First things first, let’s take a look at five key moments which helped secure the Bucs’ third win of 2018.
THE PLAY: The good incompletion.
It’s not often you’re happy to see an incomplete pass, but in this case, I certainly was.
With a 9-2 lead and the ball on the Cleveland side of the fifty-yard line, Jameis Winston dropped back and scanned the field looking for an open receiver.
He saw nothing. So he did what most quarterbacks do and started to get happy feet. He eventually moved up and outside of the pocket.
Then, suddenly, it appeared the fourth-year quarterback was going to run the ball and Cleveland defenders started closing down on him.
Just as suddenly Winston flicked his arm and wrist and the ball flew towards wide receiver Adam Humphries who had suddenly come open just slightly due to the defense reacting to Winston’s running action.
Alas, the ball fell to the ground. Incomplete.
For me it was a sign of what we’ve all been wanting to see out of the Buccaneers’ still young franchise quarterback.
Solid field awareness, good decision making, and decisiveness. He’s not all the way there yet. But he’s improving.
The pass fell incomplete, but later in the same drive when Winston attacked the line of scrimmage on a similar play the defense hesitated. They didn’t react as fast as they had the first time. Perhaps the memory of Winston throwing after running towards the line of scrimmage cost the defenders precious reaction time.
Because by the time they realized Winston wasn’t interested in throwing this time, he was in the end zone for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ second touchdown of the game.
THE PLAY: Kwon Alexander leaves the game.
Potential bad news for the #Bucs: The concern is that star LB Kwon Alexander suffered a torn ACL, sources tell me and @MikeGarafolo. He had been in contract talks on a long-term deal. The hope is for good news on the all-important MRI.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 21, 2018
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had put up points on three straight possessions. The Browns had punted on five. Minus the safety early in the first quarter, there weren’t really any red marks yet. But then the storm clouds began to roll in.
First came the interception. With O.J. Howard running free behind the defense and with nothing between him and the end zone but a pass over the top, Winston fired a bullet right into the hands of linebacker Christian Kirksey on the Browns’ 27-yard line.
Then, following another Cleveland punt, Cameron Brate fumbled his first catch of the afternoon on the Bucs’ own 19-yard line.
But daylight broke and appeared to shoo away the clouds as Lavonte David poked the ball free from the clutches of quarterback Baker Mayfield as he tried to convert a clutch first-down for his team.
Just then, everyone realized there was a Bucs player laying on the field. Injured. It was Kwon Alexander, and it was as if the foundation itself holding Raymond James Stadium sunk about six inches.
Alexander hasn’t had his best season as a pro this year. We all know it and I’m sure he knew it too.
But his energy was undeniable and was likely just one of the things which led to his being selected as a team captain ahead of this weekend’s game.
Early reports aren’t good as NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweeted out shortly after the second-half began.
Without Alexander, the Buccaneers moved forward without two of their starting three linebackers; already missing the services of Kendall Beckwith.
Energy felt lower coming out of the locker room. Nick Chubb had more room to run. The Browns offense found more success over the middle of the field.
Alexander wasn’t having the best season of his career, but the drop-off following his injury was visible and painful. Without a doubt, his absence is one thing which directly led to the Browns’ comeback bid and near victory.
THE PLAY: O.J. and Rojo combine for the score.
Up just one score, Tampa Bay had held the ball for just three minutes when they got the ball back with seven left in the third quarter.
Momentum was slipping and the team needed someone to find a way to spark the offense.
Alan Cross helped on the drive, converting a big fourth-down with the ball outside of field goal range but too close to punt.
But the daggers came from the 26-yard line when Winston found O.J. Howard for a 24-yard gain putting the ball on the Cleveland two. On the very next snap, Ronald Jones scored the first touchdown of his career running the ball in and putting the Bucs back up by two scores.
In a game which ended in overtime, and for a team who has struggled to score in the red zone, the two plays breathed new life into the team and kept the pressure on Cleveland and their rookie quarterback.
THE PLAY: O.J. misses the ball.
Cleveland answered Tampa Bay’s touchdown run with one of their own when rookie Nick Chubb punched it in from one-yard out.
With renewed confidence in their own abilities though, the Bucs offense took the field looking to push the lead right back to two scores.
Six plays later, Winston had his offense at midfield again and despite several penalties on both sides, the Bucs looked like they were orchestrating another scoring drive.
On third-and-three, the quarterback targeted Howard again to make a big catch and move the ball into Browns territory.
This time though, the ball sailed through Howard’s hands and fell harmlessly to the ground.
Tampa Bay punted and Cleveland marched right back down the field against a stunned Bucs defense.
With the ball on the one-yard line, head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley put the game in the hands of Mayfield on a quarterback sneak. The Buccaneers defensive line stood up and stopped him, and all was forgiven for Howard.
Or was it? Three plays later the Bucs punted again, and Jabrill Peppers brought the ball all the way back to the Tampa Bay 16-yard line. On the very next snap, Mayfield made good on his second opportunity and found Jarvis Landry for a touchdown.
The game was tied, and one can’t help wonder if the usually sure handed Howard had pulled in the third-down pass two possessions prior if the Browns would have ever gotten within reach of tying the game at all.
THE PLAY: JPP’s prediction comes true. Almost.
Earlier in the week Jason Pierre-Paul talked about the Browns’ rookie quarterback and his ability to beat you with his legs and his arm.
JPP lamented about how he wished NFL quarterbacks would just stay in the pocket because it would make his job much easier. Don’t we all.
Mayfield made good on Pierre-Paul’s comments though, and facing 2nd-and-26 the quarterback escaped the defense and ran downfield for 35-yards and a new set of downs on the Tampa Bay 41-yard line.
As mentioned previously, the drive ultimately ended with a failed fourth-down sneak by the same player, but had the Buccaneers defense been able to contain his legs here the entire drive could have had a much different outcome.
In the end, the Browns got the first down, firmly grabbed hold of momentum and would turn it into a touchdown just eleven plays later.
Which play contributed the most to the outcome of the game in Week 7?
This poll is closed
Winston’s bad result, but good decision
Kwon Alexander’s Injury
Howard’s big catch to set up Rojo’s first TD
O.J.’s missed reception
Mayfield’s 35-yard scramble
This game was very back-and-forth, as are our key plays. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came away with the win, so in the end all mistakes are forgiven for the moment and turned from blame to information which can be used to ensure the team continues to get better moving forward.
Week 7 saw an improved Bucs defense which came up with some critical stops in the overtime period and held on long enough for Chandler Catanzaro to make amends for two missed kicks during regulation.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 3-3 heading into Cincinnati for Week 8. Come back to Bucs Nation as we continue to comment on the state of the franchise and what to look forward to next weekend in Ohio.