BY ROY CUMMINGS
The Buccaneers are on a roll. They improved to 2-0 this preseason with a 30-14 victory over the Titans on Saturday, which prompts the question, are they peaking too soon?
The answer is hardly.
No, preseason games don’t count, but when you haven’t made the playoffs in a decade, any win helps you to develop a culture of winning, and that is job one for the Bucs right now.
What was encouraging about the Bucs victory Saturday is that it came despite the fact the Bucs struggled at times in the red zone and with penalties.
Those are the kinds of problems that have long derailed this team and kept it from winning consistently. With that in mind, here are a few observations to consider going forward:
*Not that we needed it but we were reminded in this one of why the loss of quarterback Jameis Winston for the first three games of the regular season is so worrisome. After a strong performance in Week 1 of the preseason last week, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was quite ordinary during his one quarter of play against Tennessee.
Fitzpatrick failed to hit on two deep balls early and failed to connect on two short passes in the red zone during the second of his three series under center. For the night, Fitz completed just five of 13 passes for 46 yards, producing a 48.9 passer rating.
*Winston, on the other hand, was spectacular. He played the second quarter again, just as he did last week, and completed 13 of 18 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns for a 151.4 passer rating.
The first of Winston’s two touchdown passes came on a throw he never should have made (he was being tackled and threw a ball up for grabs on third down), but that’s Jameis being Jameis.
In this case, however, Jameis was also quick to make mostly sound decisions and he was accurate both on the deep ball (he hit Mike Evans on a 38-yarder and Dexter Jackson on a 54-yarder) and the shorter throws.
*Big game for rookie corner M.J. Stewart. He started at the slot corner spot on Saturday and before leaving the game early in the second half with a sore foot, he forced two fumbles, including one that set up the Bucs second touchdown drive. Stewart was one of the more impressive players on defense in the Week 1 game victory over Miami, too. If he can stay healthy and keep this up he’ll start the season as the Bucs nickel corner.
*While the first teamers were in the game, the Bucs defense did a great job against the run. Jason Pierre Paul and Kwon Alexanders both had big stops early on and through the first quarter, the Bucs limited the Titans to just eight yards rushing. That’s what you call, getting the job done.
*Bucs coach Dirk Koetter walked away from this one bemoaning all the penalties the Bucs committed, particularly in the first half, and rightly so. The Bucs were penalized seven times for 45 yards, and most of those penalties were committed by offensive and defensive linemen.
One of those penalties, a Brad Seton holding penalty, wiped out a touchdown pass on third down from the Tennessee 12 and forced the Bucs to settle for a 39-yard first-quarter field-goal attempt. That also got wiped out by - wait for it - a penalty. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro saved the moment by making the subsequent 44-yarder, but this was a sloppy effort that will have to be cleaned up.
*Speaking of Catanzaro, he had a nice bounce back game in this one. Catanzaro missed a PAT and a field goal try in his first game in a Bucs uniform last week, but he was on the mark in this one, hitting on all of his field goals tries and PAT attempts.
*The Bucs defense had little or no answer for the Titans short passing game earl on Saturday. A missed tackle by S Chris Conte and a key Titans block at the point of attack on Taywan Taylor’s 47-yard catch and run for a touchdown allowed Tennessee to move the ball 75 yards, including 73 through the air, on its second possession.
*Another disappointing outing for rookie running back Ronald Jones. He ran four times for just 2 yards, all of which came on one carry, and failed to secure the only pass thrown his way.
Jones’ role may have to be increased if the injury that knocked Charles Sims out of game on the opening kickoff is serious, but you really have to wonder if Jones is capable of handling a bigger role.
*Is it too soon to worry about the Bucs pass rush? Probably, but the largely revamped first-team D-line has played the equivalent of a full game through two practice games now and has just one sack to show for it.
That unit would have two sacks but a penalty wiped out a takedown that Gerald McCoy started and Vinny Curry finished after Marcus Mariota left the game for the Titans.
Roy Cummings is the Bucs insider for pewterpirates.com