Bucs Thwarted by Vikings' Case Study
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 25 September 2017|
The 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers did an excellent job of maintaining their readiness to play in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma. However, they were not so successful in carrying that momentum into a second week, particularly in terms of defense and ball security.
After exhibiting complete control in a belated 29-7 season-opening win over the Chicago Bears, the Buccaneers were on the opposite end of an NFC North drubbing in Minnesota, in what was actually Week Three following the Week One Irma washout. Second-string quarterback Case Keenum’s career day – his third win over the Buccaneers in the last three years – led the Vikings to a 34-17 decision.
Sunday’s loss could have ongoing consequences if linebacker Lavonte David, who left the field on a cart late in the fourth quarter, is unavailable for any length of time. The Buccaneers are now 1-1 on the season with consecutive home games to come against the New York Giants and New England Patriots within a period of 11 days.
For the Buccaneers to get back on the winning track in those 11 days, they need to return to the style of play that got them their first win over the Bears. In that contest, Tampa Bay had a +3 turnover ratio; in Minnesota, they committed three turnovers without securing a single takeaway.
“Taking care of the football [is the key],” said Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, who threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns. “We’ve got to get back to Tampa football, bounce back, stay positive. We’re glad to be back at home. Let’s go and try to beat the Giants.”
The Buccaneers’ defense did a relatively good job holding red-hot rookie back Dalvin Cook in check early, until a couple long runs in the second half. However, Tampa Bay had no answer for Keenum, who was also at the helm for the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams for wins over the Buccaneers in 2015 and 2016. Largely working the outside edges of the field against cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves and Ryan Smith, and periodically throwing deep downfield, Keenum 25 of 33 passes for a career-high 369 yards and three touchdowns.
The Buccaneers also had trouble pressuring the Vikings’ quarterback, though they tried a variety of blitzes during the game. Not only was Keenum not sacked, but he also successfully threw over the blitzing player on several key plays.
Jameis Winston wasn’t quite as fortunate, suffering a pair of sacks and facing more frequent pressure. However, Winston was still relatively productive, completing 28 of 40 passes for his first 300-yard game of the season. His one big missed opportunity may have been the game’s final turning point. With the Buccaneers trailing 14-3 in the second quarter, Winston drove Tampa Bay into scoring position and then took a shot at the end zone in DeSean Jackson’s direction. The ball was underthrown and cornerback Trae Waynes cut underneath to intercept it at the goal line. The Vikings turned that takeaway into a long touchdown drive and the game was never closer than a 14-point margin again.
Winston pulled the Buccaneers back within two scores in the third quarter with touchdown passes to Cam Brate and DeSean Jackson, but two more interceptions in the fourth quarter short-circuited the comeback attempt. Jackson had his first big game for the Buccaneers, catching four passes for 84 yards and a touchdown and also drawing a key pass interference penalty. Wide receivers Mike Evans and Adam Humphries also topped 60 yards on the day.
“I’ve got to come through, I’ve got to protect the football, especially on our side of the field,” said Winston. “The offensive line, running backs, receivers did well enough for us to win this game; I have to do my job and play better. They just took advantage of the opportunities on those interceptions. They did a good job.”
The home team thoroughly dominated the opening half, scoring a trio of touchdowns on drives that all covered at least 75 yards. Keenum threw for 226 yards before the intermission, hitting both Thielen and Diggs with deep passes that set up scores and hooking up with Diggs and Jarius Wright for touchdowns. Tampa Bay’s offense showed some spark, but an opening drive into scoring territory ended in a field goal and another scoring opportunity was erased by a goal-line interception by Trae Waynes.
The Vikings drove 75 yards on the game’s first possession with a heavy dose of Cook and one big play by Keenum to Thielen. Minnesota’s big-play receiver ran past CB Vernon Hargreaves down the left sideline and made a sliding 45-yard catch to the Bucs’ 20. Two plays later, David blitz and Keenum threw to the vacated spot to hit Cook, who got down to the one. Two plays later, Cook dived over left guard for the score, though he lost the ball in the process. The review didn’t turn up evidence to overturn the call, so the home team took a 7-0 lead four minutes into the contest.
The Bucs countered on their first drive but with only three points. Winston threw three straight darts to Evans, Godwin and Howard for a total of 47 yards, but the drive stalled at the Vikings’ 22-yard field goal. Folk came on to drill a 40-yard field goal down the middle. The drive covered 53 yards on eight plays, and Winston was five-for-five passing on the possession.
Tampa Bay’s defense forced the game’s first punt, though the Vikings took another shot deep to Diggs that was just broken up at the last second by Ryan Smith. The Bucs got one first down on a Jackson catch to start the next drive but soon had to punt it back.
The Vikings took the ensuing possession 76 yards on 13 plays for their second touchdown. Diggs started it with a diving 17-yard catch on the left sideline. Twice during the drive Keenum correctly read Buccaneer blitzes and threw to the right spots, the second one producing a wide-open 19-yard pass to Thielen to the Bucs’ 11. After a defensive holding penalty made it first-and-goal, Keenum rolled right and fired a quick out to Jairus Wright for a two-yard touchdown. The Vikings had a 14-3 lead with 10:25 left in the first half.
An Everson Griffen sack on third-and-two forced the Bucs to give the ball right back to Keenum and the Vikings’ offense, but consecutive open-field tackles by Lavonte David and T.J. Ward resulted in a punt right back. The Bucs’ next drive got off to a great start with a 32-yard catch by Jackson, but Winston tried to hit him deep in the middle from the Vikings’ 34 and Waynes intercepted an underthrown pass at the goal line. Three plays later, Diggs ran a deep post down the middle and caught a 47-yard pass just over the hands of Ryan Smith. Keenum completed the 92-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Diggs on the right edge of the end zone.
The Buccaneers got the ball to start the second half but a penalty on the kickoff return and a bobbled third-and-two snap contributed to a three-and-out and a punt from the 19 and another instant Vikings score. On third-and-three from the Vikings’ 41, Keenum threw to Diggs on the left sideline. Diggs caught the ball over Smith and spun out of a tackle to break free for a 59-yard touchdown.
Reedy gave the Bucs a nice start for the next drive by returning the kickoff 50 yards to the Minnesota 46. A sack of Winston and a holding call that erased a big third-down conversion put the Bucs in a bad spot but Winston converted a third-and-14 with an 18-yard pass to Brate. Those two also hooked up to finish the drive, with Brate leaping to catch a 15-yard touchdown pass and holding on despite a hit from safety Andrew Sendejo that left him wobbly as he tried to stand back up.
The Vikings scored again on the next possession, although this time the Buccaneers’ defense held at the end and forced a field goal attempt. After Ward broke up a third-down pass in the middle of the end zone, kicker Kai Forbath came in to bang a 20-yarder through the pipes.
The Buccaneers got the ball over midfield on the next drive with the help of a pass-interference call drawn by DeSean Jackson against cornerback Trumaine Johnson on a fly route. After Humphries held on to a 12-yard catch despite a hard hit to make it first down at the 25, Jackson went one-on-one with Brock again and beat him with a leaping grab in the end zone near the right sideline.
Tampa Bay’s defense got a quick three-and-out and the Buccaneers quickly moved back over midfield. However, apparent miscommunication between Winston and Jackson led to a ball thrown directly to Sendejo, who returned the interception 36 yards to the Bucs’ 35. Tampa Bay got another stop but the Vikings were still able to tack on Forbath’s 37-yard field goal to make it a three-score contest again.
The pattern continued on the next drive as Winston made several sharp connections with Evans, Humphries and Godwin to get into scoring range but then was intercepted at the goal line trying to fit the ball into coverage to Evans. The ball was tipped in the air and intercepted by safety Harrison Smith.