By ROY CUMMINGS
Well how about them Bucs. They are a stunning 2-0 after defeating the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles 27-21 at Raymond James Stadium, something very few thought possible when the season began.
Combine that with the Bucs surprise upset victory over the Saints on the road last week and what we have here in Tampa Bay is a team that should be among the most talked about in the NFL.
Are the Bucs for real? Too soon to know. But that 2-0 record is for real, for sure. That said, let’s take a look back at this one and see what we can derive from the Bucs second upset in as many weeks.
Let’s start with the offensive play calling, since that seems to be what so many believe is the key to the Bucs early-season success. And yes, it was solid yet again on Sunday. For a while.
The Bucs were aggressive for about three quarters and then with a 27-7 lead, they decided to get conservative and it nearly cost them as the Eagles rallied to make a game of it in the end.
A cough-up by wideout Mike Evans helped contribute to that late Eagles rally but the effort by play caller Todd Monken near the end put the Bucs in a tough spot and gave the Eagles a chance to come back and win.
Look, I’ve been saying since this became an issue that the execution of the plays was the key to the Bucs success last week and it was a key again on Sunday, but safe can lead to death in this league and we nearly reminded of that on Sunday.
We are now two thirds of the way through what was supposed to have been a three-game fill-in stint for Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and it’s hard for anyone to argue that Fitzpatrick has so far been the Bucs best player. Shoot, some in the press box at Raymond James Stadium today were even suggesting Fitzpatrick might be the best player in the NFL right now.
Even that point is hard to argue with.
Through eight quarters of football Fitzpatrick has completed 48 of the 61 passes he’s thrown for 819 yards and eight touchdowns. No one – and I do mean no one – imagined Fitzpatrick would put up numbers such as those and have the Bucs sitting atop the NFC South at 2-0 right now. Which brings us to the inevitable question that remains on everyone’s mind:
What do the Bucs do when Jameis Winston comes back?
Well, the Bucs don’t have to answer that question just yet, and let’s all keep in mind that situations such as these do have a tendency to work themselves out. But let’s just say for the sake of the argument that Fitzpatrick maintains his level of play for another week and remains the Bucs best player.
If that’s the case, all I can say is that a team should never sit its best player for any reason other than an injury or some egregious violation of the team’s or NFL’s conduct policy, and I don’t see Ryan Fitzpatrick running afoul of any such policy.
As for the game itself, what a start, huh? I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here when I say the Bucs got off to the best start in a game in franchise history in this one. That 75-yard TD toss to DeSean Jackson was a thing of, dare I say it, Fitz Magic.
What was really curious about it was that it came out of such an old-school formation, the Bucs lining up in an I-formation with Alan Cross at fullback and Peyton Barber at tailback.
Just as he did all of last week, though, Bucs quarterback Fitzpatrick executed the play perfectly. His throw to Jackson could not have been thrown any better or in a better spot.
Oh, and how about that defense. Sure, the Eagles were a bit undermanned to begin with, what without Carson Wentz at quarterback, and they lost top running back Jay Ajayi in the first quarter to injury. Still, from a Bucs defensive perspective this will go down in the books as a big bounce back from what went down last week, when the Bucs allowed more than 475 yards and 40 points.
They Bucs allowed 412 yards this time out, but they held on two big fourth downs, including one midway through the fourth quarter after a Mike Evans fumble gave the Eagles a chance to get back into the game.
And let’s not forget that the Bucs weren’t playing a first-teamers in this one ether. They started the game without starting cornerbacks Brent Grimes (groin) and Vernon Hargreaves (shoulder).
The biggest difference, especially early on, was the Bucs pass rush. The Bucs were a lot more aggressive in this one, blitzing often, and those blitzes led to two of the Bucs three sacks and helped the Bucs rack up 12 quarterback hits.
You gotta love that mean streak that new Bucs center Ryan Jensen plays with but he let his temper get the best of him on the Bucs third offensive series and it proved costly. The Bucs got off to a good start on that drive and Jensen’s penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct killed the momentum and the drive.
I saw a nice bounce back from Bucs rookie CB Carlton Davis in this game. Davis got schooled a bit and was picked on a lot by Drew Brees in the opener last week but he was solid and often spectacular from the start in this one. Davis finished the day with XX tackles, a key pass breakup and a fumble recovery. He looked every bit like a starting-caliber corner in this game, which is good for the cornerback depleted Bucs.
I think it’s safe to say at this point that the Bucs are no better off with Chandler Catanzaro kicking for them than they were with either Nick Folk or Robert Aguayo. After missing a field goal try in New Orleans last week Catanzaro missed a PAT in this one. The Bucs have looked very good on offense so far but no team is good enough to overcome a miss a game from their kicker and so far that’s what they’re getting from Catanzaro.
Roy Cummings is the Buccaneers Insider for pewterpirates.com