1. Winning the turnover margin with an ending fit for Hollywood.
The turnover battle. You win it and more often than not, you win the actual game, too. Such was the case for the Buccaneers on Sunday in Los Angeles, who saw the defense take the ball away four times over the course of the game. It was safety Jordan Whitehead who got the ball rolling, so to speak, on the first interception of Rams quarterback Jared Goff. It happened at the start of the second quarter with the Rams threatening at the Tampa Bay 30-yard line. Their very next possession was surrendered the same way, but this time it was inside linebacker Lavonte David who got in front of the receiver to intercept the ball. It was David's 11th interception of his career and first since the 2016 season.
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It's almost like the Bucs were trying to outdo themselves on each turnover. If an inside linebacker getting a pick wasn't impressive enough, how about an outside linebacker by the name of Shaq Barrett, who now has 9.0 sacks on the season which is tied for the most in NFL history through four games, after a strip sack AND an interception in Sunday's game? In the third quarter, Barrett blew past the tight end and got penetration on the outside. As Goff went to throw, Barrett got his hand on the pass and tipped it up and into his own arms for his first career interception.
"It's amazing to be the guy who stepped up to make a play," Barrett said. "I know it could have been anybody, we always have guys who are stepping up to make plays. Early in the game it was (S Jordan) Whitehead, it was (ILB) Lavonte (David), it was just everybody. It was my time to make a play and I made the play when it was my time."
The penultimate play though ended up being what sealed the deal for the Buccaneers. Leading by as many as 18 points, they surrendered 14 unanswered before a field goal would put them up by eight as the game clock ran down. The Rams had the ball and were driving down the field just inside the two-minute warning when Goff dropped back to pass but was hit by Barrett, who knocked the ball loose in the process. It was then scooped up by defensive tackle, and former Ram, Ndamukong Suh who decided to make a house call with the ball in hand. It was only a four-man rush but with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh eating up a double-team next to Barrett, he was left one-on-one to get to Goff. It gave the Bucs a 15-point lead after the good extra point, where the score would remain.
Coupled by the fact that the Buccaneers only gave up one turnover on an interception returned for a touchdown by cornerback Marcus Peters, it meant Tampa Bay came away +3 in the turnover margin and subsequently came away with the win. However, Barrett was careful to warn that the performance was far from perfect because of the amount of points and yards given up.
"I mean, we have a lot of work to do still," Barrett said. "Forty points is too much, over 400 passing yards is too much. We have to fix it. I don't know what it is, but we have to fix it. We have to be able to win games like this, but we don't want to have to win games like this. We don't want to."
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 4 matchup against Los Angeles.
2. Offensive firepower on full display.
Here's the thing: the Buccaneers gave up 40 points, yes. Yet, they still won the game because of a record-breaking offensive effort. The 55 points Tampa Bay put on the board are a franchise record. Winston has 385 yards passing with four touchdowns through the air and just one interception, giving him a passer rating of 120.5, his best this season. In fact, his passer rating has been on a steady ascent since Week One, and has been over 100 since Week Two.
"Jameis has played extremely well since the first week," Head Coach Bruce Arians said. ""I can't take any credit for that. Give it to (Buccaneers Quarterbacks Coach) Clyde (Christensen) and Byron (Leftwich). But, he's playing really, really well right now, even the interception. He was trying to throw one in there and I don't blame him because he's got the talent to do it, just get a little bit higher."
Of course, a pass needs to connect with a catch, and that's exactly what the Buccaneers offense made happen. Wide receiver Chris Godwin had the biggest day of the Bucs receiver corps and the biggest day of his career as he nabbed 12 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns. His effort was made even more impressive by the fact that every single one of his receptions resulted in a first down and four of them were on crucial third downs to keep drives alive.
"When (WR) Mike Evans is getting double covered, (WR) Chris Godwin always finds a way to get open and make plays," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "He's been doing that all year. We're happy to have two guys, two dominant guys and even more than that. Chris accepts that load. He takes it and he gets open and catches the football."
Evans, coming off a massive game last week against the Giants, added 89 yards on just four catches, giving him an incredible 22.3 yards-per-catch average on the day. He also got in the end zone on a 64-yard bomb from Winston in the fourth quarter as the Bucs answered a touchdown from Los Angeles that put them within 11 points. For whatever reason, he was left one-on-one deep down the field and after making the grab and beating his man, he took a little dance break down the goal line before stepping into the end zone. It was a swagger-filled play worthy of the Hollywood location. There's no business like sports business, right?
The Bucs jumped out to an early 7-0 lead on their first drive, the second consecutive game they've scored on their first possession, and never surrendered their lead. Not once. The closest they came was in the fourth quarter when they saw it dwindle to just five points but the offense answered with a drive that ate up over five minutes of clock and resulted in a field goal to put the Bucs up a full eight points with just 2:35 left in the game. Of course, we all know how it ended up.
3. Special teams, penalties need to be cleaned up.
The Bucs' Achilles heel (yes, in the Coliseum) seemed to be sloppiness on both special teams and in penalties – the most egregious of which were committed on special teams, coincidentally enough. The Bucs had 12 penalties that amounted in 99 yards, overall, made worse by the fact that the Rams capitalized on them.
Right before the half, Tampa Bay gave LA great field position after the Bucs were called for a fair-catch interference penalty that set up the Rams at the 50-yard line. The drive went for the second consecutive touchdown to put Los Angeles within a score. The drive before, it was a pass interference penalty that moved the Rams inside the red zone to the 13-yard line where running back Todd Gurley would take it in. Most of the time, Los Angeles started on their own 25-yard line and were pinned inside their own 10 on their last drive, making it even more impossible following the strip sack returned for a touchdown to catch up and time dwindling.
The Bucs had been improving in penalty yards given up, committing just four penalties amounting in 30 yards last week. It's time to get back to that in order to make things easier on all three phases of the ball going forward.