Buccaneers observations: Tampa Bay finally turns in best performance of season

BY foxsports • November 16, 2014

So that result was expected all along.

OK, not really.

If you had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning 27-7 over the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field, we'd love to hear your Powerball picks. The Bucs improved to 2-8 after what was, by far, their best effort of the season.

The defense swarmed. Mike Evans starred. An offense that proved listless for so much of the year shredded an overmatched opponent.

What?

Yeah, just like what everyone expected.

Here are a few thoughts from the Bucs' rout ...

1. It doesn't matter what the Bucs' depth chart says, Mike Evans is Tampa Bay's top receiver.

The Texas A&M product continues to impress, and he became the first rookie wide receiver since Randy Moss in 1998 to produce three straight games with at least 100 yards receiving and one touchdown. He closed Sunday with seven catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns, and he has become a spark this offense needs without many weapons elsewhere.

Vincent Jackson has been a strong performer in the NFL for many years, but Evans is becoming a more valuable receiving option. With Evans' youth, he's only going to improve.

Look for him early. Look for him often.

Evans' ceiling is high, and the Bucs should be pleased about the potential of their first-round pick. He's a star in the making.

2. Robert Griffin III looked like he's a long way from where he needs to be.

Credit Tampa Bay's defense for making Griffin look uncomfortable all afternoon. He closed 23-of-32 passing for 207 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was sacked six times. He didn't do anything notable in the second half, and this was quite the feather for the Bucs' defense to claim.

This kind of performance is what Lovie Smith envisioned when he chose to bring his version of the Tampa-2 to the Bucs. This was an aggressive, effective unit that made Washington look anemic. The Bucs outgained the Redskins 329 yards to 322.

Where has this been most of the season? The more this type of swarm continues, the better.

3. That was the Bucs' best first half of the season.

This game was won before halftime. The Bucs forced three turnovers. They sacked Griffin three times. Smith's defense attacked. It was opportunistic.

Truth be told, the Bucs should have led by more than 13-0 midway through the second quarter. Both field-goal drives could have ended in touchdowns.

Still, credit Tampa Bay for this breath of fresh air. Sure, a five-play, 79-yard touchdown drive by Washington to close the second quarter was disappointing. But overall, that first half was impressive.

4. Johnthan Banks continues to grow into a fine CB.

Remember when Smith wanted Mike Jenkins to be a starting cornerback opposite Alterraun Verner? That seems like a mistake averted after another Sunday when the second-year Mississippi State product made an impact.

Banks showed his athleticism in catching a tipped pass from Griffin and returning it 19 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter. He also fared well as Tampa Bay's de-facto No. 1 cornerback with Verner inactive because of a hamstring injury.

Banks' emergence has become a bright spot in a disappointing year for a once-hyped defense. This unit needs more than two players (Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David) to draw hope from.

Banks is becoming a possible third name to follow.

5. Don't look now, but the Bucs are two wins out of first place in the NFC South.

Remember those wild statements by Smith that the Bucs are in contention in the NFC South? Well, they became a little less far-fetched with Tampa Bay improving to 2-8.

The New Orleans Saints' loss to the Cincinnati Bengals means the NFC South leader has no more than four victories. If the Bucs play like they did Sunday, it's easy to see them beating the Chicago Bears next Sunday. Then who knows what can happen against the Bengals, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers and Saints the rest of the way?

Tampa Bay still needs to prove that Sunday was a preview of things to come, not an aberration. But this rout was a strong first step.

Who would have thought?

Up next: The Bucs face the Bears next Sunday at 1 p.m. at Soldier Field.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.



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