Three years after famously drafting a kicker in the second round that turned out to be a horrific bust, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were at it again Saturday in the 2019 NFL Draft.
GM Jason Licht and new head coach Bruce Arians pulled the trigger on a 5th round selection of Utah kicker Matt Gay:
A Lou Groza Award winner, @MGtweetymonster brings raw talent to the table.
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) April 27, 2019
The immediate comparisons were pulled out by draft analysts on the NFL Network, ESPN and the internet to the Bucs very infamously taking Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo in the second round of the 2016 draft. And Tampa Bay and Licht traded up into the second round to make sure that he grabbed the FSU former All-American kicker.
As you probably know by now, Aguayo had a rocky first season, where he missed more combined kicks (field goals and extra points) than any kicker in the NFL that season. And, he was subsequently waived after the first preseason game of 2017.
Back to Gay. He has been to Utah kicker the last two seasons at 6’0, 230 lbs. He made 56 field goals with an 87% conversion rate during his two-year career in Salt Lake. Gay’s best season was 2017, where he won the Lou Groza award for the nation’s top place-kicker making 30 of 34 field goals and 40 of 40 extra points. Gay was also named consensus first team All-American that year.
Last season, Gay converted 26 of 31 field goals and was a third-team All-American and a semi finalist for the Groza award. He also holds the Utah record with eight career field goals of 50 yards or longer.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians joined ESPN’s Draft coverage live shortly after Gay’s selection with the 7th pick in the fifth round. “We got to score points, baby,” was his answer to host Trey Wingo’s question about taking a kicker in round five.
Tampa Bay had previously re-upped their kicker at the end of last season, Cairo Santos. Santos came in for the final seven games of 2018 and converted 9-12 field goals and 17 for 17 extra points. Tampa Bay re-signed Santos on a one year $1 million deal, but only $195,000 was guaranteed.
Now, obviously, the Bucs want Gay to come in and win the job.
One aspect that began to psychologically affect Aguayo was missed extra points at the greater distance than you’re used to in college. Aguayo began missing those in the preseason of his rookie year 2016 and continued to miss them throughout the regular season, as well.
Gay was a perfect 85-85 in the shorter college extra-point, but it bears watching once his NFL career begins this fall.
Bucs defense dramatic stand saved night in Charlotte
So much has been made of first-year Bucs coach Bruce Arians’ offensive mindset, starting quarterback Jameis Winston’s arm talent and the weapons around them carrying the team, but Thursday night it was the Buccaneers defense that showed up big, as in the end, with the game on the line in the final two minutes, they save the day with a fourth-down heroic play.
Former first-round pick , DB Vernon Hargreaves, came up with a key one-on-one tackle on Carolina star RB Christian McCaffrey (above) on fourth down at the Tampa Bay one-yard line to keep the Panthers from getting a first down. And, it gave the Bucs the ball back to run out the clock and secure a much needed 20 – 14 win.
Hargreaves’ individual effort epitomized the Buccaneers solid defensive play all night in Charlotte, as they did not allow Carolina to score a touchdown and held them to only three points on offense the entire second half. .
As for the aforementioned Winston and his support on the other side of the ball, they supplied enough, including Peyton Barber running tough for 82 yards on 23 carries and a crucial third-quarter 16 yard touchdown run the gave Tampa Bay the lead for good at 17 – 12.
Winston finished 16-25 for 208 yards, including a first-half touchdown pass to third year receiver Chris Godwin. Godwin is quickly becoming Winston’s new favorite target, as he hauled in eight catches for 121 yards and the score.
Meanwhile, Panthers Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton had an off game, as well. Even though he threw for 300 yards, he still had 26 incompletions on 50 attempts and Carolina repeatedly had one drive after another fizzle out in Bucs territory.
Newton was also battered by Tampa Bay’s rush, as new DE Shaq Barrett had three sacks, and the Bucs front seven repeatedly hit and knocked him down. Another key moment came near midfield in the third, when Newton was stripped of the ball for a lost fumble. And, another new Buc, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, fell on it.
And, to top it all off, McCaffery could mount very little offense Thursday night, either. A week after amassing over 200 yards from scrimmage against the Rams, he was held to 16 carries for only 37 yards and just two catches for just more 16 yards.
As for the key stop of McCaffery to preserve victory, Hargreaves said after the game late Thursday,
“It looked like it was going to be the Philly special from the Super Bowl. A reverse pass. When Cam walked up to the line of scrimmage, that’s what I thought it was going to be. As the play developed, McCaffrey faked it and he came right to me. I just stayed at home and he came right to me. I just had to make the play.”
A play that has Tampa Bay sitting 1-1 after a tough divisional win.
Three things to watch as Bucs take on Panthers Thursday night
It’s an NFC South showdown, where the loser knows they’re already off to an 0 – 2 start after Thursday night. And, the Bucs know that one of their former teammates is ready to help put them there.
With that in mind, here are three things to watch his Tampa Bay travels to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers:
McCoy goes against his old team
For the first time in his 10-year career Gerald McCoy has a new place to call home, and will play his second game with the Panthers tonight against the team that drafted him third overall in 2010, and he went to six Pro bowls for over the course of the last nine seasons. McCoy (above) was unceremoniously shown the door for salary cap reasons earlier this offseason and signed a one-year deal with the division rival Carolina.
McCoy did little of consequence in the opening loss to the Rams last week, but the Bucs have had a history previously, of players leaving them and succeeding elsewhere. We’ll find out if he starts making an impact tonight against Jameis Winston & Company.
Cut down the mistakes.
If the Bucs weren’t busy turning the ball over, which they did four times, including three Winston interceptions last week, they were committing penalties and having blown assignments on their offensive line.
Throw in: Tampa Bay cost themselves three different times with penalties on third down on defense that kept 49er drives alive, and you can see why head coach Bruce Arians has been stressing for the last few days that those kind of mistakes cannot be overcome.
The Buccaneers will have their hands full with a road environment against a division rival as it is, but as Arians said, if it’s “the Bucs beating the Bucs,” they won’t stand much chance anyway.
Clearly Cam Newton is still trying to get back to full health with a surgically-repaired throwing shoulder and an injured foot and everyone now realizes the biggest key to get the Panthers going is running back, Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey had over a hundred yards from scrimmage in the opening loss to L.A. last week and had likewise over a hundred yards combined catching and running a football in both games last year against the Buccaneers.
Look for Tampa Bay to try to shadow him with Pro Bowl linebacker Lavonte David and rookie linebacker and former number 1 pick out of LSU, Devin White. Those two will be heavily counted on to neutralize the guy that has become the Panthers best offensive weapon.
If they do, it will go a long way towards helping the Buccs win their first game of the season.
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