Friday, April 27, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs-Panthers Turning Point, Week 5: Season saved?

With three seconds left and the score tied, Roberto Aguayo jogged onto the field.

It was all you wanted and all you didn't want — all at the same time.

The game was on the line. The season was on the line. And the Bucs had the Greatest Kicker in the History of College Football.

Yet you didn't want it to come down to him.

No one knows what's going to happen when Aguayo's foot hits leather. Forget "Game of Thrones." His field-goal attempts have become television's best new drama. Hold your breath. Cover your eyes. Hug a pillow.

After missing earlier Monday night from 33 yards …

… and 46 yards …

… the second-rounder delivered as time expired, his 38-yard field goal lifting the Bucs to a 17-14 win over the Panthers in Charlotte.

So here we are talking about how the Bucs, now 2-3 instead of 1-4, saved their season.

Do you really believe deep down that Monday night was a turning point? Think about how you felt before Aguayo's game-winning kick. The same flaws that put the Bucs in a 1-3 hole were on display once again, so what exactly happened in those three seconds that allayed your concerns?

It wasn't all bad. By rushing for 101 yards on 30 carries — both career highs — Jacquizz Rodgers helped the Bucs keep their depleted defense off the field. Tampa Bay also recorded four takeaways, including a DaVonte Lambert forced fumble and a Brent Grimes interception.

To focus on such things, though, would be like marveling at the stars while the moon turned blood red.

Here's what we know:

• The Bucs have a kicker problem. Aguayo succeeded in the end because he had failed earlier. If he had made the 33-yard try or the 46-yard try, there is no last-second field goal.

The 33-yard try, in particular, needs to be automatic. There have been 11 such attempts this season. Aguayo is the only one to miss.

Because he's a second-round pick, Aguayo gets a longer leash, but if the misses continue, the Bucs will need to put team before pride. Through five games, he has converted 4 of 8 field goals. That's the same percentage as Kyle Brindza, who was released after four games last season.

• Aguayo can thank Derek Anderson for his shot at redemption. The Panthers backup quarterback and Greg Olsen were playing catch until the Bucs started covering the tight end halfway through the fourth quarter. With Carolina on the verge of putting the game away, Anderson forced a first-and-goal pass to Olsen despite double coverage. The throw defies explanation — you've seen more restraint from Donald Trump during a debate.

Before that play, Olsen had caught nine passes for a career-high 181 yards. Two of those receptions resulted in gains of more than 30 yards.

On the first catch — a third-and-1 play — the Bucs' defense sold out to stop the run. As Anderson faked the handoff, Olsen ran from left to right across the backfield. Because the defense pursued running back Cameron Artis-Payne, no one was in position to pick up Olsen, who caught the pass at the line of scrimmage and took it 34 yards before linebacker Lavonte David pushed him out of bounds.

On the second catch, the defense again bit on play-action, and Olsen ran behind linebacker Daryl Smith, who was watching Artis-Payne as he slid to the right flat. With one safety deep and the cornerbacks responsible for the receivers on the outside, Olsen — who had caught six passes for 117 yards to that point — was unaccounted for. One play after his 33-yard catch, the Panthers were in the end zone.

Tampa Bay has now surrendered nine plays of 30 or more yards, seventh-most in the NFL.

• The Bucs have little margin for error. They had a turnover differential of plus-4, and yet they barely won. Since the beginning of last season, teams with the same turnover differential have won by an average of 12 points.

Tampa Bay's self-inflicted wounds kept the Panthers in the game. The Bucs didn't have a large number of penalties (five for 40 yards), but the ones they had were costly.

Consider the sequence during the second quarter when Tampa Bay faced a third-and-1 from the Carolina 5-yard line. False start. Delay of game. Jameis Winston overthrow. Aguayo miss.

Teams almost always score in that situation. Since 2001, there have been 18 other third-and-1 plays from the 5-yard line with less than seven minutes remaining in the second quarter. Teams went on to score a touchdown 14 times and kick a field goal three times.

Only once did a team fail to come away with points.

• Winston wasn't sharp for much of the night, but he came through on the Bucs' final drive, completing 4 of 5 passes for 38 yards. The box score also shows that he didn't turn the ball over for the first time this season.

We can't, however, declare that he has rid himself of his turnover troubles. When he rushed toward the first-down marker on a third-and-4 late in the second quarter, Panthers defensive end Mario Addison forced a fumble. When the officials peeled players off the pileup, Winston, somehow, was at the bottom with the football.

Later, on a second-and-9 in the fourth quarter, Winston forced a throw to Mike Evans through the Panthers' Cover 2 defense.

He made a similar mistake last Sunday against the Broncos, and Aqib Talib picked him off. This time, the safety dropped the interception.

Rather than risk another pass on third and 9, coach Dirk Koetter called a run play. Rodgers, however, lost a yard, which set up Aguayo's second field-goal miss.

• The Bucs are alive. For now.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.

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