And we are underway. The 2016 Bucs season is off and running. Actually, to be more accurate, the Bucs season is off and passing. What a day for the Bucs and, especially, quarterback Jameis Winston. Here are some initial thoughts from Sunday's opening-day victory against the Falcons.
• Congratulations to Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, who gets a win in his first game as head coach. And he did it in Atlanta, where he used to serve as offensive coordinator for the Falcons. Also, some sweet revenge for Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith, fired before last season after being the Falcons' head coach for seven seasons. It wasn't easy and it ended up a lot close than it needed to be, but Koetter, Smith and the Bucs will take it.
• Slow start. What is it with Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston? Seems like he can't start a game without waiting a quarter to ... well, start a game. His entire career, even going back to his days at Florida State, seems marked by slow starts.
Take Sunday, he started the game by completing just two of his first six passes. Two of those incompletions seemed certain TD tosses if Winston could've put just a little bit of touch on the football.
Maybe he was a little too amped. But give the guy credit. He calmed down and, just when the Bucs needed to respond after falling behind 10-3, Winston put together a solid drive.
He went 6-of-6 for 59 yards and capped the nine-play, 75-yard drive with a TD pass to tight end Brandon Myers. He finished the first half 17 of 24 for 151 yards, meaning he rallied to finish the half by completing 15 of his last 18 passes.
• The second half started even hotter than the first half ended. The Bucs opened the second half with a 75-yard drive that featured two passes to Mike Evans (for 15 and 27 yards) and a spectacular 30-yard TD pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Remember ASJ? What a heck of a catch by the Bucs tight end, who has spent much of the offseason and training camp taking heat from Bucs fans. At one point early in camp, ASJ had lost his starting job to Cameron Brate, which was quite unsettling when you consider ASJ was a second-round pick entering his third NFL season. But Seferian-Jenkins has kept his head down, continued to work hard, said all the right things and, if he can continue making the kind of catches that he made on the TD Sunday, he will remain a very big part of Tampa Bay's future.
• As sensational as ASJ's touchdown catch was, it might not have even been the best play of the day for the Bucs. That honor probably belongs to running back Charles Sims, who took a pass from Jameis Winston late in the first half, shed several tacklers and rambled into the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown.
• Or, wait a second, maybe Mike Evans' catch in the third quarter was the play of the game. Winston connected with him on a 45-yard score that gave Tampa Bay a 31-13 lead. That gave the Bucs touchdowns on three consecutive possessions and four out of five.
• Not exactly breaking news here, but Bucs running back Doug Martin deserves to have his name mentioned among the best backs in football. When he's rolling, the Bucs are rolling. It's all about the quarterback in the NFL. And, certainly, the Bucs rely heavily on Jameis. But when Martin is rolling, the rest of the Bucs offense rolls with him.
• It's easy to blame the defense for nearly squandering a 31-13 third-quarter lead, but the offense deserves plenty of blame, too. It's not that 31 points isn't enough. But when the Bucs defense needed a breather as the Falcons mounted their comeback, the offense did little to help. On two critical drives, after the Falcons had cut the Tampa Bay lead to 31-21, the Bucs went three-and-out on two consecutive series. The Bucs defense couldn't catch its breath. The offense didn't need to score, but it did need to put together a few first downs just to kill clock and, more than that, give the defense some rest.
• The NFL really needs to lighten up. Early in the third quarter, Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. He celebrated with teammate Kwon Alexander. Apparently, you can't do that. McCoy and Alexander were flagged for a "choreographed celebration." Guess that means McCoy and Alexander would be welcome on Dancing With The Stars, but not in the NFL. The league's disciplinary system for on and off the field infractions is completely out of whack.
• Chippy play in the game. Lots of it. Should make for a fun rematch on Nov. 3 at Raymond James Stadium.