TAMPA — Exhale, Bucs fans. This was a big one. Close, and big. Somehow, despite an offense that preferred field goals to touchdowns, the Bucs found a way to win. Actually, we know exactly how the Bucs won. With defense. Again. Tampa Bay's offense has sputtered in recent weeks, but a defense that got sturdy in the red zone then created turnovers led the Bucs to a 16-11 victory over the Saints. Here's Sunday's report card.
Make some noise
Hard to remember the last time the Raymond James Stadium crowd was as loud for a Bucs game as it was Sunday. While not a full house, it was pretty darn close. And it made noise like it was a full house. What a difference it can make. Not necessarily in the outcome of games — although a big, noisy crowd can't hurt — but just in making Bucs games fun again. Been a while since we said Bucs games were fun. GRADE: A
A little help?
With Washington nipping at Tampa Bay's heels in the playoff race, the Eagles could have lent a helping hand. But Eagles rookie QB Carson Wentz got a brain cramp (and temporary blindness) when he fumbled while being blindsided just as Philly was about to punch it in for the winner. That pretty much ended Philadelphia's playoff hopes but allowed Washington to keep the pressure on the Bucs. Oh, and the Rams laid down for the Falcons. GRADE: D
For a lot of recent seasons, you might not have really noticed what the end zones at Raymond James looked like, seeing as how the Bucs never scored a whole lot. (Ba da bum.) Anyway, with this offense, under the play-calling of Dirk Koetter and the direction of QB Jameis Winston, fans are getting a look at the cool red and black "Buccaneers.'' See what a little paint and a real quarterback can do? GRADE: B
That's a first
Remember last week when CB Vernon Hargreaves broke up a pass that led to Lavonte David's pick-six? Well, another linebacker (Kwon Alexander) repaid the favor. Alexander deflected a Drew Brees pass into the outstretched hands of a diving Hargreaves for the first interception of his NFL career. The first-round pick out of Florida is having a heck of a rookie season, and it's another check in the plus column for general manager Jason Licht. GRADE: A
Ain't that a kick
Roberto Aguayo is like a box of chocolates. You never … well, you know the rest. On Sunday, we got the good chocolate, er, Roberto. He nailed field goals of 41, 39 and 26 yards. Still, we're waiting for the game when the second-round pick lines up for a field goal with the game — and maybe the season — on his foot. It'll be as fun as a box of chocolates. GRADE: B-plus
Oh my gosh, Josh Huff. The Bucs bring Huff in and he gets a chance with so many injuries. So what's he do? He misplayed a kickoff return as the ball bounced off his face mask and ended up bouncing out of bounds at the 1-inch line. On the next play, RB Doug Martin was tackled for a safety. Then the Saints got the ball and drove for a field goal before the half. Huff's blunder cost Tampa Bay a possession and five points. GRADE: F
This game had a ridiculous number of flags. It sure felt as if this officiating crew got way too involved. It's one thing to make sure the game is played fairly, but there comes a point when officials have to let a few things go for the sake of keeping it moving and the teams in rhythm. GRADE: D-minus