Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (R) talks with San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (L) after a 28-21 win over the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
It’s been a while since Buccaneers fans got to witness a bonafide winning streak. After beating the San Diego Chargers, the Bucs have officially gone streaking.
With their seventh win of the season, the Buccaneers move into a tie for first place in the NFC South and have placed themselves squarely into the national discussion on playoff positioning.
After two convincing performances, the Bucs got all they could handle in this one and had to dig deep into the well of resiliency (new Raymond James nickname?) to pull this victory out.
It wasn’t pretty, and the outcome didn’t always seem like it was going to go the good-guys’ way, but here we are in the midst of a four-game winning streak.
Like we always do about this time…it’s time for grades!
Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (foreground) and San Diego Chargers cornerback Craig Mager (29) react during the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
The San Diego Chargers came into this game feeling like they needed to test the Buccaneers’ young quarterback, and they did so by getting in his face early an often.
Just like he’s done throughout his short career though, Jameis Winston stood up to the adversity and continued to will his team into position for success.
There’s never a play Winston feels is lost, and when his team is winning, there’s not much you can do to argue with him.
Like I said in the opening, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Pewter Pirates today, and the quarterback started this game with a 59.7 passer rating in the first quarter stemming from a bad interception which was basically gifted to cornerback Casey Hayward.
He’d settle down though, and by the end Winston had completed 20 of his 30 pass attempts for 280-yards and one touchdown to bring his rating all the way up to a respectable 93.8 QBR.
In an evenly matched competition it’s the slightest of advantages which can spell doom for a team, and Winston ensured it was his group which came out on top by passing for 14 first downs compared to just nine passing first downs for Philip Rivers and company.
Winston may not have aced this test, but he got his win, and got to celebrate in the California sunshine.
Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers during the first quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
RUNNING BACKS: C
At one point this season the Buccaneers had so many injuries at running back I thought that I was going to go crazy trying to keep up with all the names cycling in.
All these guys have had differing levels of success of course, and James is no longer with the team so I’m not sure how fair it is to count him, but nonetheless the Bucs have struggled to maintain continuity in their backfield all year long.
Oct 30, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Jacquizz Rodgers (32) runs with the ball as Oakland Raiders strong safety Karl Joseph (42) defends during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
This week was no different as Martin and Rodgers combined to gain most of the 83-yards produced on the ground this week as the two combined for 24 carries and 74-yards with the one rushing touchdown coming from Martin in the first quarter.
Something interesting to note is the starter didn’t have a single carry in the fourth quarter presumably because at one point he came up from a pile with a slight limp. However, just as possible are the 13-yards Martin gained on six third quarter carries.
Rodgers didn’t do much better stats wise in the fourth quarter, but did get five of his seven carries during the final period while Martin was on the sideline. His lone reception for 21-yards also came in the final quarter, and helped his team seal this week’s victory.
It’ll be interesting to see what – if anything – comes of this late shift in playing time for the Buccaneers running backs.
Barber chipped in this week as well with two carries for six yards, and the team as a whole averaged an even three yards per carry.
They didn’t drown out there, but they certainly weren’t leading the charge either.
Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (R) looks at tight end Cameron Brate (84) during the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
WIDE RECEIVERS and TIGHT ENDS: B
Casual fans or non-fans of the Buccaneers may not know a whole lot about Cameron Brate, but if people continue to sleep on the second-year player, he’ll continue to creep into games and do exactly what he did against the Chargers in Week 13.
Brate has already surpassed his rookie marks by about a mile, and only the rare Bucs fan even remember Austin Seferian-Jenkins anymore. With his sixth touchdown catch of the year and second with more than 80-yards receiving, the tight end has gone from a training camp surprise to a guy who looks like a cornerstone of the team’s future.
Leading his team today with six catches for 86-yards and the one passing touchdown they had, Brate also led the Bucs with nine targets as the Chargers secondary put special emphasis on stopping stud receiver Mike Evans.
Speaking of Evans, the third-year receiver is uber-talented but isn’t going to be able to do it all every game. This week, the star saw his targets shaved to just six after getting double-digit targets in each of the last two games on the Buccaneers schedule.
For his efforts, he came down with three of those targets and totaled 38-yards while being held out of the endzone.
Freddie Martino had to be the surprise of the game however, as the practice squad convert brought in a career high four catches for 56-yards.
With Cecil Shorts leaving the game with what appeared to be a significant knee injury, Luke Stocker leaving just two plays before with an ankle injury and Adam Humphries exiting later with a concussion on a non-penalized blow to the head from a Chargers defender, it’s amazing the team had any targets for Winston to throw to at all.
In all actuality, the Bucs receivers and tight ends found ways to get open quickly throughout the game leading to ten different guys getting targets in this one.
Perhaps it was due to inexperience in actual playing situations, but with Evans smothered most of the day, the guys normally relegated to special teams and spot roles simply couldn’t find ways to get open inside the redzone leading to more than just one wasted or under-achieved scoring opportunity.
Overall, this group of inexperienced players looked seasoned above their years on a day where they needed it the most. Some tough catches were made, and they helped get the win, which means they get a passing grade.
Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (right) in the huddle during the second half against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Tampa Bay won 28-21. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
It’s like every week the Buccaneers offensive line gets switched out for a new one and you just never know what you’re going to get.
The Chargers pass rush is ok, and yes Joey Bosa has been better than most expected after missing critical parts of training camp and the pre-season.
Still, this defense was 28th in the league in sacks and had given up the third most rushing touchdowns in the NFL leading into this match-up.
So the Bucs should have been able to keep their quarterback from getting harassed all day, and should have been able to open some lanes, at least in the short field which their running backs could then try and exploit.
It wasn’t so however, and Jameis Winston had defenders on top of him all day long while getting sacked just twice thanks to his own ability to evade capture.
Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers found little to no room to operate and frequently were met with defenders at or behind the line of scrimmage as they tried to forge ahead for positive contributions.
Two sacks don’t mean this group did well as the Chargers pass rush got five additional hits on Winston which don’t go down as sacks because he was able to get rid of the ball.
Joey Bosa and Melvin Gordon each got hits on the Buccaneers quarterback twice while Bosa also came away with one of the sacks.
Donovan Smith particularly seemed to struggle today, and will need to get better fast if this team wants to make a serious playoff push and keep their franchise leader healthy.
This group needs to deal with their issues quick, or they’ll continue to get lower marks and potentially drag down the whole classes GPA in the future.
Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) is hit by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Robert Ayers (91) after he throws during the third quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
The Buccaneers defensive line has experienced a significant attitude shift, and now looks like a group on a mission.
Entering this game on the cusp of becoming a Top-10 defense by way of sacks, the unit needs just three to hit 30 sacks on the year for the fourth straight season.
While the group didn’t get to Rivers a whole lot early in this one, they did walk away with two sacks on the Chargers quarterback as Gerald McCoy and Robert Ayers each got home once.
Noah Spence continued his rise to prominence this week as well and got two hits on the opponents quarterback in key situations.
Four of the Bucs’ five tackles for a loss came from the defensive line as well, and the group was key to helping contain running back Melvin Gordon who had totaled 40-yards rushing on seven carries in the first half, but totaled just 44 on ten rushes the rest of the way.
Gordon did get a touchdown in this game, and it helped the Chargers maintain control during much of this game as it seemed the Buccaneers just couldn’t find enough to really grab the momentum until the final quarter of play.
If there’s only one thing Bucs fans wish, it should be to keep seeing solid play out of this unit as the games only get better and a big match-up against the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line gets closer.
Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) runs an interception back for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers during the third quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Lavonte David had been experiencing some of the hate Gerald McCoy was exposed to last season as he’d been a bit quiet on the big-play front this season.
After the latest string of plays by one of the best linebackers in the game though, David should be basking in plenty of love from the fans in his Twitter mentions and Instagram comments.
A pick-six has a way of doing these things, and it seemed to really spark the fuse which would become the Buccaneers’ fifth road victory of the season.
It was his second touchdown of his career with his other one coming last year against the Philadelphia Eagles – on the road as well.
He also came up with two pass break-ups and secured a modest three tackles on the day.
Kwon Alexander has been getting back to his tackle leading ways, and in Week 13 tied for the team lead with seven of them. Those included one for a loss and the second-year linebacker also got a pass break-up of his own.
Early on it was apparent the Chargers were more than happy to allow running back Melvin Gordon to roam free in the intermediate area of the field as the Buccaneers linebackers just couldn’t balance their coverage enough to stop all the weapons San Diego brought out against them.
In the first half Gordon added 54-yards receiving to his 40-yards rushing, and seemed on his way to career numbers when we went into halftime.
However, whether it was adjustments or just more precise play by the Bucs linebackers, Gordon had zero catches in the second half and was covered well as Rivers targeted the running back just once.
The pick-six puts this grade higher than it would have been otherwise, but you have to admire the second-half difference from this group along with the rest of the defense.
This team hasn’t historically found success on the West Coast, but they did today, and this group was a big part of it.
Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Keith Tandy (37) reacts following an interception during the second half against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Tampa Bay won 28-21. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B+
This is easily the unit most Buccaneers fans don’t have love for if there is any, and for much of the early season, they earned the status regularly.
Over the past couple of games though, this group had actually been the hero on more than one occasion whether it consisted of Vernon Hargreaves III coming up with big tackles, Bradley McDougald ending games with late interceptions, Brent Grimes finding ways to break-up passes or Chris Conte putting a pick-six on the board.
In this one, like with most of the team, it wasn’t looking so great for the Bucs’ secondary, especially a 40-yard touchdown pass from Rivers thrown over the head of Grimes into the waiting hands of Tyrell Williams.
The score allowed the Chargers to answer for the pick-six Rivers had just given up to linebacker Lavonte David, and gave San Diego a four-point lead late in the third quarter.
Of course, this was the second passing touchdown of the game as the home team connected on a 35-yard catch and run to Dontrelle Inman for the first score of the game.
The play featured a slip and fall by cornerback Alterraun Verner and some bad angles followed by ineffective tackling as Inman dove into the endzone.
At the end of the first half Rivers had a 129.2 QBR, and like the rest of the Buccaneers did late in this match-up, the secondary locked down the San Diego offense with Keith Tandy getting the secondary an interception and concluding his night with a QBR of just 79.8.
The turnovers are starting to pile up for this secondary, and the team now sits at 11 on the year bringing them into a tentative tie amongst the Top-10 secondaries in the NFL.
Nov 20, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo (19) photobombs as Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Vernon Harris (48) and quarterback Jameis Winston (3) sign each other
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Roberto Aguayo missed another field goal this week, but fortunately for the Buccaneers it didn’t come back to haunt them the same way so many of Kanye West’s words come back to haunt him.
All-in-all though, the rookie kicker made two of his three attempts and both of his extra point tries contributing eight points to his teams seven-point victory.
Sure, we’d all like the kicker to make all of them, but the young man hasn’t allowed his early struggles to send him into a tail-spin and he deserves some credit for it.
Punter Bryan Anger continues to be Pro Bowl caliber, and this week was no different.
Having to punt just twice I this contest, Anger sent each of them 54-yards and pinned the Chargers inside their own 20-yard line on one.
Interesting to note is rookie cornerback fielded two punts in place of the injured Adam Humphries with a long return of nine yards.
With Humphries entering into concussion protocol, it’ll be something to watch to see if Hargreaves gets punt fielding duties in practice this week leading up to a divisional match-up against the New Orleans Saints in Week 14.
That’ll do it for our grades for the Week 13 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
With the win, the Buccaneers improve to 7-5 and are tied with the Atlanta Falcons for top billing in the NFC South. Also, with the loss by the Washington Redskins to the Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay currently holds the 6th Seed in the NFC playoff picture and in effectively controls their own destiny.
From here the Bucs will head home to try and #SiegeTheDay – no matter how grammatically incorrect the motto is – against Drew Brees as they look to clinch their first non-losing season since 2010. Keep a look out for our keys to the game next week as we build up to Week 14 action!
What are your thoughts on the game today, and what grades would you give out? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter anytime!