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.
Bucs moving up in our latest power rankings
With conference championships now over, all focus will shift to bowl games in college. Florida Atlantic was the lone state team playing for a title last week, defeating the UAB Blazers in blowout fashion. In the NFL, the Bucs made it three straight victories.
The Dolphins almost made it two in a row before the late-game drama. The Jacksonville Jaguars offense fell flat at home in a blowout defeat. That all leads into how our top 5 looks heading into this weekend:
Florida Gators- The Gators stay on top despite not participating in the SEC title game. They may not have played a game, but they still got a win by being selected to the Orange Bowl. Dan Mullen is now two for two in his Gators career in gaining entry into the “New Years Six.” Two seasons of a row with a big bowl win can only help the gators getting back to where they want to be, and that is competing for championships.
Florida Atlantic- The Owls were able to win the C-USA championship destroying UAB 49-6. This was the second title in three years for the Owls, and their great success under Lane Kiffin. All good things come to an end in this day and age in college football for non-power five schools. And so, Kiffin is now on his way to “the Grove” and will be the head coach of Ole Miss. The Owls reward is to play host to SMU in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- The Bucs are riding a hot streak right now. They are now on a three-game winning streak. The offense continues to put up big numbers behind QB Jameis Winston. Winston, who threw for a career hight 456 yards Sunday, has the second-most yards and touchdowns, but leads the league in INTs by a large margin.
The defense has been playing very well during this winning streak. Next, the Bucs will go on the road to face a struggling Detroit Lions team.
UCF Knights- The Knights had a rare off week during the AAC Title game. They had won the previous two and Saturday the Memphis Tigers won this one, avoiding the Knights. UCF, however, still won 9 games and will look to make it 10 in the bowl game. They will head an hour south to play Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa.
Many wanted the Knights to draw an in-state team like FSU or Miami; instead, it will be Marshall. It is important for UCF to end the year strong with a decisive victory.
Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins didn’t win this past weekend over the New York Jets. They did, though, show a lot in this contest. For a team that looked down and out the whole first half of the season, they have completely turned it around.
If it wasn’t for a late review on pass interference, the Dolphins likely would have won their fourth game in their last six. Head coach Brian Flores was livid after the game, and that heart and passion has put his name in the running for coach of the year.
No, he won’t win the award, but what he and this team have done has been impressive with the lack of talent on the roster.
Bucs QB Winston in limbo with injured thumb
The Bucs are very much concerned and waiting to see the status of quarterback Jameis Winston injured thumb suffered in Sunday’s wild victory over the Colts.
And they have to be prepared to be without their starting quarterback this weekend in Detroit.
First, credit to Pewterreport.com which was at teammate Mike Evans’ charity bowling event Monday evening, and where the fifth year quarterback participated bowling left-handed with a brace seen on his right hand and thumb:
#Bucs QB Jameis Winston bowling at his teammate @MikeEvans13_ charity bowling event tonight in Tampa to raise money for Mike’s foundation. Winston was wearing a brace on his right hand, and bowled his left. pic.twitter.com/fsIAXIc9fc
— PewterReport (@PewterReport) December 10, 2019
Winston injured the thumb at some point late in the second quarter of the 38 – 35 victory over Indianapolis. Coach Bruce Arians relayed after the game that Winston came out for the second half warm up and couldn’t grip the ball, when he was trying to get ready for the third quarter.
He went inside for an x-ray and backup quarterback Ryan Griffin ran the team for the first series of the second half. Winston returned and threw for over 200 yards in the second half including the game-winning touchdown to Breshad Perriman in the final five minutes of the game.
After the game Arians revealed that Winston had what he described as “a slight, slight crack in the thumb” that showed up on the X-ray.
On Monday afternoon at his regular news conference, the Buccaneers coach said that it would be day by day evaluation, that Winston had swelling on the thumb and would be getting a second opinion from a specialist:
"We’re going to come, we’re going to work. We’re going to try to win four in a row, five in a row and then six in a row.”
➡️: HC Bruce Arians pic.twitter.com/XrdtIA2yQQ
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 9, 2019
The injury comes at a time of great debate about whether Winston will be kept on for the Buccaneers beyond this season.? He’s currently playing on the 5th year option of his rookie contract for $20 million.
As we wrote last week, Arians made it clear that the evaluation will begin after the season as to whether Winston will be back for 2020 and long-term.
The former number one overall pick is still leading the NFL in interceptions this season with 23, but he is also second in the NFL in touchdown passes and yardage. And, the Bucs have responded with three straight wins late in the year to keep their NFC wild-card hopes barely alive.
Tampa Bay had hoped use veteran Blaine Gabbert, if something happened to Winston, but Gabbert was hurt in the preseason with a separated left shoulder, placed on injured reserve and will not be able to be activated down the stretch of the season.
So that means if Winston cannot play, Griffin, a six year veteran who has played well in the last two preseasons, will be expected to get his first start Sunday.