TAMPA — Observations from the Buccaneers’ 30-27 win over the Cardinals on Sunday:
1. Aaaaaand exhale. Back away from the abyss. This win wasn’t pretty, but it’s one the Bucs absolutely had to have. They hired the Cardinals’ former vice president of player personnel (Jason Licht). They hired the Cardinals’ former head coach (Bruce Arians). If Tampa Bay had lost, it would have been fair to wonder which team was better off.
2. So the Bucs weren’t dominant, but they were resilient. Late in the second quarter, the Cardinals drove 96 yards for a touchdown that gave them a 13-10 lead. With only a minute left in the first half, Tampa Bay could have folded. Instead, it stormed back, driving 75 yards on seven plays, most of which were short passes.
“We knew they were going to probably play Cover 2,” Arians said. “Jameis was ready. He made some plays. We made some good runs-after-catch, but we had a lot of confidence in our two-minute offense. We’ve been good in two-minute offense in every ballgame.”
3. What a turnaround for Jamel Dean. The rookie cornerback was thrust into a starting role before last week’s game against the Seahawks because of an injury to Carlton Davis. He allowed nine catches on 14 targets and three touchdowns. Late in the fourth quarter Sunday, however, he made arguably the play of the game, intercepting a Kyler Murray pass at the Tampa Bay 8-yard line to thwart a potentially game-sealing drive. Before the pick, the Bucs had a less than 10 percent chance of winning.
“I feel like I really had a chip on my shoulder because I knew last week, that was not me, because I knew I was better than that,” he said. “So, once I got the opportunity to go back there and redeem myself, I had to make sure I took that opportunity and had to seize the moment.”
4. Jameis Winston was the usual mix of good and bad. The good: After Dean’s interception, Winston led the Bucs on a 92-yard game-winning touchdown drive. The also good: On third and 12 from the Tampa Bay 9 late in the third quarter, Winston ran 26 yards to the Tampa Bay 35. The Bucs ultimately kicked a go-ahead field goal.
“In the beginning of the game, they did a good job of covering up the gaps and not allowing me to extend plays, but I had one play, one third down where we had to get that first down and offensive line did a good job of protecting,” he said. “They were in two-man coverage when no one was on me, and (I) got the first down.”
5. On the 92-yard touchdown drive, the Bucs gained more than half of those yards on a Winston seam pass to Chris Godwin. Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks was in position to make the tackle, but instead of wrapping up Godwin, he went for the kill shot. Hick’s shoulder tackle didn’t seem to phase Godwin, who tacked on another 25 yards after the catch.
“Anytime you come across the middle, you anticipate contact,” Godwins said. “That’s what you have to do, or you’re going to get knocked out.”
6. Winston finished with 358 passing yards and one touchdown. He has gained at least 300 passing yards and thrown a touchdown pass in four straight games, the longest streak in team history.
7. Now the bad: In their first nine games this season, the Cardinals intercepted two passes. They matched that total Sunday.
8. The much-maligned Bucs defense bailed out Winston. The Cardinals took possession at the Tampa Bay 37 after his first interception, but the Bucs held them to a field goal. They took possession at the Tampa Bay 20 after his second interception, but linebacker Lavonte David forced a David Johnson fumble.
9. The Bucs lost the turnover margin for the fourth time this season. They had lost their three previous three games (vs. 49ers, vs. Panthers and at Titans).
10. Even though they won the turnover battle, the Cardinals found another way to give the game to the Bucs: penalties. On Tampa Bay’s final drive, Arizona twice committed pass interference. The first penalty took the Bucs from the 43-yard line to the 27. The second took them from the 13-yard line to the 1. Three plays later, Peyton Barber was in the end zone celebrating his fourth rushing touchdown of the season.
11. Maybe Sunday’s finish didn’t need to be so dramatic. The Bucs, on fourth and 5 from their 44-yard line late in the second quarter, chose to punt. Minutes later, the Cardinals faced a similar scenario: fourth and 5 from the Tampa Bay 44. They chose to go for it. Larry Fitzgerald made an outstanding grab along the sideline to get the first down. They went on to score a touchdown.
12. The O.J. Howard Redemption Tour is in full swing. The Bucs tight end returned after a two-game absence because of a hamstring injury and caught four of seven targets for 47 yards and a touchdown before the end of the first half. The touchdown was his first of the season; he had 11 total in 2017 and 2018.
“It was a play we kind of practiced all week,” he said. “The defense kind of gave us the coverage we expected all week in practice, and it was open so we attacked it and Jameis found me.”
13. And how about Ronald Jones? The running back carried Tampa Bay’s offense in the first half. He gained 17 yards on a third-and-15 pass, 17 yards on a second-and-15 pass and 14 yards on a first-and-10 pass. After two quarters, he led all players in receiving yards (55) and, along with Howard, led all Bucs players in catches (four).
14. Jones did, however, lose the football on a catch-and-run halfway through the fourth quarter. Thanks to Dean’s interception on the Cardinals’ ensuing possession, that potentially game-changing turnover becomes an afterthought and slips to No. 14 on our list of observations.
15. For the first time in almost two decades, the Bucs allowed a receiver to catch three touchdown passes. Christian Kirk is the first to do it since Marty Booker did it for the Bears in 2001. Tampa Bay lost the previous eight times that had happened.