Rapid Reaction: Buccaneers 23, Falcons 20


After giving almost all of their fans a series of near heart attacks and probable headaches, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat their divisional foe, the Atlanta Falcons in overtime 23-20.

Despite leading 20-3 midway through the third quarter, the Bucs’ defense once again crumbled in the second half, allowing the Falcons to tie the game at 20 in order to send the game into the extra period. However, Jameis Winston led the game winning drive once overtime got underway, marching the offense down the field en route to a 31 yard field goal by Connor Barth. A subsequent defensive stand by Lovie Smith’s oft-maligned defensive unit sealed the win. Here are the four biggest things I saw today from our boys in red and pewter.

1. The defense came through in the clutch.

First, the bad: the second half collapse. The lack of coverage by the secondary and essentially no pass rush until the final drive of the game allowed Matt Ryan to complete 16 consecutive passes at one point. Multiple penalties constantly gave the Falcons new life, including one that called back an end zone interception by middle linebacker Kwon Alexander.

However, coach Smith’s defensive unit persevered. They held on, and pushed back Ryan and the Atlanta offense just enough so their own offense could win the game in turn. They forced four turnovers, including a fumble recovery and interception by Alexander, that led to 20 of the Bucs’ 23 points.

After another epic meltdown last week, they could not afford to blow the game for the Bucs again, or the calls for the head of Smith and his coaches would have grown even louder. This time, they did not. However, next week’s test against the Giants at home will be an even tougher one. Hopefully the lessons learned in this week’s win can be applied to another win next week.

2. Kwon Alexander might be the next great Buccaneer linebacker.

Now we see why Smith and GM Jason Licht traded up in the fourth round of April’s draft to take the rangy linebacker out of LSU. Not only did Alexander outperform free agent addition Bruce Carter in training camp and the preseason to seize the starting MIKE linebacker spot, but he has consistently been one of the best players on a veteran-laden defensive unit.

With two more turnovers created Sunday, Alexander now has three on the season (he had an interception in the Bucs’ Week Three loss in Houston). Combine that with 38 total tackles and a sack so far on the season, and it’s clear that the Bucs have found another leader for their defense. As long as Alexander continues to grow into that role, the future of the Bucs’ defense will shine even brighter.

3. Offensive balance will be the key to success moving forward.

Winston threw 29 passes today. Collectively, the Bucs ran the ball 32 times today. That kind of offensive balance, as long as it is effective, will keep the team in games, and will win a good amount of them too.

When offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is able to spread the ball around and take the pressure off of Winston, good things usually happen. We saw that today. Combine that with a defense that gives you four turnovers and a victory is usually within reach. The Bucs, thanks to a large part of Koetter’s play calling and the offensive execution, won today. They should be able to win at least a couple more as long as they keep progressing week in and week out as they have done all season long.

4. Weekly Jameis Watch: Another solid day for the kid.

Not the biggest stat line to write home about: 16 of 29 for 177 yards and a touchdown. Another three rushes for 24 yards and a touchdown. But once again: no turnovers. And that is what will keep the Bucs in football games moving forward.

The biggest knock on Jameis coming out of games is that he is turnover prone. And in his first four games in red and pewter, that was true. But in his last three starts, he has won two games and put the team in position to win a third. The biggest reason why? You guessed it, Bucs fans: no turnovers.

As long as he continues to progress at the rate he has all season and limits his turnovers, then Jameis Winston could potentially walk away with an NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. With each win, the future gets a little brighter on the horizon for the man at the helm of the pirate ship.