Holy crap. Did you watch the same game as me?
If so, you were treated to an offensive clinic. Tampa Bay came through with one of the greatest offensive performances in history and it all happened with a backup quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
That doesn’t happen in the NFL, especially against teams such as the Saints, who were picked by many to reach the Super Bowl this season.
For our first final grades edition of 2018, let me explain how the system works.
It will be a GPA-style scoring system. Offense, defense, special teams, and coaching will all be graded and then the final tally will be divided for the week’s number.
As the season progresses, the overall grades will be tallied and divided by 16 at season’s end to let us know how the Bucs did for the whole season.
How did the Bucs fare in Week 1? Let’s find out!
I don’t even know where to start, honestly. From the first drive of the game, Tampa Bay’s offense was on point. Excellent play-calling combined with terrific execution continually threw the Saints off guard throughout the course of the entire game.
The Bucs punted just once all day and it didn’t come until late in third quarter when they were attempting to run time off the clock.
In my 30 years of watching this team, I cannot remember a stat line like that ever.
The star of the show was Ryan Fitzpatrick. The crafty veteran posted a 156.3 quarterback rating - good for tops in the league - en route to a 417-yard performance that included four passing touchdowns and one touchdown on the ground.
Not only did he make plays with his arm, but he also did so using his legs. Arguably his most impressive play on the ground was when he ran for a first down on a 3rd-and-11 to seal the victory.
The receivers - the deepest unit on the team and possibly the best corps in the league - were dominant. Mike Evans owned Marshon Lattimore to the tune of 147 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions, while DeSean Jackson scored the first touchdown on the game on a beautiful 58-yard pass from Fitzpatrick.
1st TD to Djax is beautiful. Watch first great blocking. OJ helping with Jordan, Barber chipping DT. Then PA draws LBs in to hesitate. Fitz reads 1 deep S pre-snap so turns his head and glances left to draw S away from an uncovered Djax for the TD. pic.twitter.com/xlXL41BRfB— RealBucsTalk (@RealBucsTalk) September 10, 2018
And here is Evans’ touchdown over Lattimore, which is guaranteed to make Bucs fans happy.
FITZ! HAVE A DAY!— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) September 9, 2018
A 50-yard strike to Mike Evans for the TD, and the Bucs have put up 41 points! #TBvsNO: pic.twitter.com/wp6mE8dS88
Don’t count out Peyton Barber and the running game - they were major catalysts to the offensive success. Early in the game, Barber found a ton of room on the ground. He was able to average over six yards per carry in the first half, leaving the Saints’ defense to remain honest and stay close to home in order to stop him.
The offensive line looked magnificent as well, not allowing a sack for the entire game, while giving Fitzpatrick all day long to hit his targets.
For the day, the Bucs finished with 26 first downs and 529 total net yards. They averaged (8.5) yards per play and converted 8/13 third downs. They scored on their first four possessions of the game.
Oh, and they had zero turnovers.
There is some room for improvement. Tampa Bay ran the ball early, but couldn’t get a ground game going when they needed to run out the clock. They also scored on 50% of their red zone drives. That must be improved as well.
In all, it was a miraculous performance that deserves the top grade. This is Harvard-type stuff, people.
Final Grade: 4.0 (A)
This is where it gets tricky. Yes, the Bucs were playing the Saints in the Superdome. Yes, they were playing against of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in Drew Brees. Yes, they were playing two of the best players at their position in receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara.
But you can’t give up 40 points in a game and call it a good defensive effort. Before Sunday’s game, the Bucs were 0-56 all-time when allowing more than 35 points.
New Orleans was able to march up and down the field at will against the Bucs. A fumble returned for a touchdown by safety Justin Evans and a sack by Vinny Curry were the only highlights of the day.
Justin Evans adding points to the board! Bucs up 31-17.#GoBucs | #TBvsNO pic.twitter.com/03grxyzoku— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) September 9, 2018
Granted, the fumble arguably changed the course of the game, but once that ball hits the ground, it’s 50/50 as to who recovers the ball. The fact that he scored a touchdown makes the scenario even less likely.
At the end of the day though, this is the NFL and it’s better to be lucky than good in most cases.
To their credit, the defense did come out of the second half ready to play. They held the Saints to a three-and-out on their first possession and then forced a punt and a fumble on the next two drives.
The Bucs allowed 65 net yards on 11 plays during the third quarter. If there is a launching point for a defense, then that should be it.
They made plays when it mattered most, which is what you want out of your defense, but they were also a liability throughout 75% of the game.
Mike Smith has to get this unit to perform more consistently as the season wears on.
Final Grade: 2.0 (C)
All people want to know in this category are the answers to three simple questions: a) Did we give up any big plays? B) Did we make any big plays? C) Did we make all of our kicks?
While the first two are important, those in the Bay area are mostly concerned with the latter question, given the recent history.
Chandler Catanzaro made his first two field goal attempts and all of his PATs, but missed the most important kick of the game.
Up 16 with under five minutes to play, Catanzaro’s 44-yard attempt would’ve iced the game for the Bucs. But instead, he missed and New Orleans went straight down the field and punched it in to make it a one-score game.
This is a big deal. If Tampa Bay can’t count on Catanzaro to ice a game or hit a late field goal in the clutch, then have the Bucs really improved in this area at all?
They were 3-7 in one-score games last season, but right now they are 1-0. How long will this hold if Catanzaro regularly misses these attempts?
It’s a question that not many want to know the answer too and there’s good reason for that.
Final Grade: 3.0 (B)
Well, well, well. The biggest question mark on this team provided the largest answer on this season to date.
Whether it be Dirk Koetter or Todd Monken calling the plays, the Bucs have to continue whatever it is they are currently doing. Even though this type of offensive performance isn’t sustainable, it doesn’t get much better than this. Now, the staff has a major key to unlocking the potential of this team.
As for the defense, while it seemed like it’s business as usual, there were also some bright spots. Mike Smith showed he can still make the proper adjustments at halftime and that’s very encouraging.
Hopefully this victory allows the staff to see what changes need to be made when it comes to better preparing these players week in and week out. For now though, things are definitely trending in the right direction.
Final Grade: 3.0 (B)
Overall Grade For The Season: 3.0 (B)
It was an excellent game, don’t get me wrong. But the little things in football oftentimes lead to wins and the Bucs didn’t hit on all cylinders when it came to the nuances of the game. The defensive liabilities, the lack of a running game when needed, and the missed field goal at the end of the game could’ve cost Tampa Bay if it weren’t for the Saints’ miscues.
Overall, the season couldn’t have started better and the Week 2 showdown against the Eagles will be fun to watch.