Bucs improve again in easy win over Broncs

by Gary Shelton on September 28, 2020

in general

Shaquil Barrett made a big return to Denver./TIM WIRT

In Denver, the nickname for the football stadium is "Mile High."

In Tampa Bay, they say the same thing about the expectations.

The Tampa Bay Bucs took another step toward growing into the type of team its fans want to see Sunday afternoon, winning comfortably over a wounded Denver Broncos team, 28-10. Once again, the Bucs weren't as deadly in the late going as the beginning, but winning by 18 points on the road in the NFL is no small thing.

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Aside from the conversation about developing a killer instinct, there will be much talk this week about quarterback Tom Brady, who has had his struggles in Denver. Brady threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns.

"We’ve started fast in every ballgame," Bucs' coach Bruce Arians said. "We get a lead and we have to develop a better finish. I won’t say a killer instinct – just a finish. We came out, we answered – when they scored, we scored. But again, way too many penalties offensively. First-and-20 every series, it seemed like. (I) liked the way we ran the ball and finished it out."

But for all the chatter about Brady and Rob Gronkowski -- who finally figured in the offense with six catches for 49 yards -- the real stars of the game were the Bucs' defense, who made quarterback Jeff Driskel look like the career back-up that he is. Denver had just 42 yards rushing and just 184 passing.

"We built this team on defense – Tom was just the icing on the cake," Arians said. "When we came into the offseason last year, (we said), ‘Hey, let’s keep this defense together because it can be special.’ All then of a sudden, Tom was like the icing on the cake for us offensively.

“I’ve been on some really good defenses and that probably goes back to early Steelers when I was with them. All four linebackers are really good pass rushers. The inside guys are trying to outdo the outside guys and the outside guys were doing a good job when the inside guys were blitzing in coverage. All four of those guys – and you throw (Anthony) Nelson in there who’s having a good (season) – then our secondary, also. Our defense is built on multiple pieces being able to do a lot of different things. I put our guys up against anybody’s.”

The Bucs have shown more and more signs of syncing their weapons. They were better this week than last week, and better last week than in week one. It gives fans something to look forward to.

“We’re getting there," Brady said. "It’s a long process. Like I said last week, this would have been our third preseason game. There’s still a lot to learn, a lot to grow. There’s a lot of room for improvement and I know everyone feels that way. We’ve got to get to know each other, what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to accomplish and make it happen. We’re only going to – I think – make improvements as we keep going.” 

For Denver, the hardest thing to watch all day might have been the play of former Bronco Shaq Barrett who had his first two sacks of the year and three tackles for losses.

"You knew he was going to have a big day," Arians said. "They tried to single-block him -- we kept pressuring up the middle, which was getting him singled and people were getting home from everywhere.”

The next thing the Bucs have to learn is to keep their foot on the gas pedal for the entire game. They did not finish strong Sunday.

"We have to develop a better finish," Arians said. "I won’t say a killer instinct – just a finish. 

“I think it’s just playing a little bit – not scared, but not wanting to mess up and give the team something to get back in the game. I didn’t like the way we finished the [first] half defensively, giving them that touchdown. I thought that was not our style. Offensively, it’s just making plays. There were plays to make – we didn’t make them. We’ll go back and look at why we didn’t make them. Again, the finish is the entire team. We’ve got the turnovers and we’ll get more points."

Brady said the key was repetition.

“I think we have a lot of room for improvement," Brady said. "We’re going to get back to work and by no means was this close to what we’re capable of. We’ve got to get back to work and try to get closer.”

Arians was especially pleased with the play of his young safeties, especially rookie Antoine Winfield, Jr.

“I don’t think they’ve let us down this year at all," Arians said. "They’ve been playing really, really good every game. I can’t think of any of those guys who had a bad game yet. Antoine (Winfield) is just going to keep growing. Jordan [Whitehead] is Jordan and he’s a good safety. He’s a good blitzer and a good centerfielder. Mike Edwards is Mike Edwards – I think when we lost Sean (Murphy-Bunting), nobody missed a beat.”

Barrett felt he was close to a breakout game.

At times we most definitely are the defense that we love – bringing all the energy and making all the plays – but we still have to work on eliminating some drives, like the two-minute drive that we gave up," Barrett said. "That’s really going to hurt us against a team that’s making us work for everything every game or every quarter. We’ve got to work on that and eliminate that because we’re supposed to be out here – nothing against the Broncos, but we sort of have dominated that game and (should have) kept them to no touchdowns. We always had those mental lapses at one point during the game, but it didn’t come back to hurt us this game, so that’s good.” 

Gronkowski, who had only two catches and four targets in the first two games, had his first big game as a Buc. In other words, Gronk got the edge on the Broncs.

"It just felt good to be out there making a couple plays (here) and there, getting involved in the passing game," Gronk said. "You just have to keep working hard in practice. It’s been there in camp and stuff and during the practice week. Not every week you’re going to get targets your way because you never know how the game’s going to go. But today it went that way, where I had a lot of targets. It just felt got to get involved and the way Tom spreads the ball out is unbelievable. I mean he finds the open guy wherever he needs to and spreads the ball out and hits the guy that’s open.”

In other words, no, Brady isn't too old.

“There’s been people talking garbage about him since I started playing with him 10 years ago – saying he didn’t have anything left in the tank," Gronkowski said. "That’s just simply not true. Just the way he can air the ball out and put a dime where he needs to. For example, the passes you just brought up. I just feel like he can do it and it’s like he’s not even 43 years old. Overall, as an offense I feel like we can come together better – start feeling each other out and make more plays while we’re out there as a team.”

“I just knew that if I kept week-in,-week-out just practicing hard, doing what we need to do, it was going to click. I’ve been in the league for a while and there are some games where you just don't get any looks and then there are some games where you get a lot of looks. There’s some games where I’m just not clicking and everything’s just not clicking. I’m here just getting better week-in, week-out and fixing the problems when there (are) problems and things aren’t going right. That’s the grind of the football season. I did definitely have the faith that I was going to get involved in the passing game and it happened today. I truly believe that we can keep getting better.”

The Bucs are home Sunday at 1 p.m. against the Chargers at Raymond James Stadium.

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