The Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the first team to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium in over a year, as they held on for a 19-17 win in a close, competitive game.
Last week’s win over the Bears was a big one for the Bucs. It got the monkey off Tampa’s back to finally win at home, and it was a statement game about beating a team you should beat. But a winning streak wasn’t the only momentum Tampa had going into their road game versus Kansas City. Before today, quarterback Jameis Winston had 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions over his last five games. This offense was clicking in an effective way, but not a consistent way in terms of long drives.
After giving up a 7:53 drive to open up the game to the Chiefs offense, Tampa’s offense showed some of that needed consistency by looking as comfortable as I’ve seen them look all year in their first drive. Earlier this season the narrative was that Winston needed time to get his feet wet. The offensive would often call a run-heavy first series just to get everyone acclimated with the environment and what the defense would be showing, but it resulted in some slow starts and some trailing scores. Today, with Martin back in the lineup, there was a greater sense of confidence from that unit which resulted in Winston going 3-for-3 on third downs on his first drive before losing a fumble in the red zone.
After adjusting to Kansas City’s opening drive, Tampa’s defense forced a punt. The ensuing drive ended up being a 9-play, 62-yard drive which included a 23-yard catch by Mike Evans and a 19-yard catch by Cecil Shorts — who had his best game as a Buccaneer. Again, consistency, not just on a drive-by-drive basis, but a play-by-play basis is what what most important. The long drive even almost ended in six on this catch.
After another great defensive stand, Tampa again marched down the field, this time on a 10-play, 63-yard drive. This drive involved a lot more of Doug Martin as a featured attacker. Last week Martin was limited in his first game back from a lengthy hamstring injury, but this week they let him get back to his old playmaking ways.
That run set up an even bigger play which showed off the best of Tampa’s offense: Martin standing up a big block on defensive tackle Chris Jones, Winston with a dime of a pass while fading back, and Evans double tapping his feet in bounds to get the team within striking distance.
In the trenches, I was very impressive by the offensive line today. With Dee Ford having a great year and Justin Houston making his return, I thought it would be a long day for Tampa’s tackles Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson. But, against Kansas City’s premier pass rushers, they were able to hold their own for most of the game, including having an almost penalty-free first half.
As a whole, this offense was methodical all game long. Not just when they were having success, but even during their low points, they were still able to move the ball here and there. That’s what makes a good offense. It’s not just about how high the highs are (plenty of teams can score quick). Rather, the true character of an offense is how high their lows are. When things aren’t going completely right, can you still move the ball? Today, Tampa did.
In the second half, on a drive that started at their own four yard line, Tampa marched up the field with an effective run game and in-rhythm passes that continued to build momentum and gas the Chiefs defense. A 3-4 defense like the Chiefs have is all about stacking the line of scrimmage and having athletes at the linebacker position. This usually results in good containment against the run and an overwhelming pass rush that get sacks and tackles for loss. But, time on the field for a defensive philosophy like that is vital, and when you have an offense that really controls the clock against it, it can get tired very quickly. That was the story for much of this game. Unfortunately, Tampa was held to just three points instead of six on too many occasions. That has to be the next step forward.
As for the defense, Tampa contained the Chiefs not-so-dynamic offense as well as you could ask them to for most of the game. Brent Grimes started the game as the outside corner opposite Vernon Hargreaves, but left the game in the first half due to a quad injury and was replaced on the outside by Alterraun Verner. Verner was burned pretty badly by Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill on the biggest play of the day during the second quarter, but after that, he neutralized his assignments pretty well.
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith opted to have his cornerbacks guard Kansas City’s leading receiver and tight end Travis Kelce instead of his linebackers. This proved to be a mismatch all game long. The containment on a player those in the NFL reference as “Baby Gronk” was solid for a while, but in the fourth quarter, Kelce grabbed a big pass which led the Chiefs to within the 10 wit their eyes on the lead. Fortunately for Tampa fans, Alex Smith proved to be the best defense against Kelce with a throw he’d love to have back.
After returning that interception 55 yards, the Bucs did something long-time Tampa fans aren’t used to seeing: put their foot on the gas and capitalized off good field position and a turnover.
On a 9-play 52-yard drive that took over five minutes, the Bucs offense showed a healthy mix of run and pass with Martin, Evans, Shorts, and an unlikely hero in Alan Cross who capped off the drive with a touchdown — the first touchdown of his career.
Following Tampa’s largest lead of the game, Alex Smith seemed to go into assassin mode. The Chiefs marched the ball 78 yards in under four minutes to bring the game to a two-point game with Tampa needing just two first downs to end the game.
The play of the game, for me, might have been Koetter’s decision to not run the ball on the third down right before the two minute warning which caught the defense off guard and moved the sticks. On the two plays prior, Martin did a great job of making up for a heavy blitz and was able to get positive yardage. By getting the ball to a manageable 3rd-and-3, the defense could not just abandon covering the run or pass. The split in the defense was picked apart by Winston and Evans, and the success of that play ran enough time off the clock to seal the win.
The win meant Tampa, a week after ending one of the longest home droughts in the NFL, ended the longest active consecutive win steak at home for Kansas City. It was the first time the 7-2 Chiefs lost at home since October of 2015. The win also means that Tampa is now just one game back of the division-leading Atlanta Falcons.
More than the number in the win column, though, this was the best win of the season for the Bucs. They looked great on both sides of the ball, and seem to really be coming into their own. The earlier season struggles of play calling and miscues seemed to all vanish against one of the better defenses in the NFL, and something like that should not go unnoticed. It was an impressive win when you look at who they beat, but even more encouraging watch how they did it -- playing their way and getting it done.