DLT’s Doubloons – Buccaneers Turn The Tides of VooDoo In New Orleans

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In a 3-3 ballgame, the Buccaneers’ Mike Evans and Saints’ Marshon Lattimore renewed the antagonistic rivalry that seemed to have permeated every meeting between these two elite football players. Typically, after a brawl such as the one in New Orleans on Sunday, Tampa Bay completely loses its composure and commits terrible mistakes, penalties, and turnovers to cost them the ballgame.

Instead, the Bucs for once flipped the script and it was New Orleans who basically threw away a close ballgame, leading to Tampa Bay’s first regular season win in the series in 8 tries.

What I Liked

If the first two weeks are any indication, the Bucs’ defense may be historic this year. The numbers are staggering. 10 sacks, 13 points, six turnovers, and 552 yds in two games played in extremely hostile environments against offenses that were expected to be among the best in the league. Now, they’re coming home and will have the Krewe behind them. Good luck, Aaron Rodgers.

What I Didn’t

The Buccaneers’ offense is still stuck in neutral. Now granted, they faced two excellent defenses and we all know that the Saints’ scheme and talent seem to give Tom Brady fits, but Tampa Bay for the second straight week had chances to make their mark on the scoreboard and failed. That’s getting a little concerning.

Pieces of Eight

One – The Brawl That Changed It All

Newsflash: Tampa Bay and New Orleans always like to mix it up. It typically will involve Marshon Lattimore and Mike Evans. Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson used to be an instigator for the Saints, too, but he’s now ticking folks off in the NFC East.

No, it’s Evans. It’s Lattimore. It’s hatred between these two players. In a way, it’s a shame, because both are elite football players, among the best at their position and it’s always a treat to see the two lock horns. Lattimore loves to put hands on Evans (he rarely gets called for pass interference) and I think that frustrates the Bucs’ superstar a bit.

What started this one? Lattimore held Scotty Miller on a pass downfield. It was clear as day, but Lattimore, like Carlton Davis, gets the benefit of the doubt in the refs’ minds. Tampa Bay was incensed that no call was made and the Buccaneers began screaming for a penalty. Former head coach and Senior consultant Bruce Arians, on the sideline in New Orleans, began barking at the refs, which got Lattimore barking at him. Tom Brady began to chirp at Lattimore, who took a step toward Brady, causing Leonard Fournette to jump forward to protect his quarterback. Lattimore threw a punch at Lenny, and then Evans lost his mind, drilling Lattimore and causing a brawl at mid-field.

All told, offsetting penalties, and Lattimore and Evans got an early shower. Will either be suspended? We’ll have to see. In 2017, Evans was suspended for a game for a dangerous cheap shot of Lattimore. This one wasn’t that, but he definitely put Lattimore on the ground.

As I mentioned at the top of this article, typically, this is where things go sideways for Tampa Bay. The Saints draw the Bucs into a fracas, and Tampa Bay loses its cool and spends the rest of the day beating themselves.

Instead, the Saints basically self-destructed after the fight – Jameis threw three interceptions, Chris Olave fumbled, and the Saints’ Defense kept extending drives when they had the Bucs stopped. It all resulted in Tampa Bay outscoring New Orleans 17-7 in the fourth quarter to win the football game.

It was amazing, and honestly, very satisfying to watch. After seeing Tampa Bay fall apart in this series, it was nice to see the Saints finally do it.

The curse is over.

Two – Buccaneers’ Lack of Offense Troubling 

Yes, the Saints have a solid defense. We all expected that the Atlanta effort was a bit of an aberration for the New Orleans defense. They are an extremely talented bunch. And yes, Tom Brady was without Chris Godwin and Julio Jones to start the game and lost Mike Evans at the start of the fourth quarter. WR Russell Gage also came into the game questionable. The Bucs were also without starting left tackle Donovan Smith and then lost backup LT Josh Wells, finding themselves playing with third-string tackle Brandon Walton.

So, yes, Tampa Bay’s offense has been beset with injuries that have impacted performance. With that said, seeing a Brady-led offense managed just 19 and 13 points (the defense contributed the other 7) in consecutive weeks to start the season is concerning.

Now, there should be a cap tip to the opponent. Both New Orleans and Dallas have very good defenses that have solid secondaries and elite pass rushers who can put pressure on the quarterback.

I think part of it is the Buccaneers’ trying to break in their two very green offensive linemen, Robert Hainsey and Luke Goedeke. Both players are better at blocking for the run than they are in the passing game, so offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has tried to limit the team’s passing reps and focus on the run.

While it worked well in Dallas, Tampa Bay controlled the clock and smothered the Cowboys out, it led to some very tense times in New Orleans as the minutes seemed to slip away and Tampa Bay sat on a goose egg.

We’re all eager to see that Bucs’ offense that averaged 30 points a game and put up highlight reel plays. It may take the team getting healthier and the young lineman getting more acclimated to life in the NFL before we can get there.

Three – This Bucs’ Defense Could Be Special 

Tampa Bay’s defense is giving up just 6.5 points a game. They’re surrendering just 276 yds a game in total yardage. They’ve sacked the QB 10 times and forced six turnovers in their first two ball games.

Folks, at least through two games, this is the best Buccaneers defense I have seen since the 2002 Super Bowl Buccaneers of Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp.

The team is led by their amazing linebacker Devin White, who has taken his play to an entirely new level. White finished with 11 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 tfl, and 1 pass defended (that should have been Winston’s fourth interception) in New Orleans. He narrowly missed a second sack, but Winston still went down on the play as Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Vita Vea cleaned it up. White was all over the football field, and his new level of play I think is the engine for this defense.

Let’s also not discount the presence of Logan Ryan. Ryan peanut punched a fumble by Mark Ingram deep in Tampa Bay territory and that play may have changed the trajectory of the football game more than Evans and Lattimore’s brawl. Had the Saints scored on that drive, Tampa Bay would have been chasing the game and it’s an entirely different scenario. After that fumble, five more turnovers would occur and the Bucs would pull away.

To be that elite defense, though, the Bucs are going to need to get their run defense under control. They’re giving up 86.5 yds a game on the ground – not terrible but definitely a little more than they typically surrender. The Saints, in particular, ran effectively for 102 yds and averaged 5.1 yds per carry.

Still, under Bowles as the head coach, everyone seems to have taken their level up a notch. If it can continue, the Bucs’ defense will be whispered among the greats in franchise history.

Four – The Gauntlet Has Gone Well (So Far)

We all saw the schedule when it was released back in May.  Four extremely tough opponents to start the season. 3 Division Champions and a team that had beaten the Bucs in seven straight regular season meetings – and that was before the Bucs lost Ryan Jensen for the season and knew the Bucs’ top four weapons would be dealing with a variety of injuries.

The first two games on the road were going to be extremely difficult for the Bucs. Dallas and New Orleans have both been a house of horrors for Tampa Bay. Once the Bucs got those two rough games, Tampa Bay then got one of the top NFC contenders in Green Bay, followed by the top AFC contender in Kansas City at home.

Some pundits predicted Tampa Bay would exit “the gauntlet” 1-3 or maybe even 0-4. Many felt (including this author), if the Bucs got through at 2-2, they would be set up for the rest of the season to compete for the division title.

Well, the Bucs have started out impressively, jumping to a 2-0 start with two hard fought road victories. Green Bay doesn’t look quite as formidable in years past, but Kansas City still looks the part.

With the Bucs at home, where Tom Brady is 12-4 in the regular season, is it time to get greedy and hope for a 4-0 start against the gauntlet?

With the Bucs’ defense – all things are possible. Yet, Tampa Bay really needs to turn it up a notch on offense if they hope to exit the gauntlet in better than expected shape. The first thing would be getting some of their injured players back. Hopefully, that will start to happen this week.

Five – Gage Has Yet to Engage

Two games in the books and so far, Russell Gage, who came to Tampa Bay with a big contract from Atlanta to fill the Antonio Brown role, has yet to really find himself in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense. Gage lost some time in training camp due to a nagging hamstring injury that had him questionable coming into the week 2 matchup with New Orleans.

Targeted 6 times on Sunday, Gage managed to corral 5 receptions for just 28 yds. We haven’t seen him be the dynamic playmaker he was in Atlanta, where he averaged 11.7 yds a reception. On the season, Gage has 7 receptions for 41 yds, no scores, and 5.9 average yards per reception.

Hopefully, Gage will find his niche and get going. For those wondering, Brown had a little more impact early on with the Bucs, hauling in 10 receptions for 100 yds and a touchdown in his first two games.

Six – Waiting on Rookie Impact

The Bucs are still waiting for some of their rookies who are getting quality playing time to start making an impact. Obviously, Luke Goedeke is playing every offensive snap as the team’s starting left guard. While there are still some growing pains for the youngster from Central Michigan, this week was better than last week and you hope that trend continues.

Rachaad White played in 9 offensive plays. He had two carries for 1 yard and was targeted twice by Brady, dropping one pass. The Bucs remain excited about White’s potential, but the rookie seems to still be feeling out the league.

Logan Hall played in 29 snaps for the Bucs, but didn’t register any statistics on defense. With Akiem Hicks going down, the Buccaneers will likely lean on veterans more than the rookie, but Hall might be pressed into service a lot sooner than expected.

None of the other rookies got any meaningful playing time on Sunday, except on special teams, where the Bucs excelled once again.

Seven – Panthers and Falcons Do What They Do

For the rest of the NFC South, it was business as usual for the bottom of the division. The Panthers let another winnable game slip away to the New York Giants, losing 19-16 as Graham Gano drilled a 56 yd field goal with 3:34 left to play.

The Atlanta Falcons meanwhile scared the bejesus out of the Rams, who took a lead of 28-3 (yeah, there’s that number again) and held a 31-10 4th quarter lead before Atlanta exploded with 17 points. Alas, no one out Falcons the Falcons, as Marcus Mariota’s desperation throw into the end zone with 1:18 left in the game was intercepted by Jalen Ramsey.

Eight – Welcome Back, Aaron

Aaron Rodgers goes from the place he owns to the one that has turned into his own personal house of horrors. Rodgers returns to Raymond James Stadium, where he is 1-3 and he’s thrown more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (5).

The Buccaneers have beaten Rodgers 3 straight times (including the post season) and they are hoping to keep that trend going.

Green Bay got off the snide Sunday night with a 27-10 whipping of the Bears. Like Brady, Rodgers still isn’t putting up MVP type numbers, with just 233 yds passing. He did toss two touchdowns and was not picked off. Green Bay’s running game did most of the damage against Chicago, generating 203 yds and 5.3 yds a carry.

Green Bay’s defense has been solid, but they seem susceptible to the run, surrendering 153 yds per game on the ground. After surrendering 269 yds passing and 2 TDs in Week 1’s loss at Minnesota, the Packers defense put the clamps down on Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears passing attack, limiting them to just 48 yds.

If the Buccaneers can continue to keep Rodgers befuddled, the Bucs could very well open the season 3-0.

Tweet of the Game

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