The Tampa Bay Buccaneers stunned the NFL with a 19-17 upset of the Kansas City Chiefs. The question is - what does it mean? Have the Buccaneers turned the corner by beating an elite team on the road or was this a fluke?
In 1996 in San Diego, the Buccaneers were heavy underdogs to the Chargers. It was a game they were definitely not supposed to win. Before the game, Chris Berman joked the "Yucks" hadn't won on the West Coast in years. Yet future hall of famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks swore that this would be the Sunday that changed things. Sure enough, the Bucs won that game and would finish the season winning five of their last seven and springboard them to their first trip to the playoffs in 15 years the following season.
At the time, nobody really thought much about that victory over a Chargers team that had playoff aspirations but eventually collapsed to finish 8-8. Brooks and Sapp point to it as a turning point in the franchise.
Can the Bucs use this game as a springboard to bigger things?
1. Make no mistake, this was a big win. One can say the Chiefs were banged up, looking past the Bucs toward their big showdown with Denver and haven't been playing their best football. That they were ripe for an upset. I call bullcrap on all that.
The Chiefs had won 17 of their last 19 games. That's New England Patriots territory, folks. They had won 10 straight home games (11 if you count the London game as a home game). Few teams come to Arrowhead and find success.
Plus, the Chiefs win this way. It's how they've done it all season. Their offense just gets enough while their defense makes a big play to save the day. It had set up perfectly for them to do it again. This time, the Bucs out-Chief'd the Chiefs. They were the ones to make the big plays in the fourth quarter to win the ball game against a team that has made a living doing that, it's a statement.
2. What's really surprising is this game actually shouldn't have been this close. The Bucs had gotten inside the Chiefs redzone 4 times and came out with nine points before finally cashing in on their final trip to essentially put the game away. Kansas City struggled to stop Jameis and the Bucs the entire ballgame, while their offense struggled to stay on the field against the Tampa Bay defense. The Bucs outgained the Chiefs 442 to 343 and Tampa Bay converted on 11 of 16 third downs.
Ironically, Bucs QB Jameis Winston predicted Tampa Bay would do well on third downs because Chief fans do the War Chant, similar to Winston's alma mater Florida State. It got him pumped (and he admitted even he was doing it with them). While that chant is meant to intimidate opponents, for Winston, it made him feel at home.
Kansas City is one of the better teams on defense in the Red zone - its one of their keys to success. The Bucs had been one of the better red zone offenses in the league, but defense ruled for most of the day.
3. With the exception of the flukey fumble in the red zone, Jameis Winston had another terrific outing at Arrowhead. Winston was particularly deadly on third downs, where he was a remarkable 12 of 14 for 133 yards and a touchdown. He also had an 11 yard run for a first down and per Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman, completed his 11 conversions to six different players.
Winston had a few passes get away from him, as he is wont to do, but for the most part he was indeed accurate with the football, completing 61% against a solid Chiefs secondary. Of course, the Chiefs were missing playmaker Marcus Peters and that was certainly a factor.
Winston is now 4-2 in his last six games and over that span he's thrown 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He also had over 300 yds passing in back-to-back games for the first time in his career and both were victories. He's tied for fifth in the NFL in touchdown passes (20) and is just outside the top ten in yardage (2,680).
After being mediocre all season, Tampa Bay's offense has risen to 11th in the league in yards (16th in scoring offense).
4. The defense put together back-to-back solid performances for the first time this season. Now, this game wasn't as dominant as it was last week against the Bears, as Alex Smith was not pressured like Jay Cutler was the previous week, but the Bucs defense still managed to consistently get off the field and limited Kansas City to just 17 points.
The Bucs got the play of the game from safety Chris Conte, who intercepted the normally cautious Smith in the end zone and returned it 51 yards to the Tampa Bay 48. It would set up the Bucs' only touchdown drive of the game, essentially giving the game a 14 point swing in favor of Tampa Bay.
It was a crushing blow to the Chiefs and one of the biggest plays of the year by the Bucs defense.
After the terrible start to the season, the Bucs statistically are still a bit down in the rankings (26th) but it's been a steady rise for the defense, who have held four of their last six opponents to 17 or less (all victories).
5. How about the Bucs offensive line? Tampa Bay was facing one of the top pass rushes in the NFL and that was without Justin Houston, who returned to action on Sunday. Winston was rarely harassed throughout the ballgame and was sacked just once. The offensive line also opened holes for Doug Martin and Peyton Barber to pound out 116 yards on the ground. It was especially effective in the second half, when the Bucs 83 of their 116 yards.
This despite playing with a banged up Joe Hawley at center and without starting LG Kevin Pamphile, then losing replacement starter Ben Gottschalk, forcing rookie Caleb Benenoch back into the lineup.
The much maligned Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson had better performances on the edge as well. When the offensive line blocks like that, Winston can carve up even the best of secondaries and he most certainly did that on Sunday.
6. No, Doug Martin isn't completely back to form, but you could see flashes of it. Martin pounded out a hard earned 63 yards on 24 carries, a very mediocre 2.6 yards a carry, but in the second half you could see Doug begin to get some of his explosiveness and vision back. If Martin can get himself on track, the Bucs offense will continue to move up the rankings. Martin did make some plays in the passing game, hauling in 3 passes for 42 yards. Of course, Martin dropped a screen pass that had some big play potential deep in Kansas City territory so it wasn't a perfect day running or receiving for the Dougernaut.
7. Mike Evans quietly had yet another 100 yard day and narrowly missed hauling in a league leading ninth touchdown reception. Evans, I think, made the right move in offering a mea culpa on not standing for the National Anthem. It was a rare reversal for a player in this type of situation and showed a level of maturity that an younger Mike Evans may not have. Good job, Mike.
8. Another factor in beating the Chiefs at their own game was the turnover margin. Kansas City entered the game with a league leading +14 in turnover margin. The Bucs simply could not lose the turnover battle and hope to win the game. After Jameis fumbled in the first quarter, it looked a little dicey but two turnovers in the fourth quarter (the last one on the crazy lateral) flipped the turnover battle in favor of Tampa Bay.
After starting the season a dreadful -9, Tampa Bay has recovered and is now +1 in turnover margin.
9. Next up, the Bucs again get an opportunity to prove they can stay on the field with a top level opponent. The Seattle Seahawks make the long trek to Tampa and this one is another big one for the Bucs. This game could tell us if playoff aspirations for the Bucs are realistic. To get to the post season, the Bucs may need to win 10 games, that means they can do no worse than 5-1 in their last six.
It's a tall order, but the Bucs do have four games against teams with losing records remaining. That means they'll have to win one of the games against NFC elites - Seattle or Dallas to get there. Beating Dallas in Dallas seems unthinkable at this point. Of course, many thought the same of the Kansas City game so who knows?
It's no secret the Seahawks are one of the league's best (and have been for a while). They have an elite defense and their offense has one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Russell Wilson. Like Kansas City, they're coming off a tough game where they sustained some injuries to some crucial players, so the Bucs just might be catching them at the right moment.
If the Bucs can get a running game going (not easy against Seattle, who has the 5th best run defense in the league), can get some key turnovers and Jameis can continue to be the player we've seen over the past six weeks, they got a shot at it.
10. DLT's Game Tweet of the Week