Monday, September 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: Believe it or not, Bucs are starting to look like a good team

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — One by one, they raced off the field and down the hall into the visitors locker room at Levi's Stadium.

"Great victory, fellas!" yelled receiver Russell Shepard.

"Yessir! Yessir!" said tackle Donovan Smith.

Linebacker Lavonte David simply nodded, looking like he had just kicked in the swinging doors of an old-time Western saloon and was looking for someone else to take out.

This is what victory looks like for a Bucs team that suddenly is a team to watch in the NFC. It's back to .500 and back in contention.

Bet you didn't see this coming. Not after that grueling home loss to the Rams. Not after Denver used the Bucs as a chew toy. Not after injuries sidelined running back Doug Martin and wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

Two wins in a row. Both on the road. Doesn't matter against whom. The opponents were NFL teams. And now it feels as if the Bucs are starting to turn the corner. It feels as if they are making strides.

"Feels good," defensive tackle Akeem Spence said.

What wasn't to like about Sunday's 34-17 victory over the 49ers?

Running back Jacquizz Rodgers has come off the scrap heap and looked like Jim Brown the past two games, rumbling for a career-high 154 yards Sunday. Quarterback Jameis Winston threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Evans has turned into a top-five receiver.

Okay, brace yourself for what I'm about to say: The Bucs are starting to look like a good team.

"I'm proud of these guys," coach Dirk Koetter said. "That's two weeks in a row that we've played complimentary football."

That's fancy coach-speak for the Bucs are getting contributions from everyone, including players one normally doesn't confuse with stars, such as Shepard (five catches, 77 yards) and running back Peyton Barber (a key 44-yard scoring dash that iced the game).

But if you're looking for what really led Tampa Bay to victory, it was a defense that is playing way better than anticipated. It's not quite 2002 Bucs, but it's pretty stingy. Just one game after holding the defending NFC champion Panthers to 14 points in a victory at Carolina, the Bucs put the clamps on the 49ers.

San Francisco scored on its first drive, but then the Bucs held the 49ers to 10 points the rest of the game, including a touchdown drive that was possible only because a Winston interception gave San Francisco the ball at the Tampa Bay 17.

"Couldn't get off to a much worse start," Koetter said. "They went through us like Swiss cheese on the first drive."

After chasing 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick all over the field, defensive linemen came back to the Bucs' sideline huffing and puffing, and told Koetter, "Coach, he's fast!"

"No kidding," Koetter told them.

But they eventually kept Kaepernick in the pocket enough to throw a wrench in San Francisco's offense. The Bucs held the 49ers to 113 yards passing while intercepting Kaepernick once and causing another turnover on a sack-fumble.

"Turnovers are a key for us, and they swung the game," Bucs cornerback Brent Grimes said.

So now what?

Tampa Bay can really take a big leap with three consecutive home games.

"We got to learn how to win some games at home," Koetter said. "Let's rock that place next week. We got to do our part. We got to learn how to win at home. We've proven we can win on the road."

Say this, though: The Bucs are full of confidence. That's what happens when you wipe the field with your opponent. That tends to give you some swagger.

"It absolutely boosts it," Evans said.

"The confidence is pretty high," Spence said.

Know who says things like that? Good football teams.

Comments
Bucs-Steelers: Our picks for Tampa Bay vs. Pittsburgh

Bucs-Steelers: Our picks for Tampa Bay vs. Pittsburgh

TAMPA — The Bucs' FitzMagic carpet ride lands on the Monday Night Football stage tonight, where they'll face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Raymond James Stadium.The Bucs' last home win on Monday night was a 22-19 victory over Miami Nov. 11, 2...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Bucs Ring of Honor: Tony Dungy, the wise man who ‘learns from everybody’

Bucs Ring of Honor: Tony Dungy, the wise man who ‘learns from everybody’

TAMPA — At the pancake house, a couple sat in the next booth over. They recognized the voice. That voice. Brenda and Charlie Rivas asked to take a picture. Snap. They walked away on air. The server reappeared. She had to ask. Two of her tables ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Bucs-Steelers: The stage is set again for Mr. Monday Night

Bucs-Steelers: The stage is set again for Mr. Monday Night

TAMPA — At this stage in his career, DeSean Jackson is a celebrity who plays football. Movie producer, actor, host of the self-named One on One podcast and quarterback fashion coordinator – he does it all. But Jackson may do his best work...
Published: 09/23/18
Sound-Smarter-Than-Your-Friends Guide to Steelers-Buccaneers: Where is Ronald Jones?

Sound-Smarter-Than-Your-Friends Guide to Steelers-Buccaneers: Where is Ronald Jones?

One of the dominant storylines heading into Monday Night Football between the first-place Buccaneers and the last-place Steelers will be the things we didn’t expect to see. It’s the team that usually melts down against the team that actua...
Published: 09/23/18
McFarland on FitzMagic: ‘Play the guy with the hot hand’

McFarland on FitzMagic: ‘Play the guy with the hot hand’

TAMPA — Why wait until Monday Night Football? We got former Bucs defensive tackle Booger McFarland, the field analyst for the ESPN crew, to break down the Bucs-Steelers matchup. In his straight-forward, brutally honest style, McFarland dissects...
Published: 09/23/18
How Booger McFarland rose from a Tampa FM station to ‘Monday Night Football’

How Booger McFarland rose from a Tampa FM station to ‘Monday Night Football’

TAMPA — When Booger McFarland auditioned for the new Monday Night Football broadcast team, producer Jay Rothman was blown away."I closed my eyes and said, 'Holy (bleep), I feel like I'm listening to football's Charles Barkley,'' Rothman said.Si...
Published: 09/22/18
Bucs have to be ‘reasonable,’ about their plan to play defensive tackle Vita Vea

Bucs have to be ‘reasonable,’ about their plan to play defensive tackle Vita Vea

Defensive tackle Vita Vea made it through practice this week, his first since straining his left calf muscle July 29. But coach Dirk Koetter was pretty non-committal about how much, or if, Vea will play Monday night against the Steelers."When you've ...
Published: 09/22/18

How Tampa Bay is savoring its FitzMagic carpet ride

TAMPA — Bucs fan Dallas Collins has it all planned out.On Monday night, he and his family are going to whip up an Irish Boiled Dinner. You know, corned beef, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and onions.Then they're going to sit down and watch the Buc...
Published: 09/22/18
Bucs PK Chandler Catanzaro insists he’s curse-free

Bucs PK Chandler Catanzaro insists he’s curse-free

TAMPA — When placekicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a 44-yard field goal in the fourth quarter at New Orleans and a point-after attempt last week against the Eagles, he left the door open for a possible comeback by the Saints and Eagles.The Bucs...
Published: 09/21/18
Ryan Fitzpatrick said his only goal was to go 3-0 while Jameis Winston was suspended

Ryan Fitzpatrick said his only goal was to go 3-0 while Jameis Winston was suspended

TAMPA — Shortly after he learned he would be starting the first three games this season, Ryan Fitzpatrick saw the opportunity to do something few thought would be possible.No, not take Jameis Winston's job.The Bucs starting quarterback was susp...
Published: 09/21/18