View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 13 matchup against Jacksonville.
1. A day for the defense.
The big story was the Bucs' defense on Sunday, though the Bucs' offense started with the ball after the Jaguars won the coin toss and deferred. That initial drive would come up empty and result in a punt, but the defense then went about setting the tone – starting with rookie inside linebacker Devin White. As Jacksonville was threatening inside Buccaneer territory on their first drive of the day, White intercepted quarterback Nick Foles and returned it to the Tampa Bay 31-yard line. It gave the Bucs a stop and a bonus drive on offense, which Tampa Bay capitalized, getting into the end zone on a 15-yard run by running back Peyton Barber.
The defense finished the job on the next takeaway. Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett sacked Foles and stripped him of the ball in the process. Who else but White was there to scoop the ball up and run it into the end zone, getting his first career touchdown and a defensive score for Tampa Bay. Barrett had two sacks in the game, one of each quarterback, and he now leads the league not only in sacks with 14.5 but also in forced fumbles with six.
The defense as a whole continued to pester Foles and his second-half replacement Gardner Minshew. Yes, for the second-straight game, the Bucs have gotten the opposing team to bench their quarterback. The Falcons pulled Matt Ryan, to get him out of harm's way more than anything else, in the fourth quarter after the Bucs delivered six sacks on the veteran signal caller in Atlanta. This past Sunday, after Foles was intercepted and gave up two fumbles in the first half, he was replaced with Minshew for the final two quarters. But the Bucs picked Minshew off and managed two sacks on him too, giving them a total of five on the day. In fact, the Bucs defense recorded five or more sacks in two straight games for the first time since 2004, according to NFL.com.
A big reason the Bucs were able to get so much pressure on Jacksonville quarterbacks was because the Jaguars couldn't get anything going on the ground, despite having one of the league's best running backs in Leonard Fournette. He had just 28 yards on 14 attempts. The home team had just 49 yards on the ground all day. It made their offense completely one-dimensional. When you know the pass is coming, you can consistently rush the passer and bring pressure without needing to account for the run. It led to the Jaguars going just four-for-14 on third down, a 29% success rate, and they were one for two in goal-to-go situations. In the fourth quarter, with a chance to get back in the game, it was time for the Bucs' second interception of the game as rookie cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting intercepted Minshew in the end zone. The rookie ran it out, unsure of where exactly he caught the ball (whether in and out) with a 300+ pound offensive lineman bearing down on him. The Bucs, as a result, had to start the bonus drive on their own three-yard-line prompting Murphy-Bunting to offer up a steak dinner to the offensive linemen who had to atone for his rookie mistake. It was still a crucial stop and goal-line stand for the Bucs who came out victorious in the end.
2. The offense was solid.
Unselfish play starts under center and that was the case on Sunday with quarterback Jameis Winston. The fifth-year player handed both of the Bucs' offensive touchdowns off, in fact. Running back Peyton Barber was the beneficiary of both of those hand offs, the first he took for 15 yards and the second he punched in from a yard out thanks to a lead block by defensive tackle Vita Vea, who is becoming quite the staple on the other side of the ball. The Jacksonville defense did a good job limiting Mike Evans and even Chris Godwin to an extent – but it was wide receiver Breshad Perriman who stepped up. He had his best game as a Buccaneer on Sunday, catching five passes for 87 yards. It gave him a 17.4 yard-per-catch average. The Bucs' second-leading receiver was actually tight end O.J. Howard, who had his second-best receiving game this season, also catching five passes, giving him 61 yards on the day.
The Bucs nabbed five of their 19 first downs on the ground. Barber got most of the work in the rushing game and all of the end zone glory. Ronald Jones was used sparingly, more on account of accountability, actually. Head Coach Bruce Arians said this after the game:
"Peyton [Barber] had a hot hand," he explained. "He was making the plays and he was doing the best job in the pickup. Ro-Jo [Ronald Jones] missed a blitz pick up and that is it. You don't get to play anymore."
That speaks to the accountability this team is learning and it's showing. Unselfish, accountable, solid football. The team is on its way even if some players have to learn that the hard way.
3. Red zone & third downs could still use improvement.
While the defense did a good job limited the Jaguars on third down and inside the red zone, the Bucs could still bear to see some improvement in those categories on offense. The first half saw the bulk of the Bucs' offense and at halftime, Tampa Bay had converted six of 10 third-down attempts and was two-for-three in red zone scoring. Those numbers are decent enough. They were effective too, clearly. The second half, while there wasn't as much pressure to score given the Bucs' comfortable 25-0 lead, tapered off offensively, though. Tampa Bay finished the game 7-of-17 on third down, meaning they converted just one third down in the latter two quarters. The Bucs also ended up 2-of-5 in the red zone. It was better than Jacksonville's 29% and 33%, respectively, sure. But you know that Arians and his staff aren't satisfied with those numbers.
This time, the defensive performance compensated for any shortcomings on offense, but for the Bucs to really turn the corner – that will have to improve.