The Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked like they were going to lose in a blowout this week, as the Buffalo Bills gained a 24-10 advantage early in the second half and continued driving for more. However, the Bucs’ defense tightened up when it need, and even though the Bills kept throwing and looking for points, they went a little conservative in terms of their fourth-down decision making late in the game.
Those defensive stops gave the Bucs a chance to come back and win, and they very nearly pulled off the comeback upset. A Hail Mary fell to the ground without being touched — something I’ve never seen before — and that put a cap on what was a solid 24-18 victory for the Bills. That victory could very easily have been a 25-24 heartbreaking defeat if not for that unseen (and untouched) desperation heave.
Our five Bucs to watch were all a factor in the game — even the one who didn’t play. Here’s how our five Bucs to watch fared this week.
WR Chris Godwin
We expected that the Buccaneers’ top two wideouts would have huge games, and while they each managed a touchdown, Buffalo did a nice job limiting their opportunities. Godwin saw seven targets on the night, catching five passes for 54 yards and the first touchdown of the evening for Tampa — a catch that tied the game at 10 in the second half. Aside from a 31-yard gain on one of his passes, though, Godwin was held in check by a cornerback combination of Dane Jackson and Christian Benford.
WR Mike Evans
Heading into Tampa’s final scoring drive, Evans had seen just four targets, and he had two catches for 15 yards. Then, Mayfield dunked a ball off Christian Benford’s helmet — a pass that somehow made its way into Evans’ arms for a touchdown — and that gave the Bucs their second touchdown of the game. It also gave them a breath of life in what had seemed to be a game that the Bills were going to win running away. Evans caught just three passes for 39 yards on the night, although he did have one big pickup — a 42-yard gain — negated by a holding call.
NT Vita Vea
Well, the big fella didn’t play thanks to a groin injury, and his presence was definitely missed for the Bucs’ defensive front. There were some strong performances from the Tampa front-seven, especially by Anthony Nelson, who is listed as an outside linebacker, but at 6’7” and 271 pounds, he is a massive edge player who mostly rushes the passes. He had four tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, and a quarterback hit on the day. Buffalo was able to find room to run in the middle for the most part, and that may not have been the case had Vea suited up for this one.
LB Lavonte David
David had the honor of mirroring Josh Allen for much of the night, and while he did a good job at times, it’s just really difficult to deal with a quarterback who can run as well as Allen does, and also throw on the run as well as Allen does. On Buffalo’s first score, Allen dropped back, saw that the coverage was sticking with his receivers and that he’d have room in the middle, and he took advantage of that space on his way to a 13-yard touchdown run. On Buffalo’s next score, Allen rolled left, and David didn’t want Allen to run for big yardage again. So, he left his area — and tight end Dalton Kincaid filled the space and caught the first touchdown of his career. David had a good game overall, making a game-high 14 tackles, including one for a loss, but it was just a few key plays where Buffalo was able to catch him out of position that swung the outcome.
S Antoine Winfield, Jr.
Winfield Jr. made one huge play, as he came screaming off the edge unblocked on a naked boot to tip a pass that was intercepted by defensive lineman William Gholston. I know that much of the anger has been directed towards offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey for calling a naked boot on the first play after his quarterback emerged from the blue medical tent, and I can’t disagree with that. I think Allen deserves plenty of blame, too, as he watched Winfield come up to the line of scrimmage after setting his protections, and then could be heard saying, “no, we’re good, we’re good” before ultimately running the play as called. Buffalo was not, in fact, good in their protection there, and the quarterback absolutely has the freedom to check out of that play — and that’s exactly what Allen should have done once he saw the blitzer on the edge. Winfield Jr. had an otherwise pedestrian game, making just four tackles in addition to his one big pass breakup.