I’m sure it wasn’t easy for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers players and coaches to watch the rest of the NFL play their opening games last week while they had to wait in the uncertainty of Hurricane Irma. A wait can either make you lose focus or gain focus, and after the Bucs big time home opening win against the Chicago Bears, 29-7, it’s clear that their early Bye Week was to their aid.
That focus was hinted at before the game even began when the Bucs won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff rather than the traditional defer to the second half. It was in that motion that they let everyone know that they were tired of waiting.
The Bucs first drive started from their own 25 yard line and ended in a field goal. In the first drive alone, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cam Brate, Alan Cross and O.J. Howard all got at least one target. It was a drive that took six minutes and 13 plays; chemistry was established and points were scored.
On the Bears’ first chance to respond after going down 0-3, the Bucs defense showed the first of many big plays they would make throughout the contest. Chicago quarterback Mike Glennon was picking a part the Bucs off coverage defense during the first drive, targeting slant routes from the slot, knowing the space was there. But, as the Bears were driving into the red zone, a timely interception by linebacker Kwon Alexander squandered any chance of tying or taking the lead.
Though the Bucs were forced to put immediately following the interception, a costly decision by Bears punt returner Tarik Cohen left the ball on the grass and a recovery by Tampa Bay – via Ryan Smith knocking it loose. After the fumble, it only took one play for the Bucs to strike, as Winston and Evans took advantage of one-on-one coverage for six points and an extended lead.
The next time out, Chicago once again moved the ball well, but a speed rush off the edge by Noah Spence led to a Glennon sack fumble and recovery by Lavonte David. The Bucs offense responded to the turnover by leading a 9-play, 35-yard drive which ended in a 1-yard Jacquizz Rodgers touchdown.
Now down 17-0, the Bears had their backs against the wall, and instead of remedying their wrongs, the wheels fell off with a Robert McClain pick-6 off the hand of Glennon. That interception meant that it was the first time the Buccaneers had forced four or more turnovers in an opening game of a season since 2005.
Before the Bucs went into the half, they added a 50-yard field goal on the foot of Nick Folk, who finished the game 3-for-3 on field goals and 2-for-3 on extra points, which gave the Buccaneers a 26-0 lead just one half into the game.
The second half wasn’t much better for the Bears, and was much of the same dominance for the Buccaneers. Jameis Winston finished the game 18-for-30 with 204 yards passing and one passing touchdown. Mike Evans was his main target with 93 yards on seven catches and a touchdown. DeSean Jackson was next in line with 39 yards on three catches, and Cam Brate and Adam Humphries followed suit with 24 yards on two catches and 18 yards on two catches, respectively. Rookie tight end O.J. Howard had one catch for 17 yards on three targets, and fellow rookie Chris Godwin was targeted twice, but was held without a catch.
Jacquizz Rodgers led all running backs in rushes and yards with 67 yards on 19 attempts with a touchdown. Peyton Barber was next with 47 yards on 10 carries, all of which came in the second half. Charles Sims struggled on Sunday, failing to convert on a 3rd-and-1, and also losing a fumble in the third quarter. He finished the game with two yards on two carries and two catches for seven yards.
Even beyond the lack of points given up on the scoreboard, the Bucs defense was suffocating. Though the pass rush wasn’t getting to the quarterback early on in terms of stats recorded, their time to collapse a pocket was nearly elite.
The Bucs defense got creative early on starting the game in the 3-4 formation we’ve talked about for so long. Though newly acquired safety T.J. Ward wasn’t a starter, he did get in on a handful of plays, and his first play, in fact, was a tackle for loss where he looked like he hadn’t missed a step from his “No Fly Zone” days in Denver.
Lavonte David led the Bucs with eight tackles, one tackle for loss and one fumble recovery. William Gholston and Gerald McCoy also notched tackles for loss themselves, and rookie linebacker Kendell Beckwith had two stops behind the line. Linebacker Kwon Alexander left the game with a hamstring injury, but it did not appear to be too serious. he finished the game with one tackle and a pick. Noah Spence recorded the only sack of the game, one where he also forced a fumble.
All in all, the wait was worth it as the Buccaneers started their season, and their home record at 1-0 in 2017. Their next game is on the road against a Minnesota Vikings team that boast one of the best defenses in the NFL.
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@example.com
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