Bucs Swing Momentum in Big Home Win
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 12 October 2015|
The Buccaneers broke a 12-game losing streak at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday with a 38-31 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars that was the epitome of a full-team win. Tampa Bay's defense produced the game's only two takeaways and scored the Buccaneers' go-ahead points late in the third quarter on a Jacquies Smith fumble return for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, a dominant rushing attack picked up 183 yards against a Jaguars defense that had allowed roughly half that total per game through the season's first month.
The result was the Buccaneers' highest point total since a 41-24 win over Atlanta in November of 2013 and a victory that improved Tampa Bay to 2-3 and sent the team into its bye week with a new lease on the 2015 season.
"It felt good to finally get a home win," said DE George Johnson, who forced the fumble by RB Corey Grant that Smith recovered for Tampa Bay's first defensive score of the year. "We haven't had one here for so long. We said before the game we were going to start a new tradition, start winning at home, start winning games, and that's what we needed to do."
RB Doug Martin delighted the Raymond James Stadium crowd with 158 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, two on the ground and one in the air. He was thrilled to give the home crowd something to cheer for once again.
"It was a team effort, something that the fans had a long time coming," said Martin. "I'm glad we could get a win at home. Like I said it was a team effort – special teams dominated, defense pulled it out in the end and the offense stayed consistent throughout the whole game."
Martin and his fellow running backs certainly enjoyed their latest trip home. He and second-year back Charles Sims combined for 294 combined rushing and receiving yards. Martin had 123 yards on the ground and 35 more on three catches while Sims turned four receptions into 85 yards to go with his 51 on the ground.
"We feel like we can run the ball," said Head Coach Lovie Smith. "We feel like we have to run the ball, it doesn't matter who the other team is. The stats say they are a good run defense, but today was our day.
Sims' 56-yard catch-and-run on a third-and-15 in the second half may have been the game's most important offensive play. It set up a Connor Barth field goal that pulled the Bucs to within one point, right before Johnson and Smith combined to get the defense into the end zone.
Prior to that sequence, Jacksonville had rallied for 21 straight points to take a 24-20 lead. Had the Bucs' offense been forced to punt from deep in its own territory, the visiting team might have totally taken over the game. Instead, Barth's field goal, Smith's defensive score and a subsequent 40-yard touchdown drive stole the momentum right back for the home team.
"We said coming off the sideline, 'We need a big play,' and it just happened to come when I got upfield," said Johnson. "You saw what happened – it changed the whole game, a 14-point swing. We go out there, we score on defense – that’s our main goal, to score on defense, and we actually did that – and the offense came out and scored on their next drive."
Martin's third touchdown, a one-yard dive over the pile midway through the third quarter, came off that short 40-yard drive after a 25-yard punt return by Bobby Rainey. The third Buc running back to have a huge impact in Sunday's win, Rainey racked up 85 yards on three punt returns, including a 58-yarder in the second quarter that set up Martin's first touchdown, a 10-yard catch, and gave the Bucs a 13-7 lead.
"You know, special teams is how you win football games, and Bobby has a prized position on this team," said quarterback Jameis Winston. "The way that he always comes through on special teams is very important to us."
With the help of his dynamic backs, Winston had the best day of his young NFL career, completing 13 of 19 passes for 209 yards, one touchdown, no interception and a passer rating of 122.5. A week after Tampa Bay's five turnovers were the deciding factor in an otherwise close matchup with the Carolina Panthers, Winston and the Buccaneers produced the first turnover-free game for the team since Nov. 24, 2013 at Detroit, a stretch of 25 games.
"When that big play wasn't there he did a good job of checking it down to us running backs," said Martin. "It's easy to see that he's progressing and learning. And it worked, it definitely did."
Winston also converted two third downs with sharp passes on the Buccaneers' penultimate drive, allowing the team to run out most of the clock. That became important when the Jaguars converted a fourth-and-18 with a 59-yard pass to WR Allen Hurns, setting up WR Allen Robinson's second TD catch with 1:10 to play. The Jaguars pulled to within seven on that sequence and remained alive until Vincent Jackson hauled in the subsequent onside kick attempt.
The Buccaneers' defense shut down impressive rookie T.J. Yeldon and the Jaguars' rushing attack, allowing just 55 yards on 17 carries. However, second-year QB Blake Bortles kept the visitors in the game until the closing minutes with a 303-yard, four-touchdown effort. His only real blemish was an interception by S Bradley McDougald in the second quarter that set up Martin's second touchdown.
However, the Buccaneers' pass rush was able to turn up the heat in the second half after Tampa Bay re-established a lead on the scoreboard. In all, the Bucs dropped Bortles a season-high six times, with rookie DE Howard Jones getting the first two and Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy adding 1.5 of his own in the closing minutes.
The final touch to the full-team effort was the triumphant return of kicker Connor Barth. Barth took over for since-released rookie Kyle Brindza, who had missed six of 12 field goals plus two extra point tries in his brief stint in the job, and was perfect on the day. Barth made field goals of 35, 45 and 47 yards and had no trouble with a trio of extra points.
The result was a win the Buccaneers badly needed going into their bye week, especially with the Atlanta Falcons pulling off an overtime win over Washington on Sunday to improve to 5-0.
"It puts us in a whole different perspective," said Winston. "We're 1-0 in this quarter, and that's important to us. We're coming off a great game but we've got to get back and watch film and see how we can improve and become a better team."
The Buccaneers scored on their opening possession for the first time in 2015, driving 62 yards on nine plays to set up Barth's 35-yard field goal. Play-action completions to Brandon Myers and Vincent Jackson got the ball across midfield and a 15-yard run around right end by Sims took it into scoring territory, but Winston came up a yard short on a third-and-three scramble.
Jacksonville took their first lead on the next drive, marching 69 yards on seven plays to set up Bortles' 12-yard touchdown dart to Hurns down the middle of the field. S Chris Conte dived for a potential break-up of the pass but just missed it. The Buccaneers immediately got back into Jacksonville territory on the next drive thanks to runs of 39 and 20 yards by Martin but once again settled for a field goal, with Barth hitting from 45 yards.
The Bucs took the lead back just moments later, finally cracking the end zone on Martin's shifty run after a short pass for a 10-yard touchdown. That play, on third-and-three, was the Bucs' first successful third-down conversion of the game. McDougald's diving interception at the Jacksonville 41 moments later gave the Bucs yet another scoring chance and they capitalized with Martin's one-yard run after a key 17-yard catch by Mike Evans.
Jacksonville pulled back within one score before halftime, running a sharp two-minute drill that culminated in Robinson's 13-yard TD catch on a play that looked quite similar to Jacksonville's first touchdown. The Jaguars got the ball to start the second half and promptly tacked on three points with Jason Myers' 31-yard field goal at the end of a 50-yard drive. The Jaguars made it three straight scoring drives later in the third quarter with a 61-yard march ending in Bortles' scrambling, four-yard throw to Yeldon in the middle of the end zone.
Sims' 56-yard screen on third-and-15 put Barth in position for his third field goal, a 47-yarder, just before the end of the third quarter. The very next play was the Bucs' first defensive touchdown of the year, with Johnson breaking through to hit Grant nine yards deep, forcing a fumble that Smith recovered and put in the end zone. After a quick stop by the Bucs' defense and a 25-yard punt return by Rainey, the Buccaneers drove 40 yards for another score and a 14-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Winston converted a key third down with a nine-yard scramble before Martin dived over the top for a one-yard score.
G Logan Mankins was inactive for Sunday's game due to a groin strain suffered in practice on Wednesday. That snapped a streak of 40 straight games played and starts for Mankins, including the last 20 for Tampa Bay. Overall, Mankins has played in and started 150 NFL contests. With Mankins' streak over, the longest active starts streak for a Buccaneer player is 11, a mark shared by DE Jacquies Smith and RB Doug Martin.
Three Buccaneer players made their NFL regular-season debuts in Sunday's game: DE Howard Jones, WR Donteea Dye and T Reid Fragel. Jones had the most auspicious beginning, taking Bortles down for a six-yard sack on the first series of the game and later adding another drop of the Jacksonville QB. Jones is just the third rookie in team history to have two sacks in his very first regular-season NFL game, joining Curt Jarvis (1987) and Santana Dotson (1992).
Doug Martin's 39-yard run in the second quarter was the longest for a Buccaneer since Martin recorded a 45-yarder in last year's season finale against New Orleans (Dec. 28, 2014). Martin also cracked 100 rushing yards on the day, running 24 times for 123 yards. Coupled with a 106-yard effort the previous Sunday against Carolina, Martin has back-to-back 100-yard efforts for the first time since 2012. During that fantastic rookie season, Martin had 135 yards at Minnesota (10/25/12) and followed with a franchise-record 251 the next week at Oakland (11/4/12). Martin's 10-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter was his first score on a passing play since a 64-yard TD in the aforementioned 2012 Minnesota game.
Martin later scored on a one-yard run in the second quarter, making him the first Buccaneer with a rushing touchdown AND a receiving touchdown in the same game since Bobby Rainey ran for two and caught one vs. Atlanta on Nov. 17, 2013.
RB Bobby Rainey's 58-yard punt return in the second quarter, which set up Martin's scoring catch, was the longest by a Buccaneer since Micheal Spurlock's 77-yarder at New Orleans on Dec. 27, 2009.
The Bucs started off with a successful play, as Winston faked a handoff, rolled right and had several open receivers to choose from. He went with Myers for a gain of 17 to the Bucs' 37. A four-yard run by Martin and another play-action toss to Jackson got the ball into Jacksonville territory, but a hurry-up set and a handoff to Martin netted just three. The next play worked far better, as pitch to Sims got him around right end for 15 yards to the 27. Three plays later, on third-and-three from the 20, Winston tried to run for the necessary yards but came up one short and the Bucs settled for Barth's 35-yard field goal to open the scoring.
Jameis Winston rolled right and threw a quick pass to WR Vincent Jackson after Jacquies Smith's fumble-recovery touchdown in the third quarter to give the Bucs two more points and a 31-24 lead. That was the Bucs' first successful two-point conversion since a Josh Freeman-to-Vincent Jackson pass at Carolina on Nov. 18, 2012.
Barth's first kickoff since 2010 went out of the end zone for a touchback and the Bucs' defense started with a three-and-out. DT Clinton McDonald trapped Yeldon for a loss of four on a first-down run and Jones' sack on third down ended it. Tampa Bay got back into Jacksonville territory on the ensuing drive thanks to a 13-yard catch and a 14-yard run by Martin, but the drive stalled at the 45 and the Bucs punted. An unfortunate backwards bounce took the ball back to the Jacksonville 22.
The Jaguars penetrated Buccaneer territory for the first time on their second drive, as Bortles converted a third-and-eight and got 24 yards on a post to Hurns. Three plays later, the Jaguars converted a third-and-inches with a Bortles sneak (an offsides penalty rendered the play moot), keeping the drive alive for Bortles' 12-yard TD pass to Hurns on the second play of the second quarter.
Martin's 39-yard run on the first play of the next drive got Tampa Bay back across midfield, and a shot downfield to Evans was just broken up at the last second by CB Davon House. Martin got 20 more up the middle on the next play, but disaster struck two snaps later when Winston was sacked by DT Roy Miller and the ball went backward as the QB tried to throw it away.
That resulted in a fumble that Jacksonville's Telvin Smith recovered and returned to midfield. However, the play was reviewed and it was determined that Winston's knee was down before he threw the ball, so the Bucs' maintained possession. The sack still effectively ended the drive but Barth's 45-yard field goal made it a one-point game.
A false start before the first snap and Jones' second sack ended Jacksonville's next possession quickly, and the Bucs found themselves right back in scoring range when Rainey fielded a 61-yard punt and returned it 58 yards to the Jacksonville's 17. Two Martin runs made it third-and-two and Winston looked right back to the hot hand on third down, throwing a short pass to Martin, who evaded several tacklers to find the end zone.
McDougald secured the game's first takeaway just four plays later on a sideline pass intended for TE Marcedes Lewis. A 17-yard strike by Winston to Evans got the ball down to the three and Martin took two carries to get it in from there. However, Jacksonville answered immediately with a 78-yard hurry-up drive leading to Robinson's 13-yard scoring grab over the middle. Bortles' 21-yard scramble across midfield was the key play of the drive.
Jacksonville's ensuing kickoff went out of bounds just before the pylon, allowing the Bucs to start at their own 40 with 36 seconds to play in the half. However, a penalty on the first play pushed them back five yards and they elected to run out the clock.
Jacksonville got the ball first to start the second half and marched right into scoring territory. Bortles converted a third-and-eight at the Bucs' 30 with a scrambling completion over the middle to Thomas at the 15. The Bucs held there and Jacksonville brought out rookie K Jason Myers to kick a 31-yard field goal that reduced the lead to three points.
The Bucs' next drive was hamstrung by two penalties and a third-down sack, and Jacksonville responded with its third straight scoring drive. This time, Bortles converted a third-down just across midfield with an 11-yard sideline pass to Hurns, then got the ball in the end zone on a play that he extended with a long scramble to the right before an easy lob back to Yeldon in the middle of the end zone.
The Bucs faced a third-and-15 at their own 15 on their next drive but turned it into a scoring opportunity when Sims took a screen and raced through the defense for 56 yards. That got the ball to the Bucs' 29, and even though it got no closer, Barth drilled a 47-yard field goal to make it a one-point game.
On the very next play from scrimmage, Johnson got to Grant as he was trying to sweep right and forced a loose ball that bounded towards the Jaguars'' end zone. A swarm of Buc defenders surrounded it and Smith fell on it before getting up just enough to lunge over the goal line for the go-ahead score. A rollout pass to Jackson converted the ensuing two-point conversion and put the Bucs up by seven.
Major Wright's stop of Yeldon in the backfield and Lavonte David's third-down sack forced another Jacksonville punt and Rainey returned it 25 yards to the Jacksonville 40. Winston converted one third down with a scrambling throw to Sims and another with his own nine-yard scramble to the 13. Sims got around right end for nine yards on the next play and a defensive-holding call made it first-and-goal at the two. Two plays later, Martin dived over the pile for his third TD of the game, giving the Bucs a 14-point lead with 8:26 to play.