Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: A
That’s more like it. The Bills stuck with the run and it paid off, piling up 173 yards as a team on 33 carries, an average of 5.2 yards per rush. LeSean McCoy scored his first two touchdowns of 2017, rushing 23 times for 91 yards. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was once again a part of the running game, gaining 53 yards on six carries. Mike Tolbert made the most of his three carries, gaining 29 yards. This was a huge step in the right direction.
PASSING GAME: B
Taylor spread the ball around, completing passes to nine different players. Newcomer Deonte Thompson made an immediate impact with 107 yards on four catches. Nick O’Leary and Logan Thomas combined for 80 yards and a touchdown (the first of Thomas’ career) on three catches. Taiwan Jones’ 11-yard reception in the fourth quarter was perhaps the biggest play of the game. Zay Jones had just two catches for 17 yards on nine targets, several of which weren’t catchable. He and Taylor still aren’t on the same page.
RUN DEFENSE: B
That’s back-to-back good showings up front for the defense, which limited the Bucs to just 69 yards on 25 carries. Preston Brown was around the ball all game, finishing with 11 tackles, pushing him past 400 for his career. He’s just the 13th player in franchise history with that many. Rookie linebacker Matt Milano had a pair of tackles for loss, while veteran Lorenzo Alexander had eight tackles. Marcell Dareus had five tackles, surpassing his season total entering the game.
PASS DEFENSE: C-
Cornerback E.J. Gaines is a good player, but he can’t stay on the field. When he went out, the Bills turned to Shareece Wright, and the Bucs took advantage. Micah Hyde dropped what would have been a huge interception in the fourth quarter. A blown coverage led to an easy touchdown for Tampa Bay. Rookie Tre’Davious White was harder on himself than he needed to be after giving up a touchdown catch. He did bounce back with the game-changing forced fumble and recovery, though.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Stephen Hauschka had a rare miss when he was wide right on a 41-yard field goal attempt in the first half, but he more than made up for it when he drilled a 52-yarder in the fourth quarter. That was his 12th straight made field goal from 50-plus yards, tying an NFL record. Punter Colton Schmidt was only called on twice, but made both efforts count by netting 50.5 yards per punt. All seven of Hauschka’s kickoffs went for touchbacks, making for an easy day for the coverage units.
This might seem harsh, but I was tempted to give Sean McDermott a "D" for the play at the end of the first half alone. That was absolutely brutal. I also didn’t like how the Bills had to burn a timeout so early in the second half. Credit where it’s due, though: The Bills handled the clock perfectly at the end of the game, forcing the Bucs to burn their timeouts and getting the ball back with just 14 seconds left. McDermott preaches takeaways above all else on defense, and the Bills did that three times.
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Grading the Buccaneers
RUNNING GAME: D
Doug Martin had 20 carries. Seriously. Other than maybe one or two of them, they weren’t very memorable. He finished with 49 yards, averaging just 2.5 an attempt. Backups Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims III were nonfactors, combining for 10 yards on three carries. It was an ugly effort on the ground all around for the Bucs.
PASSING GAME: A
That’s an impressive set of weapons the Bucs have in receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson and tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Quarterback Jameis Winston took advantage, throwing for 384 yards and three touchdowns against a secondary that had allowed just two scores through five games. Evans’ fourth-quarter touchdown was a thing of beauty, as he dragged his back foot to stay inbounds. Left tackle Donovan Smith stunk. He got beat for a sack-fumble by Ryan Davis and took a holding penalty that wiped out a 53-yard completion to Jackson.
RUN DEFENSE: D
“We didn’t tackle,” defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said, summarizing what went wrong here. “They didn’t do anything weird. … We just didn’t tackle.” The league’s best third-down defense last season, Tampa Bay allowed the Bills to go 10 of 16. The Bills picked up nine first downs on the ground. Linebacker Davonte David forced and recovered a fumble by LeSean McCoy to set up the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
PASS DEFENSE: C-
A blown coverage allowed Bills receiver Deonte Thompson to haul in a 44-yard deep pass with 3:14 to go, setting up the tying touchdown. Robert McClain made matters worse by getting an unnecessary roughness call trying to save the touchdown. Safety T.J. Ward openly complained to Tampa reporters after the game about his role, saying he was at his “wit’s end” being part of a rotation. The pass rush got just one sack despite forcing Taylor out of the pocket a few different times.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
Punter Bryan Anger was probably … wait for it … angry about his performance after punting twice for a net average of just 18.5 yards. (Sorry, I had to.) Anger put both of his punts in the end zone for touchbacks. Kicker Patrick Murray provided some much-needed stability at the position for the Bucs by drilling a 50-yard field goal to open the scoring.
Gutless punt by Dirk Koetter in the second quarter on fourth and 7 from the Bills’ 37 in the second quarter. Murray had kicked from 50 yards earlier, so why not try a field goal or simply go for it? The Bucs deserved the punt to go into the end zone. At 2-4, Koetter has his work cut out for him keeping the Bucs together. “We’ve got to get better in every aspect of how we handle ourselves,” Winston said. That doesn’t sound good for the rest of the season.