The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their second game of the season, beating the Carolina Panthers 17-14 with a game-winning field goal from Roberto Aguayo on Monday Night Football, after missing two field goals earlier in the game.
This game was an ugly one early on, but if you looked at the injuries and inactives for both teams before kickoff, you probably could've seen that coming. Three of Tampa's starting four defensive lineman were out for this one (Gerald McCoy, Robert Ayers and Clinton McDonald) and even though Noah Spence isn't technically a starter, he was active, but didn't play much.
On the offensive side, the Bucs were without both Doug Martin and Charles Sims. So, if we're counting Austin Seferian-Jenkins getting waived a week ago, that meant three playmakers were not suited up for Tampa tonight for a team that was already in desperate need of playmakers. The last time the Bucs were full healthy with all the weapons they went through training camp with, they were undefeated. But that was only one game, and they have yet to win one since the injuries started to mount.
An Unlikely Star
The man who assumed the starting running back duties with Martin and Sims out was Jacquizz Rodgers, a player Koetter is familiar with due to their time in Atlanta together a few season ago. Rodgers started the game off very well, and despite the Bucs being very one dimensional initially, he remained effective when moving the ball on the ground.
Bucs offensive line getting creative and it's opening things up nicely for Jacquizz Rodgers pic.twitter.com/7RCLDFYBr2— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) October 11, 2016
It was surprising to see the Bucs offensive line play this well against one of the best defensive lines in football, but I guess when you go up against defensive lines like Denver and Arizona, you toughen up a bit. The run above was Rodgers' longest of the first half and it used multiple pulling blockers to perfection. It was a glimmer of hope, if nothing else, for once Tampa is at full strength again.
Rodger was big in this one. Time and time again he looked calm and collected through tight gaps and when taking on tacklers much bigger than him, including on the biggest play of the game on third down when the Bucs were driving with less than two minutes to go in the game. He finished the game with 101 yards on 30 carries, and deserves to stay on this roster, even when Martin and Sims are healthy.
In the pre-game show, a few of the ESPN personalities noted a need for Jameis Winston to calm down a bit early on -- the only player two has a worse quarterback rating than Jameis in first quarters this season is Blake Bortles. It seemed the Bucs agreed with that notion and did all they could to get his feet under him by running the ball so much in the first two series. Even with that, however, Winston still didn't look comfortable early.
Eeeeeeasy, Jameis pic.twitter.com/6MGmJThubf— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) October 11, 2016
On top of a few throws like this, Winston was also very hesitant to scramble the ball when he had open space in the first half. I said on Twitter during the game that it almost looks like he's been told not to run -- which is really, really dumb. He looked much more comfortable in the second half when running, but just like when things get too structured in the passing game, Winston is at his best when the game plan allows him to be creative.
Winston is a momentum player and the Bucs have to let it ride. If they try to limit momentum one way with Winston, they may lower their ceiling on the other end, too. I'm not saying he shouldn't get better in the turnover category -- he certainly has to -- but as stressful as it may be at times, his confidence will be what gets them wins.
Here's an example of that:
"Got 'em" - Gruden pic.twitter.com/fdnFagFeKU— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) October 11, 2016
The play before this one, Koetter dialed up a play action roll out where Winston threw across the field to a wide open Cameron Brate for a long gain. That's all Winston needed. The next play was the one you see above, and if the video would've played longer, you would've seen Winston already running to the sideline because he knew the second it left his hand that it was six. As stressful as the rest of the season might be fore Tampa fans, this is what it's going to take to win.
Bend but Don't Break Defense
The defense was extremely impressive in the first half albeit against a back up quarterback. They were clearly in a "bend but don't break" style of defense with most of their front four out, and did a nice job of not breaking as was evident by the zero points they allowed in the first half since 2014.
Such a style of defense only works if two things can happen: the offense can control most of the clock, and at some point the defense must get a turnover or two. Both of those happened in the first half.
This INT was all VH3. pic.twitter.com/IBqwUjLAjE— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) October 11, 2016
Throughout the game, the ESPN broadcast continued to reference the height difference between the Panthers receivers and the Bucs secondary players. On the play above, that height difference didn't matter. Vernon Hargreaves got his hand up to punch the ball away from the much taller Kelvin Benjamin and gave his teammates a chance to make the play.
In the fourth quarter, as the Panthers were about to take the lead and control of the game, the turnover bug struck again as the shorter Brent Grimes took a touchdown away from the taller Greg Olsen by cutting the route right before it arrived.
Not a great throw by Anderson, but a nice takeaway on a very athletic play.
There was a lot of criticism for Mike Smith's defense over the past few weeks, including losing to a rookie quarterback last week. But all hats have to be off for him tonight with all the injuries he had to deal with.
Aguayo the Hero(?)
After missing two field goals earlier in the game -- from distances that justifiably brought up discussions of when to cut him -- Aguayo was called upon to try to be the hero, and to quote the famous line from Dumb and Dumber, ".... AND TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELF."
That was one of the most roller coaster games I've ever watched. Jacquizz Rodgers was the MVP, the defense stood tall (hehe), and your Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now 2nd place in the division with the tiebreaker in hand.