with a game-high eight catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the 49ers.

TWO BOLD PREDICTIONS

PREDICTION 1: EVANS MAKES HIS FIRST PRO BOWL IN 2016
Despite increased attention without veteran Vincent Jackson playing alongside, there was no stopping Mike Evans in San Francisco. With eight catches for 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the 49ers, Evans has 40 catches for 545 yards and six touchdowns through six games.

The third-year receiver is on pace to catch 106 passes for 1,453 yards and score 16 touchdowns. All would be career highs if achieved, and would certainly be enough get Evans selected to his first Pro Bowl.

“When you have a big receiver like Evans and a tremendous quarterback like Jameis, they’re going to be two weapons that are going to be here for a long time,” Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson said. “I think they take pride in winning. They both love to win and love to fight. It’s two young guys that will tear this league up for a long time.”


PREDICTION 2: PUPIL BEATS THE MASTER AS BUCS IMPROVE TO 4-3
Fresh off back-to-back road wins, the Bucs travel home to Raymond James Stadium to face the Oakland Raiders, who are 5-2, and get a long sought-after win in Tampa Bay before the hometown fans. Dirk Koetter beats his former boss, Jack Del Rio, who hired him in Jacksonville, as the Bucs improve to 4-3 and begin to make a playoff push.

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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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surferdudes
5 years ago

Oakland beat the Jags at J Ville Sunday, now have to fly back to NoCal, and back to Fl again next Sunday, that’s got to take a toll. Think the traveling catches up with them this week. Being home for Thursday nights game is a big advantage, although Atl doesn’t have far to travel, but home teams seem to win more Thursday night games. Should beat Shy town, so we have a real chance of a 5 game win streak coming up. The kind of streak Scott, who;ve said puts teams in the playoffs.

jme0151
jme0151
Reply to  surferdudes
5 years ago

Surf….Raiders are going to Sarasota for the week before bucs game. Not flying back to west coast.

RootsCrew
RootsCrew
Reply to  surferdudes
5 years ago

Unfortunately, Oakland isn’t traveling back west. They are staying in Florida and practicing at IMG in Bradenton this week. I was hoping they would be flying back and forth too, but no dice.

Twistedwires
Twistedwires
5 years ago

Two bold predictions? I wouldn’t go so far as to call those “bold”. Yet, let’s hope you’re correct. Here are my bold predictions. A few weeks ago there was a lot of doom and gloom around here after the loss to the Rams and a 1-2 start . I posted that in my opinion the season was not over YET. I was looking at the upcoming stretch of games (Broncos, Panthers, Bye, and 49ers) and predicted that beating the Broncos was probably not going to happen, beating the Panthers was going to be tough but in my opinion it was… Read more »

stlbucsfan
stlbucsfan
5 years ago

Glad we got through this game with no injuries and took care of business. Aguayo still is average but the rest of the team appears to be improving. Im looking forward to seeing if the defense has improved like I think they have and to see if the offense can take another step.

SCLOBERNOCKER
SCLOBERNOCKER
5 years ago

Aguayo is gonna get it figured out
Right?

CDNBUCSFAN
CDNBUCSFAN
5 years ago

Scott, Statement 1: Love how the Bucs have been playing on the road – now let’s translate that to playing well at home, please! I agree with you, we need support in the lower bowl. I wish I could be at the game to support them. Fire the Cannons! Statement 2: Nice to see Koetter putting his stamp on this team on both sides of the ball. His relationship with former players and DC Smith are key to getting the most out of his players. Question 1: Most obvious when they couldn’t wrap up a guy running on 3rd and… Read more »

drdneast
drdneast
5 years ago

I loved Kotter’s comment about Shepherd’s passionate pregame speech and attitude. This is the direct opposite of Lovie silencing Shepherd last year for using salty language in the locker room during a pregame speech against the Saints that PR reported on and resulted in putting the Bucs in a tailspin for the remainder of the year. The main thing this team has to be cautious of is becoming over confident like they were after the Falcons game. I didn’t think Koetter did a good job of that last time. Being confident with a bit of swagger is great if you… Read more »

scubog
scubog
Reply to  drdneast
5 years ago

I’d forgotten about Lovie squelching Shep’s enthusiasm. Lovie squelched mine and a lot of other fans too.

arick1010
arick1010
5 years ago

Scott…THANKS for the Two Point Conversion, and…

Bucs…THANKS for Two Consecutive Wins, and…

Now…LET’S BEAT OAKLAND.

EastEndBoy
EastEndBoy
5 years ago

I like the bold prediction of us beating OAK…my concern is the bold prediction that our safeties are not good enough to offset the Carr to Cooper show…but I temper that with my own prediction that we continue the Oline mastery and run for another 200+…it will be our running game making their DLine look pop-warner-esque while their passing game makes our safeties look like, well our safeties…let’s hope one of them can step-up and make a play to swing the tide in our direction!

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
5 years ago

We certainly can beat the Raiders at home. It’s essential that we do so, because any team that can’t win at home doesn’t deserve respect. Hope that we can get Ayers and McDonald back in the lineup for Oakland … we’re going to need them both. It certainly helped a lot yesterday to get McCoy back drawing double teams and disrupting the inside, along with Gholston. Noah Spence seems to be developing and contributing too as a rookie starter. I think we have the offense that is capable of beating the Raiders, given our newfound running game and receivers who… Read more »

AtlBucFanDan
AtlBucFanDan
5 years ago

Talking on Russel Shepard’s passion, did anyone see him spike the ball so hard that he almost fell down? Go Shep! and Go Bucs!

scubog
scubog
5 years ago

I’m going to be wearing my “Beat Oakland” jersey that I wore in San Diego at the Superbowl (if I can fit into it). Probably wear my Superbowl victory commemorative hat too.

Dr.D: When you buying me that Coke?