The Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened its season with an exciting divisional win against the New Orleans Saints. Though, it didn’t have to be as interesting as the game ultimately turned out.
The Buccaneers took a 48-24 lead early in the fourth quarter after Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 36-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson. However, Drew Brees and the Saints continued to battle.
New Orleans scored and converted two-point conversations on each of its next two drives to trim the deficit to 48-40 before a Fitzpatrick scramble on third down effectively ended this one.
Tampa Bay moves to 1-0 in the first of three games without Jameis Winston. The task will get even tougher during Sunday’s tilt with the Philadelphia Eagles.
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick was simply Fitzmagic on Sunday. After completing his first pass for seven yards to DeSean Jackson, the two connected again just a few plays later for a 58-yard bomb to put Tampa Bay’s first points on the scoreboard in the regular season.
But Fizt wasn’t even close to done. He found Chris Godwin and Mike Evans on the next possession for long completions before finishing the drive off by running it in himself.
Fitzpatrick continued to stay in a rhythm as halftime neared, hitting Godwin with a perfect throw in the end zone.
After starting the second half with a field goal, the Bucs stayed hot on offense behind Fitzpatrick’s arm. The Harvard product found Evans from 50-yards out after a defensive back fell down in coverage. In the fourth, another deep shot to Jackson connected, this time from 36-yards to put the Bucs up 48-24.
However, the 6-foot-2, 223-pound quarterback might’ve saved his best play for last. Facing a third and 11 with under three minutes to play, Tampa Bay attempted to pass for a first down but pressure forced Fitzpatrick to scramble to his left. Showing off his mobility, Fitz was able to get 12 yards so the Buccaneers could run out the clock.
The veteran signal-caller played arguably the best game of his career against the Saints. He finished an impressive 21/28 for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Looking deeper, Fitzpatrick went 8/9 on deep passes for 286 yards and three scores.
What a performance from the 35-year-old.
2. Receiving corps
Speaking of the receivers and tight ends, man were they impressive. The Buccaneers look like they have five to six guys who could make real impacts at the positions.
Evans and Jackson were elite in week one. They were targeted a combined 12 times and came down with every target. Evans caught seven passes for 147 yards and a score while Jackson hauled in five catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. The duo each scored long touchdowns with Jackson going in for the double-dip.
Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries, and OJ Howard were also more than productive. Godwin caught a touchdown and played well as the third fiddle at receiver. Humphries caught three passes for 27 yards and had a 65-yard catch and run brought back by a penalty that would’ve set Tampa Bay up in the red zone just before halftime.
OJ Howard looked good and seemingly has improved at using his athletic frame to create space and come down with catches in traffic. Dangerous all around.
This is exactly the production I highlighted late last week when discussing the five keys to victory.
3. Defensive line
Though they finished with just one sack on the day, Tampa Bay’s defensive front managed to consistently generate pressure throughout the win against New Orleans. Brees was able to slip his way out of a few potential sacks and threw the ball at other times.
Despite replacing three of the four starters on the line from last year, the Buccaneers held the Saints to just 43 yards on eight carries in the ground game.
Vinny Curry managed the first sack of the season for Tampa Bay.
Gerald McCoy was his usual impressive self, finishing with three tackles and one tackle for loss despite dealing with multiple double teams throughout the game.
1. Ronald Jones
The Second-Round pick out of USC was a healthy scratch on Sunday in favor of undrafted rookie Shaun Wilson. After a disappointing preseason, this is not the way Jones would’ve liked to start the regular season.
Though Wilson and backup Jacquizz Rodgers combined for just five touches, it’s not encouraging for Jones going forward if he can’t supplant them on the depth chart.
You have to wonder if his confidence is shot after a tough start to his NFL career.
2. Defensive backs
Already short-handed after starting cornerback Brent Grimes injured his groin during Friday’s practice, we knew Tampa Bay was in for a tough challenge against Drew Brees and the Saints offense.
It showed early, as Brees led the team right down the field for a score. The Buccaneers played extremely soft coverage on the Saints wide receivers which led to some huge gains through the air.
Michael Thomas finished with a franchise-record 16 catches for 180 yards and a score on 17 targets. He diced his way through the Bucs secondary on multiple occasions, having success against Vernon Hargreaves and rookie Carlton Davis. Davis also was burned on a long touchdown by Tedd Ginn Jr. early in the second quarter.
All in all, it was an outing with a lot of room for improvement. Davis and M.J. Stewart will continue to grow more consistent with experience. If Grimes returns and Hargreaves injury isn’t too serious, this could be a group to depend upon down the road.
3. Lavonte David
Though he tied for the most tackles on Tampa Bay in week one with nine total stops, I thought David left a lot to be desired with his performance.
His coverage in the passing attack was subpar and his tackling wasn’t much better. David was the main defender to match up with Alvin Kamara and he got worked throughout the game.
Kamara finished with nine catches for 112 yards and a score.
The coverage at both the linebacker spot and in the secondary will need to improve going forward. Luckily, Kamara is one of the top pass-catching backs that Tampa Bay will face all season.