Going into the game, the top of the NFC South was still very much up for grabs. In the earlier set of games, the Atlanta Falcons handed the Carolina Panthers their third loss of the season. With the Falcons at 3-1 and the Bucs at 1-2, a win this week would keep Tampa Bay within striking distance. Getting off to a good start was going to be important for the Bucs.
Tampa started the game on offense, which was ideal for a Dirk Koetter led team. The drive started with two pedestrian runs by Charles Sims. But on the first third down of the game -- and the first pass of the game -- Jameis Winston picked up right where he left off last week with a mental mistake.
On the first 3rd down and first pass of the day, Winston throws an INT to former Buc Aqib Talib https://t.co/em44MfCE71— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) October 2, 2016
Winston has been frustrating to watch this season -- this was his seventh interception of the year, and it wouldn't be his last in this game. He is incredibly hot and cold as a passer, and where it's true that you have to take the good with the bad, eventually the bad has to get smaller and smaller. With more turnovers than touchdowns this season, it's perfectly fair to question his current state and express a desire to see better.
The Broncos followed up that turnover with a one-play drive that ended with six points thanks to a very lackadaisical effort from the defense.
Y'all, this Tampa team is baaaaaad https://t.co/YWxDydVGx3— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) October 2, 2016
On the following drive, Bucs fans saw the good Winston, and the reason why stomaching his mistakes is easier with him more than other quarterbacks. Winston has what people call short-term memory within the game of football. It doesn't matter if it's following up his successes or his failures, he goes out on the next play and attacks it with full confidence. That mentality led to completed passes to Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Cameron Brate within a 75-yard drive that was capped off with Winston's first rushing touchdown of the season.
We saw bad Jameis. Good Jameis is much more fun. pic.twitter.com/wSP0N5w3We— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) October 2, 2016
The next couple defensive series were stout from the Bucs. They limited the Broncos rushing offense and got pressure in the face of quarterback Trevor Siemian which resulted in two punts in a row. Rookie defensive end Noah Spence got the first start of his career this week and gave Bucs fans a glimpse of what he can do when he's given a full plate.
Noah Spence got his first start today. Didn't get this sack, but flushed the pocket with a great move. Kid's good https://t.co/eim2AuVuDM— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) October 2, 2016
Spence left the game in the second quarter and did not return due to a shoulder injury, but in the limited time we saw him play today, he made splash plays like the one above. He still has some work to do to be a consistent force on the line, but when asked to pin his ears back and go after the pocket, he's more than holding his own.
The reason I was only able to say the Bucs defense forced the Broncos to two consecutive punts instead of five was because of this:
Winston sure wishes Talib was still in Tampa. That's two INTs to him already. https://t.co/MXSj7QNJMX— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) October 2, 2016
This is just a bad pass from Winston. He had Charles Sims open right past his offensive line with space to take it up field if he would've dumped it off. However, instead he got greedy for the intermediate pass and tried to challenge the best secondary in the NFL. Having short term memory is good, but that doesn't mean you forget who you're playing. Winston did not respect who he was playing early in this one, and it came back to bite him.
The man that made him pay on both of those interceptions was a player Bucs fans know all too well, Aqib Talib. During his four years in Tampa, Talib was known for amazing plays on the field and bone-head actions off the field. Eventually the headache became too much and he was traded to the New England Patriots for a fourth round pick in 2012. After signing a one-year deal with the Pats in 2013, he signed a seven-year deal with the Broncos in 2014.
In his homecoming this afternoon, Talib sarcastically addressed his former home crowd after his second interception by blowing kisses to the stands.
Aqib Talib blowing kisses to his former home crowd after grabbing his second interception. https://t.co/vs3PQIlWEm— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) October 2, 2016
Before the half ended, Siemian went out for the Broncos after suffering a shoulder injury which gave rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch his first playing time of the regular season. Lynch was the 26th overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, and was expected to be groomed as the eventual starter. He took over with 1:30 left in the half and the ball on his own 25 yard line. Lynch led his team down to the red zone with a good combination of passes and runs. As the clock ticked closer to zero, Lynch took a shot at the end zone which was incomplete, and really, should've been intercepted by Brent Grimes.
Lynch goes for it all on 3rd down. Should've been picked off by Grimes https://t.co/XqaKVPXPXZ— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) October 2, 2016
Lynch went on to play the rest of the second half and finished the game with 170 yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts. After Gerald McCoy and Noah Spence went out of the game with injury, the Bucs front four did not get enough penetration to really challenge Lynch. Though he made nice throws, his day was relatively easy against a banged-up pass rush and a below average secondary.
The Broncos eventually got out to a 27-7 score, and even a one-hour lightning delay couldn't get the Bucs even close to a comeback.
Overall, the injuries are a problem, but even beyond them, there is no consistency on this team. They are erratic with the ball and when trying to defend. One series they're moving the ball down the field at will, the next they get very vanilla in their play calling or turn the ball over. On defense, the motor is either on full throttle or it's hardly in drive.
There will always be ups and downs within each week's 60 minutes between the lines, and where riding those peaks and valleys is important, controlling them is more important. The Bucs don't have any control right now, and their 1-3 record shows that.