This is probably not the article you were wanting to read after the defending champs came to town to face the Buccaneers in Week 12.
But this is the article you need to read.
The Sunday afternoon matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been a major question mark going into the season, even with quarterback Tom Brady taking the helm of a straight up cargo ship of offensive weaponry. Now in Week 12, the Chiefs are arguably football's best team right now and they sailed into Tampa with the league's highest scoring offense and just one loss on their record.
And the beginning of the game especially, they looked like it.
After the first quarter, the score was 17-0 in favor of the visitors. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill had over 200 yards receiving and multiple scores. But for as bad as that seemed to be: the Bucs fought back. They scored two touchdowns in the final quarter of the game while the defense stood tall for most of the second half to give Tampa Bay a chance. Yeah, the Bucs ended up falling – but only by three points, while limited the Chiefs to their third-lowest point total of the season.
So, the Bucs are now 7-5. They're heading into their much-needed bye week and have four games on the other side of it that should be winnable for this team and the talent on it. Consider that if the Bucs win three of their last four - that gives them a 10-6 record, which would be their best since 2010. The last time the Bucs made the postseason - they did it with a 9-7 record. There were a lot of good things to take with them from this last game, so let's look at them.
1. The Bucs held up in the red zone and in third-down defense.
Head Coach Bruce Arians said Monday, and really all week leading up to the game, you have to pick your poison when it comes to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He is a human cheat code. Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles said his defensive backs, especially, would have to 'plaster' because let's face it, the play may look over for a normal quarterback, but Mahomes isn't a normal quarterback. The play is over when the ball is on the ground in some form or fashion and not a moment before.
"Hindsight's always 20-20 – the zone coverage, they were hitting a little bit in RPOs (run-pass options), so you've got to pick your poison with that guy," said Arians about the defensive effort. "I was really proud – I thought the defense adjusted really well in the second half."
Even before the second-half adjustments, the Bucs were stingy on third-down and inside the red zone. The very first possession of the game, the Chiefs seemed destined to get into the end zone, driving down the field in four plays and helped by back-to-back Bucs penalties. But three plays in a goal-to-go situation, two of which were from the one-yard line, and Kansas City would instead settle for a field goal. That kept up the entire game, with the Chiefs converting zero of their three trips into the red zone. The Bucs currently rank in the top 10 in goal to go defense on the season. They were also able to hold the Chiefs to a 50% third-down conversion rate for the entirety of the game – and this is the team that converts third down at the best rate in the league.
Mahomes was sacked twice after only taking 13.0 sacks all year. He was also pressured into throws that resulted in two picks that were negated by penalties, unfortunately. But the Bucs' defense did cause Mahomes to lose a fumble for the first time in 2020, gifting the offense with an extra possession in the first half. It added to the Bucs' total of 20 takeaways this season, which ranks second and only one behind the Pittsburgh Steelers. What's more, is that the Bucs are tied with the Steelers for the most points off takeaways this season, the defense helping to put 85 points on the board. On Sunday, it was a sack-fumble from outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who leads the league in such plays since he got to the Bucs in 2019 with eight. It pushes Barrett's sack total to 6.0 this year. He still has the lead in that stat with 25.5 in that same span. Jason Pierre-Paul was the other Buccaneer to nab a sack on Mahomes, increasing his season total so far to a team-leading 8.5, which ranks as the fifth most in the league this season. He's only one off of Myles Garrett and Trey Hendrickson, who lead the league with 9.5. The Bucs are currently tied for the third-most sacks of any team in the league with 34.0. JPP's sack came in the second half, when Mahomes was decidedly less effective than he had been in the first; a testament to those aforementioned adjustments. Where Mahomes had 354 yards passing in the first half, he had 102 in the second half. The Chiefs offense also slowed, putting 10 points on the board in the second half. Not the typical performance for the league's most potent offense – once the Bucs figured them out.
And there's no doubt that the Bucs need to start faster. Arians mentioned as much on Monday.
"They did a good job of audibling when we showed man-to-man, bump-and-run to hit a couple screens," said Arians. "The rest were just short routes that we didn't make the tackle. This was not getting fast enough home for a guy running an out-and-up, and to have a safety closer to help. But yeah, we have to start games faster defensively. That was a big emphasis all week, and even the night before the game in talking to them. I said the same thing offensively. We've got to convert those early third downs and get some scores like we did earlier in the season."
2. Individual performances are helping them click.
While they may not have gotten off to a hot start on offense, either, they did start to get into a groove as the game went on. Especially with a guy like Brady, you're never quite out of it. He's very good at keeping his guys motivated – and wide receiver Mike Evans can attest to that.
"We've got a bunch of guys on this team that are going to fight to the end regardless of the score," said Evans after the game. "We got back in the game and it came down to needing to get a stop, but our defense did a great job, they held them to 27 points. We've just got to make more plays on the offensive end, me included. I've got to get going earlier."
Evans may have wanted to get going earlier, but he had an individual performance that was as productive as any, scoring two receiving touchdowns to put his total at 11 on the year – just one shy of his single-season career-high of 12. That number is also the single-season franchise record. Evans is now tied for the second-most receiving touchdowns this year and his 11 touchdowns from Brady are the third-most by a wide receiver from Brady in a single season, trailing only Evans' idol Randy Moss, twice. Moss and Brady had 23 touchdowns in 2007, to give you some idea as to how incredible that duo was together. But Moss' second-highest total was 13 – which Evans could easily match, if not surpass. That'd be neat. Since entering the league in 2014 though, Evans has the second-most receiving touchdowns with 59, just one behind his teammate Antonio Brown.
And if Evans was the leading end-zone producer for Brady on Sunday afternoon, it was Brady's old pal Rob Gronkowski who led the team in receiving yards. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the first time as a Buccaneer, upping his total such games to 29 in his career. He's just two behind former Chiefs great Tony Gonzalez for most 100+ yard receiving games by a tight end in NFL history. Including the postseason, Gronkowski already has that title, with 33 games of over 100 receiving yards.
And of course, the guy wheeling and dealing these receiving yards and touchdowns is also on a record pace. While Brady's interception total is more than he's used to with 11 this season, he is also on pace to have the most passing touchdowns in a single season in Buccaneer history. He's just five touchdowns away from the record Jameis Winston set last year of 33.
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 12 matchup against Kansas City Chiefs.
3. The Bucs' kicking woes look to be behind them.
Kicker Ryan Succop won NFC Special Teams Player of the Week and still no one is talking about him. Succop was perfect in kicks for the Bucs again on Sunday and as of Sunday's 4 p.m. games he had the second-most points by a kicker this season with 102. He trails only Atlanta's Younghoe Koo. His 102 points already put him in the top 10 in franchise history for points in a single season. Matt Bryant holds that record with 131.
Succop has been pretty automatic on extra points – a luxury that hasn't been afforded to Tampa Bay in some time. He's made 36 of 38 of them for a conversion rate of 94.7%. He also has a 91.7% field goal success rate in 2020 – matching his career best set in 2016 when he was with the Titans.