Welcome to my weekly post-game column, where I’ll take a look at the moment(s) the game turned either in favor or against the Buccaneers. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive look at all the reasons the Bucs won or lost, but instead the key moment or two where things went north or south for the team.
Thank God the league is now allowing players to read Twitter on the sideline, otherwise we may never have had Week 10’s Game-Changer moment.
You just can’t play Ronald Jones anymore. Few players have hurt their team more than he has this year
Once Ronald Jones saw this tweet, following his fumble on the first drive of the game, it was a wrap for the Panthers defense. Fully motivated, Jones’ 23 carries for 192 yards and a touchdown punctuated a big day for the Bucs offense, which rolled a weak Carolina defense en route to a 46-23 victory.
On the Bucs second play from scrimmage, Tom Brady hit Ronald Jones on an angle route across the middle of the field, but the Bucs third-year running back was stripped from behind by Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson. The Panthers recovered and marched to an early 7-0 lead on the short field.
For Jones, who has fumbled three times this season (one dropped handoff was credited to Tom Brady, but was Jones’ fault), dropped four passes, misplayed several others and been historically bad at the running back position in the passing game, it sure looked like it would be the final straw for a player who has seen his playing time decrease each of the past three weeks.
Jones dropped a wide-open screen pass in Week 7, then sat while Leonard Fournette dominated the snaps. Then in Week 8, Jones’ early fumble helped give the Giants an early lead and nearly cost the team in a close game.
There is not a single player at any position in our database since 2014 who ran at least 12 routes per game, got targeted more than 25% of the time but less than 1 yard per route run.
When poor ball security reared its’ ugly head again in Week 10, it seemed a foregone conclusion that head coach Bruce Arians’ would have seen enough. Instead, Arians’ had Jones in on the very next play, and rode him heavily on the way to a 23-point win.
The Game-Changer moment occurred midway through the third quarter, with the Bucs backed up at their own two-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Jones raced through a wide open A-gap thanks to key blocks from A.Q. Shipley and Ryan Jensen, then shook off free safety Tre Boston’s tackle attempt to race 98 yards to the end zone.
The longest run of Jones’ career, the splash play put the Bucs up 26-17, giving them their first comfortable lead of the game. From that point on the victory was never really in doubt, as the Bucs manhandled Carolina on both sides of the ball for the final quarter-and-a-half.
Ronald Jones II, now at 192 yards, has tied Errict Rhett (192 on 12/4/94) for the fifth-most single-game rushing yards in Buccaneers franchise history.
Most of Jones’ damage did come on one play, as his other 22 carries went for 94 yards, which is still a solid day. But it was his big play that broke the game wide open, putting the Bucs in position to control the rest of the contest and cruise to 7-3 heading into Week 11.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft