Monday, June 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: Why these Bucs aren't those (2015) Bucs

The Bucs are coming off what they hope is a season-defining victory against a Seahawks team many think is a Super Bowl contender. It was Tampa Bay's sixth win of the season.

A year ago this week, the Bucs beat the Falcons to win their sixth game of the 2015 season.

They didn't win again.

A year ago at this time is when the bottom dropped out from underneath the Bucs. They were 6-6, and the playoffs felt like a real possibility.

By season's end, they had dropped four in a row, the playoffs vanished and coach Lovie Smith was fired.

So, what happened last year? And what's to say it won't happen again this year?

It was easy to point a finger last year at linebacker Kwon Alexander. He was having a terrific rookie season. In that victory against the Falcons, he had six tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

Then he was suspended for the final four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. In those final four losses, the Bucs surrendered almost 30 points per game. The defense fell apart, and Alexander's absence had something to do with that.

These Bucs go into the final month with a much better defense.

Alexander is not suspended. Gerald McCoy, assuming he is healthy, remains one of the best defensive lineman in the business. Plus, the Bucs have added impact rookies in first-round pick draft Vernon Hargreaves, a cornerback, and defensive end Noah Spence, the NFL defensive rookie of the month for November.

"It's a talented football team," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said when asked about the Bucs' defense.

Here's what gets lost in last season's collapse: Yes, the defense struggled. But if you're pointing fingers, start with the offense.

The offense produced only an average of 17 points in the final four games, turning the ball over eight times. Jameis Winston threw four interceptions.

In a 23-17 loss to New Orleans, the Bucs were held to fewer than 300 yards.

In a 31-23 loss at St. Louis, the Bucs had only six points through three quarters.

In the season finale at Carolina, the Bucs mustered a mere 10 points.

This season, Winston is more careful with the ball. He has thrown two interceptions in the past five games and only three in the past seven.

Running back Doug Martin is getting healthier each week and ran hard in an 87-yard performance against Seattle last week.

"(Seattle has) a very tough front, but he kept plugging away,'' offensive coordinator Todd Monken said.

Does Martin look like his legs are back?

"It feels like that to me,'' Monken said.

Most explosive have been the receivers, led by Mike Evans. He has three 100-yard receiving games in the past four and is on pace for more than 100 catches for nearly 1,500 yards.

The emergence of Adam Humphries (40 receptions) and tight end Cameron Brate (41 receptions, five touchdowns) has helped the Bucs survive the loss of Vincent Jackson to injury.

Overall, Tampa Bay is 13th in the NFL in total offense. And that is why the Bucs won't fade in the final month.

Put it this way: They'll end up with more than six wins this season.

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