One quarter into the 2017 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense is starting to look like the "pick-your-poison" conundrum the team was hoping to present to opposing defenses.
After a very promising 2016 season for quarterback Jameis Winston, his second in the NFL after he was picked first overall in 2015, the Buccaneers sought to surround him with a deeper and more explosive cast of weapons. In addition to his returning top targets – Mike Evans, Cam Brate and Adam Humphries – Winston was teamed up with big-play wideout DeSean Jackson, first-round tight end O.J. Howard and third-round wide receiver Chris Godwin.
So far, it's working, at least in terms of moving the football through the air. The Buccaneers would like to up their scoring from 21.3 points per game and get more than 86 rushing yards per contest, but the Winston-led passing attack is moving the ball at a pace never before seen in team history. Tampa Bay's 288.0 passing yards per game currently ranks third in the NFL, leading to a sixth-place spot in the overall offensive chart (374.0).
Tampa Bay's total of 1,496 yards is the second-most it has ever recorded through the first four games of a season. It's 1,152 net passing yards are the top mark in franchise history through the first quarter of a campaign.
Most Net Passing Yards Through a Season's First Four Games, Buccaneers
|1992||952||Vinny Testaverde/Steve DeBerg|
|2011||943||Josh Freeman/Josh Johnson|
Winston has piled up the yards by spreading the football around to the aforementioned targets. Evans leads the way with 276 yards but Jackson has added 249, followed by Humphries at 207 and Brate at 205. The two rookies Howard and Godwin, have just four catches a piece so far, though Howard has the team's longest gain of the year, a 58-yard touchdown catch against the Giants.
The only two teams in the NFL who already have four players with at least 200 receiving yards are the Buccaneers and their Thursday night opponent, New England. However, that was the Patriots' fifth game; they are the only team that has played five times already. After four games, New England had three players over 200 receiving yards.
READ: Buccaneers Lose Under the LightsThus, the Buccaneers are the only team in 2017 that had four players averaging at least 50 receiving yards per game through its first four games. This is also the first time in team history that the Bucs have had a quartet of 200-yard receivers one quarter into the season. In fact, the Buccaneers have never before had three players reach 200 receiving yards through the first four games.
This being an unprecedented feat in team history can be attributed in part to the NFL's ever-increasing passing numbers across the board. However, four 200-yard receivers after four games is still a relatively rare feat in the NFL. The Buccaneers are only the fifth team to do it in the last decade.
NFL Teams with Four 200+-Yard Receivers After First Four Games, 2008-17
|Tampa Bay||2017||Jameis Winston||M.Evans, D.Jackson, A. Humphries, C.Brate|
|Denver||2013||Peyton Manning||D.Thomas, E.Decker, W.Welker, J.Thomas|
|New Orleans||2012||Drew Brees||M.Colston, L.Moore, J.Graham, D.Sproles|
|Arizona||2009||Kurt Warner||L.Fitzgerald, A.Boldin, S.Breaston, T.Hightower|
|New Orleans||2008||Drew Brees||R.Bush, D.Henderson, R.Meachem, L.Moore|
From a quarterback standpoint, that's obviously some outstanding company in which Winston finds himself. Warner was just inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past summer, while Manning and Brees will be first-ballot shoo-ins when they are eligible. Winston has a long way to go before one could say the same about him, but he's off to a very nice start. After becoming the first NFL quarterback ever to begin his career with two consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons, he's hit some notable franchise-specific marks in the first quarter of his third season. Such as:
- Winston's 1,198 passing yards are the most ever by a Buccaneer through a season's first four games;
- He has posted three consecutive 300-yard games, tying the franchise record set by Vinny Testaverde in 1989;
- He is the first player in team history to post two consecutive games in which he has thrown for more than 300 yards without throwing an interception;
- He threw for 225 yards in the fourth quarter on Thursday night, the most by an NFL quarterback in any quarter so far this season.
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' Week 5 matchup with the Patriots.
As a rookie, Winston completed 58.3% of his passes and averaged 7.6 yards per attempt. In his second season, 2016, he improved his completion percentage to 60.8% but saw his yards per attempt drop to 7.2. That's why the Buccaneers wanted to provide him with some more explosive weapons, and that plan is achieving the desired effect. Winston has once again increased his completion rate (albeit by a small amount and through just four games) to 61.0%, but his yards per attempt has also taken a dramatic leap forward to 7.8. If he can maintain these rates, he will join Brian Griese in 2004 as the only Buccaneer passers (min. 100 pass attempts) to finish a season with a completion rate of at least 60% and a yards-per attempt average of at least 7.5.Meanwhile, the quartet of Buc pass-catchers noted in the chart above are on individual paces to finish the season between 820 and 1,104 receiving yards. The top projection is Evans, with Jackson on pace for 996. If any two of four make it to four digits, they'll join the Evans-Vincent Jackson duo of 2014 as the only pair of Buccaneer teammates each to get 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. The Bucs have never had three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season.* *Thousand-yard triplets is an unlikely but not impossible achievement for the Buccaneers' 2017 passing season. After one quarter of the season, though, it's starting to look like that group could finish the season with a whole new section in the Buccaneers' record book.