The Buccaneers broke a four-game losing streak and won for only the second time in eight tries Sunday, beating the 49ers 27-9 in a game that played out the way the Bucs thought a lot of their games would play out this year.
The offense was efficient, the defense was solid and actually took the ball away a couple of times, and the special tams didn’t leave any points on the board. It was enough to make you wonder, what if all the Bucs games had been like this?
Alas, that is not the case, but this victory, coming even as it did against a struggling 49ers team, shows that the Bucs do have some pieces to work with as they start thinking ahead to 2019.
So, let’s dive a little deeper:
Quarterback Jameis Winston more than warranted the decision to go back to him as the starter. Despite being under siege most of the day, he had one of his best overall outings as an NFL quarterback.
He completed 29 of 38 passes for 312 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 117.4 and his decision making was seldom if ever an issue.
Oh sure, there were a few moments when Winston took a chance but he seemed to be in complete control and did an excellent job of throwing the ball on the run and finding targets.
This game alone won’t do it, but if Winton can produce games like this the rest of the way, the talk of him being let go at the end of the season will quietly die out, and rightfully so. This was the kind of game that suggests Winston can indeed be a franchise quarterback.
Solid overall, the Bucs defense was especially strong in eliminating tight end George Kittle from the attack. Prior to the final three minutes of the game, Kittel caught just two of the eight balls thrown his way for 16 yards. Kittle came into the game leading the 49ers in targets (71), catches (50) and receiving (775) and a lot of those yards came as a result of him gaining extra yards after the catch.
What the Bucs did in slowing Kittle down was pressure the passer, reduce the separation Kittle got from against his defenders and rally to the ball when he did catch it, which is kind of how they drew it up.
A lot of people bemoaned the loss of tight end O.J. Howard, who was placed on injured reserve last week, but if there is one place where the Bucs are truly deep it’s tight end. All the loss of Howard did was force the Bucs to go back to throwing the ball more to Cameron Brate, who caught three passes for 26 yards and a touchdown Sunday and is still as god a pass-catching tight end as there is in the league.
I’m becoming a Jordan Whitehead fan. The Bucs rookie safety has been thrust into action because of injuries and as his outing Sunday suggests, he is learning fast. Whitehead led the Bucs with 11 tackles and had two pass breakups Sunday. His effort was game-ball worthy, and you get the feeling there are a lot more of those to come.
While catching six passes for 116 yards on Sunday, Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans passed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the fifth time in as many years as a pro during the 49ers game. That feat is remarkable in and of itself, but what makes it even more remarkable is that he reached the 1,000-yard mark with five games still to be played while playing for a team loaded with offensive weapons.
I’m not sure Bucs fans realize just what a weapon they have in Evans, who doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of publicity that a lot of other receivers do but is easily better than almost all of them.
As an in-season addition, Carl Nassib has done a great job for the Bucs. It’s hard to watch any Bucs game and not notice him, and then there are days like Sunday, when Nassib is arguably the Bucs best defender.
Nassib finished Sunday’s game with two tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits. It’s still too soon to know what their plans are, but it’s hard to imagine the Bucs not going into 2019 with plans to have Nassib patrol the left edge of the defensive line.
He hasn’t played much this year but when he has played, rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea has mostly struggled to shed blocks and make tackles. It was that way again on Sunday, but there were a couple of moments when Vea broke free and showed why it was the Bucs chose to spend their first-round draft pick on him last April. Vea had two tackles for loss and a sack on Sunday, which suggests Vea could still become the impact player the Bucs hope he’ll be.
Talk about an empty stat. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul became the first Bucs defender since Simeon Rice in 2005 (14) to record more at least 10 sacks in a season. A player capable of reaching that mark is something Bucs fans and some media members have been screaming for for years. Well, now they have it, I wonder if they realize just how little that single stat really means.
Sure, it’s nice to have a premier edge rusher. They’re needed. But the Bucs are proof that you can have a premier edge rusher and still not have a good defense if the play in the secondary and at linebacker if always lacking.
Brent Grimes has quit. He doesn’t seem to mind covering receivers, but he has no interest whatsoever in tackling anyone. On one play Sunday he literally jumped out of the way of a ball carrier instead of going after him. On others he simply watched as others rallied to the ball carrier. He spent his day mostly as a bystander.
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