A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' Week 11 matchup with the Dolphins.
1.The Bucs' defense is clicking, and creating turnovers in the process.**
Against the New York Jets in Week 10, it was sacks. This week in Miami, the defense decided it was going to be turnovers – five, to be exact. Four of the five came in the first two quarters alone. Rookie safety Justin Evans got the ball rolling, as he picked off Dolphins' quarterback Jay Cutler in the end zone as Miami was threatening. From there it went, interception (LB Kwon Alexander), interception (CB Robert McClain) and fumble recovery (CB Ryan Smith), just in the first half. The cherry on top of the turnover sundae would come as linebacker Adarius Glanton recovered a fumble in the Dolphins' own end zone on a final desperation play by Miami. The Bucs capitalized on four of the five turnovers in the amount of 24 points on three touchdowns and a field goal. Taking the ball away is something the Bucs have done consistently well the past two seasons. They've recorded 48 takeaways since 2016, good for second-best in the league during that time span.
2. The kicking game is not only consistent, but resilient.
Kicker Patrick Murray hit three of his four field goal attempts, just missing on a 42-yarder that went wide right. However, the measure of a reliable kicker often comes after he misses a kick and how he responds. The next field goal Murray attempted? Just the game winner with four seconds left in the game and the Bucs and Dolphins tied at 20 apiece. So, while Murray's consistency has been great, hitting 10 of 12 since becoming a Buccaneer, his resilience may be even better.
3.The 2017 rookie class is stepping up in a big way.**
Tampa Bay would benefit from multiple rookies on Sunday in Miami. Safety Justin Evans nabbed the first turnover of the game just 4:09 into the first. He picked off Miami quarterback Jay Cutler in the end zone, erasing a 5-play, 72-yard drive by the Dolphins. Tight end O.J. Howard got off to a fast start on Sunday, as well. The birthday boy was the beneficiary of a Kwon Alexander interception, and subsequent facemask penalty by Miami, that set the Buccaneers up at the Dolphins' 5-yard line in the second quarter. Howard would haul in the 5-yard score, giving the Bucs their first touchdown of the day. The Alabama-product would have had another touchdown as well, had it not been called back on an offensive holding penalty committed by Bucs tackle Donovan Smith in the second quarter. Rookie wide receiver Chris Godwin would come in clutch at the end of the game, as Tampa Bay marched down the field on what turned out to be the game-winning drive. Godwin caught two huge passes for a collective 38 yards that helped set up a 35-yard field goal with four seconds left, all but cementing a Bucs victory.
4. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has done everything the Bucs have asked him to do.
Making his second consecutive start and getting his second consecutive win was Buccaneers reserve quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitz went 22-of-37 for 275 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's win over Miami. That was good for a 100.6 passer rating for the veteran quarterback. He was able to capitalize on gifts the Bucs' defense gave him, leading the team to 17 points off four turnovers, with Glanton's fumble recovery for a touchdown at the end of the game being the only score not aided by Fitzpatrick. While the Bucs seemed to stall in the second half, allowing Miami to tie the game with three minutes left in the fourth, Fitzpatrick led the 13th game winning drive of his career to set kicker Patrick Murray up for the 35-yard game winner. A 2-0 record as a starter is about all you can ask for out of a backup quarterback and Fitz's experience and demeanor seem to be just what the team has needed.
5. The Bucs still need to find more third-down success (on both sides) if they want to become a more complete team.
The one blemish on an otherwise stellar defensive performance was the defense's inability to stop Miami from converting on third down, especially in the second half. Overall, Miami was successful on six of 13 third down situations. Most of those conversions came in the second half, with the Dolphins going 10-for-16 on third down attempts during that span and gaining 186 yards on nine of them. On the other side of the ball, the offense didn't have much success on third down, either. Tampa Bay had an anemic 23 percent third-down success rate, converting just three of 13 attempts. Most of those stops came on third-and-long situations that are extremely difficult to recover from. Nine of the 10 times the Bucs were stopped on third down came on distances of six yards or more, five came on distances of 10 yards or more. Both sides of the ball will need to work to correct the issue to give the Bucs continued success down the stretch.