You’re sitting at 3-7. Your coach is likely going to be fired. Some of your veterans have begun making “business decisions”. It would have been easy for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to do what so many teams have done before and basically mail-in the end of another lost season in the tropics. Instead of coasting down the stretch, these Bucs said: “we’re not quitting.” They refused to go down without a fight and now they have sent the reeling Carolina Panthers to their 4th straight loss and pulled themselves out of the NFC South cellar.
Pieces of Eight
1) That’s two solid games in a row for one Jameis Winston. Sure, there were a throw or two he’d like to have back, but for perhaps the first time in his NFL career, Winston put together back-to-back clean games and as a result, led the Bucs to a huge victory against a team that’s been his nemesis for some time now. Jameis, for at least these past two weeks, is a different quarterback. Instead of four or five ill-advised throws a game, he’s throwing one, maybe two. Instead of forcing the ball into coverage, he’s taking it down and running with it. Instead of fighting for every second of every play, he’s taking the sack and living to fight another down. There may not be as many “Wow” plays from Jameis, but there definitely aren’t as many “oh come on” plays, either. Right now, the Bucs will take that.
In just his 52nd game (his 50th start), Winston set the team record for touchdown passes with his 81st of his young NFL career. Winston is proving to the Bucs that he can’t be given up on just yet. If he can continue his solid play down the stretch, there’s no way the Buccaneers will let him go this off-season (barring another off-the-field incident, of course).
2) Yes, Christian McCaffrey made plays. So did Cam Newton and the galaxy of stars the Carolina Panthers have on offense. The one thing they didn’t do consistently on Sunday? Protect the football and get points on the board. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense might have surrendered 444 yds of offense, but they forced four turnovers and held the powerful Panthers offense, an offense that put up 42 points against this Bucs defense a few weeks ago, to just 17. That’s a hell of an effort.
3) Another four sacks by the Bucs defense, who since firing Mike Smith and elevating Mark Duffner have been ferocious in their pass rush. Pierre-Paul continued his trek up the Bucs’ single-season record books, now just 4 away from Warren Sapp’s all-time franchise record for sacks in a season. It’s the third straight game Tampa Bay registered 4 sacks and if not for Cam Newton’s strength and mobility, they could have had two or three more today. The Bucs harrassed, pounded and smacked Newton all game long, adding 9 QB hits to the 4 sacks. It led to Cam’s four-interception day, his first since his rookie year in 2011.
4) Take a bow, Andrew Adams. The 26-year-old 3rd-year safety out of UConn had his coming out party at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. Entering the game against Carolina with 1 career interception, Adams scored the rare hat trick of interceptions on Panthers QB Cam Newton. The Bucs haven’t had a player pick off three passes in a game since 2009 when Aquib Talib pulled off the trick. Adams has been buried on the depth chart but injuries to Isiah Johnson and Justin Evans forced him onto the playing field. I think Mr. Adams may see a bit more playing time down the stretch, don’t you?
5) Okay, three games of perfection now for Cairo Santos. I don’t want to jinx it, but on a windy day at Raymond James Stadium, Santos was deadly accurate. Jason Licht may have finally found his white whale…er Kicker.
6) The Bucs have climbed out of the NFC South cellar in into the outskirts of the NFC wildcard race. Now, it may all come crashing down next week against a ticked off New Orleans Saints team, but if the Bucs somehow pull off another stunner against New Orleans, they’ll at least get themselves back into the conversation. I can tell you one thing, the Bucs certainly had to overcome some terrible officiating on Sunday. The refs basically stole a touchdown from Peyton Barber, who broke the plane of the end zone (clearly shown on replay), but somehow the ruling on the field of a fumble was confirmed, then some simply awful pass interference calls on Mike Evans (and yes, I know Mike is a multi-time offender, but these were just brutal). The zebras had a pretty terrible day. Expect more, as the refs always give the benefit of the doubt to the “winning team”.
7) I know Bucs fans are wondering the same thing I’ve been wondering. Where the hell has this team been all season? It really is what’s truly frustrating about the Bucs. We, as fans, can see the talent. We can see they have the ability to beat any team in the league. They just don’t. It’s maddening. Why can’t this team play with consistency? Why doesn’t it know how to win like this 10 or 11 times a year?
8) The waters are still murky for Dirk Koetter. Tampa Bay faces the Saints, who hadn’t lost since opening day until Thursday night, then head on the road to Baltimore, who have won three in a row and Dallas, who have won 4 in a row. If the Bucs fall apart the next three weeks and fall to 5-10 heading into Atlanta, there could be no saving Koetter. Now, if the Bucs continue to play well down the stretch and keep themselves mathematically alive for the playoffs, Koetter just may have some hope left to stay right here in Tampa Bay. That was simply unthinkable two weeks ago.
DLT’s Emotional Game Tweet of the Week
— ⛄️ JC De La Christmas! 🎄 (@jcdelatorre) December 2, 2018