The Buccaneers responded to a horrible loss with an ugly, gutsy win over division rival New Orleans.
It was exactly what they needed.
A dominant win simply wasn’t going to happen. There are just too many issues on this team, from an abundance of inexperience from the rookies to the declining skills of some its veterans.
Even with the win, Lovie Smith and his staff did not acquit themselves of the terrible job they did to prepare their team for this season. Smith still has a ways to go before he proves that he’s turned this team around.
Still, Sunday’s win was a big one, full of revelations and new concerns.
The Bucs defense provided a taste of what it could be. The defensive line was disruptive, particularly defensive end Jacquies Smith and as usual Gerald McCoy. Smith, now the NFL’s leader in sacks, was a game-changer, notching three sacks and forcing two fumbles.
The win belongs to Smith and the defense. While the offense certainly played its part, they squandered numerous opportunities harvested by the defense and cultivated new challenges with its ineptitude.
The two late fumbles by Jameis Winston and Doug Martin along with some conservative play-calling kept the Saints in the game much later than they deserved. Only great plays by Johnthan Banks, Will Gholston and Chris Conte kept the game out of reach.
The Bucs’ rookie quarterback played a much better and more even game. Calling himself “a game manager” on Monday per the Tampa Bay Times‘ Rick Stroud, Winston’s play sometimes indicated otherwise. His 54-yard completion to Louis Murphy and pinpoint touchdown to Vincent Jackson were nothing short of spectacular.
Aside from the fumble, Martin looked like a true-blue bellcow running back. While the Saints defense clamped down on the run and frequently found their way into the backfield, Martin added 58 yards after contact according to Pro Football Focus.
The offensive line remained inconsistent. Donovan Smith gave up the sack that led to Winston’s fumble. Run blocking was in and out, often leaving Martin and Charles Sims to fend for themselves.
There’s no question the offense still has work to do. The encouraging takeaway from Sunday’s game is the play of the defense and it’s ability to make plays and hold onto a win.