Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Top Three Takeaways from Buccaneers vs. Broncos

Going into Denver, the Buccaneers had only ever won at Mile High stadium once before. Quarterback Tom Brady, who has had his fair share of contests against the Broncos, had his worst road record against any team at 4-7. 

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Well, make that 5-7 now. Brady recorded his 59th three-touchdown, zero interception game of his career, extending his already-standing record even further. He's now six such games ahead of Saints quarterback Drew Brees. The Bucs overall, with only 24 hours to get used to the altitude, got the job done as they took on a depleted Denver team as six-point favorites with the help of yet another dominant defensive performance.

Let's dive a little more into it. Here are three major takeaways from Sunday's 28-10 win over the Broncos.

1. The defense keeps upping their game.

The defense came out swinging in Week One, allowing Brees just 160 passing yards and limiting some of the game's best skill players to career lows in production. The next week, they handled another division opponent with four takeaways and five sacks. But there was still more to be done. And while it always seems like coach-speak to say there are things they can improve upon, this Bucs defense has shown that aren't close to a finished product through three weeks – even in a Week Three game in unfamiliar territory where they recorded six sacks, forced two takeaways and even got a safety.

"We built this team on defense – Tom [Brady] was just the icing on the cake," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "When we came into the offseason last year, [we said], 'Hey, let's keep this defense together because it can be special.'"

And perhaps why they are so special is because they are still so hungry. "We all got that 'everybody wanna eat' mentality," said outside linebacker Shaq Barrett following the game. "We're going to make it happen."

Barrett had a big game going against the team with which he started his career. The Broncos may have given him his initial shot as an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State, but Barrett was behind some pretty good pass rushers for his five years in the mile-high city. His first year in Tampa saw him break out as a starter for the first time, leading the league in sacks. This was Barrett's return to Denver like the one that got away for the Broncos. He fittingly recorded his first (and second) sack of the season on quarterback Jeff Driskel and forced a safety – the Bucs' first since 2016. Barrett also finished with a team-high three tackles for loss.

And while Barrett's emotions were definitely running high for the game, he had some help. One of the things both Arians and Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles said they wanted to see out of the defense this season was creating more pressure from the interior of the defensive line. Well, that started last week against Carolina at home and continued in Denver with defensive lineman Vita Vea recording his first sack of the season and two quarterback hits. Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh also registered a quarterback hit and drew a lot of attention from the Denver offensive line.

"Today, it was good to see Vita get his shot in there," said Arians. "Will [Gholston] got after him again. Our interior guys are rushing really well and they're pushing them to the outside guys. It's a heck of a good unit. Whoever's getting singled, I like their chances."

The concentration on the interior helped free up the pass rush from the edge. In addition to the two sacks by Barrett, outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul recorded a sack in his fifth-straight game dating back to last season and then Tampa Bay got sacks from not one but two safeties. Jordan Whitehead recorded the first sack of his career and rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. recorded his second sack in as many games. He is the first Buccaneers rookie with sacks in back-to-back games since Noah Spence in 2016 and is the first NFL rookie defensive back to post sacks in consecutive games since L.A. Chargers safety Derwin James in 2018. Winfield's 2.0 sacks this season are tied with Seattle's Jamal Adams, Pittsburgh's Mike Hilton and the Jets' Marcus Maye for the most in the NFL by a defensive back.

The Bucs have now had back-to-back games with five or more sacks and have a total of 12.0 on the season, which is tied for third-most in the NFL. In fact, the Bucs have had five or more sacks in four of their last five outings dating back to last season.

"It's beautiful, man," said inside linebacker Lavonte David about how many different players are getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. "It's beautiful. During the week we put in a gameplan of what we're going to do, and on Sunday we try to come out and execute. Guys are getting to the passer from the line, from the secondary, from the linebackers – it's beautiful. That means we're doing something right. That means we're executing our jobs and that means we're doing what we're supposed to do. Guys are capitalizing off of it and that's the main thing. Once you get the feel for it and stuff like that, teams don't know what could come at you [and] who's going to come. We might just send four with the d-line, you might see linebackers [and] you might see the secondary coming. It's always just trying to keep teams on their heels and trying to throw them off, so they don't know what's coming. When guys get that opportunity, they know they're relentless to the quarterback and they're trying to take advantage of their opportunities."

Arians said Monday after watching the film that Bowles is doing a good job getting favorable matchups for guys all over the defense, essentially making it a guessing game for opposing offenses on who to block. You know someone is coming but you have no idea who and from where because so far this season, we've seen pressure from all levels.

"Coach Bowles – he knows what he's doing," said Barrett. "He's most definitely a defensive guru and I appreciate him. He is always getting us on the same page – the right page – telling us what needs to be fixed and fixing it. He's a great defensive mind."

On top of the pressure, the Bucs defense had another multiple-takeaway day. They have the second-most interceptions of any defense this season, recording two against Denver after recording two against Carolina. I said it once and I'll say it again: winning the turnover battle is the biggest indicator of winning the game overall. The Bucs got help from multiple levels of the defense in that regard, too. It was David that actually came up with the team's first interception on an errant throw forced by outside linebacker Anthony Nelson, who got a quarterback hit on the play. David came down with the floater that led to a Bucs' field goal, which ended up solidifying the final 28-10 score. It was David's 12th career interception, tying for the second most in the NFL by a linebacker since David entered the league in 2012. It's also the most for any linebacker in franchise history.

2. The offense – and Brady – are finding their groove.

Brady is notorious for his ball distribution skills. This is a guy who has the NFL record for how many different receivers he's thrown a touchdown pass to. He came to the Bucs, that number stood at 76. He's since added three more to that number, finding Mike Evans twice in Denver and Chris Godwin once.  On the day, he threw passes to eight different receivers, which hey – included blocking tight end Rob Gronkowski. He hauled in a season-high six receptions for 48 yards and now has 610 career reception, which ties Vernon Davis for the most receptions by a tight end in NFL history in both the regular and postseason. His next catch will see him stand alone with the record. BUT HES A BLOCKING TIGHT END.

Meanwhile. Evans had two catches on the day. But oh, both of them were touchdowns. And both of them were from a yard out on the goal line. It means Evans' final stat line was 2-2, 2 yards, 2 touchdowns (I used numerals there for emphasis). Evans now has four touchdowns through three games and has 52 receiving touchdowns in his career, which is tied with DeAndre Hopkins for most since 2014. Evans also now has 10 career multi-touchdown games, which is the third-most for any receiver in that span. 

And while most, probably including Evans himself, will take a two touchdown day however it comes, his quarterback wants to incorporate him even more.

"He's a great red-area threat [with], I think, his size, his quickness, his elusiveness, his hands [and] everything," said Brady about Evans. "Mike is one of the great receivers in the NFL. I've got to find ways to get him the ball, get it to him in space – not just in the red area, but all over the field. That's what my job is – to find him and get it to him."

View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 3 matchup against Denver. .

But I think one can forgive Brady when realizing how many players he was incorporating throughout the game. I think the drive that most perfectly encapsulated what this offense can do with some balance came after Denver's first of just two kickoffs. It was in the second quarter and starting at their own 25, Brady engineered a drive that moved the Bucs down the field on a mix of runs, chunk plays and clutch completions. Both running backs Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette got involved on the ground. And this was the series where Brady connected with wide receiver Scotty Miller deep over the middle for 47 yards (on third down). It also saw third-down conversions from Godwin, Gronkowski and ultimately Evans for the one-yard score on a floater to the back corner of the end zone where only Evans could get it.

The execution and efficiency of the 4:58 drive was just absolutely textbook.

3. This game especially showed what a difference special teams can make.

Let's start with the blocked punt, shall we? I mean, that is how the game started off, after all.

On the opening drive of the game, defensive lineman Patrick O'Connor blocked and recovered a Broncos punt, recording the team's first blocked punt since 2015.

"Great job by Pat O'Connor blocking that punt [and] getting us started," Arians said after the game. "Heck of a job by Chris [Godwin] getting it in the end zone [and] turning that into a touchdown."

Yes, not only did the Bucs get the ball back, they got it back on the 10-yard line and were able to capitalize with a quick strike to Godwin for the 10-yard touchdown, taking an early lead. And Arians' opinion on the impact special teams made on the game only got stronger after he watched the tape.

"You take that one play out on the [blocked] extra point and I thought it was a major win for special teams," said Arians on Monday. "Not only the blocked punt, but we had a punt return inside that set up a score. One bad penalty or we'd have run that punt after the safety all the way up to midfield. I think Mick (WR Jaydon Mickens) did a good job with his punt returns – handling the ball – and I thought Bradley Pinion had a hell of a game with the touchbacks [and] the three punts inside the 20[-yard line]. We pinned them back there all day. I thought our special teams really, really won the battle."

Punters are people, too. And Pinion's punts made a lot of difference. The Bucs' average starting field position of their own 37-yard line whereas the Broncos were starting on average from their own 21 and as far back as their own eight-yard-line due to Pinion's punting skills.

Perhaps as a result, the Broncos only had two trips inside the red zone and converted on only one of them. Special teams. They matter.

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