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 improved to 6-7 on the year with a 38-35 victory, and won its third straight game behind a record game from QB Jameis Winston, who accounted for five touchdowns. The Bucs already have a better record than they did over the last two years with three games left, and moved into second place in the NFC South division ahead of Carolina (5-8).
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Winston, Bucs Show Resiliency In Win
What a wild game for Jameis Winston. For the third time this season, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston has thrown an interception on his first pass of the game. The first came in London against Carolina and it happened again at Atlanta.
It happened again on Sunday in Tampa Bay’s 38-35 whacky win over visiting Indianapolis. And just like he did against the Falcons, Winston shook it off and kept firing.
In fact, Winston threw two more interceptions, including a pick-six that Colts linebacker Darius Leonard returned 80 yards for a touchdown – but shrugged them off and kept firing away.
“That’s just zone defense,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “He went back into zone defense, and he is a tall guy. Jameis thought he could get it over on the first one. He’s thrown over a bunch of linebackers, but Darius is a long guy with really good hands. A lot of linebackers can’t make that play, but he did. The other one was a cover-zero blitz. Breshad [Perriman] broke hot, Jameis thought he was hot but he didn’t pick it up properly. So, he threw the hot [route] just a little bit late and he picks it for six. Again, they go up 14 at that point and a lot of teams [would] collapse. Our guys don’t collapse. Our offense goes right back down and gets points and gets us back in the game.”
Winston fired away to the tune of a career-high 456 yards and four touchdown passes, including the game-winner to Breshad Perriman with 3:51 left in regulation. He also rushed for a touchdown, his first of the season – all while losing wide receiver Mike Evans to a hamstring injury on a 61-yard touchdown in the second quarter and playing with a “little bitty fracture” in his right thumb on his throwing hand in the second half.
“The grace of God,” Winston said. “He willed me through.”
For the third time in his career, Winston reached the 400-yard mark, and his 456 yards were the third-most in team history behind Vinny Testaverde’s 469 yards (at Indianapolis on 10/16/88) and Doug Williams’ 486 yards (at Minnesota on 11/16/80).
Despite his fifth pick-six this season and the fact that he has thrown 23 interceptions, which are by far the most in the league, Winston and the Bucs prevailed on Sunday and got their sixth win of the year to improve to 6-7. That’s meaningful because Winston and the Bucs showed a lot of resiliency – not just in Sunday’s win over the Colts, but also throughout the season.
This is a game that the Bucs of yesterday don’t win. They’re learning how to win and showed a ton of heart coming back from a 10-0 hole early in the first quarter, and other deficits of 10 points and 14 points throughout the game.
Tampa Bay won on Sunday not only because of Winston’s heroics, but also because the Bucs defense stepped up in the fourth quarter to hold Indianapolis without any points. Rookie middle linebacker Devin White continues to make plays, forcing a key fumble at the Tampa Bay 15-yard line when he hit running back Nyheim Hines to create the Bucs’ lone takeaway on defense. Rookie safety Mike Edwards had the recovery.
The Bucs defense also came up big with a three-and-out on the Colts’ next possession and again with a stop on fourth-and-2 at the 50-yard line on Indianapolis’ last offensive series.
“They are just getting better and better and the future is so bright for all of us because of them,” Arians said. “They’re not rookies in my opinion. They’ve played about 20 games now. It’s time for them to show what they are really made of and they are really showing it.”
STATEMENT 2: The 2019 Bucs Have Made Progress
Don’t look now, but if Tampa Bay wins out to get to 9-7 it will avoid a losing season for the third year in a row. That would also mean that the Bucs would have won six straight games, which has happened just one other time in franchise history (1999) and ended the season with possibly a ton of momentum heading into Bruce Arians’ second season in Tampa Bay in 2020.
At one point, the Bucs were 2-6 this year, but have won four of the last five games – including the last three games – and at 6-7 are now in second place in the NFC South ahead of the 5-8 Panthers and behind the 10-3 Saints, who have already clinched the division. Getting to six wins with three games to play is significant to a Bucs team that underachieved in each of the last two seasons, finishing 5-11 in both years.
While Tampa Bay was officially eliminated from playoff contention with a win by Minnesota, Arians’ first season with the Bucs is already a success of sorts, and will only get better with each win the team continues to accumulate as the 2019 campaign winds down.
Should the Bucs finish 9-7 that mark will look a lot different than the 9-7 record that Dirk Koetter put together in his first season as head coach in 2016. Koetter’s 9-7 record that year was a bit fluky despite a five-game winning streak down the stretch. The 2016 Bucs lost two of their last three games and didn’t end the season the way this year’s Tampa Bay team can in terms of momentum.
Some fans will lament that with each victory the Bucs achieve the lower Tampa Bay will pick in the 2020 draft, but that’s not what Arians cares about. After the team’s disastrous 2-6 start, the goal for this young Bucs squad over the second half of the season has been to learn how to win. Sunday’s come-from-behind victory over Indianapolis was another step in the right direction.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s huge because we didn’t play our best by any stretch of the imagination,” Arians said. “To still get a win, it builds the confidence. I talked to our team last night. I did not think that our team had a great week of practice. I thought we were all of a sudden resting on laurels that we don’t have. We don’t have any laurels to rest on. It kind of came out that way in the first half, but that’s why you play 60 minutes. They were able to regroup and get some things said and done and go back and win the ball game in the second half.”
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Are These Victories Considered “Quality Wins?”
Yes. The Bucs have improved to 6-7 by not only winning three games in a row, including Sunday’s 38-35 win over the Colts, but also by being victorious in four of the team’s last five games. Doubters or non-believers will point to the fact that most of the teams the Bucs have beaten this year have losing records.
And they’re right.
Carolina Panthers (5-8)
Los Angeles Rams (7-5)
Arizona Cardinals (3-9-1)
Atlanta Falcons (4-9)
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)
Indianapolis Colts (6-7)
But isn’t the goal in football to win the winnable games – to beat the beatable opponents?
Yes, that’s what the Bucs have done more often than not this year. Two of Tampa Bay’s seven losses this year are to New Orleans (10-3), in addition to Seattle (10-2) and San Francisco (11-2). Tennessee (8-5) has also gotten hot since beating Tampa Bay and is challenging for a playoff spot.
Some of these Bucs losses were close, such as the overtime defeat to the Seahawks, and there is no shame for a young Bucs team – with a new coaching staff and the hardest travel schedule perhaps in NFL history – losing to upper echelon teams that will most likely win divisions and make the playoffs.
The Bucs’ worst loss of the season was without question to a bad Giants team (2-10) that played against rookie quarterback Daniel Jones in his first NFL start. Tampa Bay was up 18 points at halftime and collapsed in the second half with rookie kicker Matt Gay missing what would have been a 34-yard game-winner.
The Bucs’ other loss this year to a losing team was to Carolina (5-7) in London by 11 points – despite a minus-six turnover margin in that game. So Tampa Bay shouldn’t be knocked for winning games against similar or lesser opponents. That’s what the Bucs – and all NFL teams – are supposed to do.
Of course, Tampa Bay will have one last chance to get another real “quality” win this year, and that comes against Houston (8-5) in two weeks at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs’ final two opponents of the season are at Detroit (3-9-1) next Sunday and at home against Atlanta (4-9) in the season finale.
“We’re on a streak – we’re hot,” said Bucs tight end O.J. Howard. “We knew what was at stake. We knew we had an opportunity. We were in the [playoff] chase or whatever, so we had no choice but to win every game from here on out. And we don’t control all the scenarios. It’s not all in our hands, but the least we can do is win and do our part. I think the team understands that.”
QUESTION 2: Is Watson Making A Run For The 3rd WR Role?
Yes. The Bucs were without the services of top target Mike Evans after he hauled in a 61-yard touchdown and hurt his right hamstring in the process, and that meant that Breshad Perriman moved up a slot into the starting role opposite Chris Godwin and paved the way for Justin Watson to get more playing time. The Bucs were already thin at wide receiver with Scotty Miller missing his second straight game with a hamstring injury, but Watson stepped up in a big way on Sunday.
Watson, the team’s fifth-round pick in 2018, was already featured in a prominent role coming into Sunday’s game as the team’s punt returner due to T.J. Logan’s broken thumb, which happened at practice on Friday. It turned out he would be also be counted on offensively against Indianapolis, too.
Watson entered the game with one reception for 13 yards on the year, and had two catches for 21 yards in the first half before catching three more passes for 39 yards and his first career touchdown in the second half. He finished the game with a career-high five catches for 59 yards and a TD.
“Shout out to J-Wat though, for real,” Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said. “He last minute [became the] starting punt returner. Second quarter, Mike goes down, now [he’s] got to be the starting Z [receiver]. So, that was tough for him, but he stepped up in a big way.”
Watson also made a huge play by stripping a would-be interception away from Colts defensive back Pierre Desir early in the fourth quarter.
With Evans likely out of the rest of the season, and Miller’s status for next week’s game uncertain, Watson will emerge as Tampa Bay’s third wide receiver by default. But given his big game on Sunday, Watson deserves the promotion, and he could make a run at securing the No. 3 spot on the depth chart next year with a strong finish to the 2019 campaign.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Evans Is Done For The Year
The Bucs really hope star wide receiver Mike Evans isn’t done for the year, but it looks like that’s the case. Hamstring strains/tears are typically three- to six-week injuries. With his one catch for a 61-yard touchdown, Evans now has 67 receptions for 1,157 yards with eight touchdowns.
Not only would this injury affect Evans’ chances of making back-to-back Pro Bowls, more importantly, it hurts Tampa Bay’s of winning the team’s remaining three games against at Detroit as well as home games against Houston and Atlanta due to how vital Evans is to the Bucs offense. Evans’ injury also negative affects quarterback Jameis Winston in his quest to get a contract extension – or at least the franchise tag – and remain in Tampa Bay, as he has been Winston’s primary target for the past five years.
Third-string wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who had three catches for 70 yards and the game-winning touchdown on Sunday against the Colts, moves into the starting lineup and must step up his game down the stretch. Look for the Bucs to incorporate tight ends O.J. Howard, who had four catches for 73 yards on Sunday, and Cameron Brate, who had four catches for 30 yards and one score, more into the game plan as a receiver in the coming weeks, and Chris Godwin will have to prove he can be a No. 1 receiver despite drawing double-teams down the stretch.
PREDICTION 2: Bucs Will Set The Franchise Record For Most Points Scored
Don’t look now, but head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich have taken Tampa Bay’s offense to new heights this year. Not only did the Bucs score a franchise-record 55 points in a Week 4 win at Los Angeles – of which the offense scored 48 points – but Tampa Bay is averaging over 28 points per game this season, which is the best average in team history. The Bucs rank fourth in scoring and fifth in total yards (380.4 ppg).
Entering Sunday’s contest against Indianapolis, the Bucs had scored 340 points through 12 games. Then Tampa Bay added 38 more in the victory. Now the Bucs have 378 points with three games left, and are just 19 points away from overtaking the franchise record of 396 that was set last year. Tampa Bay seems destined to do that next week at Detroit, and the team will all but certainly eclipse the 400-point plateau for the first time since the Bucs’ inception in 1976.