The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have their first win under Dirk Koetter, as they beat the Atlanta Falcons 31-24 in Atlanta. Jameis Winston recovered very well from a slow start, completing 23 of 33 passes for four touchdowns and one interception. Mike Evans was the team's leading receiver, with five catches for 99 yards and one of those four touchdowns.
Throughout the preseason, we've heard Tampa coaches talk about showing "a little, but not all" of what they plan to do once the regular season begins. In years past, those words turned out to be a shallow statements as both offensive and defensive creativity under Lovie Smith and Greg Schiano were non-existent.
But Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith are not conservative coaches, so when they said those same statements during the preseason, there was reason to be optimistic that it was true. After watching game 1, they weren't lying.
The point of football is to score points -- a lot of points. The way you score points is by making dynamic plays. The only way you make dynamic plays is by taking shots. This line of truths were a big reason why Lovie Smith and Greg Schiano were not successful in Tampa, and it was also a major reason why the offense coordinator last season (Koetter) was promoted to the head man this year.
Taking shots is not reserved for the fourth quarter when the team is down by double digits. Taking shots is something that should be incorporated into the game plan just as much as a go-to 3rd down play. In their win over the Falcons, for the first time in a very, very long time, I watched a Buccaneers team strive to be dynamic and take shots early and often.
On back-to-back plays, Winston overthrows Humphries then Evans for what would've been touchdowns https://t.co/PdolEiXije— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) September 11, 2016
Having a quarterback that not only has the ability to be dynamic, but also wants to be dynamic is a big piece of the puzzle that Lovie and Schiano never had -- so, for that, you have to take a little blame off of them. But it's also giving such a quarterback the green light that separates Koetter.
The two plays above came in the first drive of the game. On both passes, Jameis Winston was able to put the down and distance requirement on the back burner when he saw an opportunity to make a greater play. That train of thought didn't pay off here, but it certainly did later in the game.
What catch by Austin Seferian-Jenkins. This Tampa offense is cooking https://t.co/yOpBpamp6t— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) September 11, 2016
The throw above was early in the second quarter. On 1st and 10, Koetter called a play that gave Winston options for smaller gains, but also made sure he gave the offense a big play opportunity. Winston decided to go for the home run, and oh boy did it pay off. Not only was the throw perfect, which only made Winston's confidence grow, but it was also an incredible grab by Seferian-Jenkins who adds an almost uncoverable weapon to this offense when he himself is confident, too. This play meant more than just six points.
In my 25 years on this Earth, I have never seen a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team play offense like this. This is fun https://t.co/Kr8HrupAYa— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) September 11, 2016
This was Winston's fourth touchdown toss of the day, and it was a beauty. The coverage by Falcons cornerback Robert Alford was very good, but the placement of the throw was even better -- perfect, even.
The four throws I showed above spanned 1st, 2nd and 3rd down. In a good offense, taking shots down the field isn't just something you dial up on play action on first down. It isn't just a last resort plan when the team is in a third and long. Calling certain routes and package plays that consistently force secondary players to go deep and stretch their coverage zones open up the offense on nearly every level. However, calling those routes isn't enough; you have to have the guts to go for some of them.
The Bucs appear to have those guts for the first time in a very, very long time.
Bend But Don't Break
The Bucs defense held the Falcons to just 13 points in the first half, but once the second half began, they lost their grip on that control.
Vernon Hargreaves III got the start at nickel on the first play of the game, but like we saw in the third preseason game and at the end of training camp, when the team went to just two cornerbacks, Hargreaves remained on the field as an outside corner taking the place of Verner.
Hargreaves played decent. He gave up a few big catch to Sanu and Julio Jones, but also made a few nice tackles, including this one up at the line of scrimmage in the red zone.
Great tackle by VH3 on the quick pass. Blew right past Julio and wrapped up https://t.co/iUBxSHfhqK— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) September 11, 2016
The pass rush was disruptive, but not as much as we saw in the preseason. Gerald McCoy looked good including coming up with the game-sealing tipped pass. If you are one of those fans who for some reason complains about him, you should pick a different hill to die on.
Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David were the cornerstones of the defense. Alexander recorded an insane 17 tackles with two tackles for loss and one sack. He had himself a day. On top of that, he and Gerald McCoy poked fun at the NFL's ridiculous celebration penalties by giving a simple high five after his sack.
Play of the Day
The play of the day came near the end of the first half from the running back position, but it wasn't from starting running back Doug Martin. This particular play came from Charles Sims.
HOLY S*** CHARLES SIMS https://t.co/4d4kb22MJN— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) September 11, 2016
Go ahead and count the defenders he makes miss. I mean, that first little stutter step practically bends time and space. I tweeted after this play that when he caught it, I said out loud, "Get out of bounds, Get out of bounds. Oh god. HOLY...."
That will be one of the best plays of the weekend. You'll see it on ESPN a few times between now and Tuesday.
Any win in the NFL is a big win. Magnify that fact with it being the first game of the season, and a win against a divisional opponent and you get a really happy coaching staff.
Bottom line is the offense played great; they weren't afraid to get creative and attack the Falcons' defensive rookies. The offensive line could've played better, but going off what we saw in the preseason, we should be pleased with their first regular season game as a unit.
On the defense, the stars came out to shine, but we were reminded again that it takes all 11 guys to get stops. After going up 31-13, they allowed the Falcons to get within striking distance at the end of the game to tie it up. The safety position has to get better chemistry with the corners in coverage. That was the big weakness.
Things don't get easier for the Bucs as they travel to Arizona to face one of the best defenses and more creative offenses in the league against the Cardinals next week. But, for now, they will enjoy being undefeated.