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Rookie Recap: First-year struggles outshine Tyler Johnson emergence

As one led the team in receiving, the other freshmen helped lead the team in struggling

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Two losses for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, two times it feels like the roof is close to caving in on the whole Tom Brady ‘era’.

It goes that way sometimes when you’ve been close to the Bucs all these years. Media and fans alike aren’t used to seeing bad performances followed up by good ones. We’re not used to seeing rampant mistakes getting cleaned up.

Because of this, there’s a conditioned response to seeing Tampa Bay beat themselves, on of a ‘brace for impact’ nature.

I like to think everyone is recovering from this however. At least a little bit. If these reactions are going to change, it’ll be on the players and coaches to clean up the mistakes, and come out strong against the Green Bay Packers in Week 6.

The newest generation of Buccaneers are always the ones looked upon to help bring a new ‘culture’, ‘attitude’, or whatever term you like to use, to the franchise.

Sometimes they impact change, sometimes they feed into the previously conditioned environment. Lets take a look at how 2020’s freshman did in this latest debacle for the Bucs.


Josh Pearson (WR, Jacksonville State) was inactive as a practice squad call-up for Week 5 and Khalil Davis (DL, Nebraska) was the only active roster regular inactive for Thursday Night Football.

For the Bears, Trevis Gipson (OLB, Tulsa) and Arlington Hambright (LG, Colorado) were on the active roster, but not active for the game against Tampa Bay.


In total, the Bucs had six rookies in action on Thursday as Cam Gill (OLB, Wagner), Tyler Johnson (WR, Minnesota), Parnell Motley (CB, Oklahoma), Ke’Shawn Vaughn (RB, Vanderbilt), and Antoine Winfield Jr. (Minnesota) all suited up and saw time in Week 5.

On the home side of things, Artavis Pierce (RB, Oregon State) was active but did not play. Other rookies Jaylon Johnson (CB, Utah), Cole Kmet (TE, Notre Dame), Darnell Mooney (WR, Tulane), and Kindle Vildor (CB, Georgia Southern) saw action for the Bears.

NFL: OCT 08 Buccaneers at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For snap counts it was wide receiver Darnell Mooney who led the way for Chicago’s offensive rookies with 41 appearing in 65% of their offensive snaps. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson was one of four Bears defenders on the field for all 71 defensive snaps, playing a crucial role for one of the league’s better pass defense units.

Kmet was in on 31 total reps with 21 of them coming on offense, and Vildor got nine total snaps with eight of those coming on special teams.

The Buccaneers relied much more heavily on their own rookie class as Tristan Wirfs got 76 total snaps, Johnson was in for 56 (79%) and Vaughn got 18 (25%) of his own.

On defense, Winfield Jr. continued to lead the way as he was in for 98% of the defensive plays (62) while Gill had thirteen special teams reps. Motley was active for the game, but did not play.


Since Winfield Jr. is the only Buccaneers rookie defender who got playing time on defense, we’ll start there.

Finishing with a stat line reading five total tackles and one pass defended, the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month’s data isn’t going to wow you. After starting his career with seventeen tackles, a quarterback hit, one pass defensed and a forced fumble in his first two games, Winfield now has seven combined tackles and one pass defensed in his last two.

Solid play for a rookie safety, but not what the Bucs had hoped to see coming out of a strong September for Winfield. To his credit, he did have a touchdown saving tackle against Cordarrelle Patterson in the second quarter. David Montgomery scored two plays later, so it kind of renders his tackle mute, unless you have Patterson or Montgomery on your fantasy football roster.

His best play arguably came early in the second-quarter with his squad leading by ten and the Bears with the ball at midfield. On 3rd-and-6, Chicago quarterback Nick Foles targeted star wideout Allen Robinson out of the slot on a outward bending in-route. Completed, the pass would have put the Bears in field goal range with a new set of downs.

Instead, Winfield stayed disciplined in his zone, not allowing the sheer presence of Robinson force him too deep. Because of his awareness, Winfield was prepared to break down on the play as Foles got to the top of his drop, and met Robinson at the same time the ball was arriving to break up the play and force a punt.

On offense, Tyler Johnson came away as the rookie of the game in this one as Wirfs and the offensive line struggled mightily against the Chicago Bears’ pass rush.

In the first half, Johnson had four catches on five targets and gained 61-yards. He even got targets on back-to-back plays from Tom Brady, both coming against Chicago defensive back Buster Skrine who came into the week allowing the highest completions against percentage of any Bears defender. It was good to see Johnson filling a Chris Godwin-like role on the team as the star wideout continues to heal from his latest injury.

The only incompletion thrown by Brady when targeting Johnson in the first half came late on an in-route which likely would have been completed given the separation Johnson had at delivery. It was knocked down at the line by Akiem Hicks though, and Brady knelt on the ball to end the half after that.

What’s amazing however, is in the second-half Johnson only received one more target! Officially, this is true, technically it’s not. Johnson did get a one-yard reception early in the third-quarter, but an illegal block by Rob Gronkowski erased the play taking away what would have been Johnson’s lone catch of the second-half.

After that, the rookie wasn’t targeted again until there was 2:37 remaining in the game and the Buccaneers had just a two point lead on the road.

On 3rd-and-12 looking to extend the drive and eat more clock trying to earn the win, Brady lined up in shotgun and motioned for Ke’Shawn Vaughn to come back into the backfield after lining up in the slot originally.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Chicago Bears Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

This left the Bucs with three wideouts (Johnson, Mike Evans, and Scotty Miller) on the field, Vaughn in the backfield, and Gronk in on the play as an inline tight end. The Bears countered with a zone look.

As Johnson broke off his route at the line to gain, he got solid inside position on his defender (Buster Skrine), and turned his numbers to Brady for the reception.

Brady’s throw was off target however, and Johnson was unable to stretch out for the catch. The ball hit the ground, stopped the clock, and the Bears got the ball back on the next play with 2:21 left in the game and two timeouts in their pockets.

A completion on the play would have forced the Bears to use both of their remaining timeouts and would have allowed the Bucs to take the clock inside the two-minute warning.

Of course, Bucs fans who watched the game will also remember the big turnover committed by rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn near the end of the first-half.

With 1:37 left in the second quarter and the Bucs with the ball, it seemed likely they’d enter halftime with at least a 13-7 lead. The football gods had other plans however, as Vaughn brought in a 1-yard pass from Brady and was subsequently leveled by Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller.

The hit jarred the ball lose from Vaughn’s grasp and Bears defender Robert Quinn fell on it at the Tampa Bay 27. Vaughn was hurt on the play, and upon review, the officiating crew awarded the ball to Chicago at the spot of recovery.

Four plays later, and with just :41 seconds left in the half, Foles found Jimmy Graham for a 12-yard touchdown to tie the game. The Cairo Santos extra point gave Chicago a one-point lead to end the half, a result which would come back to haunt Tampa Bay at the end of the game.

For the Bears, Mooney was targeted just twice by Foles and had one catch for ten yards from those two targets. Cole Kmet’s biggest contribution came on Chicago’s first possession of the third quarter when he was flagged for holding on 2nd-and-10, causing 3nd-and-20. The Bears punted three plays later, and the Buccaneers took the lead on their ensuing possession.

Jaylon Johnson is probably the rookie most Bucs fans remember from this game. He’s the defensive back flagged for pass interference on the Mike Evans touchdown catch. Johnson was flagged for interference again later when Brady targeted Cyril Grayson.

Given the fact he faced-off against Evans for much of the night, Johnson would likely call it a win helping hold the star receiver to five catches for just 41-yards. Even if Evans was banged up coming into the game.

Of course, winning the game doesn’t hurt either.


It’s hard to pick a play of the game when the Buccaneers lost in such sloppy fashion, but we found one.

Tyler Johnson’s rookie season was hampered by training camp injuries and it took five weeks for him to show some of the potential which made him such an exciting fifth-round selection in the first place.

On just his second career reception though, you could see it once again.

The play has a little bit of everything. Johnson threatening his defender (Jaylon Johnson) deep, finding open space behind the zone coverage of Tashaun Gipson Sr., and then avoiding or breaking tackle attempts from Johnson, Gipson, and Eddie Jackson to set up what would become a Mike Evans touchdown.

Only way for Johnson to have done it better would have been to score, but we’ll give him a pass on that for now.