All credit for this article goes to Chuck Fonshell.
Is this what it feels like? Is this what Patriots fans have enjoyed for the last 19 seasons? This feeling of smug satisfaction, drawn from a decisive victory that flies in the face of reason and a chorus of talking heads… this is something Bucs fans could get used to.
The Tampa faithful went to sleep Sunday night with visions of and left-handed Gronk spikes and Lavonte David dancing in their heads. Of Ronald Jones spinning off tackles and Jamel Dean racing into the end zone, of Carlton Davis plastering opposing pass-catchers and, perhaps most importantly, Tom Brady keeping the Bucs undefeated at Raymond James Stadium. The 38-10 victory over the Green Bay Packers was big- so let’s review it.
The first quarter was a nightmare for the Bucs and their fans. Rodgers converted an early 3rd & 10 to drive the Pack down for a field goal, and the Bucs followed with a meek three & out. Then the Packers overcame a 3rd & 7 and a 2nd & 20 to drive down for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead. The Bucs began the 2nd quarter with a slightly better drive that fizzled to a second punt, and the game seemed in danger of getting away- until the Bucs’ defense decided it wouldn’t.
On the Packers’ third drive, Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles engineered pressure on 1st & 2nd downs, leading to a 3rd & 10. Aaron Rodgers looked left to his favorite target Devante Adams on an out route at the marker, but Jamel Dean was sitting on the route. He stepped in front and took the pass back 32 yards to get Tampa on the board and inject adrenaline into every pewter clad individual around. It was Rodgers’ first interception on the year, and-incredibly- only his third interception returned for a score OF HIS CAREER. The ensuing possession saw things snowball for Rodgers, as his 3rd & 4 pass went to a slanting Adams. Carlton Davis was in position to disrupt the pass and deflect it to Mike Edwards, who had just come into the game a play before to spell Antoine Winfield Jr., Edwards returned the interception all the way to the GB two yard line, and Ronald Jones scored one play later to give Tampa Bay a 14-10 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. In a span of four plays, Rodgers had his first multi-interception game since 2017.
As the 2nd quarter continued, momentum has shifted irreversibly to Tampa’s side. Rodgers missed a wide open Mercedes Lewis on a deep seam route, Tampa’s defense took residence in Green Bay’s offensive backfield, and Green Bay would punt away every other drive they had. Tom Brady would add touchdown passes to rookie WR Tyler Johnson and Rob Gronkowski to close out the half 28-10. The third quarter saw more of the same, with a Ryan Succop 50 yard field goal and a second Ronald Jones touchdown run ballooning Tampa’s lead to four scores. Brady had to do very little heavy lifting, and was in fact lifted himself from the game in the fourth quarter. Blaine Gabbert took the field for the first time in a regular season game for Tampa, and KeShawn Vaughn would get 5 carries down the stretch to run out the clock.
REASONS FOR EXCITEMENT
*Going into the game, there was well-deserved concern about the Bucs’ ability to stop the run without defensive tackle Vita Vea. The 347 dancing bear had been a stalwart, well ranked by any and every metric; yet on Sunday, Tampa held firm against a Green Bay team that had run the ball well through its first four games. Aaron Jones, who came in averaging 5.8 yards per carry, got a paltry 15 yards on 10 attempts. Jamal Williams and Andre Dillon did better between them with 65 yards on 9 attempts, but those totals were inflated with a 20+ yard scamper for each. Overall, Tampa was stout not only in defending the run but also in rushing the passer. Rodgers, who came in only sacked 3 times through four games, was wrangled to the ground on four separate occasions. He was pressured throughout, even when not blitzed. Long story short, this defense is talented enough to win football games, even without Vita Vea.
*Tom Brady isn’t just a winner, he’s a leader. The public sideline freakout witnessed in the Bears game might’ve just paid off, as the same team that registered 11 penalties last game had a whopping ZERO to it’s name Sunday. Granted, Ndamukong Suh did have an idiotic roughing the passer penalty wiped out do to an offsetting penalty, but otherwise this was the cleanest game in recent memory for Tampa. Brady was kept upright through the game, and no drives were stalled by stupid holding/false start calls. When this team doesn’t beat itself, it’s much harder for the opposing team to do it.
*It’s easy to overlook given the final score, but through five game kicker hasn’t been a problem. Given the disastrous recent history this team has had at the position, Ryan Succop has been a breath of fresh air. He was perfect on five extra point attempts, and nailed a long field goal while contending with wind in the third quarter. On camera it looked to go wide left, but as the ball traveled the wind guided it back inside the upright; a veteran kick by someone that’s had a rather solid career in the league. One less thing to worry about, right?
REASONS FOR CONCERN:
*Devin White was definitely unleashed on Sunday, with a sack and three tackles for loss to go with his team leading 10 total stops. Still, he remains a liability in pass coverage. On the first drive of the game, Rodgers faced 3rd and ten and was flushed from the pocket due to a five man rush. White was tasked with covering Aaron Jones, and was fooled into thinking Jones would pass protect. After a quick move, Jones was easily able to beat White on a crossing route that netted 20 yards and a first down. Later in the game, there were multiple instances of White being targeted in zone coverage and giving up completions. It may seem like nitpicking, but in order for White to reach his ceiling as a complete player and possible all-pro, that side of his game will need to come along. He is very young and very talented, so there is reason to believe it will come in time; still, the sooner the better.
*Rob Gronkowski is catching a lot of passes for a run blocking tight end (I kid, I kid). Still, there was a revealing moment after his touchdown catch in the 2nd quarter, his first in nearly two years. Gronkowski has become famous for his signature ‘Gronk-spike’, a fixture on backyard ball fields for years now. Sunday, however, saw him attempt to spike the ball with his left hand. Given Gronk’s presence on the injury list for weeks now with that shoulder, it’s alarming to see how much the shoulder must be bothering him. He dropped the last ball thrown to him in the fourth quarter as he began to fall on the same right arm. Gronkowski is a future Hall of Fame player, and won’t quit on his team despite being hurt. Still, it’s something to watch going forward as he becomes a formative piece of the offensive puzzle.
*Byron Leftwich remains a work in progress as he blends Bruce Arians’ offense with Brady’s preferences. Still, it was puzzling in the first quarter to see a 3rd and 2 result in a handoff to 3rd string running back Lesean McCoy. ‘Shady’ has had a long career with some terrific plays, but at this point he seems like the last person on Tampa’s roster that should be taking that handoff. Fortunately for Tampa Bay, the decision became inconsequential by the end of the game. As the season goes forward however, Leftwich’s ability to put Tampa’s offense in the very best position to succeed will be key to their hopes of playoff success.
38-10 feels good, and now the Bucs will be featured on Sunday Night Football for the first time this year, against none other than Jon Gruden. We’ll preview that game in the days to come, but for now, GO BUCS!!!