The Bucs finished against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday – thanks to complementary football from all three phases. Quarterback Jameis Winston was the first to say so, commending the defense for the chances they were able to give the offense, even when they made mistakes. In turn, the offense capitalized on enough of those chances to run up 30 points on the scoreboard. That was also thanks to a solid kicking game, both in the form of field goals and punts, making it a total team effort.
So, instead of breaking down just three particular aspects of the game, let’s take a look at what each phase of the ball did well in Sunday’s tumultuous win over Head Coach Bruce Arians’ former team.
The Buccaneers’ first drive at home in over a month wasn’t how anyone would have envisioned it. Winston struggled early but after throwing an interception at the Bucs’ 37-yard line, the defense was able to hold the Cardinals to just three points, even after they got as close as the 19-yard line.
In fact, Arizona was just 25% in the red zone, scoring just once in four trips. The Cardinals have been struggling there all season, entering the game 29th in red zone scoring. The Bucs’ defense did a good job capitalizing on those struggles, employing the ‘bend don’t break’ approach. They also limited Arizona on third down, with the Cardinals converting just one of their 10 attempts. It got the defense off the field, giving the offense more time to work with.
Winston’s only other turnover came in the third quarter and this time, it was inside linebacker Lavonte David who mitigated the damage himself. David forced and subsequently recovered a fumble from running back David Johnson on Arizona’s ensuing drive. That recovery gave David 14 career fumble recoveries, breaking a tie with Houston’s J.J. Watt for the most since they entered the league in 2012. David now stands alone.
But he wasn’t alone in clutch plays for the defense on Sunday. Not only did the defense compensate for some offensive mistakes, rookie cornerback Jamel Dean actively gave them an extra chance.
In the fourth quarter, with the Bucs down four points, Dean notched his first career interception to stop Arizona in the red zone and set up the Bucs game-winning drive. It was just the fifth time Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray had been picked off all season and the first time since Week Four. Dean is also the first player in the league with over four passes defensed in back-to-back games since Jalen Ramsey in 2016 and the only Bucs player to do so since at least 2000.
It was a welcome sight a week after Dean was thrown in the fire last minute in Seattle against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. The 2019 draft pick hadn’t taken more than two snaps on defense in a single game so far this season until Week Nine. Thrust into a hostile environment, against one of the best quarterbacks in league, he took 58 with virtually no heads up. He had four passes defensed but also had some plays that ‘he wants back’ according to his defensive coordinator last week. As a result, he put his head down and put in extra time with Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles this week and it paid off. Big time.
Another notable individual performance was that of outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who after Sunday’s game has an NFL-leading 11.5 sacks. It’s the most through nine games in team history, surpassing Simeon Rice’s 2003 total. It’s also already the 10th-highest total of any Bucs player in a single season and Barrett still has seven games left. He’s undoubtedly been aided by the return of Jason Pierre-Paul. Teams started planning for Barrett and he was held without a sack for two games. But since Pierre-Paul’s return against Tennessee in Week Nine, Barrett has notched another 2.5 sacks. Coach Arians said he thinks the front seven are playing outstanding and a lot of it has to do with the plethora of menacing players on the line of scrimmage and the problems they’re presenting for opposing offenses.
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 10 matchup against Arizona.
While the defense was doing their part on third down, so was the Bucs’ offense. Tampa Bay was faced with third down 15 times on Sunday. They converted a total of seven but a lot of those came in clutch situations. In the third quarter, the game was tied and the Bucs were in danger of a three-and-out from their own nine-yard line. Faced with third-and-16, Winston took off himself and scrambled for 26 yards. It was a career-high for him on the ground. Winston finished the game with 40 yards rushing, two more than Murray, who of the two is the one known for his dual-threat capabilities.
In addition to the ground, Winston got it done through the air, too. He spread the ball around on his way to his fourth-consecutive game of 300 or more yards passing. It’s a new team record. His 2,765 passing yards are the most through nine games by any quarterback in Bucs’ history.
His leading receiver? Running back Ronald Jones, who caught all eight of the passes thrown his way for 77 yards. A lot of his work came on screens that Jones took into his own hands, getting the edge and using his deceptive speeds to evade defenders. It served as a glimpse of the type of back he can be, in addition to the dual-headed rushing attack the Bucs have in him and Barber. Jones has the explosiveness, but Barber was a work horse on the ground, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a seven-yard run. It gave both backs rushing touchdowns on the day.
Another player that found his role to the elation of Bucs fans everywhere was tight end O.J. Howard. After a slow start to the season and a subsequent hamstring injury that held him out for two games, Howard returned at home to play a clutch role for the offense. He had the only receiving touchdown of the game on an impressive 10-yard score during a two-minute drill on steroids before the end of the half that gave the Bucs the lead back. It immediately followed a 26-yard reception by Howard that got the Bucs to the 10-yard line in the first place as the clock was winding down.
Despite that successful ‘two-minute drill’ that actually only took one minute, the Bucs’ offense prolonged drives to keep their defense off the field. Tampa Bay owned the time of possession advantage, possessing the ball for 36:03 compared to Arizona’s 23:57.
3. Special Teams
The Bucs scored three touchdowns on Sunday and I didn’t hold my breath on any of the extra points. That’s thanks to kicker Matt Gay, who has been solid so far this season, save for a couple rookie mistakes. He converted all three of his field goals, even if one of them took a second try to get right. Gay was true from 30, 41 and 45 yards in addition to his three extra points.
But another aspect of special teams that often goes overlooked was the punting game. Punter Bradley Pinion had perhaps his best game of the season so far, pinning two of his three punts inside the 20-yard line. It set the Cardinals up deep in their own territory. Both his punts in the second quarter resulted in punts by Arizona after they started at their own seven and four-yard lines. That’s no accident.
Complementary football all around, indeed.