Perfect it was not, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took care of business and came out of Week 14 with a greater than 90% chance to make the 2020 NFL Playoffs after beating the Minnesota Vikings, 26-14.
Wins make it easier to pull out positives from the performances on the field, but there are always areas for the team to get better. In this one, there was a pretty even balance between notes to feel good about, and areas we can still see improvement in. Our first tweet here, kind of says it all.
The Bucs are 8-5 and haven’t played a complete game yet...— Stank Bastard (@StankBastard) December 14, 2020
RUNNING WITH ROJO
I don’t know if there has been a single outlet covering the Bucs which hasn’t been calling for the team to rely on their running back more.
Over a three-game span earlier in the season Tampa Bay gave Jones seventeen or more carries in wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Green Bay Packers, and a loss to the Chicago Bears.
In the loss, Byron Leftwich’s offense went away from the running back late in the game and failed to secure a win in a game you could argue they win if Jones gets twenty carries.
Past is the past and it’s only positive if we learn from it. Well, one week after the bye it appears Tampa Bay may have learned something as Jones received eighteen carries and two targets in the passing game.
Bruce Arians spoke during the bye week about Jones being a player who needs at least twenty touches per game. And one week into their chance to put the play-calling where the head coach’s mouth is, they targeted him for twenty touches, in a critical Week 14 win.
We would all love for the defenses we root for to give up zero first downs, zero for whatever on third downs, and have multiple takeaways every week. It’s just not reasonable to expect it. What is reasonable is to ask playoff-caliber defenses to make big plays when their team needs them most, and this week, Todd Bowles’ unit did just that.
The Minnesota Vikings were driving on the first possession of the game facing a third and four from the Tampa Bay 38-yard line. Considered to be at the edge of field goal range for kicker Dan Bailey, Shaquil Barrett came up with a big sack sending the Vikings back to the Bucs’ 40-yard line and out of range for what could have been points on their first possession.
Later, on third and seven from the Bucs’ eleven-yard line, Ndamukong Suh came up with a sack of his own sending the Vikings back to Tampa Bay’s seventeen-yard line. The sack prevented one of the best red zone offenses from finding the end zone for the second-time, and the fact Bailey missed the field goal try allowed Tom Brady’s offense more time to get rolling facing a less than one touchdown deficit.
In the later parts of the second-quarter, the Vikings were again nearing scoring range when Kirk Cousins targeted rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson trying to convert a third and fourteen or at least get closer for another field goal try. Carlton Davis III made an incredibly savvy play targeting the ball in Jefferson’s outstretched hands, knocking it free and forcing Bailey to try his field goal from 54-yards instead of potentially trying it from 40. A kick he would then miss.
Again the Buccaneers defense stood their ground when it counted as the Vikings were threatening from just eight yards out. On second and third downs the Bucs came up with sacks from rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and another by Barrett.
The two sacks knocked Minnesota from what would have been a 23-yard field goal try on fourth down to a 46-yard try. Again, a try Bailey missed, helping secure the win for Tampa Bay.
Finally, on the Vikings’ final possession of the game, Patrick O’Connor’s first career sack on second and three forced their opponent to run a pass-obvious third and thirteen play. On third down veteran Jason Pierre-Paul got a strip-sack on Cousins and recovered the fumble himself to all but seal the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ eighth victory of the season.
OFFENSIVE LINE PROTECTS, BRADY STAYS PATIENT, MILLER CATCHES THE DIME - JUST LIKE THEY DREW IT UP
BRADY ➡️ SCOTTY MILLER— PFF (@PFF) December 13, 2020
Bucs take the lead
Deep passes are sexy. Fans love them, offenses thrive on them if they can get them, and let’s be honest; there aren’t many kids in the playground pretending to win the big game on a quarterback sneak.
No, the bigger the better, and the 48-yard bomb from Tom Brady to Scotty Miller was one of the prettier ones you’ll see.
Not only was it a big play, but it was also hard to make. Throwing out of rhythm, Brady had long hit the top of his dropback before spotting Miller coming open over the top of the defense. Still, he found enough juice in his 43-year old arm to sky the ball over the defense and into Miller’s arms without the speed receiver having to alter his stride a single millimeter.
The amazement wasn’t done there though as Miller brought in the catch while a Minnesota Vikings defender hung from his facemask like a candy cane clutches to a Christmas tree.
It was an all-around beautiful play. From the offensive line’s protection to Brady’s patience and arm talent, to Miller’s ball-tracking and concentration to make the catch through illegal contact.
FIRST QUARTER BEGINNINGS
The opening act of Week 14 didn’t go well for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fact, the first quarter came to a close after the Bucs offense had the ball for just one possession and barely more than two and a half minutes.
Tampa Bay would have had the ball longer, but Brady missed an open Rob Gronkowski running free with two Vikings defenders tailing him. It’s a harder throw than I could ever make, but one Brady can make in his sleep - not that I’ve watched him sleep.
Ronald Jones II had three carries on the first drive, and things were looking up as Brady’s first pass was completed for nine yards. The second pass came on third and three, however, and because of the bad miss Tampa Bay punted, and wouldn’t touch the ball again until there was almost a minute gone in the second-quarter and they trailed by a touchdown.
I wrote earlier about the Buccaneers defense standing strong in some critical points, and I stand by it. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact the defense also put themselves in some of those situations to begin with.
Is it heroic to catch the falling damsel if you threw her off the roof?
Specifically in this game, fourth-down conversions for the Minnesota Vikings stood out. It’s a stat line so rarely discussed the NFL doesn’t even track it on their official stat site during games.
Inspired partly by a collapsing Dan Bailey, and also by the fact they were trailing late in the game, the Vikings went for it on fourth-downs five times on Sunday. They converted four of them. The final one was the strip-sack and recovery by Jason Pierre-Paul.
Prior to the strip-sack however, the Buccaneers defense had allowed conversions on two fourth-down tries on that drive alone. Two drives before the final one Todd Bowles’ unit allowed two fourth-down conversions again with that possession ending with a touchdown pass from Cousins to Irv Smith Jr.
Now, I can’t imagine the Vikings are celebrating converting four of five fourth-down conversion attempts. I can’t imagine they’re happy about needing them in the first place.
And while the Buccaneers defense can certainly walk away saying they forced their opponent to have to try fourth-down conversions late in the game - usually a good sign - they can’t be happy about giving up four conversions either.
TIGHT END COVERAGE
On an almost weekly basis, it seems Bailey Adams is concerned about the tight end match-ups against this Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. The trend will continue after Minnesota tight ends Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin combined for nine catches on nine targets for 103-yards and a touchdown against the Bucs.
Everyone was worried about the young secondary missing Jamel Dean facing Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. Those two combined for seven catches on twelve targets for 78-yards and no scores. In comparison, the Bucs’ third and fourth receivers, Scotty Miller and Antonio Brown combined for six catches, 98-yards, and one touchdown.
Still, tight end coverage is something this team still needs to figure out moving forward, and they have two chances against Hayden Hurst and the Atlanta Falcons in the next three weeks.
What was THE BEST part of Week 14?
This poll is closed
Ronald Jones II
Big Defense Stands at Biggest Moments
48-yard Touchdown to Scotty Miller
What was THE WORST part of Week 14?
This poll is closed
The First Quarter
Fourth Down Conversions
Lack of Tight End Coverage