The Tampa Bay Buccaneer' veterans players enjoyed a "Victory Monday" to start Week 11 after the team's thrilling 30-27 win over Arizona on Sunday. However, Head Coach Bruce Arians was back at team headquarters on Monday and he conducted the usual day-after-game press conference to provide more insight on Sunday's win. Arians was particularly impressed with the Buccaneers' two-minute offense, which has been productive most of the season. Here are some of the other topics on which he spoke Monday:
1. O.J. Howard's first game back was encouraging.
Third-year tight end O.J. Howard returned to action in Week 10 after missing two games with a hamstring injury suffered on the practice field. The Buccaneers didn't exactly ease him back into the mix, as Howard played all but one offensive snap in the game. He was a significant part of the Bucs' attack, too, as his seven targets were third on the team after 12 for wide receiver Chris Godwin and eight for running back Ronald Jones.
Before his injury, Howard had been waiting to break out, recording just 13 catches for 176 yards and no touchdowns while averaging three targets per contest. In his first two seasons, the 2017 first-round pick had averaged six targets and 42 yards per game and had scored 11 times in 24 career outings.
Arians has made it clear that Howard is always part of the game plan and that the defensive coverages often dictate where Jameis Winston is going to throw the football. Still, it was encouraging to see Howard get more opportunities and take advantage of them, including one dazzling 26-yard catch in traffic that set up his own 10-yard grab a play later.
"I think it's huge," said Arians of Howard's performance. "Did we purposely put him in? We had a couple plays – the thing on the goal line, we thought we'd get a good matchup. It wasn't actually what we looked for, but it was a great throw and catch. Jameis saw it, liked what he saw. We knew they were going to play a lot of Cover 2 and he should own the middle of the field. He had some good seam balls, almost had another one – [he] had the shake route in there. So, yeah, I think it was more just the same stuff, just more opportunities to get it."
2. The evaluation of QB Jameis Winston and what it means for his future with the team is ongoing.
Bruce Arians is in his first year with the Buccaneers and Jameis Winston is in the last year of his original NFL contract. Arians has expressed confidence in Winston since the day he took the job in Tampa in January, and now he has nine games of in-person evaluation to add to his assessment of the still-only-25-year-old passer.
That process continues.
"It's an ongoing process for me," said Arians. "The good, the bad, the ugly – you put it all together. Two-minute is huge when you can take your team at the end of the half and go get a touchdown in a minute [or the] end of a game. We didn't do it [against San Francisco], but now we've done it for a few weeks. You don't really want to get that situation in your first game. I see that growth. I see him throwing balls away. The guy made a really good play on the first pick. I think we could've run a better route, but that was where to go with the ball. Same thing with the second one. So, I just see growth. I see growth as a leader [and] I see growth as a quarterback."
3. The Bucs will learn from being caught by Arizona's fake punt on Sunday, though they knew something about it that the officials seemed to miss.
Arizona scored their final touchdown to take a 27-23 lead in the fourth quarter after Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury made a very bold call. With his punt team on the field at the Cardinals' 36-yard line, Kingsbury dialed up a fake that had the ball pass through two players hands before ending up back with the punter Andy Lee. Lee heaved a pass downfield that Pharoh Cooper caught while falling to the ground, and three different officials threw a flag. The call was pass interference on cornerback M.J. Stewart, and while it was irrelevant since Cooper made the catch, it was also not something you normally see on a punt.
"Well first of all, there's no such thing as pass interference in punt formation, so I don't know where that came from," said Arians. "But, they did make a heck of a play. When they moved, we should've checked out of a seven-man box. That's stuff we talk about. With our young guys, we have to physically do things on the practice field and [that is] something we'll correct."
4. Tampa Bay lost the turnover battle to the Cardinals on Sunday, but in a way they didn't thanks to an opportunistic defense.
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 10 matchup against Arizona.
The game started poorly for the home team, as Winston's second pass was intercepted by rookie cornerback Byron Murphy in Tampa Bay territory. Fortunately, the Bucs' defense minimized the damage by allowing negative-four yards on four red zone plays and forcing Arizona to settle for three points.
The response of the Buccaneers' defense to the team's next two giveaways was even better, and absolutely crucial to the game's outcome. Two plays after Arizona linebacker Jordan Hicks hauled in a deflection for an interception at the Bucs' 22, Bucs linebacker Lavonte David forced a David Johnson fumble and recovered the loose ball. Similarly when Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones fumbled in the fourth quarter, rookie cornerback Jamel Dean got the ball back at the Bucs' eight-yard line with his first career interception.
Arizona would end up with just three points off three takeaways on the plus side of the field, while the Bucs got 10 points following their two takeaways, including the game-winning touchdown drive.
"I can't say enough about our sudden-change defense – we were three out of four," said Arians, including the aforementioned fake punt in that 'sudden change' category. "I think Lavonte's play turned the whole game. We turned it over, he takes it away. That's a play probably four guys can make in this league, and he's obviously one of them. Then, the second one when Jamel makes that interception. I think when you turn it over and we take it back, [those are] huge confidence builders."