1. Despite injuries, the defense dominated anyway.
The Bucs suffered another blow to their already dilapidated secondary when Jamel Dean went out technically two separate times. He was shaken up at the end of the third quarter, which forced cornerback Pierre Desir into the game. But in true next man up fashion, Desir promptly picked off Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields for the team's third interception of the game. Cornerback Dee Delaney had another and so did safety Jordan Whitehead. It was the first interception of the season for all three players and was part of a five-takeaway effort by the Buccaneers.
That's right, five takeaways thanks to two additional forced fumbles via strip sacks. This is all while the Bucs let up just three points. Tampa Bay has 67 takeaways since Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles took the reins in 2019, which rank as the third-most in that span.
The two players that forced those fumbles were defensive bookends Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. Barrett now has at least one sack in his last four games and after adding another sack on top of the play where he forced the fumble, Pierre-Paul recorded his first multi-sack game since Week 17 of the 2019 season.
The pair make a habit of multi-tasking, too. Both are top five in strip sacks since 2019, with Barrett taking the top spot after tallying 10 and Pierre-Paul tying for the fourth-most with seven. Not to mention Pierre-Paul is doing it with one hand (his right hand has a club on it due to a broken finger). Oh, and he's also playing with a torn rotator cuff.
The pressure the two were able to generate on Fields made it impossible for him to get into any sort of passing rhythm. That pressure generated by the front subsequently alleviated the pressure on the decimated defensive backfield and allowed them to play freely. There was no better proof than Delaney's interception. It was JPP ripping a sick spin move on the Bears' right tackle to get past him while nose tackle Vita Vea was occupying both the right guard and the center. JPP almost gets to Fields but he tucks, evades the tackle and scrambles out to his right after regaining his footing. From there, inside linebacker Kevin Minter tracks him down and forces him to get rid of the ball. Meanwhile, the back end is in zone coverage and after Allen Robinson comes all the way across the formation, Delaney recognizes it and steps up to undercut the route and make the grab. It was an all-level effort from the Bucs' defense and it's exactly how they played all game to overcome the constant shuffling and various other injuries incurred.
That, and you know, a brilliantly called game by Bowles.
2. The Mike Evans-Chris Godwin tandem.
I want to talk about these two a little bit. With Antonio Brown out, it forced the focus a bit more on the Bucs' top two receivers and I think it's interesting how they're utilized. For fantasy purposes, you may also find this interesting.
The trend I see among the two that was evident in this game is that one gets a lot of work all over the field while the other yields a lot of production in a very efficient amount of catches and yards. Look at the stat line for what I mean by that.
Godwin had eight catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. Evans had six catches for 76 yards and (count 'em) THREE touchdowns. Evans did that all in one half, also. He's the only player in Bucs history to do that and he's done it twice. That's, in large part, due to Evans' utilization inside the red zone. All three of his touchdowns came inside the red zone, as did four of his six catches. The other two came at the 35 and 48-yard lines in Bears territory. I'll also concede on that second one from midfield – it was a 46-yard bomb Brady ended up throwing to Evans. Given Evans' frame, you take him one on one down the field for 50/50 balls any day of the week.
But that's exactly the recipe. Meanwhile, Godwin is all over the field. In fact, according to Next Gen Stats, Godwin has gained over 150 yards on nine different routes since 2019, which is the best mark in the league. It's also the max amount of routes if you're going by the traditional route tree. He's as versatile as they come, which means more yardage production, though perhaps not as much time in the end zone. But hey, my PPR fantasy team loves that for him.
And Godwin still gets in the end zone plenty. His career receiving touchdown total is 27, which ties Mark Carrier for the sixth-most in franchise history. So between the two, you can't go wrong. It was just interesting to see how they were utilized this game. And luckily, with a quarterback like Tom Brady, who leads the league in both passing yards and passing touchdowns, there is plenty of work to go around for the both of them.
3. The Bucs played truly complementary football.
I talked a lot about those defensive takeaways the Bucs had and how the team itself takes so much pride in being able to generate them. Well, the opposite side of the ball also takes pride on being able to capitalize on them. Tampa Bay's 289 points off takeaways since 2019 are the most in the NFL during that span, and 49 more than any other team.
In this game individually, the Bucs' offense converted 17 points after being handed bonus possessions by the defense. Special teams also had a hand in helping the offense out, as well. In fact, there may have been no better two-drive series than the very beginning of the game. The Bucs' defense started by forcing the Bears' three-and-out. Special teams then gave the Bucs' offense a short field thanks to a 43-yard punt return by rookie wide receiver Jaelon Darden. And then the offense got into the end zone thanks to an efficient ground game and drawing a penalty. Textbook.
Speaking of penalties, the Bucs finally played a clean game too to round out another phase of the game. They committed just one penalty the entire game for 10 yards, which is good news after gifting opponents hundreds of penalty yards over the first six weeks of the season.
Now, it's marching into the lion's den in New Orleans up next. Let's see if the Bucs can keep with their complementary tendencies. If they do, they're almost impossible to stop.