Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Top Three Takeaways from Giants vs. Buccaneers

It takes all three phases of the ball to win a football game, a message that was hammered home by Head Coach Bruce Arians along with quarterback Jameis Winston following yesterday's loss to the New York Giants. The good news is, after the offensive performance we saw on Sunday, all three phases look to be starting to click.

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Bucs vs. Giants

1. Kicking woes continue, but it wasn't all on Matt Gay.

Let me repeat: it wasn't all on Matt Gay and before you stop reading there, it's true. Head Coach Bruce Arians' message to the team included that it takes all three phases to win… and subsequently lose, a game. It was a sentiment echoed by quarterback Jameis Winston in his postgame press conference, too.

"We have a great team – that's why we have defense, that's why we have special teams, that's why we have offense," Winston said. "So, all three phases have to play together to win a football game. We have to do a better job of doing that, and we will."

Consider that the Bucs started the game hot, putting up 28 points in the first half behind three touchdowns by wide receiver Mike Evans. In the second half though, the offense completely stalled, opening the half with three consecutive punts. A field goal was all they'd muster in the last 30 minutes of the game. The dry spell came as the Giants' offense caught fire behind a sputtering defense. A Barkley-less Giants team required some adjustments in the second half and as a result, New York came storming back, scoring touchdowns on back-to-back drives after halftime. Instead of defending against the run, they were now facing a pass-first team with a surprisingly decisive rookie Daniel Jones at the helm. The defense took back over from there for a bit once they got their legs back under them, forcing a fumble on a strip sack by Shaq Barrett, which was recovered by Tampa Bay in between two drives in which they forced the Giants to punt. Barrett proceeded to record four total sacks and two forced fumbles throughout the game, the bulk of it coming in the second half. It all seemed back in order until, with 1:16 left to play in the game, on fourth-down-and-five at the seven-yard line, Jones proved he was very much not the second coming of Eli Manning and ran the ball in himself, giving New York the go-ahead score and backing the Bucs against a wall.

The offense kicked into overdrive from there, with Winston completing a big first-down ball to Chris Godwin for 20 yards followed by a huge 44-yard pass to Mike Evans, setting up a manageable field goal. And this is where the kicking woes come into play. Kicker Matt Gay had missed two extra points on the Bucs' first two touchdowns. He was perfect on four field goals up until that point, though. With the clock winding down, the Bucs went about setting up a game-winning field goal. Arians then purposely took a delay of game penalty, to back the Bucs up five yards, making the kick a 34-yard attempt and therefore a little bit longer than the extra points Gay had missed earlier.

"I felt really good about it," Gay said of that last kick. "I went out there, still felt really good and took my steps, went through my whole process, got back there, had my line and just didn't hit it clean.

"I've got to make that every single time. Again, I've got to make my extra points as well – we're not in that situation if I put those first two through."

Obviously, Gay knows he needs to make that kick. He also knows the Bucs are still up one after the late score by Jones if he makes his extra points. However, when the team is up by 18 points at the half and your offense stalls and the defense blips, thereby squandering said lead, it's hard to pin it all on the leg of one guy.

It takes all three phases.

2. There were some stellar individual performances and we need to talk about them.

After winning NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his three-sack performance against the division-rival Carolina Panthers in primetime, outside linebacker Shaq Barrett somehow outdid himself at home on Sunday afternoon. When all was said and done, Barrett had recorded four sacks and two forced fumbles. He again had back-to-back sacks on the Giants' first drive of the fourth quarter, thereby stopping them cold. He followed it up with single-handedly stopping the Giants the next drive via strip sack, forcing the fumble that was then recovered by the Bucs. His two forced fumbles made him the first player to record multiple such plays in a game since Lavonte David had two in 2017 against the Arizona Cardinals, tying a franchise record.

Barrett has 8.0 sacks through three games this season, passing the team record set by Warren Sapp of 5.5. It ties the league record, initially set by Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets in 1984. He's also the first Buccaneer since Simeon Rice in 2003 to record 4.0 sacks in a single game. He's one of three players to accomplish that feat, along with Marcus Jones. When the defense needed it most, Barrett took over and is now just two sacks shy of double digits going into Week 4. It took Jason Pierre-Paul until Week Seven last year to amass eight sacks on his way to becoming the Bucs' first double-digit sack player since Rice in 2005. If Barrett doesn't get another nod for NFC Defensive Player of the Week again this week, it won't be because he didn't deserve it.

Then there was Mike Evans on the other side of the ball. Evans, who had been relatively quiet through the team's first two games absolutely broke out against the Giants, recording three touchdown receptions, the most in a single game of his career. He had 146 yards in the first half alone to go along with those touchdowns. It tied Jacquez Green for the third-most receiving yards in a half by a Buccaneer. Evans ended the game with 190 total receiving yards, after a 44-yard catch in the final drive to set the Bucs up for their final field goal attempt. That number is good for fifth-most all-time for a Buccaneer, yet is only the second-most of his career. He had 209 his rookie year in 2014 against Washington. Widen the lens and see that Winston and Evans went into the game with 23 touchdown connections, one behind Josh Freeman and Mike Williams for the franchise record. With the three in Sunday's game, Winston and Evans have now connected on more touchdowns than any other quarterback-receiver duo in franchise history.

3. The Bucs showed the pieces are there to keep building.

The first two games of the season were a showcase in a new and improved defense, with the Bucs giving up just one offensive touchdown in that span. They shut down the likes of San Francisco's George Kittle and Carolina's Christian McCaffrey. They had rendered Giants' running back Saquon Barkley ineffective on the ground before he went down with an injury late in the first half, finishing his day with just 10 rushing yards on eight attempts. One game, or really, a handful of plays, can't take away the improvement and strides this defense has made. It doesn't take away their identity and it doesn't take away their reliability.

So, take that defense and now put it with the offense we saw on Sunday. An offense that put up 31 points and amassed 499 net yards. And there was a balance between the running game and passing game. For the third straight game this season, the Bucs had over 100 yards rushing behind a tandem performance by Ronald Jones, who had 80 yards on the ground with a 5.7 yards-per-carry average, and Peyton Barber who added 48 yards. Add in a 13-yard end-around out of the backfield for wide receiver Breshad Perriman and a mini-rush for Winston, you get 144 total rushing yards on the ground. That beats all but one total from 2018, against the Giants of all teams, when the Bucs had 151 yards on the ground in Week 11.

In the passing game, the deep ball was alive and well for Winston. He completed passes of 25 yards or longer to three different receivers, including a short screen to running back Ronald Jones that Jones took for 41 yards. Winston's longest play came in the second quarter to Mike Evans of course, when he hit Evans for 55 yards, putting the Bucs at the New York 20-yard line. He completed passes to Evans of 55, 44, 21 and 20 yards, among others. It served as a reminder of the incredible connection the two players have, just in time to go into Los Angeles against a very good Rams defense.

Not to be overlooked, the Bucs have significantly improved in penalties through each game this season. Sunday's game saw Tampa Bay commit just four penalties, amounting in 30 penalty yards. The Giants, by contrast, had six for 59 yards. It was disciplined football in that regard.

Now, put all these things together. Get a stifling run defense capable of a tremendous amount of pressure, the offense firing on all cylinders and a clean game free of egregious penalty errors – and this team can continue to build as the still very young season goes on.

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