Bucs’ beleaguered secondary (finally) makes final stand – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Blog


TAMPA, Fla. — After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers surrendered a 21-13 lead to the Seattle Seahawks last week — their fifth blown lead of the season — and having their secondary called out by coach Bruce Arians for a “disappointing” year, cornerback Jamel Dean made a touchdown-saving interception late in the fourth quarter.

A 1-yard touchdown run from Peyton Barber then earned the Bucs a 30-27 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, their first victory in over a month after 49 days away from home.

QB Breakdown: After one of his stronger performances against the Seahawks last week, Jameis Winston produced a mix bag of results against the Cardinals — he led three touchdown-scoring drives but threw two interceptions. On his second pass attempt of the game, he was picked off by Byron Murphy on an out-route for Chris Godwin, setting up a Cardinals’ field goal to make it 3-0. It was the seventh time Winston had thrown a pick on the opening drive, tied with Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers for most in the NFL since 2015.

Then late in the third quarter, with the game tied at 20, Winston tried to find Godwin working against zone coverage, with Budda Baker tipping a pass that was picked off by Jordan Hicks. It was Winston’s 20th career game with multiple interceptions, the most in the NFL since his debut in 2015.

Winston did have some bright moments, including a 26-yard pass to O.J. Howard, immediately followed by 10-yard touchdown for Howard on a fade route just before halftime to make it 17-13. There was also a 28-yard pass to Scotty Miller after overthrowing him in the end zone earlier in the game, setting up a 41-yard field goal for Matt Gay to take a 23-20 lead.

Troubling trend: Aside from Dean’s big moment — which can’t be understated after he surrendered three touchdowns last week — the secondary continued to give up big plays, even with some shuffling to their lineup and mixing man and zone coverages. Vernon Hargreaves and Sean Murphy-Bunting started on the outside, with M.J. Stewart, who had been a healthy scratch the last two weeks, at nickel. Then after halftime, Hargreaves was replaced by Ryan Smith and then Dean, not due to injury but a “coaches’ decision.” Hargreaves would re-enter the game in the fourth quarter due to an injury for Stewart.

Wide receiver Christian Kirk caught three touchdowns and became the ninth player to record 100-receiving yards against the Bucs this season, the most of any team in the NFL. With 1:10 to go in the first half, Kyler Murray connected with Kirk for a 33-yard touchdown, with Murphy-Bunting looking like he was expecting safety help inside. Murray launched a missile to Kirk for a 69-yard touchdown in which Kirk outran Smith in the third quarter. Then Murray beat the blitz to find Kirk on a 15-yard touchdown on an in-route to take a 27-23 lead with 7:28 to go in the fourth quarter.

Hargreaves had a costly defensive pass interference penalty working against Kirk with 30 seconds left on the final drive.

Pivotal play: On third-and-goal, with 1:47 to go and needing a touchdown, the Bucs brought out 347-pound defensive tackle Vita Vea as an extra blocker, who helped seal the left side for Barber’s 1-yard touchdown run. Even though Barber didn’t start the game, he rushed for 43 yards on 11 carries, while Jones, who did start but was used far more in the screen game, producing 106 all-purpose yards.

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