A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' game against the Falcons.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened their 2016 season with an improbable win over the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome.
Before you pick up your pitchforks and torches, understand that we are not saying that it was improbable that the Buccaneers would beat their division rivals, even on the road. What we are saying is that the manner in which they did so was, upon further examination, quite improbable as it relates to four decades of franchise history.
Specifically, the Buccaneers beat the Falcons despite not securing a single takeaway. That's the first time they've won a game without forcing a turnover since 2012 – that game was also in Atlanta, coincidentally – and, amazingly, only the 10th time they've done so in team history. Below is that entire list of 10 no-takeaway victories, with a few added columns we will examine more closely in a moment.
As you can see in that table, this win was perhaps the most unlikely in that the Buccaneers also gave up 374 net yards of offense. Only once before has Tampa Bay allowed 300 or more yards AND not forced a single turnover and still come away with a victory, and that was almost a decade ago. They edged the Bengals by one point under those criteria in 2006.
Generally, the Bucs have overcome the lack of takeaways in a victory by also taking good care of the football and not allowing much offense in general by the opposition. In seven of those 10 games they committed one or fewer turnovers of their own (and never more than two) and they allowed fewer than 200 yards in three of them. The Buccaneers did follow the first half of that equation in Sunday's opener, committing just one turnover of their own.
The Bucs kept the turnover ratio close, at -1. That's not necessarily the kiss of death like a total lack of takeaways usually is, but it's still more often a stat seen in defeat. In fact, there were a number of situational statistical tendencies the Buccaneers were able to overcome in their win in Atlanta. Here are the Bucs' win-loss records in seven different categories over the last five years, along with how the team fared in each category on Sunday:
It had also been some time since Tampa Bay opened the season with a Week One victory on the road. The last occurrence was the 2005 opener at Minnesota, which the Buccaneers won to kick off an 11-5 season and their second-to-last playoff appearance. That the opponent was the Falcons made the win that much sweeter, and rarer – Tampa Bay's last Week One road win against a division opponent came in 1990 on a 38-21 downing of the Lions in Detroit. The only other such occurrence in team history was the 1989 season opener, a 23-21 victory in Green Bay.
Punter Bryan Anger turned in an outstanding regular-season debut as a Buccaneer on Sunday, consistently hitting his punts both deep and high, forcing three fair catches despite averaging nearly 50 yards a kick.
Anger finished with a gross average of 49.4 yards per punt and a superb net average of 45.0 yards per kick. That net ranked third among all punters in Week One (with two Monday night games still to be played) and first among all players who punted at least five times.
It was also one of the best games by a Buccaneer punter in several years. Anger is the first Tampa Bay punter to average more than 49 yards a punt in a game since 2012, when Michael Koenen did it in three separate contests. Anger's 45.0-yard net is the best by a Buc since Koenen finished a game against New Orleans with a net of 48.0 on December 29, 2013. It is also tied for the sixth best single-game net punting average in team history.