It's already begun. The yeah but's. Yeah but its only the Browns. Yeah but it's just pre-season. None of that matters. Last I checked, Cleveland still had an NFL franchise and they do keep score in the pre-season.
Mostly, this is the week you really want to see your team starting to come together. When the Bucs' starters take the field again on September 11th, there's a little less doubt and a bit more confidence in your team.
You wanted to see all three phases come together. You wanted your quarterback throwing darts, your defense breaking heads and your kicker making kicks.
You want your special teams to help, not hurt you. Speaking of hurt - you want to get out of the game without any major injuries.
The Bucs got all of that and more this week and if you're a Bucs fan, you should feel good about your team heading into Atlanta.
There's not much to diatribe about this week, but there's plenty to discuss.
1. Last week, we started with struggling kicker Roberto Aguayo. Bucs fans (and probably a certain General Manager) were ringing their hands a little bit at the struggles of their rookie kicker. After an awful week of practice and two rough performances in the first two games, special teams coach Nick Kaczor took Aguayo to Raymond James Stadium while the rest of the team worked with the Browns. There, with his battery of snappers and holders, the 2nd round pick kicked, kicked and kicked some more. 25 kicks later, the confidence was back. They weren't all perfect but Aguayo finally figured it out.
"(I did what I've) Just I’ve done this my whole life. I sit back and think my collegiate career didn’t happen by accident,'' said Aguayo told the Tampa Bay Times. "I just went back and realized how I got here just doing what I do on a regular basis. Not try to overthink it too much or try to put more pressure than I need on myself.''
The rookie turned in a perfect performance on Friday night, 6-6, including a 48 yard field goal to begin the game. His 12 points were 71% of the Bucs' margin of victory and his kickoffs boomed out the back of the endzone. This is what Bucs fans were hoping to see from Roberto Aguayo.
2. The Bucs unveiled their no huddle attack on Friday night and future opponents had to take notice. Jameis Winston was opposite of his terrible performance last week, simply on fire. Even more exciting for Bucs fans, he began connecting on long balls to Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. If Winston can consistently hit these - its going to be a fun season in Tampa Bay, ladies and gentlemen.
We all understand that Jameis is the franchise quarterback and much of the Bucs fortunes are tied to his success or failure. At the same time, it's something special to watch a Buccaneer quarterback improvise and simply find ways to make plays, as he did on his first touchdown pass of the night to Charles Sims. It was one of those Russell Wilson-esque wow moments that make you excited to be a Bucs fan.
3. All wasn't perfect as the running game once again was stuck in neutral. Doug Martin's 14 yard run improve the Bucs' running average with the first team but for the most part, Cleveland kept the Tampa Bay runners bottled up. The Bucs managed just 76 yards rushing on the night. Of course, as a team they averaged 5.4 yards a carry, so it definitely wasn't terrible.
In the grand scheme, the Browns may have just felt that they were not going to let the Bucs run on them. Winston would have to beat them with his arm.
4. Last week I said I wasn't sure where ASJ was on the depth chart now as he seemed to be tumbling further and further down it. Of course, the same day I wrote that, coach Koetter talked about ASJ moving up and playing with the ones. I said I'd believe it when I see it. I saw it. I believe it. ASJ appears to be out of the Chateau De Bow Wow. No, he didn't make any huge plays, 1 catch for 5 yards on his only target, but the Bucs had him out there on all three downs - including blocking on running plays.
Its like I told our commentators last week - I'm pulling for ASJ just like everyone else. I want to see him do well. I believe it was the Tampa Bay Times' Tom Jones who said you expect a 2nd round pick to be able to start over an undrafted free agent. Now that he appears to be back at the top of the depth chart, let's hope he does what is required of him to stay there.
5. The Bucs defense was simply beastly on Friday night, sacking Robert Griffin III five times in the first half and adding another 3 of former Buc QB Josh McCown and the other Cleveland backups. Tampa Bay kept the Browns runners mostly in check, limiting Cleveland to just 81 yds on the ground and 254 yards of total offense.
In fact, if not for the return of All-World (and All-Knucklehead) receiver Josh Gordon, the Browns may not have reached double-digits on the night.
While Brent Grimes didn't have the best of nights (ending with an injury that doesn't appear to be serious), Gordon's going to do that to a lot of corners in this league when he returns from serving his four game suspension. If he's around later in your fantasy football drafts, you might want to grab this dude and stash him.
Also, RG3 is special on deep balls. I think, if he can get any help from his o-line and stay healthy, he has a chance to really have a good season for the Browns.
So while many are saying, "Oh, its just the Browns," make no mistake that Cleveland does have some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. You can be proud of your Bucs' stifling defense on this night.
6. Kenny Bell caught a pass! Kenny Bell caught a pass! Oh, then he dropped the next one. Sigh.
7. Sad to see Storm Johnson fumble the ball in one of his few opportunities. You just can't do that when you're fighting for a job in this league. Ryan Hansborough appeared to make the most of his opportunity last night (although he did fumble, but recovered). We'll see if it was enough to live another week and get to the final pre-season game. Peyton Barber again has some decent moments. Mike James was held out for a minor injury but I'd be surprised if he's on this first cut. I think, if healthy, he'll get another shot to retain his 3rd running back status.
8. Vernon Hargreaves played well in his first start as he rotated with Alterraun Verner at corner and played a little nickel. It will be interesting to see what happens with the corners. Verner is making a lot of money to be a backup and we saw Grimes struggle with Gordon and some guy named Taylor Gabriel. Johnthan Banks is still up-and-down and Josh Robinson has been quiet the last couple weeks.
Verner may not be happy he's a backup, but I don't think the Bucs should cut him loose. What's wrong with a little depth? The Bucs aren't exactly hurting for cap space right now. If Grimes continues to have days like Friday night, Verner may get another shot at starting.
9. Who says Adam Humphries is a safe/slow return guy? It was terrific and electric 73 yd return for a touchdown by the Bucs' Mr. Everything. Of course, it helped punter Andy Lee made a "business decision". Still, excellent job by the guy his teammates call "Hump", he certainly got the special teams over it last night.
While talking about returners, it was a tough break for Dontae Dye to go down with injury, it was also opportunity for Speedy Bernard Reedy who answered with an eye opening 43 yard punt return. This time Lee at least tried and slowed Reedy down enough to keep it from going to the house.
It was interesting that it was Reedy, not Kenny Bell, who got the call after Dye went down.
10. While it was a great night all around for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we have to remember this is just pre-season. Yeah, I said it I didn't care but it really is the truth. The Bucs haven't "arrived" after beating up on a bad Browns team. They may see their share of struggles in Atlanta (and definitely in Arizona). What the Bucs did do though is build on what they've been doing in camp for the last three weeks. There were few penalties (3 for 25) and no turnovers by the starters. Cleveland QBs completed 61% of their passes but for less than 200 yds and were sacked 8 times. The team was into it, played hard and well. This is really what you want to see.
Bonus - You really didn't think I'd exit this article without mentioning the improvements to Ray Jay did you? Holy Mackerel. This wasn't slapping some makeup and lipstick on the old girl and sending her off to the dance - it felt like you were in a brand new stadium. Just beautiful. An attaboy is certainly deserved for the Glazers and the Tampa Sports Authority. If the Super Bowl doesn't come back to Tampa soon, the NFL is just stupid.
As custom, I won't be doing a DLT's Diatribes next week. Mainly because the one's won't be playing, I'll be out of town and unable to watch the game until Monday night. With that said, be on the look out for my thoughts/predictions on the upcoming season as well as the return of my goofy weekly picks segment.