Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Some bright spots among Bucs opening woes

TAMPA — There has been plenty of gloom and doom when it comes to discussing the Bucs the past few days.

That's only natural following Sunday's 18-17 season-opening loss to the Jets. The Bucs' discipline and preparation has been criticized, thanks to their 13 penalties, as well as the communication issues that plagued the often ineffective offense.

But there might have been a slightly different narrative, and a few new heroes, had the Bucs held on to their one-point lead in the final minute.

Amid the muck, here are a few bright spots from Sunday's loss:

+ They got after the quarterback

The Bucs' pass rush — specifically, the lack thereof — has been a major topic the past few years. But Tampa Bay sacked mobile Jets rookie Geno Smith five times Sunday, including one forced fumble, and hit him several other times (besides linebacker Lavonte David's ill-advised out-of-bounds shove). The linebackers got the lion's share of the sacks (four) — two by Mason Foster, one by Dekoda Watson and one by David. Watson indicated linebacker blitzes could be a sign of things to come. "I feel like there are lot of weapons on the team," Watson said. "When you've got a Lamborghini, you just don't keep it in the garage."

+Revis played well, felt good

Star cornerback Darrelle Revis was expected to have a huge impact on the secondary, which struggled mightily a year ago. The fact Revis played the majority of the snaps Sunday, and performed well with his surgically repaired knee, is encouraging going forward considering the Bucs host the prolific Saints this week. Fellow cornerback Leonard Johnson said Revis' influence is wide-ranging. "Just having him on the field calms everyone down," Johnson said. "His presence alone puts everyone at their 'A' game. He affects everyone, and he brings the best out of everyone."

+Power of the punt

Michael Koenen often goes unnoticed, but the punter was a big weapon, pinning the Jets deep several times, giving the Bucs the advantage in the field-position battle. Koenen's net average on seven punts was 45.3 yards, including a 59-yarder, with three inside the Jets 20. Just one punt was returned, for 9 yards, and four of his five kickoffs were touchbacks. "I don't know if I've seen a punting and kicking performance in my 26 years like I saw from Mike Koenen," coach Greg Schiano said. "It was just tremendous."

+The offense's late comeback

There were plenty of problems with the offense. The Bucs couldn't get running back Doug Martin going. They had trouble communicating on the line. Quarterback Josh Freeman had an off day, both in game management and passing (15-for-31, 67.9 rating). But down by one and with two minutes left, the Bucs drove and hit the go-ahead field goal. A large part of that was receiver Vincent Jackson, who had a huge game (seven catches, 154 yards), including a 37-yard reception to put them in field-goal range. "Vincent was winning all game, he was killing the corners," left tackle Donald Penn said. "We've been in those situations before, we've got more than enough faith in Josh. I think Josh is better when it's on the line like that, that's when his true competitiveness comes out."

+Clutch kicking

Rian Lindell was nearly the hero in his first Bucs kick, a pressure-packed, 37-yard field goal with 34 seconds left for a 17-15 lead. Lindell, a 13-year veteran who joined the team late in the preseason, helped endear himself to his new teammates and garnered confidence from the coaching staff. "I've been treated very well, partly because of the years of service, you get a little instant respect that way," Lindell said. "But you know, until you kind of do something for them — they don't care what I've done in Buffalo or Seattle. So it was nice to contribute. It just wasn't enough."

Roster move

The Bucs re-signed FB Spencer Larsen, who was with them in the preseason, and waived DT Chris Jones. With FB Erik Lorig (calf) missing Sunday's game against the Jets, Larsen provides another option.

 
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