Observations of the "Sorcery of the Journeyman" Bucs/Vikings 9/10/23 Slogfest

If anyone can get the play of words in the title, I'm riffing on the "Journey of the Sorcerer" Eagles song, which also is the theme song to Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy. 42!!!

1) That said, the journeyman in question was wandering QB Baker Mayfield, relocating to his fourth NFL team in two years with a lot to prove he wasn't the bust with Cleveland.

Mayfield's qualities - questionable decision-making, high-risk throws - were one of the big reasons a lot of football pundits predicted the Buccaneers were going to have a losing season - and a bad one at that - but today's victory demonstrated that Mayfield's veteran mentality is enough to manage the offense well enough to earn wins. And that Tampa Bay might be a better team overall than projected.

1a) It didn't look good during the first half, however. Mayfield and the receivers - especially solid veterans in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin - just weren't in sync. Almost 79 yards total offense before halftime and I think merely three first downs, we just weren't managing long scoring drives. The second half was a different story, with improved play-calling, better targets of the WRs, and a general sense of "we can win this thing" got the Bucs the lead and allowed them to leave a Week One road game - never an easy gig - with a win. The adjustments by both Mayfield and new OC Dave Canales at half is a promising improvement over previous tenures (cough Schiano cough) where such things didn't happen.

2) If I had to go Player of the Game, I'd go with WR Mike Evans. He didn't have much in the way of yards (66) but what he got was the offense going, scoring the TD that tied it up going into half, and being the clutch receiver who kept drives going in the second half. If we get the ball to Evans, good things happen. And this is why the front office should PAY THE MAN for a longer contract so he can stay a Buc for life.

2a) Mayfield does deserve some consideration, but that rusty opening does knock him down a notch.

2b) Safety Antoine Winfield Jr was all over the place early in the game to where he was a serious impact player. Literally impact player because he was slamming into QB Kirk Cousins for much-needed QB pressures, as well as a key sack and forced fumble/recovery that aided the Bucs in scoring. He set a team record for tackles by a safety in a game as well.

2c) Anthony Nelson is a backup linebacker, a situational player at best even after all these seasons, but in that role he made as much effort getting into Cousins' face as Winfield. He recorded the other big sack and led the defense in QB pressures.

2d) Devin White led the team in tackles overall, was a key contributor to the stifling run defense all game long. Along with Lavonte David, the two of them made sure the Vikings couldn't rely on a run game to eat up the clock or yards.

2e) Kicker Chase MacLaughlin is replacing a legendary kicker in Ryan Succop, but he silenced the doubters when the coach called on him to get the late lead with a risky 57-yard field goal. This was a kick Succop became too old to be trusted to do, but Mac booted it accurately and with enough leg - just don't ask how high it was when it cleared the bar - to get it done.

2f) Early in the game, the Bucs' bad offense meant Punter Jake Camarda had to boom a LOT deep punts today, but he did it with an impressive 54-yard average and 2 kicks downed inside the 20.

2g) Two rookies had eye-catching debuts for the Bucs. WR Trey Palmer caught his first professional TD which got the Bucs up 17-10 in the Third Quarter. And Safety Christian Izien - an undrafted player who had an impressive preseason to earn a roster spot - snagged a momentum-changing interception that stopped a Vikings score that could have turned it into an early rout. While they didn't have solid games all day - Palmer needs more targets, and Izien blew some coverages that highlighted his rookie ways - they showed enough spark to give Bucs fans hope they will grow into midseason contributors and future stars.

3) What impressed today with the Buccaneers performance was how... well, steady and even-keeled the team even as they struggled early to establish an offense. Previous game openers that DIDN'T involve Tom Brady were sloppy, panic-inducing affairs. While the fans were upset with Mayfield's woes getting in-sync with the WRs - to where Trask was name-dropped often on Twitter (screw you Elon, it's not X) - the coaches clearly didn't panic and made the adjustments to play-calling that won the game in the second half.

4) Statistics of the Game: TURNOVERS are always key, and today proved it. The Bucs did an excellent job of zero turnovers, while Kirk Cousins single-handedly committed three turnovers - two fumbles and an INT - that clearly hurt Minnesota's chances to win. That INT in particular was a red zone turnover right at the goal line that could have been another Vikings TD. While the Bucs only scored one FG off those three gifts, the important thing was that the Vikings got no points.

4a) PENALTIES WILL BE THE BANE OF... well, not the Bucs this game. Vikings got flagged six times compared to the Bucs' three. Again, the Bucs played steady and focused for much of the game, which bodes well going into the season.

4b) The Bucs defense did give up a worrying amount of passing yards - 328 for the Vikings - which will become a problem against any other pass-happy team that does a better job of holding onto the ball. On the plus side, the defense kept the rushing attack to 41 yards, although the Vikings were lacking a reliable RB depth chart coming into today's game.

5) In other professional NFL news: What the HELL happened to Pittsburgh? San Francisco is a tough team to play, I grant you, but the Steelers had ONE total offensive yard going into the two-minute drill of the first half and getting skunked 20-0 at that point. It looks like that in that two-minute drill, the Stillers went no-huddle and relied on the QB to make the plays, which Kenny Pickett did getting a TD pass done before halftime. All evidence points to the offensive coordinator Matt Canada being a TERRIBLE playcaller. If I'm Pittsburgh, I'm firing Canada and hiring Byron Leftwich. At least Leftwich's offenses HAD yards gained in (most) Bucs games.

5a) Also, what the HELL happened to Cincinnati? The Bengals offense fell apart as soon as Joe Burrow fell apart. That contract extension isn't helping y'all now, kitties. I thought you guys tried to improve your offensive line. Looks like that's a big NO.

5b) Speaking of Kitties, the Detroit Lions announced their presence with authority with an early fake punt in Thursday night's game that set their tone, and they pulled off a major upset visiting the Super Bowl-defending Kansas City Chiefs. It's like the first year Patrick Mahomes lost a home opener or something.

5c) DAMMIT TENNESEE YOU HAD ONE JOB. The New Orleans Saints didn't even look all that good early in the game, but the Titans were just as terrible offensively, and allowed Derek Carr to recoup his awareness and eke out a late win.

5d) In the showdown between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers, the team without the rookie QB - who played as expected (poorly) - and rookie head coach won (I mean the Falcs). And now we gotta deal with Atlanta fans crowing "this is OUR year." /sigh

5e) At this rate, the projected Super Bowl teams will be the AFC Jacksonville Jaguars and the NFC Detroit Lions. MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON OUR SOULS, THAT IS THE BREAKING OF THE SEVENTH SEAL.

6) In professional college football news, Alabama finally lost an early season game. Granted, it was against a solid national-level program like Texas, but something like this hasn't happened to Crimson Tide in ages. This may be a good sign that the dominance of the Alabama program - which recruited ALL the top players because it was a constant championship contender for decades - is finally waning as other programs - Georgia, Georgia, and maybe Ohio State - are finally pulling away enough blue-chippers that Nick Saban can't rely on deep talent pools to save his ass.

6a) Deion Sanders is legitimately turning around a moribund Colorado football program in his first year, making them THE must-see team of this year.

6b) In conference realignment news, the reality that the PAC conference is disintegrating with their biggest marquee programs - USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington to Big 10, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah going to Big 12 - fleeing for cable television/streaming dollars with the superconferences forming around MONEY MONEY MONEY. In terms of geography, these moves make no sense. In terms of politics, these moves make a lot of sense because the PAC-12 conference has lost its prestige in the modern playoff system.

We're getting to the point where we once had six major conferences - SEC, Big 10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, PAC 12 - now whittled down to four - SEC, Big 10, ACC, Big 12 (which almost died instead of the PAC) - with the lesser programs - C-USA, American, and whatever else is left out West - facing the likelihood of demotion to AA status.

The way the money is driving the universities into a financial arms race to get the most dollars out of the television/streaming markets, we could well see the superconferences falling apart if/when the annual top 25 college football teams decide to just form their own Premiere League and let the remaining 100 Division 1 college teams die in the dust.

This is horrifying. Team rivalries that help fuel the fanbases will die away. The joy of having multiple conferences with serious contenders will disappear into a unified, soulless money machine that will lose the appeal of fans from colleges no longer in contention.

This is something that needs federal regulation - under the Commerce Clause - to straighten out, and to keep college sports focused on the competitive spirit and fan rivalry that makes it unique compared to the pro fandom.

7) In professional baseball news: For a brief time before the All-Star Break, the Tampa Bay Rays were the talk of the sports world. An early winning streak catapulted them to the lead of a competitive AL East, the players were all young and talented and flashy - Randy! Yandy! The Lowes! Parades! And Wander Franco - and our fanbase was happily dreaming of a 100-win season and home field advantage in the postseason.

Alas, baseball is a long season and a heartbreaking one at that. A losing streak in July/August brought the Rays back to earth, and losing their standing to a surprisingly good Baltimore Orioles team that has FINALLY gotten out of the AL East basement after decades of futility. Put on top of that Franco's suspension over a shocking (and expanding) sex scandal and the Rays are now struggling to stay in playoff contention. There's still three weeks of games left, and the odds favor making the wild card, but clinching the AL East - and likely the AL home field - is getting close to impossible.

7a) If there's any good news, it's that the Yankees have imploded, their over-reliance on buying aging veterans hurting their ability to stay healthy for a long season. Aaron Judge = OVERRATED.

7b) The AL Central is so bad the third-place AL East team - Toronto - would be owning it.

7c) The Atlanta Braves has already clinched the NL East. They are itching to repeat their 2021 World Series success, and they may be dominant enough to do it. Scary scary.

7d) If the MLB overlords want the best possible World Series, they're praying for a Orioles - Dodgers or Mariners - Braves matchup. The backup options would likely be a Astros - Braves.

Any World Series scenario involving the Rays would have the overlords praying for a Dodgers matchup. I'm not sure if a Rays - Braves matchup would appeal outside of the East Coast markets.


9) In professional film-watching news: BARBIEHEIMER WAS AWESOME. Here's hoping Barbie and Oppenheimer TIE for the Best Picture Oscar.

9a) Also, pay the writers and actors, you CEO greedheads.

10) Next week: Tampa Bay returns home to face a wobbly Chicago Bears. It's a 1:00 PM start time which should make it an insanely hot and humid game, so PLEASE find shade and air conditioning and with any luck the NFL will let us build a makeshift dome within the week to pull it off.

GO BUCS! Comment below.

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