If we win one in Washington, that’s two in a row. We win one in Atlanta it’s called a winning streak.
It HAS happened before.
Those movie lines are tweaked to fit, but the sentiment still feels appropriate after another palm-to-face kind of start to a season.
Stringing together wins hasn’t happened since Tampa Bay picked up three of their total four all in a row midway through the 2013 season. The last time Bucs fans enjoyed watching multiple consecutive wins in the same season was 2010 when Tampa Bay won two straight four different times. That was also the organization’s last above-.500 campaign and double-digit win season, finishing 10-6.
Getting to three straight will be a challenge considering Atlanta’s red-hot start. Let’s start smaller. Head coach Lovie Smith needs to get a team in Tampa Bay to two straight before he can start thinking three. Plus, picking off Washington on the road for a second straight year? That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
SPEAKING OF STREAKS
The well-documented 11-game home losing streak is dead, but so is another not-so-flattering run.
Tampa Bay entered Sunday having turned the ball over on offense at least once in 25 straight games. Chronic carelessness when it comes to ball security is usually a red flag that a team isn’t doing very well on the scoreboard from week to week.
The Bucs did get a little fortunate when quarterback Jameis Winston’s knee was ruled down before he absentmindedly tried to throw the ball away as he was being sacked, but they got away with one and ended with a zero in the turnover column.
Plenty more turnovers are yet to come with 11 games left on the regular season schedule. As long as they’re not lumped together in one three-hour stretch like last week’s five against Carolina, the Bucs’ chances to play competitive, winning football will only improve.
LESS IS MORE
Piggy-backing off that topic, this is the second time in five career games Winston jogged into the locker room flashing that toothy grin after a victory.
Both games required the rookie dropping back to pass less, not more, and both results included zero interceptions thrown. Winston completed 14 of 21 passes Week 2 in New Orleans and 13 of 19 yesterday against Jacksonville.
The 21 passes thrown in New Orleans represented 35.6 percent of Tampa Bay’s 59 total offensive snaps. Just 31.1 percent of the Bucs’ offensive play calls (19 of 61) ended in pass attempts. Those numbers are compared to pass attempt totals of 33, 36 and 43 during losses to Tennessee, Houston and Carolina, respectively.
Limiting the frequency of Winston’s pass attempts reaching into the mid-30s and beyond is what the coaching staff has been talking about wanting to do since training camp. Doing it also requires keeping opponents from jumping out to big, early leads. That’s on Winston, though, too. It’s not like he hasn’t put the offense in some tough situations because of early gaffes.
What happened to Mike Evans, the dynamic playmaker?
The second-year pro turned in another ho-hum game after Week 2’s effective yet inefficient seven-catch, 101-yard day in Houston. Even with those nice-looking numbers, Evans still only secured 41.2 percent of his 17 targets.
Last year’s 1,000-yard pass catcher has caught three balls in both of the past two games on 13 total looks from Winston.
Neither of yesterday’s incompletions Sunday was considered a drop. The first came on an underthrown Winston pass with Evans streaking down the sideline behind Jaguars cornerback Davon House. The second came late in the third at the front of the end zone with House on him tighter this time.
Coming down with either ball would have required making a difficult, skillful grab. But that’s what this team needs Evans and fellow wideout Vincent Jackson to do at times. Not just catch the uncontested, perfectly thrown balls. Get aggressive, battle for the reception and prove that they’re impact NFL receivers.
Both of the incompletions to Evans also dropped to the turf in the red zone on drives that ultimately led to Connor Barth field goals.
Going back to the earlier point that the offense will be best served with Winston throwing fewer passes means the success rate on throws to Evans and Jackson needs to improve since the opportunities would also be less.
B-A-R-T-H SPELLS RELIEF
Kickers are kind of like offensive linemen in the sense that fans just don’t want to hear about them.
That’s because unless they’re doing exceptionally well, they’re probably shanking balls left and right and that’s why attention’s going their way.
Hopefully for Bucs fans, mentions of Connor Barth’s name drop back down to normal kicker levels as he steadies that element of this team. That being said, it was a huge relief seeing a familiar face and veteran run out and nail all his field goal and long extra point attempts. Tampa Bay was playing with fire by trying to go back-to-back years with inexperienced rookie kickers and the team got burned quickly this season.
Barth also did a good job starting to put to rest all the questionable pregame chatter about his supposed inability to handle kickoff duties by registering touchbacks on five of his eight attempts. Expanding that same touchback success rate of 62.5 percent throughout the rest of the year would have ranked Barth fifth in the league last season against all other teams’ rates.
No one is going to boom every kickoff out of the end zone, though, and the Bucs’ coverage unit could tighten up a little. Jacksonville’s Corey Grant averaged 31.0 yards per return, including one to open the second half that he took out from 5 yards deep for 42 yards to the Jaguars 37.
That’s pretty much what the Bucs defense throws up when opponents get inside their 20.
No unit’s receiving more criticism heading into the bye week than the secondary, and for good reason. The middle of the field – an area extending from the second level all the way into the end zone – continues to be a damaging soft spot in this defense and it was again Sunday.
Linebackers must shoulder a share of blame at times depending upon situations and play-calling, but second-year Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles picked on Bucs cornerbacks and safeties all day while throwing for all four of his touchdowns while in the red zone.
Cornerback Tim Jennings had a forgettable afternoon all around and safety Bradley McDougald did record an athletic interception but was late on two touchdown passes over the middle, the first to Allen Hurns and the second to Allen Robinson. Bortles deserves credit for the Hurns score for threading a perfect pass between Jennings and McDougald, but McDougald and fellow saftey Major Wright pretty much stood back and watched Robinson’s post-route touchdown late in the first half.
Of Bortles’ four red-zone touchdowns, he extended one by rolling to his left and hitting a wide open T.J. Yeldon in the back of the end zone from 4 yards out. Targets can get lost when plays last that long and the pass rush can take a little heat for that one, but that’s about it. Tampa Bay sacked Bortles six times and registered a total of 11 hits on him throughout the day, meaning more often than not the pass rush was doing its job applying pressure.
The Bucs have surrendered 14 touchdowns in 19 red-zone trips (73.7 percent). Only Tennessee and Kansas City are easier to hang six on when teams have them backed up.