Do you know how long it’s been since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won? It’s been over 44 weeks. On Sunday, the Bucs went into the Superdome and did something they hadn’t done in 309 days. Nearly 7400 hours passed without a Buccaneers win, but that all changed in New Orleans. I’ll let #Brindzilla sum it up for me before we dig deep.
The Defining Drive: Offense
There were a lot of positives on offense, but one drive stood out more than anything as a microcosm of what the Bucs were able to do when they need to capitalize. The Buccaneers took the lead first, but the Saints were able to snatch that lead late in the second quarter. Down 7-3, with only 1:15 left in the half, it was time for the Buccaneers to show their moxie and come out swinging.
Special Teams had been an issue going into the season, but they made a big impact to start this drive. Rainey gets the return a yard deep into the end zone, and he heads out for the return. There are key blocks all over the field, including by DJ Swearinger and Orie Lemon. Rainey manages to get all the way to the 37-yard line and gives the Buccaneers excellent field position to start the drive.
The drive starts with an incomplete pass to Mike Evans, and Donovan Smith is flagged for a false start on the next play. Winston would come out of the shotgun on second down and pass to Charles Sims, but Sims got wrapped up immediately and lost a yard on the play. The Buccaneers take a timeout with 1:01 left and are now facing 3rd and 16. In a crucial moment, down before the half, the Bucs need to capitalize.
Winston drops back looking for a target and throws a dart to Vincent Jackson for 17 yards and the first down. On first and ten, Winston has no targets and rushes for a few yards. The next pass is incomplete to Mike Evans, but New Orleans is called for roughing the passer as Kenny Vaccaro goes too low and tackles Jameis Winston at the knees. It’s a convenient mistake that moves the Bucs 15 yards up the field.
On the next play, Logan Mankins is flagged for a false start. On review of the Coaches Film, this one appeared to be on Evan Smith snapped the ball slower than he normally had. Mankins anticipated it, and jumped back before Smith had snapped. Quick to rebound from the penalty, Winston immediately hits Louis Murphy deep with a 23-yard pass.
This finally sets up the pass everyone is talking about and will continue to talk about. With 16 seconds left in the half, on the 15-yard line, Winston drops a gorgeous ball to back of the end zone for a Vincent Jackson touchdown. Not only do the Bucs execute a great drive, despite mistakes, but they do so with very little time and manage to take the lead going into halftime.
The Triumphant Takeaway: Defense
While the offense tends to be defined by a sustained drive, it’s a shorter one that shows how effective the defense was throughout the day. With 12:58 left in the 3rd Quarter, Tampa Bay is kicking off to the Saints after going up by 10 with Jameis Winston’s touchdown run. Brindza booms a kick into the end zone, and the Saints attempt a return only to be brought down at the 17-yard line.
With poor field position to start, Drew Brees is looking for Marques Colston on his first pass. He throws a solid ball, but it’s tipped by Lavonte David and goes incomplete. The next pass also goes incomplete to Brandon Coleman. With third and ten looming, Brees finds Willie Snead underneath for a short pass. Snead manages 12 yards for the first down, but you can watch Kwon Alexander bring him down with a huge tackle.
The Saints try to go back to the running game, but Ingram is quickly stuffed by the defensive line. This brings up my favorite defensive play of the game. Like he did all game long, Jacquies Smith manages to get penetration and is closing in on another sack. Before he can get there, Brees throws a bomb down the field towards Brandon Cooks.
The pass is just short…and it’s intercepted by Chris Conte! Conte is wrapped up at the feet pretty quickly and can’t get a return going, so he hands the ball off just behind him to Alterraun Verner, who proceeds to return the interception to just past mid-field, giving Tampa Bay excellent field position once again.
The golden ticket on defense was consistency, and there were plays made all game long. The entire defensive line played hard throughout the game, and Jacquies Smith got some well-earned time in the spotlight with three sacks and two forced fumbles. This is just one snapshot of a very well executed defensive plan, and it comes down to the men on the field doing their job when they need to.
Mark Ingram’s touchdown run is one of the few times the Bucs fail to contain the run. You can see DJ Swearinger bite on Drew Brees rolling out, and he’s too far out to correct and tackle Ingram. Tandy also misses a tackle, and Mark Ingram walks in for the score.
By far my favorite defensive play of the game. It’s almost cartoonish, but there’s so much good in it. Brees gets pressured, and this could have contributed to him throwing just short of Brandon Cooks. Conte intercepts it and hands off to Verner, who runs it back all the way to mid-field.
This was a crucial throw in the drive to end the first half. It’s 3rd and 16. Winston drops back, and he throws a dart straight to Vincent Jackson for a key first down that kept the drive alive.
This is the throw everyone is talking about. Jameis Winston to Vincent Jackson in the back of the end zone for the touchdown to take the lead going into the half. Was it as gorgeous as everyone is saying? Look for yourself. Winston has a defender right in his face and drops the ball over two members of the Saints secondary to the back of the endzone right into to Vincent Jackson’s hands.
For a team that has been so abysmal for so long, a win like this was truly special. It’s important to continue to temper expectations, as some may remember the Bucs stunning the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road last season, only to stink up the joint for the reason. Even with that in mind, it can’t damper the excitement of the victory. Not only did the Bucs win, but they did so on the road against a division rival which they haven’t defeated at all since 2011.
There were plenty of mistakes, including two late fumbles that could have ruined the lead near the end of the game and a total of 11 penalties, but the Buccaneers looked much more like the team we expected this week. An offensive line with some flaws thanks to the rookies, but not completely horrendous. A rookie quarterback with a lot of playmaking ability who works well when he’s got a real running back and is working with a plan. And finally, a defense that can rattle even Drew Brees when it has a successful pass rush.
Sword: Jacquies Smith
There were a lot of options here, and it would be pretty easy to blanket this to the defensive line. Jameis Winston and Doug Martin also had great games, but Smith made big plays and his hits on Brees set the tone for a dominant defense throughout the game.
Skull: Donovan Smith
The offensive line wasn’t nearly as atrocious as it has been in the past, but it was far from perfect. Smith committed two penalties, and he was inconsistent on blocking for most of the day. PFF rated him an atrocious -8.9 overall, including a -5.1 grade on run blocking.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com or Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted. All gifs created using footage from NFL Game Pass. Courtesy of NFL, yadda yadda.