The night belonged to the Bucs and their fans.
The night belonged to Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and the offense. The night belonged to that Bucs defense, the run stuffing, the pass rushing, the blanket coverage. The night belonged to Dirk Koetter and his 6-5 Bucs in a 14-5 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Five for Seattle. You read that right.
And more than anyone, the night belonged to veteran cornerback Alterraun Verner, an inspiration showing nothing but heart, even as that heart was breaking, to make a special play that brought together this team. It stayed together, too, all night, in front of a crowd that never let up.
So this is what that sounds like.
Playing in pain
Verner's father, Robert Lee Verner, passed away Friday morning in Tampa. But there was Verner, on the field Sunday, and in a big way, with an interception to stop a possible Seattle scoring drive before halftime. He ran for a few yards, then collapsed from emotion at midfield. His teammates ran to him. They led him to the side, to hugs and pats. Verner fought his emotions on the bench. You could tell Verner was crying. A touching moment for all the family of man. GRADE: A
Now that's a start
The Bucs burst from the gate and put together their best opening drive of the season, 14 plays, 78 yards, 7:26 of clock, James Winston to Mike Evans for a 7-0 lead. Winston looked sharp. Next time around, Winston to Evans again, beautiful on both ends, and it was 14-0. At the end of the first quarter, the Bucs had 150 yards of offense. The Seahawks had 23. So went the night. GRADE: A
Now that's a defense
When the Bucs' defense shut down the Bears and Chiefs, doubters mentioned their quarterbacks — Jay Cutler and Alex Smith, respectively — then pointed at how the Falcons' Matt Ryan and the Raiders' Derek Carr had eaten the Bucs alive. Well, in came Seattle's Russell Wilson, elite quarterback, and he never had a chance. The Bucs came at him from all directions, for six sacks. They covered Wilson's receivers and took the ball away three times. The Seahawks had 133 yards of offense heading into the fourth quarter. They were 0-for-10 on third-down conversions until they converted one late in the game. It was a rout. It was a domination that harkened to Bucs defenses of old. GRADE: A
Now that's a crowd
So, they weren't the 12th man, like those fans in Seattle. But they came early, and they would have stayed later, but security said they had to leave the building. In between, this Bucs crowd made electricity. You could feel it before the game started. It was a far cry from all those beaten-down Bucs crowds of recent losing seasons. Maybe it was the holiday weekend, or a day game turning into a night game, but the crowd was a big part of this story. GRADE: A
Now that's a wideout
The battle between Mike Evans and Richard Sherman and anyone else in the Seahawks' secondary was memorable, but Evans made most of the good memories, with eight catches for 104 yards and two scores. On his second touchdown, he outworked Sherman down the left side and made a beautiful grab of a beautiful Jameis Winston throw. Evans has 10 touchdowns on the season. Who's out there who's playing better receiver than this kid. He's a chain mover. He's a game changer. GRADE: A
Now that's protecting your QB
Jameis Winston's uniform might have had dirt on it, but that was from sliding, not getting sacked. The Bucs' offensive line was rock solid once again, not allowing a sack against a defense tied for the league lead in sacks heading into Sunday. Throw in the tight ends, too. This unit of blockers is delivering at the right time. GRADE: A
Now these were some lucky breaks
The big W got a few people off the hook for a few boo-boos. Like tight end Luke Stocker for his holding call in the end zone that led to a safety. Coach Dirk Koetter was mostly masterful, but we wanted to see him go for it on fourth down from the Seattle 40-yard line in the second quarter in the name of the jugular. And Jameis Winston could have cost the Bucs big time with an interception he threw into double coverage while looking for Mike Evans late in the game. GRADE: C
Now that's better timing
Bucs safety Bradley McDougald needed a little practice Sunday. He timed one jump badly and was nailed for pass interference. His timing was much better late in the game, when he arrived just in time to break up a third-down pass and crunch Seattle receiver Tyler Lockett. GRADE: B