Bucs snap 11-game home skid with win over Jaguars
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 12 October 2015

Home sweet home. For the first time in just more than 22 months, a span equal to 11 games on the NFL’s calendar, Raymond James Stadium felt like that to the Buccaneers on Sunday. All the way to the end.

Alas, there was no ritual locker room celebration. Just a lot smiles, high-fives and laughs. So many that they spilled out of the locker room and into an RJS corridor right along with Team Glazer. “They’re ecstatic in there,’’ Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer said after he and nearly a dozen family members exited a winning Bucs locker room at RJS for the first time since Dec. 8, 2013. “We finally got the job done here,’’ linebacker Lavonte David said.

And not a moment too soon. Before holding off a late rally to beat the Jaguars 38-31, the Bucs were nearing the cusp of not only the franchise but the NFL record for home futility. Their 11 straight home losses were just two shy of the team record of 13 from 1976-77 and three shy of the NFL record shared by the 1988-89 Cowboys and 2008-11 Rams.

“I don’t like the sound of that,”’ defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said of how close the Bucs came to achieving a new level of ignominy. “I’m glad we could finally cut that off.’’

Probably not as glad as head coach Lovie Smith, who won for the first time as Tampa Bay’s coach after conducting 10 of those setbacks. A loss to Jacksonville (1-4) would only have increased concern about the direction this team is headed under his rule.

As it is, the Bucs (2-3) matched their win total from last year’s 2-14 record. And with a week off to heal before taking on the Redskins in Washington on Oct. 25, they have a rare chance to build some momentum. “It hasn’t been a whole lot of fun,’’ Smith said of the losing streak. “And you know, I talked last week about how much better we’ve been getting, but you do need to see it on the football field.’’

There were so many signs of improvement Sunday that Smith literally didn’t “know where to start” in handing out plaudits. Doug Martin and the running game seemed like a good place, though, as Martin ran 24 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns and also caught three passes for 35 yards and a touchdown.

“I’ve talked about how well Doug has played after every game this year,’’ Smith said of Martin, who continues to redeem himself after running for fewer than 500 yards each of the past two years. “He’s having great success right now.’’

Smith and Martin weren’t the only Buccaneers who gained redemption on Sunday. One week after throwing four interceptions and taking responsibility for a fumbled snap — turnovers that led to 27 points in a 37-23 home loss to the Panthers — rookie quarterback Jameis Winston had arguably his best game yet. He completed 13 of 19 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown and ran four times for 9 yards. More importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over.

Nor did anyone else in a Bucs uniform. Tampa Bay did, however, take the ball away — twice. The first was a Bradley McDougald interception that set up a Bucs touchdown. The second was a fumble recovery that resulted in a touchdown and gave Tampa Bay the lead for good.

Defensive end George Johnson, who lost his starter’s job to William Gholston last week, altered the game’s momentum late in the third quarter, with Tampa Bay trailing 24-23. Johnson broke through the line and stripped the ball from Jaguars running back Corey Grant at the Jacksonville 11-yard line. The ball rolled to the 3, where end Jacquies Smith recovered it and crossed the goalline for the Bucs’ first defensive score of the year.

After squandering a 20-14 halftime lead, Tampa Bay led 31-24. On their next possession, the Bucs added 1-yard leap into the end zone by Martin for a 38-24 lead.

“That’s just finishing — finishing and want-to,’’ McCoy said. “At some point, somebody has to make a play, and you saw us make a flurry of them there. And we got them from all different people. And to me, that’s the biggest thing about this game. We came up with the plays we needed when we needed them and we finished. That’s been a big issue for us in the past, but we were able to do it today. Today we finished.’’

The trick now is to put that same finishing touch on more games, both home and away. That point wasn’t lost on Bucs general manager Jason Licht. He hung around the Bucs locker room a little longer than usual this Sunday, smiling, laughing and congratulating players on a rare victory. As he did, though, he made it clear that breaking a long home losing streak was not high on the Bucs’ list of priorities.

“This was a big win for us against a good, young team, and we’re going to celebrate it right now,’’ Licht said. “But then it’s back to work. Because we’re happy to win this game, but we’re not interested in winning state championships. We’re after something much bigger.’’