By: Michelle Sabin
What a difference a week makes: Tampa Bay wins their first game of the season at home against the Carolina Panthers.
There was clear improvement by the Buccaneers in week 2 as they beat the Panthers 31-17, but Quarterback Tom Brady reports that they still need to work on execution. He reflected after the game saying, “we are still a long way from where we need to be.”
Brady did acknowledge there “were a lot of good runs and we’re doing a good job blocking,” but he was not quite ready to say the offense has found their rhythm yet.
They certainly found a better rhythm compared to last week against the Saints, including Mike Evans who had a 50-yard passing play in the first quarter which set up running back Ronald Jones II for a touchdown. During that same play last week Evans stopped short on his route causing Brady to throw an interception. It was a much different result this time around.
Evans spoke to media earlier this week acknowledging he had stopped short. He had not practiced for two weeks leading up to week 1, and only had a limited practice the Friday before the Saints game. With only a 25% chance of starting that week, he said “I was surprised I was even able to be out there, so I was a little behind the game plan.”
The offense also saw an upgrade with their running backs. The Bucs, who have historically struggled with their running game, got a boost this week with the ability to split up carries between Leonard Fournette and Ronald “RoJo” Jones. Fournette, the former Jacksonville Jaguar who joined the Bucs this year, was the leading rusher with 103 yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown was for 46-yards and sealed the win for the Bucs.
RoJo and Brady had one mishap during a handoff that led to a fumble recovered by the Panthers. These are the improvements Brady is speaking to – they need to be fixed. However, RoJo was able to get 23 rushing yards, 4 receiving and one touchdown this week. His touchdown was a 7-yard run that he stiff armed his way into the end zone.
While the receivers and running backs stepped up against the Panthers, there was little performance from the tight ends. Surprisingly, Rob Gronkowski’s biggest play was falling on the onside kick at the end of the fourth quarter to ensure the Bucs got the ball back. O.J. Howard had only one catch for 11 yards.
As the team makes adjustments this week in practice, veteran tight end Cameron Brate should be considered in the mix. He has been an effective red zone receiver and mid-field threat, averaging almost 11 yards a catch over the last five years.
While the offense is fine tuning their performance, the Bucs defense showed off their speed and ability to put pressure on the Panthers’ quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. Safety Jordan Whitehead had his first interception of the season two minutes into the game, which immediately led to the Bucs first touchdown drive. In total, the Bucs defense sacked Bridgewater 5 times (by A. Winfield, W. Gholston, J. Pierre-Paul, and N. Suh), forced two fumbles, one of which was recovered by Pierre-Paul, and had two interceptions. As Brady put it, “the defense played great the first two games, and we’ve got to match them.”
The start of the 2020 NFL season has became trial and error, as teams quickly scramble to make adjustments and tighten up their plays between games. Without a preseason, week 1 was the first real action the teams were able to see. Week 2 has revealed the break out performers, and week 3 will be the real test.
Brady explained that having a few scrimmages now has helped a lot and he hopes they can do better with their execution heading into week 3. The Bucs head back out on the road to play the Broncos (0-2) on September 27.