The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got off to a hot start against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, before struggling in the second half and ultimately finishing on a high note with two late pick-sixes to put the game away.
By looking at the final score, 48-25, one would think the Buccaneers won the game with ease. Although the team was dominant in some aspects, that's far from the case, and at one point, the Bucs' lead was as little as three points in the second half.
Meaning, there are plenty of positives to pull from the performance, as well as some negatives. You can find AllBucs' six takeaways, good and bad, from the contest below.
Buccaneers' offense shines, but the unit wants more
Tampa Bay's offense scored four touchdowns across its first seven possessions and within the first 33 minutes of regulation. Tom Brady was responsible for all four touchdowns, finding tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Mike Evans in the endzone twice apiece.
The Buccaneers would finish the game with five offensive touchdowns, posting 341 total yards and 5.7 yards per play. The team only turned the ball over once, the result of a first-quarter strip-sack. All in all, the box score would suggest the Bucs' offense had a great day.
But stats don't tell the whole story. Tampa Bay's offense stalled on its next two drives after Evans' second touchdown, netting -8 yards on its next 10 plays. Meanwhile, Atlanta's offense found life and was able to get the game back within three points - in part due to the Buccaneers' offense losing momentum.
Head coach Bruce Arians said after the game that the Bucs "left points out there" on the field offensively. Brady and Godwin both added that the unit could improve as a whole, and Brady even said he is capable of more - even though he finished the game with five touchdowns and zero interceptions and has begun his season with nine touchdown passes in two weeks.
The sentiment is correct when you dissect the third-to-early-fourth quarter drives. But if the Bucs' offense can truly be better moving forward (more on this later), then that means it has the potential to become one of the best offenses in NFL history.
Mike Edwards has a career day, putting the Bucs' lead out of reach for Atlanta
The Buccaneers' secondary has been extremely banged up to begin the 2021 season, providing depth players with opportunities to emerge as playmakers. Safety Mike Edwards has risen to that occasion.
Edwards earned a start in week one in place of injured safety Jordan Whitehead and played well, tallying four tackles. He took things to the next level against Atlanta despite Whitehead's return to the lineup, recording two pick-sixes in the fourth quarter to re-establish a three-possession lead that Atlanta could not contest. Edwards recorded another four tackles as well and was credited with three pass breakups.
Edwards is the first NFL player to return two interceptions for touchdowns in a single quarter since Otis Smith did it with the New York Jets in 1997.
“Mike Edwards, helluva football player,” Arians said after the game. "He is just a ballhawk. He always has been since he’s been here."
The Bucs' running back rotation remains confusing
It wasn't great, but Tampa Bay's rushing attack at least looked better against Atlanta than it did against Dallas. Still, there is plenty of room for improvement on the ground moving forward.
Ronald Jones II earned the start at running back against Atlanta after being benched in week one, following a fumble on his fourth carry. Jones looked solid, averaging 4.5 yards per carry on six attempts and adding a reception for nine yards, but the sample size was small.
Leonard Fournette rotated with Jones and out-carried the starter, rushing 11 times and amounting to 4.7 yards per carry, also catching four passes for 24 yards but fumbling in the third quarter after a two-yard reception. Both running back's longest run on the afternoon was 10 yards.
Meanwhile, Giovani Bernard - who signed with Tampa Bay in April and has been projected to play on the majority of third/passing downs - saw limited snaps, finished with just two receptions and didn't earn a handoff for the second week in a row.
It's tough for any running back to get into a rhythm rushing the ball when they play every other series, which could limit Jones' and Fournette's production this year if the rotation continues as is. And neither player is a strong contributor in the passing game, which makes it surprising to see Bernard on the sidelines as often as he is.
Tampa Bay will surely accept average, at best, rushing production so long as Brady and the passing offense continue to perform at such a high level. But with some tweaks - perhaps extended opportunities for each early-down back and more passing down snaps for Bernard - the Buccaneers could certainly improve their performance at the running back position.
Rob Gronkowski is on pace for a career year, by far
At his current pace, 32-year-old tight end Rob Gronkowski would finish the 2021 regular season with 102 receptions for 1097 yards and 34 touchdowns, having begun the year with 12 catches for 129 yards and four touchdowns. Gronkowski has scored two touchdowns in three consecutive games dating back to Super Bowl LV.
The paced-out yardage mark would be the fourth-highest of Gronkowski's career, while the reception and touchdown count would be Gronkowski's best by 12 catches and an absurd 17 scores.
Of course, the odds of such production by season's end are extremely minimal. 34 receiving touchdowns in a season is never going to happen, specifically - the league record is 23, set by Randy Moss in 2007 while catching passes from Brady in New England. But in his second year of football following a one-season retirement stint, Gronkowski is playing at a peak level.
Buccaneers' pass rush continues to create pressure but struggles to get home
Tampa Bay has posted two sacks in as many games to start the 2021 season, but the team could realistically be in the double-digits by now.
Against the Cowboys, the Bucs posted 24 quarterback pressures according to Pro Football Focus - yet, Tampa Bay only had one sack to show for it. Much was the same against Atlanta: Matt Ryan was under pressure against three and four-man rushes and also dealt with plenty of blitzes, but more often than not maneuvered his way out of duress and was sacked just once as well.
In fairness to Tampa Bay, the final time Ryan was pressured, his pass was tipped and intercepted by Edwards for his second pick-six. But otherwise, the Buccaneers' pass rush was not able to finish plays.
These same issues presented themselves in 2020 before the Buccaneers kicked off their eight-game winning streak at the end of the season, the greatest example coming from the Bucs' 27-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams where Jared Goff was pressured 15 times but was not sacked once. Goff finished with 376 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, and he's a pure pocket passer.
In a league where mobile quarterbacks are more common than ever, Tampa Bay will need to turn pressure into more sacks in order to slow offenses down consistently.
The NFL is damaging its product with stricter taunting penalties
Edwards was flagged for taunting and found himself halfway toward an ejection following his second pick-six, all for turning around as he ran into the endzone.
The penalty stems from the NFL enforcing stricter taunting rules as agreed upon over the offseason. And the new rules are taking the fun out of the game.
Including the call on Edwards, there have been at least six taunting penalties called across the league in week two - and there is still another game to be played on Monday night. The calls range from Texans tight end Jordan Akins spinning the ball on the ground after a catch, to Bears safety Tashaun Gipson clapping at a receiver after a pass breakup, to Seahawks cornerback D.J. Reed flexing after a defended pass, and in Edwards' case, simply turning around and looking at players behind him, among others.
Football is literally a sport for modern-day gladiators, where athletes build up extreme physical strength to tackle and block each other on every play. As seen on Sunday and in week one, injuries are extremely common within the pure contact sport.
And yet, the NFL is afraid of its player's feelings being hurt when the opposition makes a big play. Make it make sense, please?
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