View some of the best behind-the-scenes pictures from 2018.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2018 season didn't go as they expected it would, ending in a 5-11 record due in part to a 1-4 mark in games decided by three points or less. The Buccaneers didn't always make the big play when they really needed it, or they dug too deep of a hole early in a game for their subsequent big plays to be enough.
But the 2018 Buccaneers did produce a lot of very entertaining, splashy plays, particularly on offense, where they produced the most passing yards and the third-most net yards in the NFL. The defense suffered through an inexplicable turnover drought for roughly half the season but still provided some memorable moments.
Those plays, in fact, are the topic of our second 2019 Roundtable. Throughout the early weeks of the new offseason, Casey Phillips, Carmen Vitali and I are going to look back at the 2018 season, as unfulfilling as it was, and discuss some of the highlights and lowlights, as they were. For instance, last week each of us identified what we thought were the most significant statistics produced by the team, both good and bad, in 2018. This one is simpler: What do we think were the very best plays made by the Buccaneers during the season, one each on offense and defense?
To make this a little more fun, we're not going to allow duplicated picks. That means order matters, and in this case Casey gets to go first, followed by me and then Carmen. So, without further ado, the Bucs' Best Plays of 2018:
Casey Phillips: DeSean Jackson 58-Yard TD Reception, Week One at New Orleans
I decided to choose my top plays based more on what they meant to the team and season at the time as opposed to how impressive they might be from an Xs and Os standpoint. This led me to think back to Week One, with the Bucs going to the Superdome knowing they won't have Jameis Winston for three weeks and not knowing for sure what the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led offense would look like. Then on the fourth play of the season for the Bucs' offense, Fitz threw a 58-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson for a touchdown that silenced the Superdome and gave everyone its first look at how electrifying the offense could be.
So many national pundits picked the Bucs to lose all three of their opening games against really good teams without Jameis Winston. This play seemed to make a statement that the team didn't buy that.
Scott Smith: DeSean Jackson 75-Yard TD Reception, Week Two vs. Philadelphia
Forget the pundits; what I loved about the first touchdown of the season in New Orleans was how it quieted my own doubts. Yeah, the Bucs scored on their first drive of the season, but only after New Orleans had rather easily sliced down the field on a 71-yard touchdown march of their own to start the game. The Superdome can be an unpleasant place to play (or visit, for that matter), and it's hard not to have a little twinge of here-we-go-againitis when the home team scores so quickly and easily. I believed that the Bucs' offense had a ton of talent, and at least two good quarterbacks, but would it be able to keep up in a shootout against Drew Brees and company? The answer: Yes, emphatically. The quick strike started an onslaught and before you knew it the Bucs had 48 points and a 24-point lead.
But enough about your chosen play, Casey. There is a reason I brought all that up. See, that aforementioned 24-point lead nearly melted away in the Superdome and the Bucs just barely held on for a 48-40 victory. It was exhilarating and seemed to promise great things for the offense, but it was just one game. Was it a fluke? Were the Saints just really bad on defense?
Fitzmagic needed one play to say, no, that was no fluke. Tampa Bay's second game was the home opener against the defending-champion Philadelphia Eagles, who had also opened their season with a win, beating the Bucs' NFC South rivals, Atlanta. Philadelphia won the toss, deferred to the second half, kicked off and started the game with a touchback. Thus, the Bucs' first snap of the game was with 15:00 still on the first-quarter clock. Eleven seconds later, the home team had a 7-0 lead. Fitzpatrick spotted Jackson breaking his deep post route under the cornerback and believed there was separation, so he heaved it deep on play number one. A sharp comeback route by Evans on the other side of the field had occupied a safety who could have been there to help against Jackson, but wasn't. That little detail – the Bucs having so many dangerous weapons, all helping each other out – was what I loved about this play and what made the passing attack dangerous all season. Fitz hit Jackson in stride and he wasn't touched on his 75-yard jaunt to the end zone, though he did have to cut back to the middle to avoid the last defender.
Carmen Vitali: Adam Humphries 28-Yard TD Reception, Week 12 vs. San Francisco
Jaunt. That's a fun football word. I'm going to go along the same lines as Casey and highlight a play that meant a lot to the team at the time. Wide receiver Adam Humphries, who had a career year in 2018, willed his way into the end zone in the fourth quarter of the San Francisco game in Week 12. The Bucs were on a four-game skid and beating the 49ers was like finally getting above water to take a breath of fresh air. The play was the embodiment of Humphries as a receiver, too. A lot has been said this year about how he's always in the right place at the right time and while that may sound like coach-speak, it's pretty nuanced. It means he runs his routes to perfection but also always provides a viable option in 'scramble rules,' making sure he stays open when his quarterback is under pressure and looking for somewhere to throw.
It was second and 12 at the start of the fourth quarter with the Bucs already up 20-9. Another score would all but put the game away for the home team. Humphries lined up right under the numbers between Mike Evans and Chris Godwin off to quarterback Jameis Winston's right. He looked headed for a post before cutting inside as Winston was flushed out of the pocket, getting behind two defenders and causing San Francisco to completely lose track of him. Winston continued rolling to his right and then threw across his body to Humphries who was sitting at about the 15-yard line. He made a leaping grab and as defenders closed in around him, powered his way into the end zone, taking a defender with him. It solidified the game and a much-needed with for the Bucs at the time.
Casey Phillips: Jason Pierre-Paul Second-Quarter Sack, Week 12 vs. San Francisco
Again, this pick for me is more symbolic than it is based on the necessary skill or level of difficulty to get it done. The Bucs hadn't had a player reach double digits in sacks in a single season since Simeon Rice in 2005. The team needed to break that streak. But then you factor in the lack of turnovers created, the change at defensive coordinator, games where the 'D' had given up far too many points or third-down conversions and squandered the offense putting up 35+ points…and this defense REALLY needed a spark.
Enter Jason Pierre-Paul. He sacks San Fran QB Nick Mullens in the second quarter of a Week 12 game at Raymond James Stadium, putting his season total at 10.5. It happened at home, and when it was announced to Raymond James Stadium that JPP reached the double-digit mark, there was a standing ovation as Bucs fans showed their appreciation. To me, this represented what Pierre-Paul came to mean to this team in just one short season. He played and practiced through injury with incredible intensity. He held his teammates to a very high standard, one he happens to apply to his own play. And he attacked his leadership role in the locker room and in the community as well with the same ferocity. Pierre-Paul, who the Bucs acquired in what proved to be a very good trade with the New York Giants, would finish the season with 12.5 sacks.
Scott Smith: Lavonte David Forced Fumble Against Baker Mayfield, Week Seven vs. Cleveland.
The Buccaneers' defense infamously went 34 straight quarters in the middle of the season without recording a takeaway, which…didn't help matters. There was one play during that stretch that essentially walked and talked like a turnover even if it was not technically scored as one.
After their 2-0 start, the Buccaneers dropped three straight and really needed to get back to .500 with the Cleveland Browns in for a visit. It looked good for much of the way, as the Bucs overcome an early safety and had a two-touchdown lead in the third quarter. That's when Baker Mayfield and the Browns – who we now know would be much more competitive in 2018 than recent years – rallied to tie it at 23-23 and send the game to overtime. Tampa Bay eventually won it on Chandler Catanzaro's 59-yard field goal.
The Bucs might have never gotten to that extra period without a fantastic hustle play by linebacker Lavonte David. Late in the first half, the Bucs were looking to extend their 16-2 lead when Jameis Winston was intercepted deep in Browns territory. Carl Nassib came back with a critical third-down sack to keep Cleveland from capitalizing, but moments later Cam Brate fumbled inside the Bucs' red zone. It looked very possible that the Browns would be able to trim the Bucs' lead heading into halftime and swing the momentum. Cleveland chose to go for it on fourth-and-two at the 11 and Mayfield eventually scrambled to his left after finding no one open. He appeared to have open field to at least a first down, and perhaps all the way to the end zone. That's when Lavonte David shot into the picture seemingly out of nowhere and dived to grab Mayfield from behind. Mayfield had already passed the first down marker by about a yard, but David also popped the ball out of his grasp and it fortuitously took a hop back in the other direction before rolling out of bounds just short of those first-down sticks.
Since the Buccaneers didn't recover the ball, it wasn't technically a takeaway. But it did mean that the Browns had failed to convert on fourth down, making it a turnover on downs. Call it what you like, it was the best defensive play of the year for the Buccaneers.
Carmen Vitali: Carl Nassib Sack(s) of Former Teammate Baker Mayfield, Week Seven
Is there anything better than a good revenge game? Defensive end Carl Nassib would have been the first to say the game against Cleveland, a.k.a. the team that cut him prior to Week One, wasn't a 'revenge game' for him at all, but I sneakily suspect he's dissembling. His performance definitely proved otherwise. As a newcomer, no one was very familiar with Nassib yet – this was pre-'bookend' analogy. It ended up being the first glimpse at how effective a player Nassib could be. Before the day was over he had registered 1.5 sacks on Browns' quarterback Baker Mayfield as well as a pass-defensed in which he batted down a throw all the way out in the flat. He was on fire.
His solo sack came on third-down with Cleveland down 16-2 inside the two-minute warning right before the half. Mayfield was out in the shotgun looking to make up seven yards of turf and Nassib was matched up with the tackle one-on-one as he came off the defense's right side. There was nothing more to it than Nassib just blowing past the tackle on a mission for Mayfield, which he accomplished.