The Tampa Bay Bucs went into Sunday afternoon with a 4-7 record. They were on the very edge of the playoff race. A win over the Carolina Panthers kept that glimmer of hope alive. In their 24-17 win, the Bucs never trailed and showed flashes of brilliance on both sides of the football.
Jameis Winston: Franchise Quarterback?
If you look strictly at the stats, the Bucs’ offense didn’t seem to do a whole lot. They were out-gained by Carolina 444 to 315 and the Panthers converted 11 more first downs. However, numbers rarely tell the entire story. The Bucs started within Carolina territory twice in the first half thanks to two interceptions, but more on that later.
The biggest contributor to offensive success has been Jameis Winston. Since he’s been reinstated as the starter, Winston has showcased the potential of who he can be as the franchise quarterback. He’s completed 72% of his passes for 561 yards and four touchdowns over his last two starts. What’s even more encouraging is the fact that he hasn’t turned the ball over. Winston has been incredibly selective with his throws and it’s been for the best.
Hopefully, the days of him trying to force the ball down the field into tight coverage are behind him. He operates at a much higher level when he simply takes what the defense gives him and marches the team downfield.
Winston still has a long way to go to definitively prove that he’s the guy for the Bucs long-term, but right now he’s playing his best football. His performance might also be enough for head coach Dirk Koetter and general manager Jason Licht to keep their jobs.
Defense Finding Its Groove
To be completely honest, the Bucs’ defense has been historically bad for most of the season. At one point they were on pace to give up the most points and yards in a season in NFL history. However the last two weeks have been a saving grace from being one of the worst defenses ever and they finally have played up to fans expectations of them.
I had absolutely no faith in this defense coming in, for the reasons I mentioned above and also the fact that they were playing without their three top corners due to injury. If you would have told me that starting safety Justin Evans and his backup Isaiah Johnson were going to get knocked out of this game too, I would have said the Panthers would score 35-plus. Luckily that wasn’t the case. The Bucs young, inexperienced secondary actually performed fairly well. They let up 300 yards to Cam Newton, but he had to throw 41 times to get there.
Last week against the 49ers, the Bucs forced two interceptions which were their first takeaways since Week 3 against the Steelers. The defense against Carolina was even better. Thanks to a ton of pressure by the defensive line, Newton was off balance for most of the game. He forced a ton of errant throws and the Bucs came away with four interceptions, three by new Tampa cult hero Andrew Adams.
Adams, a second-year safety out of UConnn, was all over the field yesterday while stepping in for Evans and Johnson. No Buccaneers’ player last season had more than three interceptions all year. Adams is also just the third Buc in franchise history, and first since 2009, to have three interceptions in one game.
At every level, the Bucs defense played well. The Saints next week will be a tough opponent but this group has shown a ton of growth over the course of the season.
Two weeks ago the Bucs lost to the New York Giants, their fourth loss in a row. Fans were demanding Koetter to be fired and already getting their draft boards ready to see who the Bucs should pick in the top 10. Now, at 5-7, they’re legitimately in the playoff hunt. I said a few weeks ago that the Bucs best shot was to go 7-9. But now 8-8 or 9-7 isn’t completely out of the question.
As it is right now the Bucs are 10th in the NFC. According to the New York Times, the team has a three-percent chance at making the playoff. That’s obviously not good and they’d more than likely have to win out to get in, but the schedule seems beatable. Their last four games include hosting the Saints, at the Ravens, at the Cowboys, and hosting the Falcons. It’s an extremely tall task, and I see the Bucs finishing no better than 8-8, but hey I’ve been wrong before. If anything, this team should at least be interesting to watch.
Up Next: New Orleans Saints (10-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)
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