Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Making a Jump in 2021? | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about throwback uniforms, the Bucs' young secondary, potential rookie starters and more

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The three-week January road journey that took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back home for Super Bowl LV last winter included a stop at the venerable Louisiana Superdome. There the Buccaneers exacted some measure of revenge for their two losses to the Saints earlier that year, downing the home team 20-10 in Drew Brees's final NFL game.

That said, since head-to-head winning and losing streaks in the NFL generally only included regular-season games, the Buccaneers have not yet snapped the Saints run in this rivalry. And it's more than two games – it's five, stretching back to the second meeting in 2018. That is, in fact, Tampa Bay's longest active losing streak against any team in the NFL.

So the Buccaneers will have two chances to stop that skid in 2021 as they also try to break New Orleans' four-year stranglehold on the NFC South title. What other winning or losing streaks could the Buccaneers extend or snap this upcoming season? Glad you asked.

The Bucs have lost their last four against New England, tied with Baltimore for their second-longest streak against any team. Thank goodness we have that as a central storyline for the Week Four Bucs-Patriots game because it's hard to think of anything else compelling about that matchup to draw viewers.

The Buccaneers will also put two-game winning streaks on the line against four teams (and potentially in six games): Atlanta, Carolina, Miami and Philadelphia. The Dolphins and Eagles games are back-to-back in Weeks Five and Six.

The Buffalo Bills won the last meeting with Tampa Bay four years ago, a game played in what was then known as New Era Field in Buffalo. However, the Bills have not won a game in Tampa since 1991. To be fair, the Bills haven't been frequent visitors to the Bay area, but the Bucs won a trio of rather lopsided affairs at Raymond James Stadium in 2000, 2005 and 2013. Buffalo visits Tampa in Week 12.

It's been even longer since the Dolphins won a game on the Buccaneers' field. The last one was in 1988, at old Tampa Stadium. Since, they've visited in 1997, 2005 and 2013 and have headed back downstate with a loss each time.

The all-time series lead is also at stake against four of the Buccaneers' opponents this season. The Bucs could even things up against Washington, which leads that series 11-10, and Philadelphia, which leads that series 8-7. Those games are in Weeks 10 and Six, respectively. On the flip side, Miami has a chance to even up that series, which the Bucs currently lead 6-5. The Bucs and Falcons won't be even by season's end but it could be anywhere from a one-game Bucs lead to a three-game Falcons lead as Atlanta currently holds a slim 28-27 edge.

The Buccaneers have high hopes for their 2021 title defense season. If they meet their expectations, they could head into 2022 with a lot more winning streaks and a few more series leads. Now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

View pictures from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2021 Rookie Mini-Camp

Question 1: If the Buccaneers go back to the Super Bowl in Los Angeles (2/13/2022) will they be able to wear a red jersey with pewter pants only the 1997 version just to show history?

Question 2: Will the Bucs team bring back the 1997 or 1976 uniforms for the future seasons if the NFL decides to give a season with throwback uniforms for all teams to wear?

- Sincerely Josiah Beiser (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

Well, the first thing to keep in mind here is that the Buccaneers won't get to choose what color jersey they wear if they do make it back to the Super Bowl at the end of this year. It was the NFC's turn to be the home team in the Super Bowl last year (and the Buccaneers shockingly made that a literal thing for the first time in league history), which mean the Bucs got to pick their jerseys first. When they went white, Kansas City had to go red. Next year, the AFC representative in the Super Bowl will get to pick its jersey first and the NFC team (perhaps the Bucs) will have to go with the opposite.

As for the Bucs' choice of white jersey and pewter pants for the biggest game of all last year, that probably had something to do with the fact that they had gone 5-0 in that combination before the Super Bowl, including the playoffs. They were 9-2 overall in white jerseys.

If the Buccaneers are in Super Bowl LVI and if they get to wear their red jerseys, they could (and almost certainly would) combine them with their pewter pants, which would be the same combination they wore in winning Super Bowl XXXVII at the end of the 2002 season. However, they could not go back to the exact uniforms they wore that year and which were introduced in 1997 because teams are required to wear one of their two standard jerseys in the Super Bowl.

Still, the new uniforms that the Buccaneers introduced last year were based on and are very similar to the ones they wore from 1997 to 2013. "Throwing back" to the 1997 look wouldn't really be a massive change.

Teams are allowed to wear their alternate third jersey one time in the playoffs prior to the Super Bowl. In the Bucs' case, that was the pewter one that they paired with pewter pants for a brand new look in 2020. However, the Saints tried to wear their alternate gold jersey in the playoffs the year before and were denied because they had already hit their three-game limit for the regular season. So if a team wants to wear its third jersey in the playoffs I guess it has to plan ahead and save one of its three. It would be hard to resist using all three options in the regular season without the guarantee of an opportunity in the playoffs.

As for your second question, yes the Buccaneers absolutely want to have more regular-season Throwback Games as soon as the league's "one-helmet" equipment rule is changed to make it possible. There's some evidence that there is growing momentum towards that happening, helping teams like the Bucs whose current and throwback uniforms have different helmet colors. When and if the Buccaneers do get to play some more Throwback Games I'm sure they'll go back to the orange and white duds they wore from 1976 to 1996. Like I wrote earlier, there's just not enough difference between the current set of uniforms and what they wore in 1997 to make that a worthwhile throwback. Before the helmet rule put the Bucs' throwback plans on the shelf for a while, a series of games featuring those orange and white uniforms was wildly popular with the fans. Hopefully, we'll get to see that again soon.

Scott,

The secondary is very young with 2nd 3rd and 4th year guys. Do you see some of these players making a jump and really improving with the full off season and training camp and additional reps. Things really started to come together for Sean Murphy-Bunting in the playoffs.

-- James P. Taylor (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

Well, they're young, true, but they already have a lot of experience and they must be brimming with confidence after how the secondary played in the postseason. I'd say there are varying degrees of "jumps" that could be made for each player and if you could get a significant step forward from, say, two or three of them, that would probably be enough to make the secondary one of the league's best. I'd say what the Buccaneers would mainly be looking for in some of these players, in terms of a jump, is consistency. For instance, yes, Sean Murphy-Bunting had a strong postseason, with interceptions in all three road games, but now the Bucs want to see him play that way from Week One on.

Let's round up exactly who we're talking about: Murphy-Bunting, who's going into his third year and is 23 years old); 4th-year cornerback Carlton Davis (24 years old); third-year cornerback Jamel Dean (24), fourth-year safety Jordan Whitehead (24), third-year safety Mike Edwards (25) and second-year safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. (22). Those are the six DBs that Jason Licht loaded up on in the 2018-20 drafts who are now starters or significant contributors. There are some other players in the mix, like cornerback Ross Cockrell or safety Javon Hagan, but I think those six are the players to which you are referring, James.

All of them, of course, are trying to get better each and every season and all are clearly young enough to make that a reasonable expectation for several more years. I would say that Davis has already made a big jump; over the last two years he's established himself as one of the NFL's best cover corners, one who the Bucs can lean on to take the other team's top receiver out of the game, as he has done multiple times with the Saints' Michael Thomas.

Murphy-Bunting and Dean, the two 2019 draft picks, seemed to make a mini-jump at the end of their shared rookie season but maybe didn't carry that momentum into 2020 as much as had been hoped. Honestly, that's not particularly surprising, given the way that the pandemic wiped out the offseason. Murphy-Bunting and Dean sort of had to make their second-season jump on the fly as the season progressed. These two seem like prime candidates to be more consistent playmakers in 2021.

Whitehead has already started 45 games, including the postseason, in just three seasons and I think he has already developed a lot of consistency in his game. The Bucs clearly value him for his hard hitting and his solid work around the line of scrimmage, but he also had two picks and two sacks last year. Meanwhile, he occasionally ceded time to Edwards, who hasn't logged many starts but has been on the field a lot on third downs due to his nose for the football. He had two interceptions and five passes defensed last year while only playing 18% of the defensive snaps. I'm not trying to pigeonhole either of these two safeties but they do seem to have complementary strong suits and I'm sure Todd Bowles will continue to look for ways to get both of them on the field.

And then you have Winfield. Obviously, this is where the Bucs' secondary has the most exciting potential for growth in 2021. The 2020 second-round pick has already set a pretty high floor for himself but he has a high ceiling as well and I do believe we could see a big jump from Winfield in 2021. Unlike the other safeties, Winfield essentially never came off the field last year unless he was hurt. He made some splash plays early and won September's Defensive Rookie of the Month honors but had a bit of a lull in the big-play department until the playoffs. Winfield finished his rookie regular season with 94 tackles, 3.0 sacks, six passes defensed and two forced fumbles, but only one interception. Those stats also don't include the pass he knocked away on a two-point attempt in New York to save a Monday Night Football win over the Giants.

Winfield missed the NFC Championship Game but in the other three playoff contests he racked up 18 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. His forced fumble against the Saints' Jared Cook turned the moment in a game in which New Orleans was threatening to go up by two scores late in the third quarter. The Bucs might not have gone all the way without that play. Winfield did enough in his rookie season to look like a star in the making; maybe he'll ascend to that stardom in 2021. I wouldn't bet against it.

After rookie mini camp, do you think any rookies could be competing for a starting role in the fall?

- @dylanawwalters (via Instagram)

Well, I can tell you that last week's mini-camp would have no effect on my answer to this question. Rookie camps are, by definition, mostly just populated by rookies and first-year players, so I can't see how even an eye-opening performance in that setting would make one think we're looking at a potential starter.

This year, there were only 26 players in that camp, about half of what the team usually brought in for rookie camps prior to 2020, so there was less opportunity for the type of 11-on-11 work that might show you who stands out against the competition. I'm sure the various individual-position and special teams drills that made up most of that camp were very useful, but they didn't offer much for an onlooker to judge the players against each other.

So I'll just answer this question the way I would have right after the draft. And, no, I don't think this year's class has any likely Day-One starters like Tristan Wirfs, simply because there aren't any clear-cut opportunities. Barring injury, of course.

Joe Tryon is most likely of the bunch to see a lot of playing time since he can mix into the rotation with Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Anthony Nelson and get snaps without being a starter. That's doubly true because the Buccaneers intend to see what he can do on the interior line as well, and if that goes well he will have two ways to get on the field.

Obviously, no one expects Kyle Trask to start over Tom Brady. Robert Hainsey is a potential starter down the road at multiple positions but right now the Bucs have all five starters returning, plus several key reserves, on a line that was playing well to end last season. Jaelon Darden isn't going to start over Mike Evans or Chris Godwin. Ditto for Grant Stuard and K.J. Britt behind Lavonte David and Devin White. Chris Wilcox joins a secondary that already has three young starters at cornerback plus a trusted veteran in Ross Cockrell.

None of this is meant to be derogatory to the 2021 draft class. Jason Licht knew he had the luxury of drafting players that could help at any position with the Bucs' depth chart so locked in, and he was focused on getting the players who could help the team the most in 2022, 2023 and beyond. Hopefully the class of 2021 has multiple starters when it's all said and done, but that isn't likely to be this year.

Most underrated move of the offseason?

- @eliav.bowman (via Instagram)

Hmm, that's a tough one. Can I say Ndamukong Suh? Is there a realm in which re-signing him is considered "underrated?"

Here's my argument: I would say the three biggest moves made by the team this offseason – and the first ones it made when faced with the daunting task of whittling down an initial list of 24 unrestricted free agents – were keeping Chris Godwin on the franchise tag, getting Lavonte David re-signed and reaching long-term agreement with Shaquil Barrett. If the Suh re-signing ranks fourth on that list, then perhaps I can get permission to call it underrated because I was almost as afraid the Buccaneers would lose him as I was with the other three.

I don't need to tell you how important Godwin, David and Barrett are to this team, and their stat lines speak for themselves. Losing any of them would have been tough to swallow and kudos to Jason Licht and company for making sure that didn't happen. But I think Suh's contributions probably have more impact than the stats suggest.

This is an interior defensive lineman who had six sacks in 2020 and made the argument after his re-signing that he left a number of other sacks on the field after barely missing. The stats bear him out. He was second on the team with 19 quarterback hits, just one behind Will Gholston, and according to NFL Next Gen Stats he has 79 quarterback pressures since the start of 2019. Only five interior linemen in the entire NFL have more in that span.

Simply put, this is a dude who is still wreaking havoc in the middle of the trenches, and thereby making life much more fun for edge guys like Barrett and Pierre-Paul to rush the passer. He's also whip-smart, a good leader, intensely competitive and about as durable as an NFL player could possibly be. I'm not exaggerating – despite the incredibly physical position he plays, Suh has never missed a game due to injury since entering the league as the second-overall draft pick in 2010. That's remarkable.

Alright, if that is an acceptable answer for "underrated," I'll go with it. If not I guess I would say re-signing Ross Cockrell. I've said it so many times I'm even boring myself at this point, but I feel like reliable cornerback depth is very hard to find and keep in the NFL. I'm not saying the league was beating down the doors to the AdventHealth Training Center to steal Cockrell away from the Buccaneers, but I'm glad he ended up back in Tampa for 2020 than somewhere else in the NFL. If any of the Bucs' top three corners misses time during the 2021 season, Cockrell should be able to keep that unit humming along just fine.

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