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Explosive plays make the difference in Bucs’ win over Saints

Tight end O.J. Howard makes a catch during the Bucs' victory over the Saints Sunday in New Orleans. [Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP]
Sunday 9 September 2018 19.48

NEW ORLEANS — The game was five minutes old and the Bucs were already trailing.

The Saints offense looked like a hot knife and the Bucs defense looked like butter. The 2018 season was barely underway, and the Bucs had already been punched in the nose.

What happened next gave Tampa Bay fans an inkling of what the very near future might hold and plenty of hope that maybe, just maybe, things will be different this season.

These didn't look like the same ol' Bucs, after all.

Ryan Fitzpatrick dropped back to pass and fired a bomb to a wide-open DeSean Jackson. As the sprinting Jackson collected the ball for a 58-yard, take-that-Saints score that tied the game, you couldn't help but think:

This is why Jackson is here. This is what an explosive offense looks like. This is how you win football games in the NFL.

Then it kept happening.

Again and again. Bomb after bomb after bomb.

Boom. A 21-yard pass to Mike Evans.

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Boom. A 35-yard pass to O.J. Howard.

Boom. Boom. Boom. A 32-yard pass to Evans. A 50-yard touchdown pass to Evans. A 36-yard touchdown to Jackson.

Then another 35-yard completion to Jackson.

Who were these guys? And when did an offense run by Fitzpatrick turn into the Greatest Show on Turf?

When it was over, the Bucs had lit up the scoreboard, turned out the Saints' lights and turned the normally deafening Superdome into a library.

The offense amassed an astounding 529 yards. It tied a franchise record with 48 points. It should've cracked 50. Fitzpatrick threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns. He ran for another.

But it was the bombs that made the difference in Tampa Bay's 48-40 victory.

"It's confidence, and everybody feeds off of it,'' Fitzpatrick said. "D-Jax making those long catches and then Mike wants to get in on the action. Then Chris (Godwin) does. Everybody just feeds off that energy, and I thought you could see that today. It was contagious.''

Oh, it was sick all right. In a good way. The Bucs looked like they were running pregame drills with receivers running virtually wide open and Fitzpatrick hitting them in stride. That's a rare but welcome sight for a Bucs offense that seemed on the fritz for too much of last season. Now, the offense is on the Fitz.

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Just how good was it? The Bucs punted once all day. Hey, you know it's a special day when the biggest complaint coming out of the locker room was when Evans said he "wanted to hang 50,'' as in points.

"We can be very special,'' Howard said. "You saw so many guys got involved. … Our group is so special, and I just think everyone has to keep doing the little things right and it's only up from here.''

For these explosive plays to work, everything has to go right on offense. The line must protect. The receivers must get open. The quarterback must spot them. Then he must deliver the ball and the receivers have to catch it.

And all of those things happened. Time and time again, showing as much about this team's resilience as its skill.

"Everybody's making plays,'' Evans said.

After the game, everyone said all the things you are supposed to say after the first game.

"It's only one game,'' Bucs tackle Demar Dotson said, "so we can't get too high.''

Coach Dirk Koetter already was looking ahead to the defending champion Eagles by saying, "We've got a new set of problems starting here in a few hours.''

Yes, there are some concerns. The injury bug has already bitten the Bucs with Jackson (concussion/shoulder) and Vernon Hargreaves (shoulder). And the defense, despite forcing two turnovers, has some shoring up to do in a hurry.

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But come on. This game went about as well as anyone in Tampa Bay could have hoped. It was auspicious if not expected.

If you're the Bucs, how can you not be absolutely thrilled with what happened Sunday? Any win is a good win in the NFL, and this was a really good win. A division game. On the road. Against a Saints team everyone expects to be a Super Bowl contender.

And they did it with an offense that looked scary good. They did it by winning the way really good teams win in the NFL.

With one explosive offensive play after another.

Boom.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones.

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