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 and won its first home game by beating Arizona, 30-27, on Sunday. It was a redemption game for rookie cornerback Jamel Dean, who had a fourth quarter interception that got the ball back for the offense after surrendering three touchdowns in pass coverage last week in the team’s 40-34 overtime loss at Seattle.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: David, Dean Get Two Big Takeaways For Bucs Defense
If you’ve watched Bucs linebacker Lavonte David during his seven-year Tampa Bay career, you’ve seen him come up with some timely forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. David’s strip of running back David Johnson at the Tampa Bay 11-yard and subsequent recovery was one of the biggest plays during his tenure in red and pewter with the score tied 20-20 late in the third quarter.
David now has an astounding 19 forced fumbles and 14 fumble recoveries in his illustrious Bucs career and it couldn’t have come at a better time as quarterback Jameis Winston had just thrown his second interception of the game two plays earlier.
“It was huge, huge,” said Bucs head coach Bruce Arians. “To turn it over and to take it right back – and that’s Lavonte. If there is one guy we can count on to go out and make a play when it’s crunch time, it’s him.”
In the fourth quarter, the lead went back and forth between the Bucs and the Cardinals and it looked like Arizona was going to put the game away with under four minutes left. The Cardinals had a 27-23 lead and were driving when rookie cornerback Jamel Dean stepped in front of receiver Trent Sherfield and picked off rookie quarterback Kyler Murray at the Tampa Bay 8.
“Can’t be happier for anybody than Jamel Dean – wins the game,” Arians said. “Last week, he’s the goat. He’s going to be a hell of a player. All those young kids in the secondary are getting better and better. … Confidence, practice. He practiced as a starter and did really well.”
Making his first NFL start last week in Seattle in Tampa Bay’s 40-34 overtime loss when cornerback Carlton Dean was injured in pre-game warm-ups, Dean surrendered nearly 200 passing yards and three touchdowns between receivers Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. Dean wasn’t prepared, and it showed.
“After last week, I realized I had to prepare differently,” Dean said. “The whole week, I’m watching extra film, I’m going up to Coach [Todd] Bowles’ office, just going over film and letting him teach me the game, because honestly, I didn’t want to have that feeling I did last week.”
The interception was the first of Dean’s career and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Bucs seized momentum and drove the ball 92 yards for the game-winning touchdown to prevail 30-27.
“I feel like I really had a chip on my shoulder because I knew last week, that was not me, because I knew I was better than that,” Dean said. “So, once I got the opportunity to go back there and redeem myself, I had to make sure I took that opportunity and had to seize the moment.”
In limited playing time on Sunday, Dean recorded four pass breakups, which is how many passes he defended in Seattle. In just two games, Dean leads the Bucs with eight pass breakups and is tied for the team lead with one interception.
The Bucs couldn’t cover Christian Kirk on Sunday, but that wasn’t on Dean this week. The Cardinals’ second-round pick from a year ago came into Sunday’s game with 34 catches for 329 yards and no touchdowns, but by the end, Kirk had six catches for 138 yards and three touchdowns and almost single-handedly beat the Bucs.
His first score, a 33-yard touchdown, came against rookie cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting in the first half. His second score came on a 69-yard strike when he got behind Ryan Smith in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Kirk found a hole in the middle of the Bucs defense, and even though rookie middle linebacker Devin White got a finger on the pass, Kirk was still able to haul it in for his third score of the day.
Murray failed to hit Kirk with two deep passes on the Cardinals’ final drive as Dean and the Bucs secondary stepped up as Murray’s last four passes fell incomplete and time expired, giving Tampa Bay a much-needed and hard-fought victory to break a four-game losing streak.
STATEMENT 2: RoJo, Barber Power Bucs Offense
Tampa Bay’s passing attack usually goes through wide receivers Mike Evans or Chris Godwin, but quarterback Jameis Winston, who passed for 358 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, found another leading receiver – and an unlikely one – in running back Ronald Jones II. Evans led the Bucs with 82 receiving yards on four catches, while Godwin added six receptions for 74 yards, including a key 49-yard run-and-catch on Tampa Bay’s final drive, but it was Jones who led the team with a career-high eight catches for 77 yards.
Not only did Jones get the job done on the ground by scoring the Bucs’ first touchdown, he was also a real weapon in the passing game as a receiver with several screen passes. Jones had four catches for 55 yards at half time, setting personal bests in both receptions and yardage. The most receiving yardage Jones has produced in any previous game was 41 yards on a screen pass against the Giants in Week 3. The most passes Jones had caught in any game in his career was two.
In fact, Jones had caught eight passes during his rookie season and matched that total on Sunday alone.
“He’s still a work in progress,” Arians said. “He made a great run for the touchdown, he’s out there catching balls and making people miss. But then, he still misses a blitz pickup that he shouldn’t miss. And we get a penalty because he’s supposed to be running a screen and he picks up a blitzer. He’s still a work in progress, but it’s a hell of a good work.”
Bucs running backs coach Todd McNair has done a phenomenal job of rapidly developing Jones into a credible and dynamic running back and receiver this year. While Jones had a great start to the game, and finished with 29 yards on 11 carries, backup Peyton Barber came off the bench in the fourth quarter and powered the Bucs to victory. Barber was Tampa Bay’s leading rusher with 43 yards on 11 carries, including a 17-yard run on the team’s final scoring drive, capping it off with a game-winning 1-yard touchdown run with 1:47 remaining.
“Peyton has been playing good all year,” Arians said. “RoJo earned [the start], but [Barber has] got a little extra in his tank right now and he was nice and fresh. That’s when it’s nice to have him, fresh in the fourth quarter when we’re going north and south.”
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Did The Bucs’ Pass Rush Do Enough On Sunday?
Yes, despite the fact that Tampa Bay only recorded two sacks. Murray is one of the fastest, most elusive quarterbacks in the NFL, but Bucs leading sacker Shaquil Barrett was able to corral him for a sack, as did defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Barrett has recorded at least half a sack in seven of the team’s nine games this year. Barrett, who entered Sunday’s game as the NFL’s leading sacker with 10.5, now has 2.5 quarterback captures in the last three games. Barrett is now on pace to record 20 sacks this season, which would break Warren Sapp’s franchise record of 16.5 set in 2000.
While Murray wasn’t sacked in the fourth quarter, the Bucs pass rush did enough to harass him and force some errant throws with the game on the line. Murray’s last four passes fell incomplete when the Cardinals were driving for either a game-tying field goal or a go-ahead touchdown.
“I thought the pass rush really showed up in the fourth quarter and it’s what we needed,” Arians said.
Bucs outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul didn’t have a sack, but had one of five QB hits on Murray and played well.
“Before the game, I told everybody, ‘This is our win or lose [game],’” Pierre-Paul said. “If we lose this game, it’s over, it’s done with. There isn’t any more coming to work and trying to – if we lose this game, it’s over and done with. You might as well just come in and do your job – [because there] isn’t any playoffs [or anything]. I’ve been here and I’ve seen it, and guys responded well. That’s the way to finish a game. We should’ve been finishing like that, but guys responded to Bruce and everything, and we’re just rolling.”
An angry New Orleans team comes to town on Sunday after being upset by the previously 1-7 Atlanta Falcons. Quarterback Drew Brees was sacked six times in the loss and Barrett is excited to get after a less mobile pocket passer after chasing the likes of Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Murray over the last two weeks.
“I can’t wait to get back to the normal quarterback,” Barrett said. “I would’ve had like five sacks today if it was a normal quarterback. Whatever the next one is scheduled, I’m ready to play.”
QUESTION 2: Should The Bucs Have Cut Perriman For A Comp Pick?
Absolutely, Tampa Bay should have cut wide receiver Breshad Perriman by Saturday in order to gain an additional compensatory draft pick in 2020, but the team didn’t. So why? The Bucs were desperate to win on Sunday – and desperate to win down the stretch – so much so that the team felt like Perriman, who only has nine catches for 75 yards and one fluky touchdown on the year gives them a better option as the team’s third receiver. Not only does Arians want to win as many games as he can down the stretch to help the young Bucs learn how to win, general manager Jason Licht really needs to win to get off the hot seat.
The fact that the Bucs kept Perriman, who isn’t a very good third receiver, is ahead of rookie Scotty Miller and second-year receiver Justin Watson on the depth chart is an indictment of the young receivers in terms of their lack of development and play-making ability. Miller has been force-fed into the game plan because of his speed and rookie status. Miller has five catches for 72 yards, including two for 33 yards on Sunday, while Watson has one reception for 13 yards this year.
Perriman had two catches for 17 yards against the Cardinals, but also had a costly holding penalty that negated a 29-yard catch-and-run on a wide receiver screen by Godwin down to the Arizona 39-yard line. The Bucs would punt three plays later.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Gay Will Be A Very Good Kicker For Tampa Bay
Don’t look now, but the Bucs have (finally) found a kicker. Rookie Matt Gay, the team’s fifth-round pick, came into Sunday’s game connecting on 84.2 percent of his field goals, which ranked 14th in the league. Gay was perfect on Sunday, connecting on all three of his kicks, although he missed a 46-yarder and was bailed out when Arizona jumped offsides. After moving the ball up five yards, Gay connected on a 41-yarder to help the Bucs beat the Cardinals.
After his perfect day against Arizona, Gay has now made 19-of-22 field goals, which is an 86.6 percent conversion rate. Gay’s 19 made field goals are tied for the fourth-most in the NFL, and his percentage is higher than that of established veterans like Kansas City’s Harrison Butker, Detroit’s Matt Prater and New Orleans’ Will Lutz.
Licht has spent years signing veteran kickers, trading for one and drafting two kickers, including Gay, to try to find the right guy to end the Bucs’ kicking woes that have plagued the franchise over the last decade. I think Gay is the guy to do just that.
PREDICTION 2: Hargreaves Won’t Be Back Next Year
It was stunning to see Arians bench veteran cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III in the second half of the team’s 30-27 win over the Cardinals and put two rookies – Dean and Murphy-Bunting – on the field along with second-year cornerback M.J. Stewart to defend against Larry Fitzgerald and Kirk, who had already scored three touchdowns against the Bucs secondary. But when Hargreaves was caught loafing on And Isabella’s 55-yard catch-and-run to start the second half, Arians had seen enough.
Hargreaves hasn’t been nearly as stout in run support as the team would have liked him to be over the last couple of games, and he hasn’t run to the ball with enough urgency for the coaches’ liking.
“He was chasing somebody across the field and he wasn’t running fast enough,” Arians said. “He didn’t look like he was hustling to go make that tackle.”
Hargreaves took the benching in stride, but returned to the game late in the fourth quarter after Stewart injured his knee.
“I’m a vet, I’m a pro – if that’s what Coach saw, he saw,” Hargreaves said. “There’s no arguing. I need to hustle. Point blank – end of discussion. I’ll get better. I’m sure I’ll talk with him this week and we’ll get things straightened out and we’ll see where we go from here.”
Hargreaves has been a disappointment during his fourth season in Tampa Bay. The Bucs did pick up his fifth-year option for 2020 that will pay him over $9 million, but could rescind that offer at any time during the offseason before the league year starts in March and not owe Hargreaves anything. I think that happens and the Bucs move forward without him next year. To date, Hargreaves has not shown he’s worth $9 million.