Strange case: Bucs could face nemesis Case Keenum again

Case Keenum of the Minnesota Vikings drops back to pass in the first half Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. [Getty Images]
Case Keenum of the Minnesota Vikings drops back to pass in the first half Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. [Getty Images]
Published Sept. 19, 2017

Who, you might wonder, will be the first NFL quarterback to beat Jameis Winston three times?

The natural guess would be a division rival, and Carolina's Cam Newton and New Orleans' Drew Brees have beaten Winston twice already.

But the first quarterback this season with a chance to beat the Bucs for a third time in three seasons is ... Case Keenum?

If Sam Bradford's knee keeps him out Sunday as it did for the Vikings this past week, then the Bucs will face Keenum, who led the Rams to victories against Tampa Bay in each of the last two seasons.

Keenum has been sharp -- in 2015, he was 14-for-17 for 234 yards and two scores (a 158.0 QB rating) and last year, he was 14-for-26 for 190 and two touchdowns with an interception. His specialty? Beating the Bucs with the deep ball.

Put it this way: Since the start of the 2015 season, Keenum has three touchdown passes of 43 yards or longer against the Bucs -- 43 to Tavon Austin and 44 to Brian Quick last year, and 60 yards to Kenny Britt in 2015. Three such TDs in two games, and the rest of the NFL, in a combined 31 games, has matched that number -- three total: Marcus Mariota to Kendall Wright in the 2015 opener, Carson Palmer to Jaron Brown last year at Arizona, and Jay Cutler to Cameron Meredith on the Hail Mary.

That 2015 game, with the 158.0 rating? It's the second-best QB rating against the Bucs in any game in the last 10 years, trumped only by Mariota's 13-for-15, 4-TD gem in the 2015 opener. Brees and Matt Ryan have faced the Bucs 18 times each in that span, and never had a QB rating as high as Keenum's that day.

Keenum is rarely the QB of choice for a Bucs opponent -- he took over for Nick Foles in 2015, was holding a spot for Jared Goff early last season, and now could be filling in for an injured Bradford.

It's a good test for how improved the Bucs defense is against the deep ball -- last year, when Keenum had the two long passes, the Bucs had allowed six pass plays of 43-plus yards in three games. They got it together and allowed six total over the remaining 13 games of the season, and didn't allow a play longer than 20 yards in Sunday's win against the Bears. Minnesota had pass plays of 44, 35 and 30 yards in their opener against the Saints, so there's the potential for deep passes if the Bucs aren't ready for it.

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