Bruce Arians’ team has won three straight games and the Buccaneers’ defense has picked up from where it left off late last year.
Only the Cleveland Browns (2002) have waited longer to get back to the NFL postseason than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who haven’t appeared in the playoffs since winning the NFC South with a 9-7 finish in 2007. And the franchise hasn’t won a postseason since tilt since routing the then-Oakland Raiders, 48-21, in Super Bowl XXXVII.
That was 2002. It’s now 2020 and the team is off to a 3-1 start after losing at New Orleans on the opening Sunday of the season. Bruce Arians’ club comes off a 38-31 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Chargers in which the club overcame a 24-7 second-quarter deficit. Tom Brady overcame an early pick-six and would throw for 369 yards and five touchdowns.
But the story ultimately was the Tampa defense, which has gotten off to a solid start and currently ranks fourth in the league in fewest total yards per game allowed while only the Pittsburgh Steelers are giving up fewer rushing yards per contest (64.3 average). Coordinator Todd Bowles’ unit has picked up where it left off late last season, when it surrendered just 136 points and 10 offensive TDs in the team’s final six games, four of which Arians’ team won. This year, the club has allowed only 92 points while opposing offenses have reached the end zone only nine times.
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You would have never thought this was the same unit that was burned for 313 points and a disappointing 31 offensive TDs during Tampa Bay’s 3-7 start in ’19. This is now a group growing with confidence and led by an imposing front seven featuring veterans such as Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaquil Barrett (team-high 3 sacks), and Lavonte David and recent first-rounders such as Vita Vea and Devin White – the latter leading the club with 37 tackles. Rookie strong safety Antoine Winfield is third on the team in stops and has also aided the pass rush. Bowles’ unit has already totaled 14 sacks and only the Cleveland Browns (10) have more takeaways than the Buccaneers (8).
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Combine what Tampa is doing on defense with Brady and a talent-laden offense and Arians’ team could indeed make things interesting for the New Orleans Saints – winners of the NFC South each of the past three seasons – in terms of winning a division title and making a trip to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.