Photo credit: Chris Leduc
After two down weeks across the board, resulting in a 1-1 record in that stretch, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took care of business on Sunday with a 45-17 victory over the visiting Miami Dolphins, climbing to a 4-1 record on the season.
It wasn't a complete game, but it was as close to one as Tampa Bay has gotten all season. In fairness, this Dolphins team may be on par with Atlanta as the worst squad the Bucs have faced all year, but in almost every sense other than pass defense, the Buccaneers made steps in the right direction throughout the matchup.
You can find AllBucs' five takeaways from the victory below.
Tom Brady and Antonio Brown return to form
This takeaway might sound a bit misleading as Tom Brady threw for 701 yards in Weeks 3 and 4 combined. However, he tossed only one score in that span and as a result, the Buccaneers' offense had seemingly lost its firepower.
That theory was blown out of the water on Sunday.
Brady, completing passes to nine different receivers, went 30-of-41 for 411 yards and five touchdowns against the Dolphins. When the Buccaneers reached a 45-17 lead in the fourth quarter, the Bucs played things safe and pulled Brady from the game - he had done more than enough.
An even bigger "comeback" than Brady's came from wide receiver Antonio Brown. Since his five-catch, 121-yard and one-score outing against Dallas in Week 1, Brown caught one pass against Atlanta, missed Week 3 while on the COVID-19 list, and - while hauling in seven passes for 63 yards - missed two touchdown opportunities against New England in Week 4 due to a lack of awareness on one pass and a drop on the next.
Brown immediately got back to form against Miami, finding the endzone twice in the second quarter and catching seven passes for 124 yards in total. He led the team in receiving versus the Dolphins, although Mike Evans pushed Brown with a six-catch, 113-yard, two-touchdown day of his own.
Even after Brady was pulled in the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert was able to connect with Brown which resulted in an incredible back-shoulder catch for 23 yards down the left sideline.
On a day where the Bucs needed to prove their offense hadn't lost its magic, Brady and Brown were the catalysts of the 45-point outing.
Dinged-up Jacoby Brissett tears apart Bucs' passing defense
The Dolphins held a small lead over the Buccaneers in the first quarter, and although Tampa Bay separated itself as the game went on, it felt as though Jacoby Brissett was keeping the Dolphins in the game until the fourth quarter.
And keep in mind, Brissett - who is not very mobile, to begin with - injured his hamstring on the Dolphins' second drive. Yet, he never missed a snap.
Across those two drives, Brissett went 8-of-10 for 119 yards and a touchdown, beginning to put together his best performance in years. He was accurate, found a way to push the ball downfield, and avoided pressure extremely well - despite facing plenty of it.
Brissett would finish the game having completed 27-of-39 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns and one interception - and his pick bounced off the hands of receiver Jaylen Waddle.
Of course, this didn't matter in the long run as the Buccaneers' offense put up its best game of the year. However, this was yet another example of Tampa Bay's leaky pass defense (which ranked last in the NFL entering the game) causing quite the concern - specifically as the Brissett-led Dolphins offense has been extremely lackluster throughout the season other than in garbage time.
The pass rush began to get home as the game went on with three sacks and seven quarterback hits, which was a plus, and Jamel Dean intercepted the pass off of Waddle's hands after missing the past one and a half games with a knee injury, an encouraging sign. But once again, these moments defensively meant very little in the end as Tampa Bay's offense is the reason why the Bucs won the game.
Another week, another big defensive injury: Lavonte David hurts his ankle
The Buccaneers have seen key defenders suffer an injury in every game this season: Sean Murphy-Bunting went on injured reserve after a Week 1 elbow dislocation, Dean and Carlton Davis III were dinged up in Week 2 but finished the game, Dean was ruled out after a Week 3 knee injury and missed the next game, and Davis suffered a quad injury in Week 4 - Antoine Winfield Jr. left that game with a concussion as well.
Week 5 was no different: Lavonte David left the contest before halftime with an ankle injury and did not return.
Entering the game, David - a vocal leader on Tampa Bay's defense and tenth-year pro - lead the team with 32 total tackles and 21 solos, pitching in with two pass breakups, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit on the year. While Devin White has developed into one of the league's most explosive linebackers, a lot of White's development can be credited to play next to and learning from David - furthering the veteran's importance within the Bucs' defense.
Jenna Laine of ESPN reported mid-game that the X-rays on David's ankle came back negative for fractures, but head coach Bruce Arians shared his belief that David suffered a high-ankle sprain post-game. This will certainly be (another) defensive injury situation to monitor moving forward.
Leonard Fournette continues to separate himself as RB1
Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II seemingly went head-to-head to begin the year as the Buccaneers' best running back - however, that competition was going in the wrong direction. Neither back was productive and both committed a handful of mistakes through their first three weeks.
Fournette, however, has firmly gripped onto RB1 duties over the past two weeks with some of the best performances of his Buccaneers career. Against Miami, Fournette posted 67 yards rushing with a touchdown on 12 attempts and caught another four passes for 43 yards. Five of his 16 touches went for 10+ yards.
With Giovani Bernard emerging in the third-down back role, Fournette can rest comfortably knowing he is the Buccaneers' best option on early downs.
Bucs greatly improve on third down, in the red zone, and with penalties
Some of the Buccaneers' biggest struggles this year have come from a lack of discipline within situational football. The team has struggled in the red zone since Rob Gronkowski's Week 3 injury, was inconsistent offensively and poor defensively on third down, and committed far too many penalties.
None of those issues were present on Sunday.
The Buccaneers scored touchdowns on 4-of-6 red-zone drives - the first non-touchdown red zone trip ended in a field goal when Brady was sacked at the 24-yard line on third down, and the second ended with three kneels by Gabbert to run out the clock and end the game.
Offensively, the Buccaneers converted on 8-of-11 third downs, compared to allowing the Dolphins to convert just twice on seven attempts defensively.
Entering the game, the Buccaneers were being penalized 8.5 times per game for an average of 76 yards per contest. This week, the Bucs were flagged just six times for 47 yards, the worst flag being thrown on cornerback Richard Sherman for defensive pass interference in the endzone, pushing the Dolphins' offense 16 yards forward to the one-yard line. Brissett would connect with running back Myles Gaskin for a touchdown two plays later, narrowing the Buccaneers' lead to one possession.
All in all, the Buccaneers should be pleased with these improvements across the board and hope to continue making progress in these departments as the season continues to unfold.
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