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. For the second straight week, Tampa Bay’s defense was the key to a 28-11 victory for the Bucs as the team recorded back-to-back for the first time this season. Bucs rookie inside linebacker Devin White had an interception and a scoop-and-score as Tampa Bay built a 25-0 halftime lead and never looked back as the team improved to 5-7.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: White Continues To Break Out For Bucs
It was day of firsts for Bucs rookie inside linebacker Devin White as he led his team to a 28-11 victory over the Jaguars in Jacksonville to help Tampa Bay win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
A week after White recorded the first two full sacks of his career against Atlanta, White notched his first career interception when he picked off Nick Foles on the Jaguars’ first drive in Jacksonville on Sunday. That interception led to an eight-play, 69-yard Bucs’ touchdown drive that was capped off by a 15-yard touchdown run by Peyton Barber to give Tampa Bay an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
But White wasn’t done. The rookie recovered his first fumble and scooped and scored from 14 yards out to give Tampa Bay a 15-0 lead after a successful two-point conversion run from Barber.
Some NFL draft pundits suggested that Tampa Bay should have drafted Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen instead of White. And through the first 11 games of the 2019 season, it looked like those pundits were right as Allen recorded eight sacks and two forced fumbles, and the rookie pass rusher added another sack and forced fumble on Sunday against Tampa Bay.
But after White returned to action from missing three games with a knee injury he’s become a tackling machine and a big-play producer for Tampa Bay’s defense. He’s lived up to his draft billing as the fifth overall pick, and over the past two weeks, White has been every bit the player that Allen has in terms of showing off his play-making ability.
White is really putting together quite the splash play stat sheet during his rookie campaign. Through 12 games this season, of which White has only played in nine, he’s posted 69 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, three passes defensed, one fumble recovery, one interception and one defensive touchdown.
STATEMENT 2: Tampa Bay’s Own Version Of Sacksonville
The Jaguars – also known as Sacksonville for their prowess of getting to the quarterback over the last couple of years – came into Sunday’s game with 34 sacks. But it was Tampa Bay’s defense that was getting to quarterback Nick Foles on Sunday in Jacksonville and racking up the sacks. The Bucs out-sacked the Jaguars five to four, and got to Foles so much that it forced a quarterback change at halftime.
A week after recording six sacks, an interception and a scoop-and-score in a 35-22 win at Atlanta, Tampa Bay’s defense turned in another spectacular effort a week later in Jacksonville. The Bucs defense forced three takeaways to end the Jaguars’ first three drives on Sunday.
Inside linebacker Devin White recorded an interception on the first drive, and then scooped up a fumble caused by a Shaquil Barrett sack and returned it 14 yards for a defensive touchdown – the Bucs’ second in as many weeks. Outside linebacker Carl Nassib sacked Foles in the second quarter and forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul also dropped Foles in the second quarter for Tampa Bay’s third sack of the first half. Pierre-Paul now has 3.5 sacks on the season.
Barrett entered the game with 12.5 sacks, which was tied for second in the league with Arizona’s Chandler Jones, but now has 14.5 after collecting two on Sunday, and has re-captured the NFL lead from New Orleans’ Cameron Jordan (13.5). Barrett was tied for the league lead with five forced fumbles entering the game and got his sixth on Sunday.
Nassib now has five sacks on the year and is just two away from topping last year’s career-high of 6.5 sacks, while Suh leads the Bucs with three fumble recoveries, including two for a touchdown. New outside linebacker Sam Acho even got into the action on Sunday, recording his first sack as a Buccaneer and giving Tampa Bay its fifth quarterback capture of the day.
With five sacks in Jacksonville on Sunday, Tampa Bay’s defense now has 33 on the year after recording 38 last year with four more games to go.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Has The Bucs Defense Turned The Corner?
Yes. Tampa Bay’s defense has become a takeaway machine in the last month as the Bucs have won three of their last four games. The defense has been the catalyst with 13 sacks, four forced fumbles, three interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns combined in those three victories.
Although Tampa Bay’s defense gave up 11 points in the second half after the Bucs opened up a 25-0 lead at halftime, the young unit made an important goal line stand that kept Jacksonville for making it a one-score game. The Bucs defense held the Jaguars out of the end zone for seven straight plays inside the Tampa Bay 8-yard line. Rookie cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting came up with a timely end zone interception in the fourth quarter that prevented the Jaguars from cutting Tampa Bay’s lead to 25-18.
The young Bucs secondary has played better over the last month, and held Jaguars quarterbacks Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew II to a combined 240 passing yards and just one touchdown. That’s a sign of progress, as is the fact that Tampa Bay held Jacksonville to just 11 points, which was the fewest amount of points the Bucs have surrendered this year.
QUESTION 2: Has Winston Turned The Corner?
Maybe. Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston had thrown at least two interceptions in each of the last three games – two of which were actually Tampa Bay wins, ironically – and was interception-free on Sunday in Jacksonville. While he didn’t throw a touchdown pass, Winston did make several big plays in the passing game, but he failed to get 300 yards passing for the seventh straight game, a franchise record he currently holds. Yet Winston, head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich would take a steady, efficient performance from the fifth-year quarterback in a win rather than a 300-yard game just for stats sake.
Winston started the game hot, completing 9-of-13 passes for 110 yards as the Bucs took an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter. At halftime, as Tampa Bay built a 25-0 lead, Winston had completed 15-of-25 passes for 212 yards. Winston was throwing downfield darts with impressive touch to wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end O.J. Howard in the first half.
Naturally, the fewer turnovers Winston has, the better chances the Bucs have of winning the game. Winston had just one, which came on a sack-fumble on a blindside hit. Winston had thrown eight interceptions in the three previous games combined, but was more in control and comfortable on Sunday in Jacksonville and finished the day completing 21-of-33 passes for 268 yards. More days like this from Winston should translate into more wins for the Bucs down the stretch. The more wins Winston helps produce the more and more likely he is to stay in Tampa Bay – at least for one more year with the franchise tag in 2020.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Barrett Breaks Sapp’s Single-Season Sack Record
Tampa Bay outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett notched two more sacks in Jacksonville on Sunday, raising his season total to 14.5, which leads the NFL. It’s crazy to think that Barrett needs just two more sacks to tie Warren Sapp’s single season-sack Bucs record of 16.5 set in 2000. With 2.5 sacks, Barrett would have 17 quarterback captures and would break Sapp’s record.
Barrett is on pace to end the season with 19 sacks and he has four games left to continue to take down quarterbacks and add to his totals. I don’t know if he gets to 19, but I think Barrett at least gets to 17 down the stretch to dethrone Sapp’s mark, which would be quite the feat.
PREDICTION 2: Bucs Win Three In A Row
Tampa Bay’s 28-11 victory in Jacksonville was the team’s first back-to-back winning streak all season, and with the way the Bucs have played lately – winning three of their last four games – they don’t appear to be done yet. Tampa Bay returns home next Sunday to host Indianapolis, which got off to a 5-2 start to the 2019 campaign, but has lost four of its last five games.
The Colts are now 6-6 on the season and appear to be quite beatable. With the way the Bucs defense is playing, don’t be surprised if Tampa Bay prevails in its next game at Raymond James Stadium and improves to 6-7 on the season by winning its third straight game.
One more win and the Bucs would show improvement over last year’s 5-11 record. That happens on Sunday in Tampa Bay.