Stifling Bucs' Defense Downs Seahawks
Scott Smith , Buccaneers.com, published 28 November 2016|
Two Mike Evans touchdown catches complemented a six-sack, three-takeaway effort by a Buccaneers' defense that had Raymond James Stadium rocking like it did in the Super Bowl era. With one minute left in Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks, a once-familiar chant at Raymond James Stadium rose from a crowd nearly 64,000-strong: "Defense! Defense!"
At that exact moment, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense had just taken the field, ready to kneel down and end one of the team's most emotionally satisfying victories in years, a 14-5 downing of the Seattle Seahawks. This particular chant for the defense wasn't an exhortation; it was purely one of appreciation. Mike Evans scored on each of the Tampa Bay's first two drives as the Buccaneers enjoyed their best start to a game in more than four seasons. The defense, enjoying what was definitely its best game in years, made sure those two scores were enough.
"The defense complemented the offense, the offense complemented the defense," said LB Lavonte David, whose 53-yard fumble return in the fourth quarter helped squelch a Seahawks rally. "That's what you're trying to do. Coach Koetter is always talking about 'complementary football,' and we go out there and try to play one play at a time. Stuff may not go our way but we don't get down. We just keep playing football. We keep executing and great things happen like they did today."
Seattle came to Tampa on a three-game winning streak in which it had scored just under 30 points per game. David and company held the Seahawks to 245 yards, one third-down conversion in 11 tries and a single field goal on offense. The Seahawks' only points came on a second-quarter safety on a holding penalty in the end zone and a field goal on the ensuing possession. In addition to David's fumble recovery, the Buccaneers also intercepted QB Russell Wilson twice; he had thrown just two interceptions through the Seahawks' first 10 games combined.
Seattle scored five or fewer points for just the second time since Wilson arrived in 2012. The Seahawks' final tally was the lowest a Tampa Bay defense had allowed since a 21-0 shutout of the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 21, 2010. "Hats off to this football team, hats off to this coaching staff for this team sticking together and playing Buc football the way we know how to play," said David. "You've got to tip your hat to the Seattle Seahawks, we all know they're a great football team. For us to go out there and put up a performance like that against a tremendous football team is a great thing."
The Bucs' first takeaway was an interception by cornerback Alterraun Verner late in the first half with the Seahawks threatening to cut into a nine-point lead. After his 16-yard return, Verner remained prone on the turf, overcome by emotion as he was surrounded by his teammate. He was playing the game as a tribute to his father, who passed away on Friday. In a callback to LB Kwon Alexander's incredible performance in a win at Atlanta last season two days after the death of his brother, Verner not only played but made a significant impact, with two tackles and another drive-killing pass-breakup in the third quarter.
"It's one thing to be emotional," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter, who shared that the team had several emotional moments on Sunday, before, during and after the game. "It's another to back it up."
Bradley McDougald clinched the win with an interception near the Bucs' goal line on Seattle's last drive. The Bucs' third takeaway was David's fumble recovery on a ball that he had jarred out of TE Jimmy Graham's hand with his knee. After the game, David said he did not even realize that the ball was loose until he happened to kneel on it. He reacted quickly upon that realization, picking it up and taking it well into Seattle territory. The play was indicative of the type of the swarming style of defense the Buccaneers played on Sunday.
"It was just a great read," said David. "We were in a zone coverage, all eyes on the quarterback. It was a third-down play, and when he checked down it was basically everybody to the football. When you have that many guys to the football, the ball is bound to come out. You know somebody for sure is going to make the tackle and the next guy rips for the football. That's what we were able to do. It actually bounced off my knee and I was able to scoop it and take it the distance."
Tampa Bay's defense kept the pressure on Wilson throughout the game, limiting the Seahawks to 118 net passing yards, most of those coming during two fourth-quarter desperation drives. The Seahawks had just a single net passing yard at halftime. Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy and rookie DE Noah Spence led the Bucs' sack frenzy with 1.5 takedowns each, with Alexander and DEs Robert Ayers and Ryan Russell getting one apiece.
Wilson was very effective on the run, however, gaining 80 yards on eight carries, including several well-executed zone-read plays.
"How about that defense?" said Bucs QB Jameis Winston after the game. "It's only by the grace of God that we pulled that one through. We had so many reasons to fight."
Winston completed 21 of 28 passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 106.2 passer rating. He was once again outstanding on third downs, helping the team convert on four of 11 tries, including all three on their first two possessions, 78 and 62-yard marches that ended in Evans TD grabs. Evans finished the game with eight receptions for 104 yards despite being shadowed by Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman throughout the day. "We knew Sherman was going to match him," said Koetter. "Mike came up big."
Winston also enjoyed outstanding protection, as he was not sacked once by a Seattle defense that came into the game in a tie for the NFL lead in that category. Winston was also sacked just once in last Sunday's win at Kansas City, that one a technicality on a play in which the ball slipped out of his hand for a fumble. That well-formed pocket allowed Winston to find Evans repeatedly as well as TE Cam Brate, who had four catches for 49 yards. Brate also had a fourth-quarter touchdown catch erased by a penalty.
"We just were finding each other," said Winston of Evans, who know has 10 touchdown catches through 11 games. "Mike went out there and made some plays. Coach Koetter put us in some great situations. The offensive line was blocking great."
The Bucs' third straight win improved the team's record to 6-5 and kept them one game behind the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons, who won at home against Arizona on Sunday. The Buccaneers are thrilled to be in the playoff chase heading into December but are also determined to stay focused on the task at hand. "It's big," said David. "I don't think we've been in this position for a while, since I've been here. For us to be able to accomplish that, it's a great thing. But we've got to keep a humble head, a humble mind, and keep pushing forward. We've got a lot of football left to play and we've got to try to finish this thing off strong."
The Buccaneers took a 14-5 lead into halftime thanks to a very quick start, scoring on each of their first two possessions. Evans became the first player in team history to catch two touchdown passes in the first quarter of a game and the Bucs' offense racked up 238 yards in the first half. However, a missed 48-yard field goal, a safety for the Seahawks and an unfortunate end sequence in which the clock ran out on the Bucs' in Seattle territory before they could get a kick off.
Seattle scored their five points on the safety and a field goal drive on the ensuing possession. However, Tampa Bay's defense sacked Wilson four times in the first half and held the Seahawks to a single net passing yard.
Winston directed a masterful 14-play, 78-yard touchdown drive to open the game, beginning with a pair of heady scramble plays for first down. The first was an eight-yard run, and on the second he avoided a sack by Frank Clark with a stiff-arm and found Evans on the sideline. Winston converted two third downs on the drive, the first a beautiful 26-yard lob over Sherman to Evans for 26 yards, the second a three-yard TD pass, also to Evans. Doug Martin also helped power the drive with six carries for 27 yards, gaining much of his yardage after contact.
Tampa Bay's defense also got off to a hot start, forcing a quick three-and-out thanks to outstanding pressure on Wilson. McCoy and Noah Spence combined to sack Wilson on second down; the Seahawks QB escaped McCoy and DE Ryan Russell on third down but eventually had to throw it away.
Winston drove the Bucs right down the field again on the ensuing possession, needing just five plays this time to go 62 yards. Once again it ended in a touchdown pass to Evans, this one a 23-yard lob after Evans beat CB Richard Sherman off the line. Martin kept the drive alive with a 10-yard gain on third-eight and Winston got the Bucs into scoring range with a 27-yard completion to Brate.
The Seahawks got to midfield on their second drive but had to punt again after a third-down sack by Spence. Wilson fumbled on the play but was able to recover the loose ball. That gave Seattle an opportunity to punt, which indirectly led to the visitors' first points. After the punt was downed at the Bucs' four-yard line, TE Luke Stocker was flagged for holding on second down, a penalty that not only erased a brilliant pass to Evans but also resulted in a safety because the infraction occurred in the end zone.
The Seahawks also got the ball after that safety and Wilson got the ball close to midfield with a 17-yard run on a perfectly-executed zone-read keeper. Ayers sacked Wilson on the next play but the drive was kept alive by a pass-interference penalty on S Bradley McDougald deep in Bucs territory. CB Brent Grimes nearly intercepted Wilson three plays later and the Seahawks had to settle for Steven Hauschka's 43-yard field goal to make it 14-5.
The Bucs had a chance to add points before halftime but K Roberto Aguayo left his 48-yard field goal try about a foot wide to the right. The Seahawks used that good field position to drive into scoring range but were denied by Verner's timely interception of a pass intended for WR Paul Richardson. The Buccaneers used the final 43 seconds of the half to drive into scoring range but the half ended in controversy when the Bucs were unable to get a snap off after a sideline catch by Brate. Brate appeared to be driven out of bounds by a hit from LB K.J. Wright but the clock continued to run, drawing the ire of Head Coach Dirk Koetter and the Raymond James Stadium crowd. The clock wasn't stopped because it was ruled that Wright's hit had stopped Brate's forward momentum while he was still inbounds.
Seattle got the ball first to start the second half but a diving pass breakup by Verner helped force a quick punt. The Bucs ended up with great field position but had to punt from midfield after the Seahawks swarmed over a third-and-one toss-sweep to Martin. However, Anger's punt was downed at the Seattle three. Four more punts followed and the Seahawks were forced to start three straight drives inside the 10. The Seahawks mounted the beginning of a drive after the last of those three punts but McDougald's perfectly-timed arrival on a pass over the middle to Tyler Lockett denied what was almost the Seahawks' first third-down conversion of the game.
The Bucs got the ball at their own 36 after the punt and three good runs by Martin put the ball across midfield. However, Martin lost his handle on the ball on the third carry and his fumble was recovered by Seattle at their own 41. Yet another Wilson scramble resulted in a first down at the Bucs' 42. Two plays later, Wilson found Graham in traffic over the middle for 13 yards and a first down at Tampa Bay's 30. Wilson went back to Graham three plays later but the play ended in the second takeaway by the Bucs' defense. CB Vernon Hargreaves flipped Graham with a low tackle and David's knee knocked the ball out of Graham's hands just before he hit the ground. David then picked up the loose ball and rambled 53 yards down the sideline to Seattle's 25.
Humphries' 18-yard catch-and-run put the ball at the Seattle 12 but two Martin runs into the middle gained only two yards. Winston found Brate for a touchdown on third down but the play was erased by a hands-to-the-face penalty on Dotson. Winston tried to hit Evans in the left corner of the end zone on the ensuing play but it was picked off by safety Kam Chancellor.
Seattle mounted its longest drive of the day after that turnover, moving 49 yards to get into Buccaneers territory against a defense that was more concerned with draining the last three minutes off the clock. Wilson converted a fourth-and-14 and a third-and-16 on the drive but his final pass, a downfield shot in the direction of Lockett, was intercepted by McDougald at the two-yard line.