1. The defense took Deshaun Watson out of the game.
The Bucs' defense has been good at taking away what an opponent does best all year, picking a focal point and shutting them down. This past Saturday was no different with Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, whom the Bucs held to the lowest passing total of his career after allowing him just 102 passing yards. He was also held to his third-lowest passer rating ever with 62.5.
You may have a scout team quarterback to thank in part for that, too. The team has John Franklin III on the practice squad. He started at Florida State as Jameis Winston's backup in a small-football-world factoid. He was on Netflix's Last Chance U series while he waited out the transfer purgatory of old, eventually ending up at Auburn. He was moved to receiver there and then made the move to defensive back last year while with the Chicago Bears. He's got a unique skillset – and being a mobile quarterback able to simulate the playing style of guys like Deshaun Watson is part of it. And that's who the Bucs' defense practiced against all week. They held the actual Watson and his offense to a 29% third-down success rate, converting just four of 14 attempts, their second-most third-down attempts of the season. The Texans' 229 total yards were the least they had in a single game all season. So were their 12 first downs… and their seven passing first downs.
Part of it was also due to the fact that Watson was uncomfortable. He was sacked five times – the third-highest total allowed this season. Outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul led the way with a hat trick himself. His 19.0 sacks since joining the franchise are the most by any Bucs player on the roster, and he missed the first eight weeks of the 2019 season. The other two sacks were actually pretty weird. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting got his first career sack after knocking a ball out of Watson's hands and out of bounds – thereby counting as a strip sack. Outside linebacker Carl Nassib was then credited with a 0-yard sack in the third quarter after running Watson out of bounds at the line – literally taking him out of the game/off the field.
2. And DeAndre Hopkins.
Before the game, Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles had called Texans' DeAndre Hopkins one of the two best receivers in the league – and he wasn't sure who the other one was. Hopkins had gone off against Bowles' Jets last year, catching 10 receptions for 170 yards and two touchdowns. This time around, Hopkins wasn't so effective. Not by a long shot. He had nine passes thrown his way but caught just five of them for only 23 yards – a paltry 4.6 yard-per-reception average and his lowest receiving yardage this season. He was kept out of the end zone entirely and got just one first down all game. His long was a seven-yard catch.
It was second-year player Carlton Davis that was assigned to Hopkins for much of the game. He had five combined tackles, four of which were solo, during the game. The Bucs added five passes defensed to their league-leading total to bring them to 89 on the season, which ranks three ahead of the New England Patriots.
Misc. defensive notes:
-Lavonte David had a team-leading 10 combined tackles and a quarterback hit in addition to his forced fumble.
- The Bucs sit just outside the top-10 in interceptions with 12 on the year, getting one on Watson via rookie Jamel Dean, his second of the year. Tampa Bay is the only team in the NFL with two rookies that have multiple interceptions. Murphy-Bunting has three as well.
3. Turnovers, missed opportunities were too much to overcome.
Stop me if you've heard this before. The Bucs fell victim to their own mishaps with turnovers proving too much to overcome. Injuries played a huge role in that, though. Three of the Bucs' receivers, including Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, were sidelined due to injuries. It meant players that Winston was less familiar with were the ones attempting to catch his passes.
That lack of familiarity showed up most in the deep ball. The Bucs weren't able to connect on routes they had success with all year. They were just a hair off in most cases. Coach Arians identified three shots to the end zone in particular that could have all been touchdowns but were just out of the reach of their intended target. Convert one of those and the Bucs overcome the three-point deficit they lost by.
The defense did a great job once again mitigating the damage, too. The first interception was a pick-six, giving Houston points the defense had no chance to defend. The second put the Texans just outside the red zone at the Tampa Bay 24-yard line and the Bucs still held them to a field goal. The other two interceptions resulted in no points for the Texans, either. It's what kept the Bucs in the game, but those coupled with the failure to capitalize on the deep ball were just too much. It was another case of Bucs beating Bucs, despite going up against a playoff team that won their division. There's some encouragement to be taken from that fact alone.