1. The offense played smart football.
Coach Arians called it Jameis Winston's best performance this year and he's probably right. Winston passed for 335 yards, throwing two touchdowns and recording a 103.9 passer rating. While that's not his best of the season, his decision-making may be more what Coach Arians is referring to. Plus, the offensive line kept him relatively clean, with Winston taking just two sacks for a combined loss of 18 yards. Wilson took three for a total loss of 31, for comparison.
But Winston took what the defense gave him – spreading the ball around to eight different receivers throughout the game. He threw the ball away when there wasn't anything there, too. There were no forced throws with Winston electing to throw the ball into the dirt or throw it away entirely, instead. The only turnover the Bucs committed came when the ball was knocked out of Winston's hand as he went to throw in the fourth quarter while the two teams were tied. The defense mitigated the damage by holding the Seahawks to a field goal, despite Seattle getting to the Bucs' four-yard line. The Bucs answered with a field goal of their own to tie the game back up. Seattle then pulled ahead by a touchdown with under five minutes to play when Winston put together a 10 play, 75-yard touchdown drive that forced the game into overtime.
2. The pass rush was productive, despite injuries
Cornerback Carlton Davis suffered an injury in pregame. Outside linebacker Carl Nassib went down early with a groin injury. Fellow OLB and rookie Anthony Nelson went down a short time after that. Despite all of that, the Bucs were able to make Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson uncomfortable all day. Back-to-back plays got the takedowns started with Beau Allen and Shaq Barrett splitting one followed by Jason Pierre-Paul and Devin White splitting another a play later in the second quarter.
The Bucs finished with three sacks on the day, but even more impressively, recorded 11 total quarterback hits. In fact, in the fourth quarter, Pierre-Paul registered a quarterback hit and a pass defensed on a single play. That brings me to another aspect of the defense that was helped by the pass rush: the secondary. Wilson threw over double the amount of passes he did against Atlanta in Week Eight – completing 29 of 43 total attempts. Six of those attempts were batted down by the Bucs defense to help give Wilson his third-lowest completion rate of the season with 67%. Because Wilson was forced to get rid of the ball quicker with pressure breathing down his neck, players were able to get their hands in front of more balls – rookie Jamel Dean especially. After Davis went down, Seattle picked on the first-year player, who got his most work of the season. He ended up with four pass breakups to show for his effort and his coach had this to say following the game:
"He made some good plays, he made some bad plays," Head Coach Bruce Arians said of Dean's performance. "It was a big learning experience for him. It's the most he has played, just physically being tired."
Dean was one of at least five rookies on the field and one point for the Buccaneers, many getting work because of injuries like Davis's. Going against a playoff contender and veteran signal caller like Wilson will surely accelerate their learning curve as this relatively young team continues to develop and mature.
"When you're playing six rookies on defense, they held their own," Arians said. "It's a bright future. We are pissed off about losing the game, a game we thought we should win, just like last week. I see the growth, I see the capability."
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 9 matchup against Seattle.
3. One or two plays were the difference… again.
Quick example on the 'what if' game. In the third quarter, running back Chris Carson, who had been held in check up until that point, escaped up the middle, breaking multiple tackles on his way to a 59-yard run down the field. It would have surely been a touchdown right then and there if it hadn't been for linebacker, yes linebacker, Devin White, who closed in on Carson to bring him down before he could get all the way to the end zone. In the process, White grabbed ahold of Carson with the left hand while swinging his right down on the ball, causing Carson to fumble it. The sheer force sent the ball sailing right out of bounds, unfortunately. Seattle capitalized a couple plays later with a touchdown, but you have to think that if that fumble ends up being recovered by the Bucs, it could have been a different ball game.
Heck, if the Bucs win the overtime coin toss, they could have also turned the tide by scoring first, just as they did on their opening drive. This team is inching closer and closer. With how young they are – especially on defense – growth is what's needed but the good news is, it's showing and should only be a matter of time.