Nothing was going to get in the way of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers rebounding from a wretched 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints in prime time last week, one that members of the Bucs’ coaching staff described as difficult to stomach, with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles saying, “Nothing worked.”
There was the loss of left guard Ali Marpet -- arguably their best offensive lineman -- for a second consecutive week thanks to a concussion. They had to alter their practice schedule significantly Thursday because of a tropical storm that swept through the area. There was a 7½-hour plane delay that had the Bucs getting to their hotel just before midnight, with the coaching staff forced to hold meetings at Tampa International Airport. And there was an opening-drive fumble by Ronald Jones that set up a Panthers touchdown, which, combined for a lackluster first half on defense, signaled they could be in for a long day.
Bruce Arians told them throughout the week, "No excuses."
The offensive line -- with A.Q. Shipley inserted at center and Ryan Jensen moved to left guard -- regained its winning form, helping Tom Brady to a four-touchdown (three passing with one QB sneak) performance, and allowing Jones to slash his way to a 98-yard touchdown to win 46-23 and reach 7-3 for the first time since 2010.
QB breakdown. Without duress (Brady was pressured on 46.3% of dropbacks last week, the most he’s seen since 2016), and with the Bucs’ reaffirming their commitment to run the ball, Brady completed 28 of 39 passes for 341 yards and no interceptions. He was sacked just once.
“When you lose, you gotta figure out how to get back on track," Brady said of getting over their loss last week to the Saints. "There's no excuses. This team hasn't made any excuses all year. We just get to work and try to go back there and try to do it better."
After just one first-half target last week, Brady got Mike Evans involved early, with a 3-yard end zone leaping grab that, with the PAT, made it 17-17 at halftime. The two connected on 6 of 11 targets for 77 receiving yards.
Chris Godwin caught all six targets for 92 receiving yards, making two key catches in traffic on third down -- first on third-and-7 lining up in one of Arians’ go-to double-out concepts, for a 14-yard catch on the outside, setting up Cam Brate’s 5-yard touchdown catch. Then on third-and-11, Brady beat the blitz to connect with Godwin across the middle.
The Bucs owned third down, converting 10 of 15, which was to be expected given the Panthers’ defensive struggles in that area. They wound up outgaining the Panthers 544 yards versus 187 yards of total offense.
Bucs’ defense: a tale of two halves. One week after the Bucs’ defense gave up 420 yards to the Saints, and allowed a season-high 82.9% completion percentage and 64.3% on third-down conversions, the Bucs struggled once again to affect the quarterback in the first half. Teddy Bridgewater's 82.35% completion rate in the first half against the Bucs was the highest completion percentage the Bucs' defense has given up in a first half all season. (Last week, Brees was 79.2%.)
“We weren’t communicating,” Arians said. “It was the same problem we had [last week]. Todd [Bowles] got on 'em pretty good about, ‘Let’s communicate. Let’s get on the same page.’ And after that, we were pretty solid the rest of the ballgame.”
The Bucs pressured Bridgewater just three times on 18 dropbacks (17%), their second-lowest pressure rate in a first half this season (Week 1 vs. New Orleans was just 5%.) The Bucs had a lot more success in the second half, though, with nine pressures on 16 dropbacks (56%), with Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett each getting home on third down in the fourth quarter. They also tightened up this week on third down, allowing the Panthers to go just 1-for-9 after allowing the Saints to go 9-of-14.