Lovie Smith met with the press on Monday afternoon, approximately 24 hours after his Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished off a dominant 45-17 victory in Philadelphia. In the interim, Smith and his team had an opportunity to review the tape from that game and gain a more detailed understanding of how the Bucs finally captured the winning streak they've been chasing.
So, upon further review, here are a few things Lovie Smith and the rest of us learned from – and/or what new questions were raised by – the Bucs' most recent victory.
- We might be in danger of giving the offensive line too little credit for the team's success. **Jameis Winston and Doug Martin combined to do something no pair of teammates had ever done in a road game before, and we just can't stop talking about their exploits on Sunday. Winston and Martin challenged or broke a number of team and NFL records, and that is helping to put a brighter spotlight on the remarkable seasons they are having.
There's no need to move that spotlight, but maybe we should let Logan Mankins stand under it, too. And Joe Hawley. And Donovan Smith, Gosder Cherilus, Evan Smith, Ali Marpet and Kevin Pamphile. All of those players have started this year for a Buccaneers' offensive line that has been, without a doubt, the team's most pleasant surprise in 2015.
Since they don't have much in the way of their own statistics, offensive linemen are often judged by how often their quarterback is sacked and how many yards their running back picks up. By those criteria, the Bucs' offensive line just had one of the best games in franchise history. Martin led a team-record 283-yard rushing attack and Winston was only sacked once while getting plenty of time to throw a quintet of touchdown passes. Lovie Smith said on Monday that not focusing on the play of the Bucs' offensive line is a mistake…one he rectified with some glowing praise.
"Bad on my part if I haven't mentioned the offensive line enough because we should," said Smith. "The coaches have done a great job – Butch Barry and George Warhop both have. For our players we have had injuries across the board. We've had different guys step in and it seems like we are getting the same types of results. They've done a great job with pass protection, done a great job opening up holes. You can pretty much say that just about every week we have been pretty pleased with our offensive line play."
Behind-the-scenes photos of the Buccaneers vs. Eagles game at Lincoln Financial Field on November 22nd.
Of course, that's not to discount the great work that Martin and Winston (and others) have done with the favorable environment the O-Line has created. In fact, one can think of it as something of a feedback loop.
"I think as an offensive line too, when you have a running back having the type of year Doug [is having], you like blocking for him," said Smith. "You definitely feel you are a part of what he's doing."
Overall, the Buccaneers have the NFL's third-best rushing attack, with an average of 142.2 yards per game. If maintained, that would be Tampa Bay's best ground game since the 1979 team that averaged 152.3 yards per game, in an era that was much less pass-happy. The Bucs also rank a respectable 13th in sacks allowed per pass play, with Winston being dropped 17 times in 331 drop-backs. Martin's amazing bounce-back season and the rapid development of the team's rookie quarterback are perhaps the highest-profile stories the Bucs have to offer, but neither would be happening without strong play by the men up front.
Photos from Buccaneers vs. Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
- The Bucs are now in a good position to chase their playoff dreams, but that's now what Smith has his team focusing on just yet. **Tampa Bay's big win in Philadelphia was helpfully paired with an Atlanta Falcons loss on Sunday, thanks to the Indianapolis Colts. The Bucs improved to 5-5 while the Falcons fell to 6-4 and while Tampa Bay has won three of its last four to gain a significant amount of confidence, Atlanta is riding a three-game losing streak.
The current seeding would have Atlanta in possession of the second Wild Card spot, which means the Bucs are just one game out of the playoff picture. Tampa Bay gets the Falcons at home in two weeks and has just two games remaining against teams that currently have a winning record.
In other words, the Buccaneers have every reason to believe that they will be relevant during the playoff stretch run. There's just no need to waste any time thinking about that right now.
"We won two games in a row and we are 5-5," said Smith. "It's kind of the same message each week. The message is we are in the playoff race, we have been. Our message is about that next opponent. All those other things will take care of themselves. We talked an awful lot about getting to 5-5. Now we have chance to get over .500, win three games in a row. That's what we're going to talk about. As much as anything, individual improvement – we didn't play a perfect game. As you start watching the video, there are so many things to clean up. We'll start that process again Wednesday."
WATCH: BUCS REWIND VS. EAGLES
Smith said he would enjoy the win over Philadelphia until he was done with his Monday night radio show, then move on to preparing for the Indianapolis Colts. While conceding that he is "pretty excited" about where his team is at the moment, he still wanted to concentrate on the task at hand.
"It's good to get to 5-5, win two games in a row," said Smith. "That games seems like it was three days ago now. Of course it's on to Indianapolis for us."
- Speaking of Doug Martin, he's due to become a free agent at the end of the season and Smith thinks the situation is working out well for everyone. **During the 2015 offseason, the Buccaneers did not exercise a fifth-year option on the rookie contract Martin signed in 2012 after he was chosen at the end of the first round of the draft. However, the team never wavered from making him the center of their offensive attack, and that has obviously paid off in a big way for both the team and the player. Martin is currently the NFL's second-leading rusher, 65 yards behind Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, and the 26-year-old back has reason to be pleased with the situation he's in.
"Is Doug Martin a priority? I can say that, yes, he definitely is," said Smith. "I don't think that's a bad thing at all to go into the fifth year. I think it has benefited Doug as much as anything. He's in a great position now. I don't think Doug came into the season thinking he wasn't wanted around here. It's the complete opposite of that and we have acknowledged everything he's done along the way and we put him in a position to have the type of year that he is having right now. I think it's all good. If I'm Doug Martin, I'm pretty happy I didn't sign a contract before and like the position I'm in right now."
Martin has maintained his status as the Bucs' lead back despite the fact that second-year tailback Charles Sims has also played well. Sims caught his third touchdown pass of the season on Sunday and he has averaged 4.5 yards per carry on his 76 totes (Martin has averaged 5.0 yards on 188 carries). The Bucs know they can leave Martin in the game for any situation – such as the fourth-and-one he converted during the Bucs' long drive to start the second half – and that should make him one of the team's most important players down the stretch.
"I think he is a complete running back," said Smith. "Yeah, his rushing yards say that, but you just look at how he has gotten them. Yes, he can get the third-and-short. He has enough power to get that. What I've been impressed with as much as anything that maybe he didn't show as much last year is making guys miss in the open field. And not necessarily in the open field – sometimes there have been small holes, he knows how to get himself small to get through it. You talk about great running back, what do they have? Vision, instincts to know when to make a move. That's what he's been doing. We've seen him catch the ball, we've seen him run over guys and make people miss. I think he's kind of showed us everything a great running back should show people on a weekly basis."