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 rebounded from last week’s 38-3 loss against New Orleans with a 46-23 win at Carolina, outscoring the Panthers 29-6 in the second half. Thanks to big days from quarterback Tom Brady and running back Ronald Jones II, the Bucs improve to 2-2 in the NFC South and 7-3 overall.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
STATEMENT 1. RoJo Found His Mojo
Bucs running back Ronald Jones II was on a roll earlier this year, rushing for more than 100 yards in three straight games against the Chargers, Bears and Packers, and averaging 5.5 yards per carry while Leonard Fournette was sidelined with an ankle injury. When Fournette returned to the lineup against the Raiders, Jones’ snaps – and production – decreased.
Jones rushed for 34 yards at Las Vegas, had just 23 yards rushing and a fumble at New York and only nine yards rushing against New Orleans last Sunday night. Jones’ day at Carolina didn’t start much better with a fumble after a 6-yard catch on Tampa Bay’s second play of the game. But Jones didn’t hang his head and head coach Bruce Arians didn’t give up on him.
“Up in New York he had a rough fumble on a ball that was on the ground,” Arians said. “This one he was trying to get a little extra. He went in the tank in New York – it really bothered him and he thought he really hurt the team. We told him, ‘Hey dude, you’re our guy.’ I knew he was going to break one sooner or later.”
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: USA Today
Jones and Fournette each had 22 yards at halftime in a game that was tied at 17-17, but halfway through the third quarter after Tampa Bay had gone on top, 20-17, after a Ryan Succop field goal, Jones had the biggest play of his three-year career. He ripped off a record-breaking 98-yard touchdown run to give the Bucs a 26-17 lead after Succop’s extra point was blocked.
“Blaine [Gabbert] and I looked at each other and Blaine said, ‘He’s going to take it to the house.’ I said, ‘Good chance on this play.’ And he did.
“We saw the defense and Blaine said, ‘This is going to the house.’ I said, ‘We’ve got a chance to split them.’ [And then] there he goes.”
Backed up at Tampa Bay’s own 2-yard line, Jones took the hand off from Tom Brady and ran through the B gap between left tackle Donovan Smith and center A.Q. Shipley while left guard Ryan Jensen, who was replacing Ali Marpet (concussion), got to the second level and blocked safety Juston Burris. Jones eluded a tackle attempt from safety Tre Burton and then out-raced rookie safety Jeremy Chinn to the end zone.
“I saw the linebacker shift over, and then I’m thinking probably cut back to the left, and then it’s off to the races,” Jones said. “I started looking at the Jumbotron, and I’m like ‘Dang – buddy is moving back there.’ So, I changed the angle and keep striding cold turkey. It felt good to get that long run though.”
Jones finished the day with 192 yards and his record-setting touchdown on 23 carries (8.3 avg.) in addition to one catch for six yards. He became just the fourth player in NFL history with a touchdown run of 98 yards or longer.
His effort at Carolina tied Errict Rhett (192 yards vs. Washington, 1994) for the fifth-biggest rushing day in Tampa Bay history, and his 192 yards was the third-highest rushing total in the NFL this season behind a pair of 200-plus yard days from Tennessee’s Derrick Henry.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: USA Today
Jones accounted for more than one third of Tampa Bay’s 544 yards of offense against Carolina, which was the third-most in team history. The Bucs entered Sunday’s game with the 30th-ranked rushing attack thanks to just five carries against the Saints last week, and rushed for 210 yards against the Panthers, averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
Jones, who hit a top speed of 21.19 miles per hour on his long touchdown jaunt, according to the Fox television broadcast, now has 730 yards rushing, which is a new personal high after rushing for 724 yards last year.
“You have to thank the big boys up front for getting that push – make my job look easier, and [thank] the coaching staff, too, for believing in me and keep giving me opportunities,” Jones said. “That’s really what it really came down to. It felt good to get back in the win column.”
And for RoJo, it felt good for him to get his mojo back.
STATEMENT 2. Brady, Bucs Offense Bounce Back Big
Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady shook off a disastrously disappointing performance against New Orleans last night in which he failed to throw for a touchdown for the first time as a Buccaneer, in addition to throwing a season-high three interceptions. Brady was magnificent at Carolina and out-dueled Teddy Bridgewater by completing 28-of-39 passes for 341 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also added a rushing touchdown, his third of the year, on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
Arians praised the play of Brady, who completed a pass to eight different receivers against the Panthers.
“It was outstanding,” Arians said. “When they were blitzing, he threw it out on his check downs. Those quick throws outside are kind of audibles after the ball is snapped. He did play really, really well.”
Playing with a broken finger, Chris Godwin led the Bucs with 92 yards on six catches, while Antonio Brown had the most catches with seven for 69. Mike Evans had his most productive game in a month with six receptions on 11 targets for 77 yards and an amazing, leaping 3-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone despite great coverage from Panthers defensive back Rasul Douglas.
Evans became the first player in Buccaneers franchise history with 500 career receptions, while playing in his 100th career game. Evans now has eight touchdowns on the year with seven of them coming from inside 10 yards, and five of those coming from three yards or in.
Brady also found tight ends Cameron Brate and Rob Gronkowski for a pair of red zone touchdowns. Brate had three catches for 31 yards, including a 19-yarder that converted a third-and-19. Gronkowski also made a sensational 44-yard catch-and-run in the first half.
“He knows he left a couple out there, too,” Arians said of Brady. “We had A.B. wide open, Mike and Gronk – the wind was really tricky. He’s as critical of himself as I am, but he played fantastic.”
If Mike Evans and Tyler Johnson catch the passes in the endzone that hit them in the hands, Brady has seven total touchdowns today.
That marks 10 drops this season in the end zone for the Bucs. That would put Brady WELL in the league lead.
Brady has now thrown 23 touchdowns on the year with just seven interceptions. He has now thrown 22 touchdowns and just three interceptions all-time following a loss of 20 points or more, while running his own personal record to 8-1 in games following a loss of 20 points or more.
After being awful on third downs against New Orleans, Brady and Tampa Bay were fantastic in Carolina, converting 10-of-16 (63 percent), while the Bucs defense held the Panthers to just 1-of-9 (11 percent). Tampa Bay outgained Carolina 544-187, and the 357-net yard differential was the most in franchise history.
The Bucs had a huge day offensively with five touchdowns and over 500 yards of total offense with a makeshift offensive line, but still had to settle for three Succop field goals in the red zone – all of which were inside the Panthers’ 10-yard line.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: What’s The Biggest Problem Area For The Bucs?
Despite a 7-3 record there are several problem areas to choose from.
Too many field goals inside the red zone. The Bucs had three on Sunday at Carolina.
Too many blocked field goals/extra points. That has happened three times this year with poor protection, including once on an extra point when Joe Haeg gave up too much ground.
Too little pressure on opposing quarterbacks unless the Bucs are blitzing. Tampa Bay only had two sacks from the defense and they didn’t happen until the fourth quarter when the Bucs had built a double-digit lead and Carolina had to pass the ball virtually on every down to try to catch up.
Too few deep ball connections between Tom Brady and his receivers. Brady entered Sunday just 3-28 on deep ball passes since Week 5, according to NFL Network’s James Palmer, and missed a few more, including a would-be touchdown with Brown.
Tom Brady is 3-28 on deep passes (20+ air yards) since Week 5.
– All 3 deep completions were in Week 7 vs Raiders.
But the biggest problem is that the Bucs have completely lost their identity on defense. What was a blitzing, aggressive Tampa Bay defense at the beginning of the season has sadly become a shell of its former self. Bowles’ sudden crush with soft zone coverage over press-man coverage has been growing all season for some reason, and it played a big role in Bridgewater’s hot 12-of-12 start for 106 yards with two touchdowns in the first half as Carolina built an early 14-7 lead.
Bucs DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs defense is at its best when bringing pressure, especially on third down and playing man coverage. Bowles finally did that with greater regularity in the second half and Tampa Bay held Carolina to just 37 yards of offense and six points over the last two quarters. Bowles needs to have his troops attack earlier in games, especially with a pair of potent offenses with dangerous quarterbacks looming over the next two weeks with Los Angeles’ Jared Goff and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.
Panthers rookie head coach Matt Rhule has never coached in the NFL prior to this season. There is no coaching continuity in Carolina. There is a new quarterback in Bridgewater and no Christian McCaffrey on Sunday. Yet the Panthers were tied with the more talented Buccaneers at halftime 17-17, and that shouldn’t have happened.
QUESTION 2: Why Did The Panthers Gamble With The Fake Punt?
Just when you thought the gambling man had left the Panthers, the ghost of “Riverboat Ron” Rivera lingered in Carolina on Sunday as Rhule called for an ill-advised fake punt. Trailing just 29-17 late in the third quarter, Rhule gambled and tried a fake punt on fourth-and-5 from the Carolina 40-yard line.
Bucs wide receiver Justin Watson sniffed out the fake punt and sacked punter Joseph Charlton for five yards after he tried to scramble for a first down after not finding any open receivers on the play. The Panthers ran their NFL-high fourth fake punt of the year and it failed miserably. Carolina tried to run a fake punt at Tampa Bay in Week 2 and safety Jordan Whitehead tackled Chinn, who was the upback, for a loss to thwart the play.
There will three big momentum-swinging plays for the Bucs in the second half – Jones’ 98-yard touchdown, Jason Pierre-Paul’s interception on the next play, and Watson’s first career sack. The Bucs increased their lead to 15 points, 32-17, on a 40-yard field goal from Succop after Watson’s big stop, and the game was put out of reach.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: These 7-3 Bucs Will Make The Playoffs
With Sunday’s 46-23 win, Tampa Bay is now 7-3, and the last time the franchise had a 7-3 record was in 2010. The Bucs didn’t make the playoffs that year, losing a tie-breaker to Green Bay, but this year is different because there is an extra wild card playoff team in each conference.
Bucs WR Mike Evans and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
Since 2009, teams that have started off the season 7-3 have made the playoffs 93 percent of the time. Of course the Bucs didn’t make the postseason in 2010, partly because they lost the next week to Baltimore. Teams that have started the season 8-3 since 2009 have made the playoffs 100 percent of the time.
Notice this data only goes back to 2009. Do you know why? Because the Jon Gruden-led Bucs began the 2008 season 9-3 before losing four straight games to end the season, missing the playoffs. The difference this year is that Tampa Bay has Brady at quarterback – not Josh Freeman or Jeff Garcia.
PREDICTION 2: Tampa Bay Will Split The Next Two Games
The Bucs will win one of their next two games, I’m just not sure if it will be against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football or if it will be against the Kansas City Chiefs the following week at 4:25 p.m. ET. Both games are at Raymond James Stadium, but the night game against the Rams scares me because the Bucs are typically so bad in prime time.
The game against the Rams is more important because of its NFC playoff implications as Tampa Bay and Los Angeles could be fighting for the same wild card playoff spot or battling for playoff seeding. If I had to guess right now, I’d say the Bucs beat the Rams – if Marpet returns next week to square off against All-Pro pass rusher Aaron Donald – but lose to the Chiefs. Either way, I see the Bucs at 8-4 heading into December.
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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