Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.

Sikkema’s Stat of the Week

“You’re sitting around and you get that call… I’ve gotten that call.”

-Bucs head coach Bruce Arians

On December 21, 2003, Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre got that call. His father passed away after suffering a heart attack while driving his car in Mississippi.

I can’t imagine what that was like. Not just because of where they were in the football calendar, as the 8-6 Packers were right in the middle of a big playoff push. But also due to where we were in the yearly calendar. It was four days before Christmas. The spirit of family was all around, and yet in an unexpected instant, it would be a Christmas the Favre family would never forget in a tragic way.

But that wasn’t where the story ended. That wasn’t all that made that Christmas and that tragic event one they’ll never forget.

In a situation that can only be described as unfair for anyone to have to go through, Favre had a decision to make. His team would be playing on Monday Night Football in just over 24 hours. If Favre would have left the team to go be with his family, as they mourned his father’s passing, no one would have thought any less of him for it — in fact, his team would have all been there with him, too, in spirit. But Favre decided that, in times of heartbreak, it’s not just your immediate family that you cling close to. Favre instead reached for his other family.

His football family.

“For about five minutes there was some indecision on whether or not I was going to play,” Favre said. “It didn’t take long for me to say, ‘You’ve got to play in this game.’”

As the lights of primetime shined bright, the world watched as Favre walked onto that field with a heavy heart. Millions around the world were not only watching the game but simultaneously sending their thoughts, prayers and love to a man who had given them so much joy over the years through the game of football.

Favre felt it. You just know he did.

From the very first deep pass in the first quarter to wide receiver Robert Ferguson, you could tell this night had the chance to be special. That pass to Ferguson set up a roll-out to Favre’s left where he found tight end Wesley Walls in the corner of the end zone for a 22-yard score.

After the catch Walls said he went up to Favre and simply said to him, “I love you.”

What a moment.

Photo: Getty Images

Favre went on to have a game he and everyone who watched, in person or around the world, would never forget. After starting the game a perfect 9-for-9 passing, Favre threw for 311 passing yards and four passing touchdowns in just the first half (both career bests). His Packers went on to defeat the Raiders 41-7.

But he didn’t just do it for the win. He did it for something more.

“I knew that my dad would have wanted me to play,” Favre said. “I love him so much, and I love this game. It’s meant a great deal to me, to my dad, to my family, and I didn’t expect this kind of performance. But I know he was watching tonight.”

As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field last Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, they did it with a heavy heart. Less than 24 hours before the game, the team was notified that the father of general manager Jason Licht had passed away unexpectedly. Licht did not travel with the team.

Though the media was not told this news until an hour before kickoff, even if we weren’t told until after the game, we would have been able to notice something was different. From the very first drive, quarterback Jameis Winston looked like he was playing for something more than just a win. Winston’s 385 yards passing and four touchdowns was a performance that went down in the history books, as Winston became the only Bucs quarterback to ever have three games of 300 yards and four touchdowns in a career with the franchise.

But it wasn’t just Winston and his stellar performance that stood out. Offensive lineman Ryan Jensen, who was questionable all week, played in the game and centered an O-Line that might have had the best game we’ve seen from any Tampa Bay front in years, and all while facing one of the best in the game in defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Wide receiver Chris Godwin was banged up all week, as well. How did he respond come game time? Godwin gutted out a 12-catch, 172-yard, two-touchdown performance, and became the first receiver to catch 12 first downs in one game since 2012.

But more than the stats of the stars and the toughness of those who were game-time decisions was the fight of this team — the heart.

I had seen this story before. The Bucs offense gets off to a hot start, but the entire game all you can think is, “we know how this is going to end.” So many times over the last few years the Bucs have taken a quick lead just to squander it and come up short.

So many times.

But not this time.

After going up 21-0 quickly in the first half, the Bucs let the Rams go on a 14-0 run to bring the game within seven. But instead of folding under pressure with their backs against the wall, they rose to the occasion, controlling the ball and the clock, and extending their lead with a touchdown in response. Later in the game, after taking a commanding 45-27 lead, the Rams scored two unanswered touchdowns, the last being a pick-6 off Winston to bring the score to 45-40 in the fourth quarter.

You don’t have to hide it, Bucs fans, I know what you all were thinking in that moment.

“Same old Bucs.”

But not this time.

This time there was something pushing them. Something that told each one of those players that enough was enough. That the choking, the lost leads, the missed opportunities after all these years; it all stopped here. In that moment, it didn’t look like they were just playing for themselves or even just one win. It looked like they were playing for more.

On 1st-and-20 down 48-40 with just over a minute to go in the game, Rams quarterback Jared Goff dropped back to pass. But as quickly as he could secure the ball to throw, Bucs defensive end Shaq Barrett poked it away, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh picked it up, took off with the ball, and seconds later the scoreboard showed 55 points for the victorious Buccaneers, something that had never been done before.

Bucs GM Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians
Bucs GM Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

After the game everyone we spoke to was emotional; the players, the coaches, the staff. That win took a lot out of them, but it was what was in them that mattered most. After the game the team FaceTime Licht in the locker room to give him the game ball. They may have been playing with the ball on the field, but they were playing with Licht and his family on their minds and in their hearts. It was only right that those two things would be joined after the victory.

After the game I sent Licht a text myself, sending him my deepest condolences, as well as my thoughts, prayers and love to him and his family. Licht said he was humbled by the outpouring he and his family received throughout the day, and that he knows his dad was beaming up in heaven watching that Buccaneers win.

I’m sure you all were beaming as well.

Licht said that his dad left this place doing what he loves; watching Nebraska football surrounded by his loved ones. Licht also said his dad was his best friend. When I spoke to Licht I told him that my father and I share a similar bond. My dad taught me everything I know. I wouldn’t be here without him. Licht echoed that, too.

For many of these Buccaneer players, they wouldn’t be here without Licht. They may not be blood, but the bond is all the same. He’s taken a chance on them and believed in them. That’s why when you saw the players take that field on Sunday, they were doing it for their family — their football family. They were doing it for the Lichts.

Whether it’s football or anything else, I believe that the love we spread and share goes beyond just what happens here — beyond even life itself. It’s the only way I can explain performances like the one we saw from Favre many years ago, the one we saw from the Buccaneers on Sunday, and many other inspiring events that transcend the sports we watch and play in amazing ways.

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Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: [email protected]

31 COMMENTS

  1. The secondary HAS to tighten up, that’s a given. But with more experience and coaching for the young pups I believe the secondary will right itself (especially with Smith coming back). Besides that it’s only injuries that can keep us out of the playoffs imo.

    JW is getting better each week in this new system so I expect to see the scoreboard light up a little bit more as well, which will help our defense no doubt.

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  2. I like our trajectory, but there are too many games left, the possibility of injuries and Carolina and Atlanta are not as bad as they have been playing. Just keep playing this brand of Buc Ball and we will get there.

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    Rating: +16. From 16 votes.
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  3. Atlanta stinks. They will finish last. Poor coaching decision to change both coordinators. They are very poor defensively and have virtually no running game. Sound Familiar?

    Football Outsiders has just published their after Week 4 ratings based on DVOA analytics. The Buccaneers are ranked sixth! They are 10th in offense and 6th on defense, first in run defense. DVOA is not impressed by teams that accumulate big yardage while trailing the whole game by nearly double-digits. Most of the sports world are seeing the win against the Rams as fluke. But not analytics. Meanwhile, the schedule gets much easier between now and the end of the season. This is not a must win this week , but psychologically it could really make a huge difference.

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    • I disagree. Beating the Saints is a must-win. This is the time to capitalize on Brees being out and to secure another divisional win. The Saints are holding their own with Brees out, when he comes back he will be a terror and could win out. The Bucs snagging 1st in the NFC South this coming Sunday is huge. And it might give them confidence to sweep Carolina the following Sunday. Going into the bye at 4-2 with 3-0 in the division and top of the NFC South, the playoffs start looking like a real possibility.

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      Rating: +15. From 15 votes.
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      • I sort of agree. Winning in NO against the Saints would be another huge boost of confidence for this young team, and continue momentum heading across the pond to London next week. Is it a do or die situation? No, because the Bucs know they can beat Carolina and bring themselves back to .500 if they lose this coming Sunday, and their schedule gets somewhat easier from there.

        I’ll be really impressed with this team and the coaching staff if the Bucs, coming off of a huge, emotional victory in LA a few days ago, gets back to business and goes into the Saints stadium, and steals another win on the road.

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        Rating: +3. From 3 votes.
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        • Bucs are tied in the series 4-4 with New Orleans since Jameis joining the team. Bucs have won in New Orleans the last 3 out of 4 times there except in 2016 when they lost in New Orleans but beat the Saints in Tampa.

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  4. If the Bucs can emerge .500 after this crazy long road trip this month they have a shot.

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    Rating: +16. From 16 votes.
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  5. I didn’t get that vibe from Sundays game at all. IMO they weren’t playing for Licht dad, but it’s a nice story I guess. We won the game because we kept the peddle to the floor for 4 quarters. It was more about the coaches than the players.

    We know our limitation and the D kept the pressure on the line while O did it’s part. It was a team game and the team rallied to help out our struggle secondary by doing what we knew we could do. As opposed to hoping the noobish secondary would just handle it, only as strong as your weakest link. In time I’m confident the secondary will improve, it’s not physical limitation like in years past.

    If we take it to the Saints and win this weekend, we will have turned a corner I think. In any case I think we will learn a lot from next weeks game. The Saints are wounded but playing hard right now.

    I even had mixed feeling about the Saints win to the Cowboys, in the end I hate the Cowboys more then our standing in the division. The drought in the playoff has led me to supporting the division once we are done and it’s hard not to appreciate the Saints, Brees is just a class act.

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  6. So yes, bring out the p-word. That last run you showed was really professional. Could have gone out-of-bounds, but stayed in, used clock, and gained additional yardage. The trajectory of this team is pointing up. But they are young. May be youngary, but can they keep their motivation?

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    Rating: +12. From 12 votes.
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    • I hoping that run represents one more result of superior coaching. There is so much that goes into winning performers who collectively make up winning teams.

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      Rating: +8. From 8 votes.
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  7. They’ll go to the playoffs if they win all their road games and sneak in a couple of home wins.

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    Rating: +9. From 11 votes.
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  8. Consistency is the watchword. I heard something on a Bucs podcast today that I believe suns up the current Bucs: they are good enough to beat anybody, and bad enough to lose to anybody.

    Winning the next two games changes that conversation.

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    Rating: +23. From 23 votes.
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    • Yep. No team scares me…except for Tampa. I think they can be competitive with just about anyone if the right team is playing.

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      Rating: +5. From 5 votes.
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  9. The secondary worries me a bit just dont think VH3/ Davis combo is very good but the worst part about the secondary is Mj Stewart, slot corners are supposed to be fast or at least quick he is neither and not very instinctual. My hope is ryan Smith comes back and goes to the outside and they put VH3 in the slot where he belongs and is actually really good

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    Rating: +9. From 13 votes.
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  10. They can win against anyone now can’t they? That has to be the mentality and the blueprint to get past the Rams is the way it’s possible. They can’t get too cute. They can’t play scared. There can’t be let up on the offensive side of the ball just full steam ahead at all times. They can beat anyone and they can lose to anyone. The only way to win is to score more than the other team and with this offense opened up there aren’t many teams out there that can keep up. Go Bucs!!

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    Rating: +9. From 9 votes.
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  11. whoa lets slow down, i just wanna see this team take these road games one at a time stack some wins then win some home games lets enjoy this cause were usually not so optimistic around this time of the year. then will talk about playoffs, but this really is a good sign and exciting to watch. may the good lord bless us with a breakout season!

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    Rating: +8. From 12 votes.
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  12. It really is Any Given Sunday.

    I think we’re still a ways from being a real threat to the top teams – our secondary is plain awful, we make far too many mistakes all over the offense and defense, and we lack a killer instinct to put games away when we have a chance (e.g., letting the Rams hang around to the end) – but we’re certainly in the mix in our division.

    The next two games are huge.

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    Rating: -4. From 14 votes.
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    • “..we lack a killer instinct to put games away when we have a chance”

      What the hell do you think that strip sack was with a minute remaining in the game???

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      Rating: +4. From 4 votes.
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  13. We still got plenty of issues on Defense. The offensive line is one injury away from being crippled.

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    Rating: -3. From 9 votes.
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  14. If they take the next 2 games then I’ll be open to talking the playoffs. This secondary has to improve. And the rest of the pass rush outside of Shaq need to start waking up as well. The offense has the skill position players to stack up against any defense in the league, including our running back. Our QB and offensive line need to prove they can be consistent.

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    Rating: +5. From 5 votes.
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  15. I can see us being 9-6 and missing the playoffs due to the Giants disaster. But it will be trending in the right direction for next year. Go Bucs!

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    Rating: +6. From 8 votes.
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  16. It’s time to acknowledge bounce-back RB Ronald Jones who is on pace for 200 carries for 936 yards and four touchdowns this season. Yesterday’s effort says there may be more. Jones is not fumbling, he’s catching balls out of the backfield, he’s picking up his blocks, and he’s battling for yards after the catch – all things he was drafted in the 2nd round to do.

    Jones had two big runs called back because of penalties Sunday against the Rams which would have made his day even more impressive. Peyton Barber has been solid, but is it time for Jones to assume the RB1 role? The Bucs do not have to make this decision right away as long as Jones continues to get his touches. But transitioning to the starting gig might improve Jones’ confidence and feel for the game. Jones has now shown he has a high ceiling. It’s now up to Bruce Arians to decide whether Jones will get a true bellcow opportunity. Go Bucs!

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    Rating: +16. From 16 votes.
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  17. Playoffs are possible, we just have to have a better record than 3 other teams. It’s not an impossible task with the way we are playing right now.

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    • That and Atlanta looks like trash. Carolina is hanging tough but they won’t last. Their injuries are piling up. The Saints aren’t going to fade. They are a 12 win football team. We have to beat them this weekend. It’s a must win game after we just won a must win. I hope we aren’t emotionally drained after this win. We cannot have a hangover.

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      Rating: +7. From 7 votes.
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  18. We are really getting ahead of ourselves if we are talking playoffs.  How many teams have you seen come out of the first half of the season at 5-3 or 6-2  then crash back to earth.  Sometimes even not making the playoffs at all.

    Most teams will not peak until the second half of the season, the end of November or into December sometime.  If you want to make a run for the Super Bowl you need to have momentum going into January.  Look what happened to New Orleans last year.  It could be argued that they peaked to early and fell off some.  They did not complete the run at the end they probably thought they would have some time during the season.

    The better teams will build momentum all during the season and with luck be at their best at the end of the regular season.  

    We have obvious problems with our very young secondary.  These guys are a long way from where they need to be by the end of the season.  There may well be a different configuration of guys back their starting by then.

    Also our designated MLB is out with injuries.  As a rookie with such a great responsibility put on his shoulders he is missing valuable experience as the defensive play caller.  I don’t care how smart he is or how much raw talent he has, he needs all the reps he can get from these early season games.

    I am sure others can raise more red flags based on  what they see.
    ______________
    Go Bucs!!!  Beat the Saints!

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  19. ROJO has always stumped me. I watched a lot of tape on him before we drafted him and I was convinced that he was a steal in the 2nd round. I couldn’t imagine that he simply forgot how to run.
    Whatever they did to turn him around, if BA has just this one victory in transforming ROJO into a starting quality NFL running back it will be huge for the Bucs.

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    Rating: +8. From 8 votes.
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  20. I never once said Jones was a bust. This O line was putrid last year. Yes He also was hesitant but with no holes not sure would made much difference last year. Anyways my point I’m not surprised he is looking this good at all. Coaching sucked too last year. Starting to see that is a fact and it may been worse than we even thought. Falcons and offense especially look like crap under Koetter.

    As far as playoffs. I hope Bucs stay completely focused on each week and finding ways to win. With the young secondary struggling other phases will have to play fairly mistake free and offense will need to keep rolling. O line is thin and will have to stay injury free. Bucs have had horrible luck with everything last few years so makes sense possibly time for some good luck. Lol.

    That said with way takeaways are happening and the pass rush being good with Barrett, and Winston and offense on a streak, I think they have as good chance as anyone to win this division. The Panthers and Falcons aren’t good. The Saints will drop some games and will see if Brees returns on time and doesn’t have rust.

    Go Bucs!

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    Rating: +6. From 6 votes.
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  21. Yeah, I do not understand why the narrative is that Rojo “wasn’t good” last year. I watched every run closely. The Line was poorly coached obviously, cause it is night and day of a difference. He can get the ball without being hit in the backfield immediately. It is amazing what a change in coaching staff can do..

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  22. ROJO is performing at a high level. It is great to see!

    It is a bit premature to discuss playoffs but I am excited in the trajectory that this Team is on. There are some hurdles in front of them that are very challenging. Do you think that if we had beat the Giants that would have been up to the task of beating the Rams? Would we have been reading our own press clippings?

    I think the way it has played out has worked in our favor. I hope they keep this going because it is damn sure exciting….FINALLY!!!

    Go Bucs!

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  23. I like Jones as a closer with fresh legs.

    Barber makes a great physical grinder.

    Two-fer.

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  24. TBH I don’t recall anyone calling RoJo a “bust” last year (albeit Mark Cook seems to admit that he did). I recall a lot of people being disappointed….but mostly disappointed that he wasn’t getting to play, and assuming that he must be struggling in practice and thereby sitting on the bench for games. Maybe that’s true, maybe not….but again, I really don’t recall anyone claiming he was a “bust”. I recall also a lot of talk that Licht struggles with 2nd round picks (no [email protected]#$ Sherlock) and that Licht really needs RoJo to come around to help with his track record in the draft (which is still abysmal). But again, all i heard was “disappointing year for RoJo – we need to give him more than 30 touches in 2019 so that we can determine whether or not he’s a bust”…and that’s the opposite of claiming he was a bust….but maybe you guys were reading something elsewhere.

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