LB Derrick Brooks and the Bucs' defense was dominant against Buffalo despite a lack of turnovers
Last Sunday, in the process of dominating the visiting Buffalo Bills, 19-3, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers committed 13 penalties and didn't record a single turnover on defense.
Would you care to guess when the last time the Buccaneers committed at least 10 turnovers, failed to record even one takeaway and still won the game was?
Is this a specialty stat that, in the end, means nothing? Yes and no. Sunday's game might have also been the first time the Bucs won on the 18th of the month when wearing white pants and white jerseys and facing an opponent from the AFC East.
Yes, you can make statistics march to your own purposes if you try hard enough, but this some meaningless isn't smash-up of our favorite numbers from the weekend. If you've watched the Bucs over the last few years, then you know that frequent penalties can disrupt your best offensive efforts. And if you've paid attention to the Bucs' defensive success over the last decade, you've noticed that turnovers have a lot to do with the final outcome.
Thus, to come up on the wrong end of both of those stats and still win going away is a very encouraging outcome for the Buccaneers' defense.
At least, that's one way of looking at it. Conversely, one might wonder if the Bucs' disappointing penalty numbers and missed turnover opportunities are a sign of potential problems. After all, had the Bucs come up with one fewer takeaway late in the game at Minnesota, they might have lost that opener. And had they surrendered too much field position with a string of penalties against Buffalo, they might never have jumped on top in that field-position battle.
Of the two issues, the Bucs' yellow-flag attraction might be the most pressing problem. In an unusual coincidence, Tampa Bay has committed exactly 13 penalties for 99 yards in each of its first two games. That's funny...and it's way too many.
At one point early in Sunday's game, the Bucs turned a punt down to Buffalo's five into field position near the 30 by committing three straight penalties while trying to get the kick off. Those problems persisted, as roughly half of the infractions of the home game were committed in the kicking game.
"I'm very concerned," said Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden of the early penalty problems. "We don't hire officials for every practice and our training camp for any other reason than make it important. Seven penalties on special teams is unacceptable and they certainly deflated us in terms of field position.
"There were some careless errors that have to be eliminated or it will cost us games."
The turnovers, or lack thereof, were most of a loss opportunity more than sloppy well. Still, the ball was dropped on several possible interceptions, and that type of lost opportunity could eventually hurt the team. On Sunday, it took the Bucs most of the first half to turn a dominant defensive effort into a lead; that was almost taken care of on the second play of the game, when LB Derrick Brooks jumped a short pass out to the right and nearly went the distance.
Brooks was unable to snare a hot throw, and the same was true of cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly during the first half, when the Bucs repeatedly got into position for takeaways.
"Derrick's second play of the game would have been a great catch, that ball got in on him and was a little bit inside and high," said Gruden. "But Ronde had a chance. I'm excited that we were in position to make plays, were reading our keys, were getting jumps on the quarterback, were reading his eyes, were rallying to the ball.
"But to be great once again, this defense has got to score and I think they know that. They're going to come into play real soon. We're going to need some defensive scores to win football games. We've got to start delivering."
The Bucs have delivered a 2-0 start so far, so to find fault in the specifics of that start seems a bit nit-picky. Still, at least one of those two wins came in the face of steep odds. Assuming there are few – and most likely none – 13-penalty, zero-takeaway victories on the horizon, the Bucs have to clean up those two areas of team play to continue their winning ways.