Tampa Bay registered its third straight win in a row with a 14-5 upset over NFC West-leading Seattle, 14-5. The Bucs defense led the way with six sacks and three takeaways to complement Mike Evans’ two touchdown catches and 100-yard day as Tampa Bay improves to 6-5. Now the talk shifts to an improbable playoff run in December. Can the Bucs make the postseason?

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: THIS BUCS DEFENSE IS FOR REAL
A month ago some were ready to run Mike Smith out of Tampa Bay as his defense surrendered a ton of yards and a ton of points to Oakland and Atlanta in back-to-back losses at home as the team’s record dipped to 3-5. But over the past three games the Bucs defense has made a remarkable turnaround, recording nine takeaways and 10 sacks. Three of those takeaways and six of those sacks came against Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson and Seattle in the Bucs’ stunning, 14-5 victory over the Seahawks.

Safety Chris Conte has been the hero the prior two weeks with a pick-six against Chicago and a crucial end zone interception in the fourth quarter at Kansas City. On Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, it was the entire Tampa Bay defense that held Seattle to a collective 1-of-11 on third down (nine percent), which is absolutely amazing. The Seahawks didn’t convert their lone third down until their final drive, either.

It was a game for the ages, and it was only fitting that Tampa Bay’s two best players of all time, Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks and Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp, were at Ray-Jay to witness it. I spoke with an ecstatic Sapp after the Bucs’ shocking victory.

“That was one of the best games I’ve seen them play in quite a while,” Sapp said. “When you talk about taking one of the premier quarterbacks in the league and I saw he was 8-of-20, that’s 40 percent. I don’t need to be a mathematician to know that. You don’t do that to that type of quarterback and give him a 20 quarterback rating at that point. And to seal it like that? Gerald and the boys rushed well all day long.”

In the first 30 minutes Wilson was held to just 3-of-8 for 20 yards with a timely interception by cornerback Alterraun Verner, who was grieving the loss of his father, right before halftime. Wilson, who had been sacked just 20 times all year before Sunday, was sacked four times in the first half and had a measly QB rating of 6.2. He finished completing 17-of-33 passes for 151 yards and no touchdowns, and threw a game-clinching interception on the Seahawks’ final drive to safety Bradley McDougald, who smothered Tyler Lockett around the goal line.

What made this defensive effort so special wasn’t necessarily just the sacks or the takeaways. It was the fact that the Bucs played complementary football all game. Make no mistake. Tampa Bay’s offense did its part in getting an early 14-0 lead on the first two drives before Seattle’s defense rose up.

Yet every time the Bucs offense stalled and hiccoughed in the remaining three quarters, the defense was there to make a key stop. Tampa Bay had two fourth quarter turnovers – a fumble by Doug Martin and a nearly unforgivable end zone interception by Jameis Winston – and the defense continued to respond and bail out the offense with big stops. Lavonte David, who had a team-leading seven tackles, forced a fumble against an airborne Jimmy Graham and recovered the fumble, racing 53 yards to flip the field position in the fourth and give the ball back to the offense following Martin’s fumble. On Seattle’s last drive, which came after Winston’s pick, McDougald ended the threat with his second interception of the year.

STATEMENT 2: SPENCE IS BECOMING A QB SNIPER
Tampa Bay’s defense sacked Wilson a season-high six times and rookie Noah Spence got the party started in the first quarter as he came up with his third sack-fumble of the season and finished the game with 1.5 sacks to give him 5.5 on the year. Spence split a sack with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who also had a key full sack on third down in the fourth quarter to give him six on the year. Defensive ends Robert Ayers, Jr., and Ryan Russell also had sacks, as did middle linebacker Kwon Alexander.

Bucs DE Noah Spence - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

Bucs DE Noah Spence – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

Spence, who began the year as a designated pass rusher, has come into his own during his rookie campaign and developed into a player capable of playing on every down not just in third-and-long situations. Spence logged a season-high 51 snaps on Sunday, which was 81 percent of Tampa Bay’s defensive plays. That was one play higher than McCoy’s 50 plays and just three snaps shy of Ayers’ 54 plays, which was the most of any Bucs defensive lineman.

“Six [sacks] is the most we’ve had in a long time,” Koetter said. “We were worried about that all week because Russell Wilson is a tough quarterback to sack. He did get out a few times, but we hit him, we kept him in. Noah Spence was big tonight. Gerald had a sack and a half. Six sacks, we hit him a bunch of times, too. That also tells you that your coverage is good on the back end because he’s having to hold the ball a little bit.”

Spence is making Bucs general manager Jason Licht look incredibly smart for picking him in the second round of the draft. He’s half a sack behind Jacksonville defensive end Yannick Ngakoue’s six sacks, which leads all rookies. Spence has three forced fumbles, which is tied with Ngakoue for second behind Atlanta safety Keanu Neal’s four.

The emergence of Spence, who remains hampered by a harness he wears to help his sprained shoulder, gives Tampa Bay an outside pass rusher that can make McCoy even more effective. The three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle has six sacks on the year to lead the team, but Spence is just a sack a way from overtaking him for that distinction with five games left in the regular season.

TWO PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: WHY DID WINSTON THROW THAT HORRIBLE END ZONE INT?
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter is a risk-taking, go-for-the-throat kind of guy, and it’s that type of attitude that his players have embraced and part of the reason why Tampa Bay has won three straight and stands at 6-5 after beating Seattle. But Koetter admitted after the game that he should have been more conservative on the Bucs’ final drive into Seahawks territory.

Leading 14-5 with 7:01 left in regulation, the Bucs began at the Seahawks’ 25 after David’s 53-yard fumble recovery. After picking up a first down inside the red zone, Winston hit tight end Cameron Brate for a 10-yard touchdown pass that would have been the dagger if not for a questionable hands to the face penalty on right tackle Demar Dotson that nullified the play.

Knowing that pushing the score to 21-5 would have forced Seattle to score two touchdowns and two two-point conversions to tie, Koetter got a bit too greedy and went for the jugular again with Winston forcing an ill-advised pass to Evans, who was double-covered in the end zone on third-and-18 from the Seattle 20. Winston’s pass was picked off by Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor.

“We had the right thing on and Jameis had a beautiful shot to Cam,” Koetter said. “Then they showed that replay [of the penalty], man. On the last one, I probably should’ve been more conservative with the call there. We ran a play designed for third-and-long in the red zone. We probably would’ve been better off being more conservative, running the ball right there and kicking a field goal. I probably made more mistakes tonight than any of the players did.”

Winston’s interception and Koetter’s risky decision didn’t prove to be fatal. A field goal would have increased the Bucs’ lead to 17-5 and forced the Seahawks to score two touchdowns to win with just 4:06 remaining. Even at 14-5, Seattle needed a touchdown and a field goal to prevail, 15-14, but the Bucs defense was making sure that wasn’t going to happen on Sunday.

QUESTION 2: CAN THE BUCS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?
That’s the big question, right? It’s not about the Bucs showing improvement this season and getting to 8-8, or even turning the corner and posting a winning record at 9-7. At 6-5 and riding a three-game winning streak, Bucs fans want to know if the fun will continue into January with an improbable playoff jaunt after a 3-5 start to Koetter’s first season as head coach.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

I’ll remind you that I was the lone wolf predicting a 10-6 season for the Bucs – and a playoff berth. I admit that I looked to be too optimistic and even a tad foolish for those predictions when this team was 3-5, while the defense was carved up by Derek Carr and Matt Ryan in back-to-back losses at home. Can the Bucs get to 10-6? Yes, but it will require going 4-1 down the stretch. That might mean winning at San Diego this week, sweeping New Orleans and beating Carolina at home on January 1 with the Bucs’ lone loss coming at Dallas. That’s what it would take for the Bucs to make a run at a Wild Card, and that’s their best bet.

While the NFC South division has not been settled yet and Tampa Bay trails 7-4 Atlanta by just one game, the Falcons have a much easier schedule to close out the season. The Falcons, who are coming off a dominant, 38-19 win over Arizona, host Kansas City this week, followed by a road trip to Los Angeles, a home game against San Francisco, a trip to Carolina on Christmas Eve and hosting New Orleans on New Year’s Day. The Falcons should at least go 3-2 down the stretch if not 4-1 or 5-0.

I’m not saying the Bucs can’t win the NFC South and automatically qualify for the playoffs as the division champion, but they certainly need to go 5-0 or 4-1 the rest of the season and hope for some help from the Falcons’ foes. A Wild Card berth seems more likely, but only at 10-6 as 9-7 likely won’t get the Bucs in the playoffs this year.

But isn’t it fun to actually talk playoffs in late November in Tampa Bay? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

TWO BOLD PREDICTIONS:
PREDICTION 1: RAY-JAY WILL BE SOLD OUT FOR BUCS VS. SAINTS GAME
If you weren’t at Raymond James Stadium for Tampa Bay’s epic 14-5 win over Seattle, you’ll want to be there in two weeks when the Bucs host the New Orleans Saints. That atmosphere was absolutely electric. It felt like a playoff game, and with 63,674 in attendance on Sunday it’s been a long time since Ray-Jay was rocking like that.

If Tampa Bay can extend its winning streak to four games with a win at San Diego, Ray-Jay will be filled with mostly Bucs fans as opposed to enemy fans as New Orleans fans don’t travel that well. After two games that saw plenty of Chicago and Seattle fans invade Ray-Jay, it will be nice for the team to see more red and pewter in the stands than enemy jerseys on December 11.

PREDICTION 2: BUCS BEAT THE CHARGERS NEXT WEEK
The Bucs’ road warrior mentality continues next Sunday in San Diego where the team pulls off an impressive fifth straight road victory. But it will be a real challenge. The 5-6 Chargers, who are coming off a 21-13 win at Houston, are 3-2 at home, and all six of their losses this year have been by eight points or less.

Philip Rivers leads a balanced offense featuring big, unheralded receivers in Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman and Travis Benjamin, and a tight end combination of rookie Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates, who have totaled 10 touchdowns this year, in addition to Melvin Gordon, who has 908 yards rushing and eight total touchdowns.

On defense, unheralded cornerback Casey Hayward leads the NFL with six interceptions and 22 pass breakups, and a pair of rookies Jatavis Brown (54 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles) and Joey Bosa (22 tackles, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble) helped hold the Texans to just 13 points and helped force four takeaways on Sunday. Winning in San Diego will not be easy, but nothing ever is for these Buccaneers.

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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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wnb0395
wnb0395
5 years ago

I would be content with an 8-8 or 9-7 record this year. The progress I have seen this year is night and day. Our defense is finally playing to there full potential. Its amazing how good they can be when healthy. We are one more good FA and draft away from the playoffs.

chefboho
chefboho
5 years ago

Agreed. If you would’ve told me that we would be 9-7 with the schedule we have and as bad as we looked early in the season, I’d be ecstatic. This team is in the up swing. When they’re healthy, they can compete with any one. It also shows our lack of depth which could prove costly. If we can get one more good draft and a free agent or two, we really could make some noise in the NFL. Nothing but happy mondays when the bucs win.

e
e
5 years ago

This is the magic that Bucs fans will get to experience now for a long time; with a franchise QB, the Bucs are never going to be out of any game. I think a wild-card spot is going to be harder to clinch rather than winning the division outright. There is a lot of football left and anything can happen (injuries, teams with clinched playoff spots resting players, etc.). I don’t see them knocking out the Saints twice, but in any case… At least we know that the Bucs are indeed a team on the rise and my main question… Read more »

jongruden
jongruden
5 years ago

I predicted 6-10 or 7-9 before season and was looking spot on until I watched the game last night, they are playing with confidence now and they are putting pressure on the qb something they haven’t shown all season. this win could be the turning point of the season. I really liked the selection of Spence out of college more than Hargreaves like Mr Reynolds I need to boast about my predictions ha

scubog
scubog
Reply to  jongruden
5 years ago

Welcome back JonnyG. I was worried that you were starting to become more of a Cardinals fan. That is until the red birds look to be in decline since they defeated the Bucs in game 2.

Garv
Garv
5 years ago

I’m “predicting” this and this only. The Buccaneers will play one game at a time to win. They will end up where they end up a MUCH better team than they have been in years and even earlier this season. It’s about confidence and preparation, practice and team play, a belief in themselves. We have seen in over the course of the last three month and I believe we will see it from now on.

Horse
Horse
5 years ago

Garv has said it all. Go Bucs! One game at a time.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
5 years ago

Frankly, I’m more concerned now about the offense than the defense. The defense has finally geled, learned to play Coach Smith’s design and they are all learning to trust each other to play their spot – which was always the toughest challenge with both new coaches and a bunch of new players. The offense concerns me because we continue to suck in the red zone. We cannot always depend upon our defense to hold every offense to single digit points, so failing to get touchdowns when playing in the other team’s red zone can easily turn a win into a… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 years ago

Regarding red zone success: Just to put some numbers to it, for the season to date the Bucs rank 17th in the league in red zone scoring percentage at 55% .. but in the last three games – all wins! – we are down to 30th in the league at only 36%. The top 10 teams in the league are all at 62% or better. And to rub a little salt into the wound – the best red zone offense in the league is Tennessee, led by Marcus Mariota, at 72.5% in the red zone. If we play an average… Read more »

Matt
Matt
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 years ago

Great stats, with a few more games of having Dougy Fresh in (granted he doesn’t cough it up) Our RZ stats will improve. Mariotta has the luxury of a hungry DeMarco Murray and standout Henry in the game all year to take the edge off. He is laser accurate though, I’ll give him that, great wheels too.

AZ_BUC_FAN4LIFE
AZ_BUC_FAN4LIFE
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 years ago

Naplesfan….As I do understand some concern…..You are not taking into account that only the coach and the players know who should have been where. But given that and the fact that he only threw 9 times in the 2nd half and I would say the Team did pretty good. Also, they only went 3 and out twice. So they were moving the ball. Just not scoring. As for the pump fakes…..that is ole ole school football. Very seldom do they do that anymore unless its a dbl move by the receivers. Or the Qb changes his mind about the throw.… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  AZ_BUC_FAN4LIFE
5 years ago

The reason we don’t see a lot of pump faking in the NFL today is because most quarterbacks don’t hold the ball long in the pocket – they either get sacked or they throw it inside of 2,5 seconds or less after the snap. Jameis tends to hold the ball too long … he appears to hate to give up on any play. But if the QB is going to hold onto the ball a long time and stare down his receivers, then that is where the pump fake has a role. Note also that Jameis gets sacked a lot… Read more »

Matt
Matt
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 years ago

We’re a bad call away from a TD pass and not having to discuss a poor throw by Jameis. You are right, he has to place that ball back corner where only the Freak has a shot at it, or a fan with great seats.

stlbucsfan
stlbucsfan
5 years ago

Im so thankful Mike Smith kept tweaking the defense bc I knew he was the right guy to turn that unit around. This defense has never been without talent it has however lacked an identity. Our running game was much better with Pamphile back in the lineup and Jameis spreads the ball around just enough to keep teams honest on Evans. Good win, dont read the headlines just keep grinding fellas!

plopes808
plopes808
5 years ago

The past few weeks we have shown that we have a playoff caliber defense! Our offense sputtered out a bit against the tough Seahawks defense and needs to learn how to adjust a little better. I believe this is more of a coaching issue than a player one, but we could definitely use another receiving threat. Any word on Josh Huff? One more draft and FA and we should be in contention for years to come. Safety and pass rush WERE our weaknesses. My how times have changed in 3 weeks! We’re in for a wild ride folks…strap in and… Read more »

JasonOfthetower
JasonOfthetower
5 years ago

SR, weren’t you also talking about Mike Smith’s job security in the Fab 5 after the Falcons game? I could be wrong but I thought I remember reading that. In any event, the defense is finally figuring it out. If the Bucs can get their offense back on track in the red zone and start putting points on the board – look out, NFL! I want to see a strong finish from the Bucs, build on this and let the playoff chips fall where they may. Kansas City just got back on track against the Broncos, so that definitely won’t… Read more »

buddah
buddah
5 years ago

The Buccaneers have won three straight games outright as an underdog. Imagine that parlay if you can!!! However, it is very difficult to sustain the emotion that has carried them especially these last two weeks. The most difficult game left on the schedule is at San Diego because they were so high for this game. They are a more talented team than the Chargers, but there’s the long trip and San Diego has a team built much like the Buccaneers–a good running game and a hot quarterback prone to mistakes. Win at San Diego and I think they make the… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  buddah
5 years ago

Actually, I like that we’re playing the Boys on the road in mid-December… they’ll be looking ahead to home field advantage in the playoffs, maybe even resting some players (we helped cause that by beating the ‘Hawks yesterday!), and good chance they will take the Bucs for an easy out. We’re road warriors on top of all that. Should be a terrific game

fredster
fredster
5 years ago

I like our playoff chances if defense keeps playing like that. Chargers will be another tough but winnable game for sure. The offensive penalties need to get better, Winston is doing great getting away from pressure but couple forced balls into double coverage were not good, and our kicker if needed in close game is a total joke. What a clown. Anyways I’m just so happy as a fan! 3 games in a row best since 2012. Lets make it 4 and take it game by game and see where it all leads to. Funniest game been to in long… Read more »

scubog
scubog
5 years ago

I’m with you fredster. That was the most fun I’ve had at a “home” game in quite some time. So many high-fives my hands hurt. Of course, as a certified smart ass, I was giving it to the hoard of Seahawks fans the entire game. On the Winston INT in the endzone; when he released the ball Mike Evans was single covered but by the time the ball arrived another defender left his man and raced to the ball in the air. Of course we still have folks seeking out any flaw in the youngster. Can we please stop with… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  scubog
5 years ago

Sorry – you compare players to their peers, period. That’s the nature of sports competion. If you don’t like Winton-Mariota comparisons, then you are going to be disappointed for another decade or two because those two players were and will remain joined at the hip throughout their entire NFL careers … just as were Brady and Manning. It’s not a negative thing at all, but you do sound like a sour Nole who didn’t like the pre-draft competition with Mariota. Competition is good – it’s great. Great players love to compete against other great players. Jameis Winston loves to be… Read more »

RootsCrew
RootsCrew
5 years ago

As far as the INT goes, I was at the game and Winston was demonstrative toward Mike after the pick. It was a bad play call and worse execution, but it looked like Winston expected Evans to be somewhere different. Cam had to sky to grab the INT, so maybe Mike was supposed to be inside for a jump ball? Regardless, it was terrible all around. Dirk even mentioned he got greedy, instead of taking 5-7 yards and attempting the FG. RedZone efficiency is on the Coach AND the players. Two straight runs up the middle from the 12 was… Read more »