The Tampa Bay Buccaneers dominated the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football in the best game the Bucs have played in years -- even if it was just preseason.The Bucs won the game 25-11, having led 23-3 at the half. The Bucs had 356 yards versus the Bengals' 163, while they forced three takeaways and didn't turn over the ball once. Tampa Bay scored in a variety of ways, too: Jameis WInston ran in a touchdown, Mike Glennon found Russell Shepard down the sideline, Danny Lansanah racked up a safety, Pat Murray hit a 53-yard field goal and Alterraun Verner ran back an interception. Every part of the team chipped in on this scoreline.
It's just preseason and the player's performances are more important than the win, but given that this is the first game the Bucs have won at home since 2013, I think it carried some extra significance. Still, the Bucs have to be pleased with the way most of their players played too. It was a very good performance all around, with the exception of some penalties.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the Bucs' dominating win over the Bengals.
Jameis Winston looks like the real deal
Last week, Winston looked skittish and inconsistent, missing easy throws and making one pretty bad decision leading to an interception. This week, he looked much improved. Not only were almost all of his throws on target, he was consistently making quality decisions, adjusting to pressure and looking composed in the pocket. He finished the game going 8 of 13 for 90 yards with a rushing touchdown, and those completions didn't come on easy throws, either. Winston made a number of big throws, and even his incompletions looked impressive. If he can keep up that level of play, the Bucs may have a star on their hands.
That said, there was a small negative note: Winston rolled his ankle in the second quarter and was taken out of the game after playing two more snaps. The injury didn't look too serious, and he walked around on the sdieline for most of the game, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
Doug Martin is back
I've been really skeptical of the Muscle Hamster, but he's turning me into a believer. Not only did he look explosive, he made people miss and gained some seemingly-impossible yards. With 59 yards on just 6 carries, Martin had a very impressive game. He's solidifying his starting position, and may even be turning into a bell cow again.
Penalties may be a problem
The Bucs got a whopping 11 penalties for 130 yards in just the first half, with many of those coming on special teams. The Bucs were undisciplined last season and that may be carrying over to this year. The team has plenty of hurdles to overcome without adding self-inflicted wounds, and that needs to change.
Sacks and turnovers!
Four sacks and three turnovers in the first half. How's that for a change of pace? Alterraun Verner got a pick six, Bradley McDougald got a gift of an interception in Tampa 2 coverage, and Mike Jenkins knocked a ball out of Jeremy Hill's hands for the third turnover.
The sacks were perhaps even more encouraging. All three of them were team efforts, with Gerald McCoy acting as the linchpin, creating disruption that other pass rushers took advantage of. For the first time in years, the Bucs showed an ability to run functional pass-rush games. Larry English really stood out, picking up a sack and a holding penalty, while George Johnson got 1.5 sacks as well.
Russell Shepard deserves playing time
With Mike Evans leaving the game with a hamstring injury, special teams demon Russell Shepard got a bunch of playing time at receiver -- and he looked really good. He made two big 22-yard catches, one of them for a touchdown, showing off his speed and his route running, and he was his usual outstanding self on special teams as well. He also added a 12-yard run on an end-around. Shepard is a really good athlete who deserves to get a serious look as an offensive player.
The line needs to work on blitzes and stunts
The Bucs' offensive line looked okay when blocking players one-on-one -- as long as that player was not Geno Atkins, who made Ali Marpet and Logan Mankins look like minced meat on separate occasions. But the line struggled as the game wore on, when the Bengals started to throw more blitzes and pass-rush games at Jameis Winston and later Mike Glennon. The Bucs' linemen struggled passing off rushers, while a few blitzers came through untouched. Linemen will lose one-on-ones at times, but communication issues really shouldn't be the reason why your quarterback is getting hit.
Kwon Alexander is really good
Promoting Kwon Alexander to the first time at middle linebacker was no idle move: the rookie showed up on defense almost immediately, showing off his sideline-to-sideline speed and really not missing a beat. He led the team with four tackles, and was all over the field. The Bucs look to have found a surprising star in the fourth round of this year's draft.
Incidentally, Bruce Carter got a decent amount of first-team work at strongside linebacker as he rotated there with Danny Lansanah. Carter may be vastly overpaid for his current role on the team, he's not completely out of the picture.
Mike Glennon can play
Glennon never had a shot to unseat Jameis Winston, but he still showed up against the Bengals. Glennon made two big throws in the first half, one for a touchdown to Russell Shepard, and one in the Cover 2 hole, between a cornerback on the sideline. He's not going to start barring injury to Winston, but the team should be able to get some good picks in return for him next year.
D.J. Swearinger wants playing time
D.J. Swearinger is out there making plays, getting a big hit on Tyler Eifert to dislodge what would have been a touchdown, and knocking down another third-down pass later in the game. The safety had issues with discipline and playing within the scheme in Houston, which eventually got him cut. He was, quite simply, a liability -- but that wasn't the case tonight, and he made a solid case for him to get some playing time with the starting defense. That is: if he can keep up those plays without turning into a problem in coverage.
Minor injuries hit the Bucs
The downside of preseason games: injuries. Mike Evans left the game with a hamstring injury, while Jameis Winston was pulled after getting his ankled rolled up. Lovie Smith said that Winston wasn't injured, and he ran into the tunnel at the half so his ankle certainly seemed to be fine. Evans' injury might be more serious, though he shouldn't miss more than a few weeks. Plus, Leonard Johnson had to leave the game with what appeared to be an ankle injury as well.
Mike James is beating out Bobby Rainey
Mike James ran like a man possessed, looking once again like the solid, reliable back he appeared to be in his rookie season before getting injured. And he got the bulk of the carries in the second half ahead of Bobby Rainey -- despite the fact that the Bucs retained Rainey on a restricted tender this offseason. While James had nine carries, Rainey had just one. Rainey didn't look too shabby on the few opportunities he was given, but James has jumped him in the pecking order -- at least as a runner. It looked like James was Martin's backup, while Rainey was Charles Sims', taking on third-down duties while James got the actual carries.