It’s still too soon to know, but the second half of the Bucs 34-29 loss to the Falcons may go down as the point in the season where the Bucs defense caught fire and finally began to play at the level it was expected to.
Consider that in defending the Falcons during the first half Sunday, the Bucs allowed 265 yards, three touchdowns and a field goal across five possessions. Then came the second half.
Picking up on one of the things they actually did well – though not enough – in the first half, the Bucs came out blitzing in the second half, and until Gerald McCoy went down, they looked like a different defense.
Across the Falcons first three second-half possessions, the Bucs allowed just 30 yards, two first touchdowns and forced three punts, thereby creating a situation in which the Bucs were able to get back into the game.
The unit reverted to its old ways thereafter, allowing another TD and a field goal on the Falcons last two possession, but that field goal – a 58-yarder – was forced by a key stop on third-and-2 at the Bucs 39.
That will go down as a win in the Bucs defensive ledger, in part because it still gave the Bucs a chance to win a game that might have wound up differently had Chandler Catanzaro not missed a PAT.
Remember, it was that missed PAT that forced the Bucs to later try a 2-point conversion that also failed and eventually forced the Bucs to have to drive for a touchdown instead of a field goal at the end.
Now, this is not to absolve the Bucs defense of blame. Clearly, the play of the Bucs defense continues to be this team’s biggest issue, and in the first half, it was the play of the defense, not the design of it, that was the biggest issue of all.
Consider for example that there was one third down in which a safety (newcomer Andrew Adams) dropped deeper than the sticks in coverage, thereby allowing for an easy throw and catch for the first down.
Then, on another third down play, one on which the Bucs actually made a stop, a hands-to-the-face penalty charged to McCoy wiped out the outcome and gave the Falcons a first down.
And then there was the opportunity cornerback Ryan Smith had to stop Austin Hooper in a one-on-one situation near the goal line. Smith flat out missed the tackle, allowing Hooper to walk in for a 9-yard touchdown pass.
These are examples of the Bucs failing to execute basic fundamentals, and they’re only a few of the examples. There were plenty more, including a key reception made by Julio Jones when veteran cornerback Brent Grimes took his eyes off Jones to look back at the quarterback in a man situation.
Look, this game will do nothing to quell the calls for the dismissal of defensive coordinator Mike Smith, and given the way the Bucs played in the first half that’s understandable.
But the bottom line here is that the problems with this defense lie mostly in the failed execution of it and that was evident on Sunday when the Bucs were done in largely as a result of mental mistakes, including far too many made by key veterans who should flat out know better.
Now on to other matters.
Since the start of the 2015 season, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston has turned the ball over more than any other quarterback in the league (63 times) except Blake Bortles (69).
That number includes two giveaways (both picks) on Sunday, but it’s hard not to like what we saw of Winston in his first start of the season Sunday. When it was all said and done he completed 30 of 41 passes for 395 yards and four touchdowns for a passer rating of 115.4.
The Bucs are getting out of Jason Pierre-Paul exactly what they expected to get out of him. Pierre-Paul had another sack on Sunday, his fifth of the year, and he now has a sack in each of his last four games. The last Bucs defender to record a sack in four straight games was Simeon Rice. If he stays healthy, Pierre-Paul should become the first Bucs defender since Rice to record 10 or more sacks in a season.
It took a few weeks, but Barber on Sunday finally played like the every-down back the Bucs believe he can be. He ran 13 times for 82 yards and caught four passes for 24 more and a touchdown.
No team is deeper or perhaps more talented than the Bucs at tight end. If you think that’s a reach, consider that in the first half alone Sunday the Bucs threw touchdown passes to Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard and Antony Auclair threw the key block in springing running back Peyton Barber free for his longest run of the day (28 yards).
Falcons QB Matt Ryan picked on cornerback Ryan Smith most of the first half, going 5-for-6 for God knows how may yards and a TD, Ryan was just as effective throwing against Grimes, who just doesn’t look the same as he has the past two years.
If we learned anything Sunday (and it may be that we were simply reminded of this fact) it’s that the Bucs are still not good enough to overcome points lost because their kicker can’t make a kick.
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.