"Good guys win," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. That's what he says after every Bucs victory. Well, that's what he has said after both Tampa Bay victories this season. But this was, indeed, a good victory for his guys Monday night.
This looked like a game the Bucs were sure to lose when the schedule first came out. Monday night. On the road. Defending NFC champs and all.
But the Bucs found a way to come up with a winning report card. Here are the grades from Monday night.
Not ready for primetime
ESPN's Monday Night Football ratings haven't been breaking any records this season. Maybe it has been because of Donald vs. Hillary. Maybe it's because of bad matchups. Maybe folks are just footballed out, if that's possible. Whatever the reason, Monday night games have been struggling in the ratings. I'm guessing Monday night's game between the Bucs and Panthers didn't do much to give the ratings a jolt. The game was 6-0 at halftime. Riveting, eh? Instead of a grade, how about we give it a TV RATING OF: MA, for mature audiences only.
Okay, so it wasn't a great performance. In fact, the Bucs won because they were only slightly less sloppy than the Panthers. But they did win. On national television. That's right. The Tampa Bay Bucs showed a Monday Night Football audience, with Jon Gruden calling the game, that they could win in primetime. So, hey, that's something. GRADE: Two thumbs up.
What a kick
Who knows what to make of Bucs kicker Roberto Aguayo. He made the winner at the buzzer. But the second-round pick (sorry, that must be said every time we mention the guy) missed two easy field goals. The first was from 33 yards. The second was a 46-yarder that would have given the Bucs a 17-14 lead with 3:33 left. Look, those kicks have to be automatic in the NFL, especially the 33-yarder. And if your team moved up in the draft to take you in the second round then the 46-yarder with the game on the line has to be automatic, too. It was actually quite amusing to listen to coach Dirk Koetter in the postgame news conference talk about how Aguayo needs to make those kicks and that he still isn't sure he completely trusts him when the game is on the line. Hey, who could blame Koetter? AGUAYO'S GRADE: C-plus.
Timing is everything
Twice this season — once in the Arizona game and once in the Rams game — Koetter has been criticized (deservedly so) for poor clock management. But he was brilliant with how he handled the clock at the end of Monday's game. Pinned deep in his own territory, he went conservative to make sure Carolina used up its timeouts just in case the Bucs had to punt. But he also called for just enough to allow the Bucs to pick up enough first downs to get in scoring position. Best of all, the final play of regulation was Aguayo's winning field goal. If he had missed, the worst that could have happened was overtime. Well done, Dirk. GRADE: A.
A missing piece to the Bucs puzzle this season has been takeaways. Not so Monday. The Bucs had four takeaways — twice as many as they had coming in — and that, as much as anything, sparked Tampa Bay's victory. The biggest of all? Cornerback Brent Grimes picking off an Anderson pass in the end zone with the scored tied, 14-14, and 8:39 left in the fourth quarter. The only nit? The four takeaways resulted in only three points. On the positive side, it did stop the Panthers from scoring. And you know that Miko Grimes is happy today. GRADE: A.