Tampa Bay improved its record to 8-5 with another impressive outing by the Bucs defense in a 16-11 victory over the New Orleans Saints. The Bucs have won five in a row for the first time since the Super Bowl season in 2002, and are tied for the NFL’s longest winning streak due to Dallas’ 10-7 loss at the New York Giants on Sunday night. Tampa Bay’s impressive five-game road winning streak will be put to the test as the Bucs go on the road to face the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.
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.
TWO BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1. THAT’S 5 IN A ROW FOR THE STREAKANEERS
With Tampa Bay’s 16-11 win over New Orleans, the Bucs have won five straight games to improve to 8-5 on the season. That’s a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the Bucs won five straight games in 2002 – the year the team won Super Bowl XXXVII. Tampa Bay has only won five games in a row four other times in franchise history, including 2002, 1999, 1997 and 1979.
Believe it or not, the Bucs’ all-time record for consecutive wins is just six games, which was set in 1999. Tampa Bay has a chance to match that mark with an upset win at Dallas next week on Sunday Night Football.
In fact, Tampa Bay had a stretch where it won nine out of 10 games, including a Divisional Playoff game at home against Washington. The only loss during that stretch for the Bucs was a 45-0 shellacking at the hands of Jon Gruden’s Raiders in Oakland. Tampa Bay would go on to lose 11-6 to the St. Louis Rams in the NFC Championship Game.
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
The Bucs are thinking about the playoffs, knowing that they still control their destiny with three games left in the season and a chance to finish 11-5 if they win out.
“It’s in my mind, but going 1-0 [each week] is very important to us as a team,” Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, who didn’t score a touchdown for the first time in a game since before high school. “We’re not really trying to look forward. Coach [Todd] Monken says all the time, ‘Be where your feet are.’ We’ve got to keep winning. As long as we keep getting W’s, the playoffs are going to be in there.’’
The Cowboys lost at New York on Sunday night, ending their 11-game winning streak, which was the longest in the league, and have been swept by the Giants this season. Who is owner of the NFL’s current longest winning streak now? Why Tampa Bay – and 9-4 Detroit, of course.
“It’s the NFL, man,” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “The best teams in this league know how to win and lose and they find a way to win in times like this and we’re starting to figure that out a little bit. Complementary football, whatever happens with the offense, we adjust, defensively. Whatever we do, they adjust, offensively and special teams. So, we’ve just got to keep playing together.”
With the Falcons blasting the Los Angeles Rams, 42-14, Tampa Bay is tied for the lead in the NFC South with 8-5 Atlanta, but the Falcons currently have the tiebreaker. However, the Bucs are still in the playoff picture as the sixth seed behind the 9-4 Giants if the postseason started today.
STATEMENT 2: BUCS DEFENSE SIMPLY DOMINANT AT HOME
What’s the reason for Tampa Bay’s three-game winning streak at home? It’s been the dominant play by the defense. Tampa Bay has beaten Chicago, 36-10, Seattle, 14-5 and New Orleans, 16-11, over the last three games, allowing an average of just 8.6 points per game, and registering 11 sacks, eight interceptions, four forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.
The defense also scored a defensive touchdown on Chris Conte’s pick-six against the Bears and Robert Ayers’ safety against Chicago. Tampa Bay’s defense has scored 23 points this year, with all but seven of those points coming at home.
Bucs defense vs. Bears: 4 sacks, 3 FF, 2 FR, 2 INTs, 1 TD, 1 safety, 283 yards
Bucs defense vs. Seahawks: 6 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 FF, 1 FR, 245 yards
Bucs defense vs. Saints: 1 sack, 3 INTs, 294 yards
The Bucs defense has only allowed just one touchdown at home over the last three games, and held notable quarterbacks like Jay Cutler, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees in check. Neither the Bears, nor the Seahawks, nor the Saints reached 300 yards of total offense against the Bucs.
The two biggest Bucs defenders have been newcomers cornerback Brent Grimes and defensive end Robert Ayers. Ayers has 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a safety in the last three home games, while Grimes has two interceptions and three pass breakups in that span.
What has helped the Bucs defense out is the fact that Tampa Bay’s offense has played complementary football at home and only had three turnovers in the past three games. The Bucs didn’t have a turnover in Sunday’s win against the Saints and won the turnover margin 3:0. Over the last three home wins, the Bucs are plus-5 in the turnover margin.
TWO PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: HOW DOES THE BUCS’ FREE AGENT CROP SHAPE UP NOW?
During the first half of the season when the Bucs were 3-5, Jason Licht’s 2016 free agent crop looked underwhelming at best. Cornerback Brent Grimes had one interception in the first half of the season, 12 passes broken up and a couple of costly penalties. Defensive end Robert Ayers had just one sack, and a high ankle sprain cut into his production. Free agent guard J.R. Sweezy was out for the year due to an offseason back injury.
Bucs CB Brent Grimes – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
My how things have changed. In the Bucs’ five wins to start the second half of the season, Ayers has exploded for 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a safety. Over that same span Grimes has two interceptions, a forced fumble and five passes defensed.
Tampa Bay’s safeties – Chris Conte, Bradley McDougald and Keith Tandy, which were all re-signed from a year ago, combined for just one interception in the first eight games. That was McDougald’s interception at San Francisco in a blowout win.
Over the last five games, the safety position, which was once considered a weakness, has erupted for four interceptions in the last five games. Conte got the ball rolling against Chicago, his former team, with a pick-six. Then McDougald got back into the act with the game-clinching interception against Seattle. Tandy has had game-winning, fourth quarter picks in each of the last two games in victories at San Diego and against New Orleans.
Punter Bryan Anger and cornerback Josh Robinson, who were signed to one-year free agent deals, were just beginning to make noise in the first half of the season, but nothing like they are doing now. Anger has been an absolute weapon for the Bucs, downing several punts inside opponents’ 10-yard line, including kicks that set up Ayers’ safety against Chicago and linebacker Lavonte David’s pick-six at San Diego.
Robinson has been an ace gunner downing many of those Anger punts. Robinson’s special teams prowess has rubbed off on rookie safety Ryan Smith, who made a daring save on one of Anger’s punts, swatting the ball to rookie fullback Alan Cross just outside at the goal line against the Saints.
It’s taken awhile, but the newest Buccaneers are making Licht, director of player personnel John Spytek and Tampa Bay director of football administration Mike Greenberg, the team’s capologist, look good. And those free agent signings are playing a huge role in pushing the Bucs towards the playoffs.
QUESTION 2: CAN THE BUCS OFFENSE COME TO LIFE IN DALLAS?
While Tampa Bay’s defense and special teams deserve plenty of praise and accolades during the team’s five-game winning streak, Dirk Koetter’s inconsistent offense has become worrisome. Does this team have enough consistent cannon fire to make up for a non-Herculean day from Mike Smith’s side of the ball, or a sub-par day from punter Bryan Anger, especially on the road against an 11-2 Dallas team?
Tampa Bay’s five-game road winning streak will be put to the test against a Cowboys team that is looking to bounce back from a 10-7 defeat at the New York Giants. Dallas still has plenty to play for as a win against Tampa Bay can lock up home-field advantage and give the Cowboys a first-round bye in the playoffs.
If the Bucs are going to continue their winning ways and extend their streak to six straight wins on the road and in general, they’ll have to pick it up on the offensive side of the ball. Tampa Bay’s offense has gotten off to good starts in each of its last three games, scoring 24 combined points over the last three games in the first quarter, but has fizzled after that.
The Bucs offense did score 10 points in the second quarter after a 3-0 lead in the first against the Saints, but was held scoreless in the second quarter by San Diego and Seattle the previous two weeks. Even more worrisome is the fact that Tampa Bay’s offense has struggled to finish, scoring just 17 combined second half points against the Saints, Chargers and Seahawks combined.
After Sunday’s victory, Koetter took the blame for the offense’s inconsistency against the Saints.
“The main reason we’re leaving points on the field is the play-caller is not going a good enough job,” said Koetter, pointing the finger at himself.
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said the blame lies with the team’s offensive players.
“No, we didn’t (perform well),” Winston said. “We’re going to look back on this film and say, ‘A win is a win.’ Coach Koetter’s going to get after us. The coaches should get after us, because like Robert [Ayers] said, ‘We’re terrible.’ We’ve got to continue every week to get better and better. The offense, we have to play better for us to win football games.”
After 10 straight wins in which the Cowboys scored 24 points or more, Dallas managed just 17 points in a 17-15 win at Minnesota on Thursday Night Football two weeks ago. The 10 points the Cowboys scored in their loss to the Giants on Sunday was by far a season low. Outside of a 20-19 home loss to the Giants in Week 1, the fewest points scored by the Cowboys in Dallas has been 27 points.
Can the Bucs defense hold the Cowboys offense to under 20 points for a third straight week? Perhaps more importantly, can Tampa Bay’s offense score more than 20 points against a Dallas defense that has allowed that to occur just four times this year?
TWO BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: BUCS WILL FINISH WITH 10 WINS AND A WILD CARD SPOT
I’ve hit on a few predictions in recent 2-Point Conversion columns, from predicting a Thursday Night Football loss against Atlanta, to a road win at Kansas City and a home win against the Saints. I’ve also accurately predicted that the Bucs vs. Cowboys game would get flexed to Sunday Night Football, and that rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III would get his first NFL interception against Drew Brees and the Saints on Sunday.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston and head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
I wish my crystal ball painted a rosier picture for the Buccaneers and that they would win the NFC South title with an 11-5 record. That would mean three more wins to close out the year, and that Tampa Bay would end the regular season with an eight-game winning streak.
If the Bucs offense was more consistent I would go out on a limb with that forecast, but I have a gut feeling that this is a 10-win Tampa Bay team that will earn a wild card playoff spot in 2016. By the way, that was my original prediction for the season.
PREDICTION 2: TAMPA BAY WILL LOSE IN DALLAS
I hate to be the bearer of bad news – and I hope I’m wrong for the Bucs organization’s sake and for the sake of the team’s fan base and the PewterReport.com readers – but I think Tampa Bay’s five-game winning streak comes to an end in Dallas on Sunday Night Football. The Cowboys are coming off a loss to the New York Giants and still have everything to play for – locking up the NFC East, which became more difficult after getting swept by the Giants, securing a first-round bye and locking up home-field advantage for the playoffs.
Dallas’ offense hasn’t played well the last two weeks, scoring just 24 points, but it’s capable of much more and should rebound at home after two straight tough road games. The Cowboys also have more experience in big games in the national spotlight than the Bucs do. The last time Tampa Bay played before the nation in a prime time game it suffered a 43-28 embarrassment at home to the division rival Atlanta Falcons.
Can the Bucs win in Dallas? Yes, this team has proven to be quite formidable on the road, evidenced by five straight victories away from Raymond James Stadium. But I don’t think it’s going to happen and the Cowboys will show why the are the best team in the NFC at the Bucs’ expense Sunday night.