Gimme 5; Dissecting the Bucs-Panthers game five thoughts at a time
John Romano, Tampa Bay Times, published 13 September 2019

Five topics suitable for inane debate on talk radio.
1. THE BRAIN REIGN: The performance was not flawless, but the game plan might have been. Tampa Bay was smart and conservative on offense, and the Bucs defense took away Carolina’s running game and challenged Cam Newton to beat them. The result was Jameis Winston threw for 125 fewer yards than Newton and was still, by far, the more effective quarterback.

2. JASON PIERRE-WHO: Dollar for dollar, Shaquil Barrett is looking like one of the best free agent acquisitions of the year. There were 20 NFL linebackers who got richer deals than Barrett’s one-year, $4 million contract, but the former Bronco has rescued Tampa Bay’s shaky pass rush with four sacks in two games.

3. EXPLAIN THAT TO THE ODDSMAKERS: In case anyone is counting, the Bucs offense has still given up more touchdowns (two) than the defense (one) through two weeks.

4. LOOKING DOWNFIELD AGAIN: Either the Bucs adjusted their strategy for the passing game, or Winston is already feeling more comfortable in the new system. In the season opener, Winston threw 13 of his 36 passes to running backs. On Thursday, only 2-of-25 were thrown to the backs.

5. A GAME-SAVING PLAY CAN FORGIVE A LOT: Vernon Hargreaves probably doesn’t want to be bragging too much about his career-high 12 tackles. He was in position to make that many stops because the receivers he was supposed to be covering caught an awful lot of passes. Having said that, his goal-line tackle of Christian McCaffrey was the stuff of legend.

Five ways to annoy Gerald McCoy
5. Ask if he’s looking forward to another January vacation.
4. Buy him a Ndamukong Suh 93 jersey
3. Tell him losing is no fun without him.
2. If it wasn’t for all those sacks, he’d be just as good as Warren Sapp.
1. Ask him if he saw Jameis Winston Thursday night.

Five moments worth remembering
1. It won’t go down as a game-winner because they already had a 17-14 lead, but Tampa Bay’s fourth-quarter drive for a field goal was clutch. It wiped 6:32 off the clock, and included a 14-yard, third-and-8 pass to Chris Godwin. Those three points were the difference at the end of the game when the Panthers were near the goal line but could not afford to settle for a field goal because they were trailing by six.

2. By unsuccessfully challenging a non-call on a potential pass interference penalty near the two-minute warning, the Panthers were charged a time-out. If they had not lost that time-out, they could have forced the Bucs to punt out of their own end zone in the game’s final minute.

3. Gerald McCoy had a front-row seat last year to see how Bucs center Ryan Jensen could get under the skin of opponents with a late push after a play. And still, McCoy took the bait Thursday. His retaliatory shove drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that helped lead to Tampa Bay’s go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.

4. It’s been so long since the Bucs have had an effective running game, you almost forget what it looks like. Peyton Barber’s 16-yard touchdown run was the longest rushing touchdown by a Bucs running back in almost three years.

5. Matt Gay missed a 42-yard field goal. Just in case anyone was getting cocky.

Five signs the defense is back on track
1. One of the keys to a good defense is making opposing offenses one-dimensional. In back-to-back weeks, the Bucs have now taken the running game away from San Francisco and Carolina. The 39 rushing yards by the Panthers was their lowest total since Oct. 8, 2017.

2. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ 3-4 alignment gives him the flexibility to send a blitz from a different direction on every play. While Barrett has gotten the bulk of sacks through the first two weeks, the Bucs have alternated between linebackers and defensive backs and between four or five rushers on passing downs.

3. The secondary is still a work in progress, but it’s not yielding big gains or falling apart with the game on the line, which seemed to be a weekly occurrence in 2018.

4. There is a next-man-up quality to the defense. They dealt with injuries in the secondary in training camp, and then lost defensive signal caller Devin White in the first quarter Thursday night. As ominous as that seemed, Kevin Minter stepped in White’s role at inside linebacker and played extremely well.

5. Very simple. Tampa Bay’s defense gave up one touchdown or less in only two games last year. They’ve already matched that total in 2019.

Final five words
Give thanks for Todd Bowles.