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Bucs couldn't connect on or stop deep passes in loss to Vikings

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) gets into the end zone for a long touchdown reception as Bucs free safety Chris Conte (23) cannot stop him during the second half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) gets into the end zone for a long touchdown reception as Bucs free safety Chris Conte (23) cannot stop him during the second half. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published Sep. 25, 2017

If two things were established as storylines entering Sunday's Bucs-Vikings game, it was that Tampa Bay was still struggling to establish the deep passes that were missing from its offense last year, and that Minnesota quarterback Case Keenum had enjoyed ridiculous success on the deep ball in beating the Bucs in each of the last two seasons.

That those two themes would continue and provide much of the margin in Sunday's 34-17 loss to the Vikings shouldn't be surprising then, especially considering how shorthanded the Bucs' defense was the entire game.

If you just go by what the game's official play-by-play considers "deep" pass attempts — I don't know if there's a yardage delineation there or whether it's just a description — then you can see what a difference there was between Jameis Winston and Keenum.

On deep balls, Winston completed his first two attempts for 50 yards, though by his third, the Bucs were trailing 14-3 in the second quarter, but had the ball at the Vikings' 34. Winston had completed three straight passes, so you can understand the momentum of wanting to throw, even throw deep — his deep throw intended for DeSean Jackson was intercepted by cornerback Trae Waynes in the end zone.

Now comes the other end of the spectrum — Keenum and Minnesota take over at their 8, and on their third play, he connects with Stefon Diggs for a 47-yard gain; after two more plays, they connect again for a 17-yard touchdown. It's reasonable to think of it as a 14-point swing — Winston's interception in one end zone, Keenum's touchdown in the other, and a 21-3 halftime score, rather than 14-10 with the Bucs getting the first shot in the second half.

Each quarterback attempted 10 deep passes by the official play-by-play — Winston went 4-for-10 for 94 yards with a touchdown to Jackson but two interceptions. Keenum went 7-for-10 and 221 yards and two touchdowns — to complete 70 percent of your deep balls and average 31 yards on deep completions speaks to just how badly the Bucs' depleted defense played Sunday.

Those seven completions for Keenum: 45 to Thielen, 17 to Diggs on a third-and-12, 17 to Diggs, 19 to Thielen on third-and-7, 47 to Diggs, 17 to Diggs for a touchdown and 59 to Diggs for a touchdown.

The Bucs also came in with red zone inefficiency concerns, and by the book, they went 1-for-1 on Sunday, but if you expand the red zone just a bit, you see more of the same problem. On the opening drive, the Bucs had a third-and-3 at the 21 and lost yardage, settling for a field goal instead of a tying touchdown; Winston threw an interception from the Vikings' 34, and another from the 21. They had touchdowns of 15 and 25 yards, but 17 points from five trips inside the opposing 35 is barely averaging a field goal on those opportunities.

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