Denver has been devastated by injuries this season, with the hits coming even before the start of Week 1. Perennial Pro Bowl selection and three-time first-team All-Pro Von Miller suffered what was thought at the time to be a season-ending ankle injury in practice prior to the team’s season opener, but that was only the beginning. No. 1 receiver Courtland Sutton tore his ACL last week, ending his season, while starting quarterback Drew Lock went down with a rotator cuff strain that will keep him out between three and five weeks. And those are just the big injuries, as the Broncos have plenty more guys who are banged-up, including No. 2 running back Phillip Lindsay.
So, if the Bucs weren’t already going to be favorites heading into Sunday before the injuries, they certainly were after them. They came in as six-point road favorites, with ESPN’s FPI giving them a 58.4% chance to win. Despite that, there were still some questions for Tampa Bay as it took the field on Sunday. Could the offense find a groove? Would Tom Brady be able to overcome his history of struggles at Mile High? Was the defense ready to put its issues with containing backup quarterbacks in the past?
It was all Bucs from the start, with an early special teams play setting the tone. A blocked punt set Tampa Bay up for an early lead and it never looked back, taking a 23-10 lead into halftime before finishing things off for a 28-10 victory. The offense did its part, but the defense was the story. The front seven was all over the backfield, taking advantage of another bad day for the Denver offensive line. With the win, the Bucs improved to 2-1 on the young season.
Tampa Bay, sporting the all-pewter look for the first time, won the coin toss and elected to defer, so Jeff Driskel and the Denver offense took the field first. Starting from their own 25 after a Bradley Pinion touchback, the Broncos picked up one first down before having to punt it away. On the punt, the Bucs got a huge special teams play out of Patrick O’Connor, who got through and not only blocked it but also recovered the ball at the 10-yard line. That set Tom Brady and the offense up with excellent field position for its first drive.
After nothing on their first two plays, the Bucs cashed in on the outstanding field position, with Brady finding Chris Godwin for a 10-yard touchdown. With Ryan Succop’s successful PAT, it was an early 7-0 lead for Tampa Bay.
Starting again from their 25, the Broncos got their second shot at the Buccaneer defense. The heavy pressure from Tampa Bay’s front seven continued straight away, with Shaquil Barrett getting after Driskel to force a first-down incompletion. Vita Vea then dropped Melvin Gordon for a loss on second down before he hit Driskel on third down, leading to a pass deflection—or, more harshly, a dropped interception—by Sean Murphy-Bunting. Regardless, that forced another Denver punt.
Going from its own 28-yard line, the Tampa Bay offense started featuring its tight ends for the first time this season. Brady found O.J. Howard for a gain of five on first down, then hit Rob Gronkowski for nine and seven yards on the next two plays. A false start on Howard backed the Bucs up to 2nd & 8, though, which halted any momentum. Ronald Jones II gained four yards on second down, but a pass deflection at the line of scrimmage led to a Pinion punt. A 36-yarder was called for a fair catch at the Denver 16, giving Driskel a long field to work with.
Tampa Bay’s defense continued to suffocate the opposition on the third drive of the day, with Lavonte David stopping Gordon after a short catch before an incomplete pass on second down forced a 3rd & 8. Driskel looked deep for rookie Jerry Jeudy on the next play, but overthrew him to force another Sam Martin punt. A five-yard return by Jaydon Mickens gave the Bucs good field position once again, with the drive starting at their 46-yard line.
Leonard Fournette got his first carry of the game on the first play of Tampa Bay’s next drive, losing yards on an outside run. After a short pass to Fournette and a nine-yarder to LeSean McCoy, Brady and the offense lined up to go for it on 4th & 1 before calling a timeout. Bruce Arians ultimately decided to challenge the spot on the third-down play, but he lost. It was pretty clear that McCoy went down well short of the marker, so who knows why the red flag was thrown? It also cost the Bucs two timeouts, as the failed challenge came after the first timeout. Even still, Arians elected to go for it. Fournette picked up two yards, giving them a first down at the Denver 43.
A couple of 10-yard passes to Scotty Miller and Godwin helped get the Bucs in field goal range, but things continued to look pretty disjointed in a lot of ways. Succop came on to nail a 43-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0 late in the first.
Gordon picked up two yards on the first play of the Broncos’ next drive, bringing us to the end of the first quarter with the Bucs leading 10-0.
Denver got things going to start the second quarter, with Driskel finding Jeudy for 15 yards before hitting Noah Fant for 18. But Antoine Winfield Jr. came through two plays later, picking up his second career sack for a loss of eight. A short pass to Fant set up a 56-yard field goal try, which Brandon McManus connected on to cut the Bucs’ lead to 10-3.
The Bucs nearly went three-and-out on their next drive, but a 47-yard pass from Brady to Miller got things into Denver territory at the 26. A few plays later, the offense converted another third down, with Brady and Godwin linking up for a first down at the 15-yard line. Yet another third-down conversion set Tampa Bay up inside the five and, well, the Broncos defense soon forced another third down at the goal line. But a well-designed screen to Mike Evans got the job done, extending the Bucs’ lead to 17-3 with 6:35 left in the first half. It was a 12-play, 75-yard drive that took 4:58 off the clock.
Denver looked to get its next drive off to a hot start with a nine-yard run by Gordon, but Barrett put a stop to that, dropping Driskel for a loss of 12. It was the first sack of the year for the 2019 league leader, and it set up a 3rd & 13 that the Broncos couldn’t convert. Another punt and a nice 13-yard return by Mickens set Brady and the offense up at their own 44.
The Buccaneer offense kept it rolling from the very first play of the next drive, with Howard fighting through defensive pass interference for a 33-yard catch to the 23. From there, Brady found Gronkowski for a gain of nine. On 3rd & 1, Jones got stopped at the line of scrimmage, only for the pile to push forward for a gain of nine. A couple of plays later, Brady found Evans again for six. Succop’s PAT was blocked, but it was still a 23-3 lead for the Bucs late in the first half.
Pass interference on Carlton Davis gave the Broncos a quick first down on their next drive, but Jordan Whitehead picked up a sack of Driskel on a nice blitz to bring the clock down to the two-minute warning. After the break, Denver converted a 3rd & 20 with a 27-yard pass to Tim Patrick, with Winfield falling down on the play. The offense worked quickly after that, with a six-yard pass to Gordon and a 17-yard pass to K.J. Hamler getting the ball to the Tampa Bay 24. An 11-yard pass to Jeudy set up a 1st & 10 at the 13 with 40 seconds left in the half, leading to a timeout. A six-yard pass to Fant set up a seven-yard touchdown from Driskel to Patrick. With the PAT, the Broncos made it a 23-10 game just before halftime.
Because they were set to receive the opening kickoff in the second half, the Bucs were content to take a knee and run out the remaining seconds of the second quarter. With that, they headed into the locker room with a 23-10 lead.
The Bucs started the second half by feeding Fournette, who had back-to-back four-yard carries to set up 3rd & 2. The conversion came on another pass to Gronkowski, but from there, the offense stalled. A third-down drop by Evans forced a punt, which Denver fielded at its own 8-yard line.
At the start of the next drive, Murphy-Bunting was ruled out for the remainder of the game with a hamstring injury. He missed much of the first half and was initially ruled doubtful to return, but the decision was made to keep him out. The Broncos’ first drive of the second half was disastrous, with two incompletions and a holding call backing them up. On 3rd & 13, Barrett continued his revenge game, getting to Driskel for a safety—his second sack of the afternoon. That gave the Bucs a 25-10 lead early in the third quarter.
Penalties became a problem for the Bucs on their next drive. First, it was an illegal block above the waist on Andrew Adams that negated a nice return by Mickens. Later, a hold on Alex Cappa backed things up. Tampa Bay couldn’t make up the yardage, leading to a Pinion punt, which was caught at the 15.
The Buccaneer defense made things difficult on Driskel on the next drive, with a Barrett pressure on 3rd & 2 forcing a bad incompletion. A receiver was open for the first down, but the pressure got to the quarterback. Another Martin punt gave the Bucs good field position again, with Mickens picking up a few yards to the Tampa Bay 33.
The next offensive drive for Brady and Co. began with another penalty, with holding called on Donovan Smith. Backed up to 1st & 20, Tampa Bay couldn’t convert. A short pass to Fournette and a 15-yard pass to McCoy with a deep incompletion mixed in spelled the end of that series. Pinion’s punt went for a touchback for the first time of the day.
Tampa Bay’s defense looked to step up for another quick stop on the next drive, but a 28-yard dump-off to Royce Freeman extended the drive. But just when things were picking up for Denver, a penalty backed it up to 1st & 18, then some heavy pressure from Anthony Nelson got to Driskel, forcing a bad throw, which ended up as a Lavonte David interception.
The Buccaneer offense took the field after that turnover looking for the dagger late in the third quarter. Brady found Godwin for 30 yards on first down, then a short pass to Jones got another nine. A couple of plays later, Brady was unable to escape some pressure and ended up taking a sack to set up 3rd & 14 at the Denver 18. Godwin was down for a short while after the play, but he eventually walked to the sideline. On the replay, it looked as if he pulled up on his route due to a hamstring issue.
On that 3rd & 14, Brady failed to find anyone open, leading to a short one-yard scramble. Succop came on for a 35-yard field goal and he delivered, putting Tampa Bay up 28-10 at the end of the third quarter.
The Broncos just couldn’t get anything going on their next drive either, with the Tampa Bay front seven continuing to apply heavy pressure. Vea came up with his first sack of the season to force a 2nd & 20, then Ndamukong Suh got onto Driskel on third down to force an incompletion, leading to yet another punt.
The Tampa Bay offense continued to sputter upon getting the ball back, with another penalty and another sack backing it up to 3rd & 28. Brady connected with Miller for 26 yards and almost converted, but it was just short.
On Denver’s next offensive series, Denver brought Brett Rypien in for Driskel. He fared well, linking up with a variety of receivers to move the Broncos down the field. The big play was a 22-yard pass to Jeudy, then Denver got some help with a third-down offsides call on Jason Pierre-Paul. Tampa Bay’s defense eventually stood tall, thanks in part to a Pierre-Paul sack. The Broncos went for it on 4th & short and Rypien, after starting 7-of-7 on the drive, threw an interception. It was second-year man Mike Edwards coming up with his first career pick.
The Bucs managed to kill some clock from there, feeding Jones to bring the game to the two-minute warning. With a late 18-point lead, the offense was content with running things down. Another first down allowed Brady to take a couple of knees to finish off another Tampa Bay victory.
Quick Notes & Stats
- Tom Brady had a strong first half, completing 15 of his 24 pass attempts for 166 yards and three touchdowns. His second half wasn’t as big, but he was still fairly efficient. He finished the day 25-of-38 for 297 yards and those three scores.
- Mike Evans had a weird day, considering he had two catches for two yards and two touchdowns. Yeah. That’s strange.
- Scotty Miller was the Bucs’ leading receiver, catching three passes for 83 yards.
- The tight ends were much more involved on Sunday, with O.J. Howard and Rob Gronkowski combining for nine catches for 97 yards.
- Tampa Bay struggled to run the ball in the first half, totaling just 31 yards on the ground and averaging 2.6 yards per carry. Ronald Jones II finished the day as the team’s leading rusher, gaining 53 yards on 13 carries. The Bucs rushed for just 68 yards as a team in the game.
- Eight different Bucs had catches in Sunday’s game.
- The Bucs tallied three first-half sacks, with one each from Antoine Winfield Jr., Shaquil Barrett and Jordan Whitehead. They finished with six sacks and 10 quarterback hits, with Barrett adding another in the second half while Vita Vea and Jason Pierre-Paul picked up one each as well.
- Lavonte David and Mike Edwards both came up with second-half interceptions.
- A big difference in the first half was third-down conversions, with the Bucs going 6-of-9 and the Broncos going just 2-of-7. For the game, Tampa Bay was 8-of-16, while Denver was 5-of-14.
- Tampa Bay had two penalties for just 16 yards in the first half, which was a positive step forward for a group prone to making mistakes. But the second half wasn’t great, as the Bucs ended up finishing with nine for 71 yards.
- Denver managed just 10 points and 226 total yards, averaging 3.8 yards per play.
The Buccaneers (2-1) will return to Raymond James Stadium next Sunday for a matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers (1-2). Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.