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 WR Mike Evans still not practicing
The Bucs were back on the practice field Wednesday morning getting ready for their third preseason game on Friday night with the Cleveland Browns at Raymond James Stadium. However, once again, they are without their top receiver, Mike Evans, who remains sidelined with an injury.
Buccaneers beat reporter for The Athletic, Greg Auman, tweeted that Evans was not out on the practice field during the portion that is open to the media:
Mike Evans not practicing today means Mike Evans isn't playing Friday, and he's not playing next week, which means he'll finish the preseason without a catch. He's as known a commodity as the Bucs have on their roster though.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 21, 2019
Evans pulled up during a drill in Sunday’s practice and head coach Bruce Arians made mention of the injury on Monday:
“Mike tweaked yesterday…it’s nothing serious,” Arians told the media.
It is reportedly a leg injury to Evans’ quadriceps that is hampering him.
The Bucs are not required to talk about injuries, much less the severity of them, at this stage. And, it’s not believed that there will be any further updates on Evans this week.
However, it’s easy to conclude the Tampa Bay will not risk playing him in the third preseason game and is Auman tweeted, the starters never play in the fourth preseason game which will be next Thursday in Dallas.
So clearly, Tampa Bay is resting and rehabbing Evans for the season opener with the 49ers.
Evans, a Pro Bowl wide receiver from a year ago, is the top target of QB Jameis Winston. A year ago he caught for a career high 1,524 yards and also career high 17.7 avg with 8 TDs.
Evans had 86 receptions, which were the second most of his five year career, in 2018, and he’s one of three receivers in NFL history to have 1,000+ receiving yards in each of his first five seasons. Hall of Famer, Randy Moss and A.J. Green are the other two.
Evans previously dealt with a hamstring injury in the 2015 preseason and missed the season opener with Tennessee but returned the following week. However, he’s been very durable since then, playing in 47 of the 48 games the last three years, having missed only a 2017 game while suspended for his role in a fight against the Saints.
This info comes on Evans’ birthday, as he turns just 26 today.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones back at Tuesday practice
Bucs fans can exhale on the knee injury for running back Ronald Jones, at least for now.
Jones was seen at the portion of practice open to the media Tuesday afternoon with his left knee heavily wrapped but, most importantly, participating in drills in full pads.
Ronald Jones back at practice today with his knee heavily taped but moving pretty good. Certainly not 100. %Mike Evans still out but it’s not a serious. pic.twitter.com/RHDR80qfqn
— FanStreamSports JP (@FanStreamJP) August 20, 2019
Jones had not practiced the last two days of Bucs training camp with what was described as a swollen knee suffered after playing in Friday night’s preseason game with the Dolphins.
As we wrote yesterday, coach Bruce Arians provided a brief update after practice into Jones’ situation,
“Ronald’s knee swelled up a little bit and just trying to take it day to day with him.”
Traditionally, the third preseason game is the final time, where starters for the regular season play significantly. The Bucs are set to host the Cleveland Browns Friday night at Raymond James Stadium.
When asked about Jones’ chances to play or whether the team would play it safe, Arians briefly said:
“We’ll see how it is. We still got a few more days. I think Ronald’s gonna be ok.”
Jones appeared to have suffered some kind of left knee hyper-extension returning the opening kickoff on a rain-slicked turf against the Friday night. That’s what can be seen this photo on social media from Tampa Bay sports reporter Kevin O’Donnell showing Jones knee clearly in an awkward spot when he planted:
Wondering why #Bucs runningback Ronald Jones knee is sore? This is the opening kickoff Friday night against the Dolphins. Rojo didn’t practice yesterday. Looks like a hyperextension to me. pic.twitter.com/mVmW86E96x
— Kevin ODonnell Fox13 (@ODonnellFox13) August 19, 2019
Jones did carry the ball twice for 7 yards later in the first quarter of the game before being shut down for the night.
Jones has been one of the standouts of the Bucs offseason and training camp with glowing updates repeatedly from Arians about his progress and his chances of seeing significant playing time. He missed three games with a hamstring injury in a disappointing rookie year.
However, he is expected to challenge incumbent starter from last year Peyton Barber for playing time/carries, once the regular season gets underway in two weeks.
Another obvious point, if his knee was sprained or worse, the Bucs would not have had on the field in full uniform trying to run and cut, even at a reduced speed. So, that’s also a positive.
For now, we await Arians’ and the teams plans for using Jones, or not, against the Browns later today and tomorrow.