The Tampa Bay Buccaneers bounced back strong in week two, beating the New Orleans Saints 26 to 19. The Bucs looked nothing like the team that showed up against the Tennessee Titans last week, as Jameis Winston and the defense both put on a great effort in a game that ended up being much closer than it needed to be after some late-game foibles, but unlike teams of the past four years, this Bucs team actually closed out the game with the defense actually stopping Drew Brees from marching down the field.
The Bucs started the game strong, forcing the Saints to punt on the first two drives, on of them after a sack-fumble which the Saints managed to pick up after some confusion on the field. While the offense stalled repeatedly thanks to some ill-timed penalties and poor pass-blocking, the team still got out of the first quarter with a 3-0 lead after a 55-yard Kyle Brindza field goal and some strong running by Doug Martin.
One standout on defense early was Jacquies Smith, who notched two sack-fumbles (both recovered by the offense) in the first half and kept harassing Drew Brees around the edge. After flashing repeatedly last season, he seems to be thriving in a starting role this season. Gerald McCoy helped and was his usual disruptive self, notching a sack to force the Saints' fourth consecutive punt on the day. You can't keep Drew Brees down forever, though, and two big Marques Colston catches allowed Mark Ingram to finish off the Saints' only successful drive of the first half.
While the Bucs offense kept defeating itself for most of the first half, Jameis Winston and company turned it on in the final drive of the first half, finishing the half with a beautiful fifteen-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson to give the Bucs the lead going into the half. Despite a number of drops, Winston's statistics were very impressive, completing eight of 12 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
And once the Bucs got going, they didn't stop. Jameis Winston opened the first half with a beautiful touchdown drive, including a deep throw that led to a defensive pass interference call in the endzone. Winston capped that off himself with a rushing touchdown, giving the Bucs a 17-7 lead. Add in a Chris Conte interception on the subsequent drive, and a Sterling Moore forced fumble on the drive after that, and the Bucs were leading 23-7 and comfortable heading into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter saw the Saints mounting a comeback, though. They got a touchdown after three times from the goal-line, but an outstanding tackle by Johnthan Banks on the two-point conversion kept it to a two-score game. A preventable Jameis Winston fumble on third down after he looked to run gave the ball right back, but the Bucs' defense forced a three-and-out and the field goal went wide left. Winston's first mistake on the day went unpunished. Of course, Doug Martin then fumbled the ball right back and that one did lead to a touchdown, after the refs robbed the Bucs by picking up a flag. And while Jameis Winston showed some of that magic, he couldn't close out the game, giving the Saints another chance with three minutes remaining.
The Bucs defense finished out the game, though: Chris Conte forced a fumble on Mark Ingram and Henry Melton recovered the ball just along the sideline -- that was Conte's second turnover on the day after a disastrous week one effort. The Bucs didn't try to get a touchdown despite the outstanding field position, instead running the clock and making it a 26-19 game with 1:51 remaining. But the Bucs defense closed out the game in style, sacking Drew Brees for the fourth time in the game and allowing no big plays to keep the Saints out of the endzone.
Here's what else we learned today:
Winston's a lot more comfortable
Where Winston's footwork was a mess last week and he looked extremely uncomfortable in the pocket, he looked a lot more like the composed player he was in college and in the second game of the preseason. While he still had a few risky throws, there were no head-scratchers and few rookie mistakes. It helped that the Bucs' pass protection was a lot more consistent, thanks to a weak New Orleans defensive line and improved communication by the rookies.
Except for a completely preventable fumble in the middle of the fourth quarter to keep the Saints in the game, Winston played a terrific game and that bodes well for his future. He finished the game completing 14 of 21 passes for 207 yards, one touchdown, three sacks (one fumble) and no interceptions -- a very solid performance by any measure.
Bucs' defense is much-improved
The Bucs forced four punts to start the game, notched three sacks in the first half and stifled Drew Brees throughout the game. The big plays that hurt them last week were gone, and the one time Brees went deep it resulted in a Chris Conte (!) interception. The Tampa Bay defense allowed no running room for the more run-oriented New Orleans offense, either, and generally looked like the Bucs defense we saw at the end of last year, and not that mess that was on the field last week.
Doug Martin is definitely back
The Buccaneers didn't give Doug Martin the ball as much as I expected, but he still got the call -- especially when the Bucs wanted to run out the game at the end there. Those late-game carries ruined his average as the Saints stacked the line of scrimmage to stop the expected runs, but he was dominant early in the game when the Bucs chose to give him the ball. He ended the day with 18 carries for 70 yards -- a solid day, but he was better than those stats suggest.
Jacquies Smith is a boss
Two sack-fumbles in the first half and a constant threat around the edge, Jacquies Smith looks like a star in the making. He flashed repeatedly as a part-time player last year and is thriving in his starting role, with four sacks on the year after getting Brees down three times today. If he can keep that up, the Bucs may actually have a consistent, functioning pass rush this year. Gerald McCoy showed up repeatedly today as well, notching a sack in the first half as well. Good news.
The Bucs don't trust Johnthan Banks' speed
Johnthan Banks played well today, but was repeatedly taken off the field on third down with Tim Jennings playing on the outside instead. That was likely because of Banks' lack of deep speed, which hasn't really shown up this year but is a known issue. Still, you'd think Banks would've earned some credit with his performance late last year.
Banks' outstanding play definitely showed up in the red zone, when he stopped a two-point conversion with a terrific tackle from behind. Similarly to Banks, Keith Tandy got a lot of red zone playing time -- that's where his skills make the most sense, and this approach to
Austin Seferian-Jenkins is good, but needs to be more consistent
But Seferian-Jenkins' performance was marred by a drop on a huge play in the first half play and several holding penalties. His potential is obvious and he's now consistently making big plays, but Seferian-Jenkins needs to stop hurting his team with some of those bad plays too. Once he does, he'll be a real star.
In what may be a disastrous injury, Gerald McCoy left the game with a right arm injury way at the end of the game. It's not clear what he suffered, but it was eerily similar to those biceps injuries that ended his first two seasons.
Starting center Evan Smith had to leave the game in the second half with an ankle injury and was replaced by Joe Hawley. Smith did not return.
Louis Murphy left the game after a big hit in the first half, but returned not too much later.
D.J. Swearinger left the game in the third quarter but returned almost immediately.
The Bucs head to Houston to take on the Ryan Mallett-led Texans in what should be a very interesting game.