TAMPA – Two weeks ago, the Bucs were 4-5 and had dates with two of the better teams in football: the Chiefs and the Seahawks. Frankly, it felt like ever getting to .500 again this season was a longshot.
Well, what do you know, the Bucs not only hit .500, they moved past it. For the second week in a row, the Bucs pounded out a statement victory, beating the Seahawks, 14-5.
Here are the immediate thoughts following Tampa Bay's second consecutive stunning victory:
• Hard to remember the last time the Bucs had a better start to a game. First drive: a methodical 14-play, 78-yard drive in which quarterback Jameis Winston, executing a brilliant game plan by coach Dirk Koetter, carved up the Seattle defense. The big play of the drive was Winston's perfect lob pass to Mike Evans for 26 yards on a third-and-long. Not long after, Winston hit Evans for a 3-yard touchdown strike. Following a three-and-out for a swarming Bucs defense, the offense went back to work and scored again. The second TD was a second Winston-to-Evans strike for 23 yards and a 14-0 lead.
• How many receivers in the NFL are better than Tampa Bay's Mike Evans? The answer: not many. Not many at all. Evans not only had another huge day, he had it against one of the NFL's premier cornerbacks in Seattle's Richard Sherman. It was the fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season for Evans, and the 12th of his career. All that to go along with two touchdowns.
• The Bucs were rolling until the game completely flipped early in the second quarter. Pinned deep in their own territory, the Bucs appeared to pick up a critical first down when Winston hit on a perfect strike for a first down and some breathing room. But, wait, a penalty flag. Tampa Bay tight end Luke Stocker was called for holding. An alert Richard Sherman of the Seahawks insisted that the hold took place in the end zone, meaning it should have been a safety. Sherman convinced Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to challenge the play. He did, and Seattle won the challenge. Now, we can debate whether Stocker actually held on the play (looked kind of iffy to me), but there was no doubt that if Stocker did hold, it was in the end zone. Seattle was awarded a safety. And, after taking the ensuing kick, the Seahawks, with the help of a 29-yard pass interference call on Bradley McDougald, drove to kick a field goal and cut the lead to 14-5. Just like that, in a flash, the game flipped.
• The Bucs' first-half defense reminded us of the old Bucs. The best-defense-in-football Bucs. Four sacks, an interception and, get this, only 20 passing yards allowed. That's right. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was 3-of-8 in the first half for just 20 yards.
• The emotional moment of Sunday's game came near the end of the first half when Bucs cornerback Alterraun Verner intercepted Wilson. The play came only two days after Verner's father, Robert Lee Verner, died unexpectedly while visiting Alterraun in Tampa from California. After intercepting the ball at the Tampa Bay 15, Verner returned it to the 32, where he was tackled. He jumped to his feet and was immediately swarmed by practically everyone in a Bucs uniform. Minutes later, Verner was still crying on the bench. A powerful scene.
• Controversy ended the first half. The Bucs were trying to move into field-goal position. Out of timeouts, and trying to pick up a few extra yards to get kicker Roberto Aguayo an attempt under 50 yards, tight end Cameron Brate caught a pass near the sideline. He was hit and knocked backwards and went out of bounds before any part of his body hit the turf. But officials kept the clock moving and time ran out before the Bucs could spike the ball. Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was fuming, but to no avail, and the half ended with the Bucs unable to expand their 14-5 lead.
• The second half was a doozy as the Bucs squandered chances to tack on to their lead and then had to hold on for dear life. There's never a good time to fumble, but a Doug Martin fumble in the fourth quarter as the Bucs were trying to close out the game was a killer. Then, later, after Lavonte David returned a fumble recovery deep into Seattle territory, the Bucs had two plays go about as wrong as they could. First, a touchdown pass from Winston to Brate was wiped out because of hands-to-the-face penalty on Demar Dotson. That could have made the score, 21-5, and pretty much iced the game. Then, on the next play, instead of running the ball to set up a field-goal attempt and a possible 17-5 lead, the Bucs decided to throw. Winston made an awful decision to throw into double coverage, and the ball was picked off, making for a nervous final four minutes.