The Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked up their second win of the season against the Carolina Panthers, beating them narrowly in a messy, ugly Monday night game.
As always, there were winners and losers for the Bucs. This time, because it’s a win, we can focus on the winners — for once, it’s been tough to do so over the past few weeks. As the Bucs head into the bye week, here’s what they can build on, and who has to step up his game.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
The Bucs were missing their top two running backs, so they turned to Jacquizz Rodgers instead. That decision actually worked out pretty well, and Rodgers netted 101 yards on 30 carries — the only other back to touch the ball was Peyton Barber, who had three carries. While Rodgers’ per-carry average wasn’t overly impressive, Rodgers was a consistent force who anchored the Bucs’ offense, and he should be a valuable contributor when Doug Martin returns to play next game.
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith
The defense has been weird this season, and this game was no different. They allowed Greg Olsen to catch nine passes for 181 yards, and he was wide open on many of those plays.
But the Bucs also took the ball away four times (one of them on special teams), and allowed just 14 points all game (would have been 17 had Graham Gano not missed a field goal). As has been the case repeatedly this season, the Bucs defense mostly did its job, and the issue was offensive production — which just barely good enough to win today.
The Bucs defense still has plenty of issues, but this was a pretty impressive overall showing, especially given the fact that the Bucs were missing three starters on defensive line. Those players should come back after the bye week.
CB Brent Grimes
Brent Grimes picked up his first interception of the season, stopping the Panthers from taking a potentially back-breaking lead in the fourth quarter. He also had another good pass breakup, made a really good tackle on the goal-line, and overall just had a good game. Grimes has been a little up-and-down this season, but he’s still a valuable starter.
K Roberto Aguayo
You kick a game-winning field goal, you’re a winner. That’s pretty simple.
It should also be noted, though, that Aguayo missed two field goals during the game and is now 4/8 on field goals for the season. He’s a 50% kicker right now. It’s still early, and a small sample, and he could adjust — but this was also the case in the preseason, and the more opportunities he gets, the more it seems like he’s just an erratic kicker.
At least he’s good on kickoffs.
QB Jameis Winston
It appears that the Bucs quarterback hasn’t quite taken that second step. He completed 18 of 30 passes for just 219 yards yesterday, with one touchdown and no turnovers — though he did fumble once. Those are pretty lackluster numbers, and unfortunately those numbers are in line with the rest of his season.
Winston still throws some darts and makes some spectacular plays, but he’s simply too inaccurate on too many throws right now. He’s also too erratic inside the pocket, often overreacting to (perceived) pressure, which makes things tougher for his offensive line and his receivers. If the Bucs want to win games consistently, he’s going to have play better than he has so far.
Head coach Dirk Koetter
Koetter hired someone to advise him on game strategy during the game, but he keeps making absolutely ludicrous decisions. The Bucs wasted multiple timeouts right after game stoppages, one time calling a timeout immediately after getting a delay of game penalty. That’s not an infrequent occurrence this season, either.
All of that paled in comparison to what Koetter did towards the end of the game. First, he settled for a field goal on third-and-nine in a tie game instead of trying to get a first down with an admittedly erratic quarterback. The erratic field goal kicker missed.
Then, with an opportunity to drive down the field for the win again, he seemed to want to play for overtime by running the ball on first and second down inside the two-minute warning with just one timeout. The one thing that prevented him from doing so was the fact that the Panthers called timeouts to try to get the ball back. That and a silly Carolina penalty practically forced Koetter to try to win the game.
But even when the Bucs were in position to score, Koetter played it safe. Instead of trying to go for the touchdown, he played for the field goal — with, again, an erratic kicker at hand. How would we be talking about him had Aguayo missed?
In other words: Dirk Koetter hasn’t actually been all that good this year, either in terms of result, or in terms of process as a game manager.