This has the makings to be one of the biggest nights for the Bucs in recent memory.
Sure every fanbase soaks in a Prime Time game especially this franchise but let's face it---they've been as frequent in recent years as playoff appearances, but I digress. The truth is you're not special playing on Thursday night as EVERY team in the NFL gets a Thursday prime time tilt, yet this one is a wee bit different and could wind up super special.
Let us count the ways....
You have the supposedly up and coming Buccos poised to make a statement on National TV against the defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots. Tack on the chance to do it by kicking the champs while they're down. Those dynasty driven Pats limp into Ray Jay coming off a home loss to Carolina and now on only three days rest fly into town with an un-Pats like .500 record---or it an un-Pats like record at this point in the year?
Hardly....we've seen this movie before.
Being 2-2 isn't time to panic in the land of Belichick--after all, New England has started out 2-2 in five previous campaigns under the hoodie. Three of those seasons -- 2003, 2005 and 2014 -- ended with a Super Bowl victory, while the other two still put them in the playoffs. The Patriots also opened 1-3 in 2001, only to stun the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
But that was in the past---the Bucs have a chance for a big opportunity tonight where here are my five keys for a huge Tampa Bay "W" and remember after the game---be on the look out for our exclusive "Video Blog" with myself and our Bucs Insider Roy Cummings right here on pewterpirates.com
FIVE BUCS KEYS VS THE PATS........
(1) KEEP BRADY OFF THE FIELD: Tom Brady is the best QB of all time but there is one thing he's remarkably never done---win a game in Tampa, then again he amazingly has never played a game in Tampa?! Thanks to the league moving the 2009 game supposed to be played in Tampa to London, Brady has never had a chance to face the Bucs on their home turf.
The Bucs know with a banged up D and a pass rush which has been brutal through four games, they need to get some quick stops to keep their Brady streak in tact. No doubt, Tom Terrific will put up his share of numbers and likely with Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander out, Gronk will have more than his share of opportunities but the game plan should be minimize the damage and keep them off the field.
(2) DOUG "IS" FRESH: A big subplot to the Prime Time Drama will be the return of starting tailback Doug Martin after a three game suspension for substance use. Thanks to Hurricane Irma, Martin had to wait a little longer for his return and should have been back last week versus the Giants.
When Martin is at his best, this offense is at its best and it will be great to see how they attack the Patriots with all of their new weapons finally on the field together for a regular season game.
Martin had a great Training Camp and has proven when healthy, he's among the best in the league---will be interesting to see how quick he can shake off the rust.
(3) THE NEW JAMEIS? Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston is coming off arguably the best game of his young career where for the first time, he threw for over 300 yards, three touchdowns but wait for it---how about ZERO interceptions. Throw in the 7th game winning drive of his career where he was a perfect five for five, the Bucs gunslinger should feel plenty of momentum which is impressive as that performance came off one of his worst games on the road against the Vikes.
You can't afford to make mistakes against the Pats, and we'll soon find out if Winston can turn in another turnover free game--this time on the national stage.
(4) KICK THE PATS D WHILE THEY'RE DOWN---The NFL season for most teams is a quarter old and it's amazing how bad the defending champs are playing on Defense.
Belichick takes great pride in his D but this is easily the worst start ever for his unit. They have allowed 128 points (second worst in the league) and an eye dropping 1,827 total yards. You crunch these numbers through four games and here is the damage---the once dominating Pats D is surrendering an average of 32 points and 456.8 yards per game.
Who are these guys?
According to STATS, since the NFL merger back in 1970, its the most points allowed in the first four games by a team that had the best scoring defense in the previous season.
The Bucs offense needs to as their slogan states, "Seige" the Day and keep the train hummin.
(5) FIND DESEAN DEEP: Ok the team's top free agent target is acting like a little petulant child these days but it's time for the Bucs to cash in on all the money they are paying DeSean Jackson.
Winston did everything right a week ago except find his new downfield threat where he's a disappointing 3-for-11 passing when targeting Jackson on throws 15 yards or more. With just nine catches for 143 yards and one score over three games, Jackson pouted on the sidelines last game and then left the locker room (after a big win) unhappy and not talking to the media.
This week he had this to say, "Everybody planned it to be the perfect situation and we were asked to be that, but [Winston's] never really played with a guy like me. I'm just going to keep on doing everything I can to help him."
Tonight would be a good night to get it rollin.
PREDICTION: I don't like the fact the Bucs only have a single sack this season and would feel much better about picking them if their athletic linebackers were healthy but there is something about this game that has me leaning toward the Bucs. In the end, both defenses have holes but the Patriots' are bigger--I think Jameis takes full advantage.
Sign me up for a Prime Time "even though I hate those Thursday Night" games victory for the home team. Bucs win 34-30 where Doug Martin has a big night scoring three touchdowns.