Rapid Reaction: Buccaneers 38, Jaguars 31
For the first time under head coach Lovie Smith, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won a regular season game at home. Under the direction of an efficient, turnover-free offense, the Bucs moved out of last place in the NFC South and matched last season’s win total, defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars 38-31 to improve to 2-3 on the season.
Heading into next week’s bye, this is exactly the type of momentum the team needed. Here are the four biggest moments from today’s victory.
1. Jameis Winston continues his progression into a franchise quarterback.
For the first time in his young NFL career, Winston did not turn the football over once, despite a couple of close calls. He was calm, poised and efficient under the direction of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s plan of attack, completing 13 of 19 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown. Although his counterpart Blake Bortles of the Jaguars had a better game statistically (23 of 33 for 303 yards, four touchdowns and an interception), Winston directed the offense with near perfection.
Despite a couple of drops that would have extended drives, the Bucs played a very strong and well executed game today. Winston was only pressured a few times, and learned how to take the sack instead of making a dumb decision while trying to do too much. Although taking a sack may hurt, a turnover is much more costly, and it looks like Jameis is finally beginning to grasp that. In two weeks time, we will see if his progression continues against the Redskins on the road.
2. Doug Martin and Charles Sims were the main reason why the Bucs won today.
Martin had his ninth career 100 yard rushing game today, and back to back 100 yard rushing games for the first time this season. The fourth-year back continues to be one of the offense’s primary threats, and for a good reason: he ran 24 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, as well as adding three catches for 35 yards and a touchdown.
Furthermore, he has begun to re-stake his claim as one of the NFL’s best running backs. If I were GM Jason Licht, I would get in contact with the Muscle Hamster’s agent to start negotiations on a new long term deal to keep him in red and pewter for the foreseeable future.
As for Sims, he once again proved to be the perfect compliment to Martin. The sophomore back continued to be the change of pace the Bucs offense needs, running the ball 12 times for 51 yards, and catching four catches for 85 yards, including a long 56 yard pitch and catch in the fourth quarter that helped lead to a Connor Barth 47 yard field goal. His ability to move in space makes the bubble screens that Koetter likes to employ work almost to perfection, especially if he gets the blocking he needs.
3. Speaking of Barth: Welcome back to Tampa, we missed you.
I remember wondering why we released the veteran kicker last preseason. Then I scratched my head even more when we did it again this preseason. Well, it looks like Licht and Lovie finally corrected their mistake after Barth’s performance today.
In what was dubbed his “re-debut” in red and pewter, Barth nailed field goals of 35, 41 and 47 yards, and made all three of his extra points. Without those 12 points, the Bucs would not have won today. So Connor, this is from all Bucs fans: thanks for coming back home. You’ve made us not hold our breaths for field goals and extra points anymore.
4. The defense continues its Jekyll And Hyde-like performance.
There were definitely good and bad moments by the defense today. Let’s start with the head shaking. After a little over two months in a Bucs uniform, I’m finally starting to see why the Bears let go of Tim Jennings. The veteran corner was absolutely abused by young Jacksonville receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson. He was constantly out of position, torched, and penalized at least a couple of times.
Furthermore, Mike Jenkins should not be starting. No idea why he is, when Alterraun Verner is obviously the better choice, even with his early season struggles. Just put Verner back in the lineup, Lovie. That way our secondary at least has a chance until rising third year corner Johnthan Banks returns, which we all hope is sooner rather than later.
Okay, enough about the bad. How about that pass rush today? Howard Jones, who was just signed off of our practice squad this week, had two sacks of Bortles in the first half. Rookie middle linebacker Kwon Alexander had a sack. Defensive cornerstones Lavonte David (1) and Gerald McCoy (1.5) got in on the action too. Heck, even Verner had half a sack.
I liked the idea of bringing extra blitzes to overwhelm the young Bortles and a struggling offensive line. Bringing that same type of defensive attitude to the nation’s capital in two weeks should go a long way in helping the Bucs win their third game of the season.
Quick Snaps: Safety Chris Conte (ankle) left midway through the game and did not return…. The team’s penalty woes continued as the Bucs had 10 penalties for 72 yards….Running back Bobby Rainey had a great day in the return game, setting up multiple Buccaneer scoring drives with three returns for a 28.3 YPR average.