Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs-Lions: Is this Tampa Bay’s most talented offense ever?

TAMPA — For all the worry, wonder and hand wringing about who will quarterback the Bucs this season, there is finally some good news.

It doesn't matter.

Ryan Fitzpatrick for three games. Jameis Winston for 13 after serving his suspension. Ryan Griffin if the bus gets a flat tire.

Heck, even coach Dirk Koetter's aging right arm may be enough to pilot this target-rich offense.

Who cares?

That was the biggest takeaway from the Bucs' 33-30 preseason loss Friday against the Detroit Lions.

The challenge this season will be how to feed enough footballs to all the Bucs skill players. Seriously, when was the last time the Bucs' offense had this many weapons?

"We've got a lot of play makers," Fitzpatrick said. "Tonight, Godwin made a touchdown catch. O.J. (Howard) made a great catch to go up and get it and then he had the one called back that was amazing where he bounces off the safety and you kind of see how big and powerful he is on that play…there's all kinds of guys in our offense who can make plays. It was nice to see RoJo (Ronald Jones) get down the sidelines and make a nice catch. So we've got a lot of play makers. We just have to try and be efficient as an offense."

Take what happened in the first two drives with the Bucs' first-team offense Friday.

Fitzpatrick began the game by handing off to running back Peyton Barber three times for 17 yards.

Then the 35-year-old vagabond QB started chucking the football around. Fear the beard. He began by connecting with three-time Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson on a stick route for 9 yards. Then he found tight end O.J. Howard in the seam for 17 yards.

By the way, if Howard, the Bucs' first-round pick from Alabama in 2017, isn't the most improved player this season, check your eye prescription.

On the next play, Fitzpatrick found receiver Chris Godwin in the flat for 6 yards. Fitz then called an audible and handed to Barber for 3 yards. On third and 1, with two tight ends and a fullback in the game, Barber took a handoff, broke a tackle in the backfield by linebacker Quandre Diggs, and raced 14 yards for a touchdown.

Sixty-six yards, eight plays, five players touching the football and the easiest touchdown drive of the preseason.

But wait, there's more firepower on the Bucs' bench.

Running back Ronald Jones had struggled in the first two preseason games. But on the second series, the second-round pick from Southern Cal lined up in the backfield before splitting wide left. Fitzpatrick led him on a perfectly thrown 37-yard bomb down the left sideline.

"I think (offensive coordinator Todd) Monken was talking to you guys the other day in that our quarterbacks are doing a really good job of making signals or checks at the line of scrimmage to get us in the right play," Koetter said. "Like the pass to Ronald Jones. They've got a linebacker out there covering. They signaled it. So we're able to package some things together based on what defense we're getting. It really starts with the quarterbacks getting us into the right things and three of those guys are throwing the ball on the money and then we have guys who can make plays."

And so it went.

Fitzpatrick went 6 of 7 passing for 82 yards. That didn't include the deep out to Mike Evans, who was called for offensive pass interference.

When Winston entered the game, he only needed 10 plays to get the Bucs into the end zone. That included a 19-yard strike to Jackson and a highlight-reel fade to Godwin for a 10-yard TD pass.

Think about it: Evans, Jackson, Godwin, Howard, Barber and Jones. That doesn't even include tight end Cameron Brate and receiver Adam Humphries.

Speaking of Humphries, check out the way he ended the first half.

With Lions kicker Matt Prater lining up for a 62-yard field goal attempt, Humphries stood in the shadow of the crossbar and fielded the kick 9 yards deep in the end zone.

He started right, then reversed field to the left, picked up some blockers and dashed back to the right corner of the end zone for a 109-yard, kick-six to give the Bucs' a 20-6 halftime lead.

Okay, okay. Maybe we should pump the brakes a bit since it is only preseason.

And to be honest, the prospect of having to play the murderer's row of opponents to start the season with any backup quarterback is daunting.

Take Matt Ryan off the Falcons, Cam Newton off the Panthers and Drew Brees off the Saints for the first three games of the season and nobody will pick them to win the NFC South. The Bucs are going to miss Winston, who has had as good of a preseason as any quarterback in the NFL.

It may be foolish to play him in next week's fourth preseason game, hiatus and all. Winston is 30-for-41 passing for 388 yards and three TDs this preseason.

It's a shame, really. You wonder just how the start of the 2018 would feel for Bucs fans if Winston hadn't put his team in this position.

Nonetheless, maybe all is not lost.

The offensive line, with the status of injured left tackle Donovan Smith still up in the air, is a big question mark. Some of the Bucs' best plays are scramble drills.

But when was the last time the Bucs had this much talent on offense? The Super Bowl XXXVII champions, with Brad Johnson, Mike Alstott, Michael Pittman, Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Ken Dilger and Joe Jurevicius finished 24th in overall offense.

The Buc's skill players Friday night are better.

Fitzpatrick? Winston? Griffin?

With all these weapons, why worry?

Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud.

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