With the Buccaneers coming into Sunday’s season opener as nearly double-digit underdogs, expectations obviously weren’t all that high. They were without their starting quarterback on the road against the defending NFC South champion Saints. The defense still had a ton of question marks. To add to that, veteran cornerback Brent Grimes was a late addition to the injury report. Tampa Bay had no chance.
But then the game started and the Bucs looked better than they have in years. The offense fired on all cylinders and the defense did just enough to help Tampa Bay to a 48-40 victory. The team is now 3-0 in season openers under Dirk Koetter. Let’s get to some reactions from the season-opening win!
Observations and Reactions— General
- The Bucs’ 31 first-half points tied a franchise record. The offense (which we’ll get to in full shortly) put up 24 and the defense added a touchdown of its own. But it didn’t end there, as they continued to roll in the second half. By the end of the day, they had tied their record for points in a single game with 48. The last time Tampa Bay put up 48 points was in its Super Bowl win on Jan. 26, 2003.
- Tampa Bay dismantled New Orleans completely, which won the division last year and came one play away from the NFC Championship Game. The Bucs quickly proved that they aren’t going to be an easy team to beat, even without starting quarterback Jameis Winston for the first three games.
- Injury-wise, the Bucs were pretty unlucky throughout the day. Vernon Hargreaves left with a shoulder injury, DeSean Jackson left with a concussion and Justin Evans got shaken up at one point.
- As far as penalties are concerned, Tampa Bay will have to clean some things up. It was flagged seven times for 70 yards. The victory makes that look like less of an issue, but it still isn’t ideal.
Observations and Reactions— Offense
- Offensively, the Bucs looked more explosive than they’ve been since 2015. They averaged 8.5 yards per play, totaled 529 yards and scored on their first five drives (not including the short possession at the end of the first half).
- That explosiveness came under the watch of offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who took care of play-calling for the first time in a regular season game. There was a noticeable difference in the way the game was called and it was excellent to see.
- 35-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick, starting in place of Jameis Winston, was on fire all day long. He completed 21 of his 28 passes for 417 yards (a career-high) and four touchdowns. He added 36 yards and a touchdown on the ground, including a crucial 12-yard scramble on 3rd & 11 with just over two minutes to go. Because of the conversion, he was able to kneel down three straight times to complete the victory.
- Tampa Bay’s receiving corps looked every bit as dangerous as expected. Mike Evans caught seven passes for 147 yards and a touchdown, DeSean Jackson went for 146 yards and two scores on five receptions and O.J. Howard totaled 54 yards on two catches.
- The run game complemented Fitzpatrick well, with Peyton Barber rushing for 69 yards on 19 carries. He didn’t do anything too flashy, but he got the job done.
- The revamped offensive line was really good, allowing no sacks and providing Fitzpatrick with plenty of time to throw. Those deep touchdown passes wouldn’t have connected without the blocking up front. Plus, new center Ryan Jensen showed some fire when the Saints took a couple of cheap shots at his quarterback. He did draw a penalty, but you can never be too mad when a guy is sticking up for his teammate like that.
- Tampa Bay didn’t turn the ball over, which is a big reason for its ability to take control of the game.
- Rookie Ronald Jones II was a healthy scratch on Sunday, which is a bad sign for where he is after a rough preseason.
Observations and Reactions— Defense
- The defense struggled for much of the day, allowing 40 points and 475 total yards. Most of the issues came in the passing game, as Drew Brees completed 37 of his 45 passes for 439 yards and three touchdowns.
- With Brent Grimes out, the secondary was left vulnerable for a veteran like Brees to pick apart. Rookie Carlton Davis got his first start and did a few good things, but got picked on a ton in the first half. Ryan Smith had his own issues as well.
- All things considered, the new-look defensive line played pretty well. The secondary’s inability to cover receivers early in their routes allowed Brees to get the ball out early, so there wasn’t a ton that the front four could do as far as getting after the quarterback. Even still, there were times when the pressure was good. Vinny Curry picked up the team’s first sack of the year in the second quarter.
- There was no stopping Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas on Sunday. Kamara ran for two scores and caught nine passes for 112 yards and a score. Thomas set a franchise record with 16 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown.
- The defense allowed just 43 rushing yards, so if it could get its secondary up to speed, the unit could be pretty dangerous.
- Another thing that will make this a dangerous unit is continuing to create turnovers like it did on Sunday. In the first half, Vernon Hargreaves forced a fumble that was picked up and returned 36 yards for a touchdown by Justin Evans. In the second half, Kwon Alexander forced another fumble that was recovered by Ryan Smith.
- Lavonte David led the team in tackles with nine (six solo).
Observations and Reactions— Special Teams
- Chandler Catanzaro was efficient early, but a late miss will leave a bad impression. He started by connecting on kicks from 33 and 36 yards out and made six of his six extra points. But late in the fourth quarter, he missed a 44-yarder that kept it a two-score game. Three points there likely allows Tampa Bay to coast to a comfortable win.
- Bryan Anger only had to punt once, but it was a pretty good one as it went for 42 yards.
- Special teams coverage was another plus for the Bucs, with both Ryan Smith and rookie Jack Cichy coming up with some nice tackles.
When Jameis Winston’s three-game suspension was announced, expectations for Tampa Bay plummeted. The general consensus was that the Bucs would be lucky to emerge from games against the Saints, Eagles and Steelers with one win. Well, they’re one game into that gauntlet and they already have one win. The offense was absolutely dominant, the defense forced some turnovers and came up with just enough stops and the special teams units were pretty solid as well. For a season opener that no one expected them to win, this was a pretty great day for the Bucs.
Going forward, there’s work to do on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive line as a group was encouraging and the run defense was stingy. But that pass defense... Drew Brees is a future Hall of Famer, but no quarterback should be able to make an NFL defense look that silly. Getting Grimes back would help, but there have to be some adjustments in Mike Smith’s scheme, right? If the defense can step up its play and the offense continues to be as efficient as it was on Sunday, Tampa Bay could be looking at a winning record—or a perfect one???— by the time Winston returns in week four.
The Bucs host the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles (1-0) next Sunday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.