TAMPA – All that weaponry on offense is the reason the Buccaneers have become one of the chic picks to make the playoffs this year, but it was their defense that led the way during a 29-7 victory over the Bears in their season opener on Sunday.
Despite most of their starters and regulars playing for the first time in more than three weeks, the Bucs forced four takeaways, including three that resulted in scores, in the first half alone in building up a 26-0 first-half lead they never lost.
It wasn’t until 1:43 was left in the game that the Bears finally scored as Deonte Thompson hauled in a 14-yard pass from Mike Glennon to avoid the shutout.
Veteran slot cornerback Robert McClain had what was arguably the biggest play of the day for the defense as he picked off a Mike Glennon pass and returned it 47-yards for a touchdown.
]\Linebacker Kwon Alexander had a pick as well while Noah Spence and gunner Ryan Smith each forced fumbles that eventually led to scores for the Bucs, whose first game a week ago against Miami was postponed by Hurricane Irma.
The offense did its part by turning two of the takeaways into scores, including a 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jameis Winston to Mike Evans that came after what may have been the pivotal play of the game.
That play came late in the first quarter when Bears rookie running back Tarik Cohen tried to field a dying fumble at his own 11-yard line while surrounded by two Bucs defenders.
Cohen never got his hands on the ball as Smith slapped it away and into the hands of Cameron Lynch, whose recovery set the stage for the Bucs first touchdown.
It was all Bucs from there as Spence’s sack-fumble killed the next Bears drive and set up a penalty-aided Bucs touchdown drive that culminated with Jacquizz Rodgers running in from a yard out for the score.
The Bucs defense came up big again one series later, when McClain picked off a pass for Josh Bellamy and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown to give the Bucs a 23-0 lead.
Nick Folk, who missed the PAT after McClain’s TD, tacked on a 50-yard field goal at the end of the half to give the Bucs a 26-0 lead going into the break.
The Bucs came into the game fearing they might be a little rusty as a result of their long layoff, but the Bucs looked sharp for the most part on both sides of the ball.
Winston and Evans looked particularly sharp as Evans caught seven of the eight passes for 93 yards, including receptions of 10, 16 and 18 yards as well as the 13-yarder for a touchdown.
Winston, by the way, turned the offense over to Nick Folk late in the fourth quarter after completing 18 of 30 passes for 204 yards, the one touchdown and no intercpetions for a 91.5 passer rating.
The one concern the Bucs might have coming out of the game regards the health of Alexander, who left the game before the end of the first half with a hamstring injury and did not return.