Buccaneers Defense Proves It Can Finish Close Games Despite Stale Offense

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Buccaneers Defense Proves It Can Finish Close Games Despite Stale Offense
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Kelcie McCray and the Tampa Bay defense were the heroes on Sunday against Detroit.

Before Sunday's 24-21 win over the Detroit Lions, Greg Schiano had only won one game decided by fewer than six points in his 26-game NFL coaching career. After the victory in Detroit, that number is now two.

And while two wins in close games is hardly worthy of praise, it signals what may be a turnaround in Tampa Bay. Can a Greg Schiano-led team limit mistakes and make the plays needed to win a close football game? 

When considering the entire season as a sample size, that answer is no. Heartbreaking losses to the Jets and Saints early in the season, followed by an overtime loss to Seattle in recent weeks combine to indicate that the Buccaneers are just as capable of losing a close game as they are to winning one.

But Sunday's win against Detroit and a Week 10 win against Miami both share a common theme. Both games were clinched with the Tampa Bay defense on the field.

So, despite an inconsistent offense led by a rookie who tends to lose his nerve at the end of games, it was the Tampa Bay defense that channeled Buccaneer defensive units of old and won the game for its struggling offense.

 

Finding a Way to Win

As Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times pointed out on Twitter, the Buccaneers didn't have the most impressive offensive display in their 24-21 victory over Detroit.

And while full credit should be given to the Tampa Bay offense for pulling off the 85-yard completion to Tiquan Underwood, that still leaves the offense with under 230 net yards for the game.

That's a rather pedestrian number considering the level of competition they were facing. (Football Outsiders ranked the Detroit defense 22nd in the league coming into Week 12, according to their DVOA rankings.)

But the Buccaneer defense hauled in five turnovers, and the special teams secured a blocked punt, which fueled the victory despite the poor numbers on offense.

It wasn't just a bunch of superstar players flying around the field and making plays, however. The team overcame adversity as well as poor offense to earn this win.

 

Coping with Adversity

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into Sunday's game, the Buccaneers knew that they would be without starting middle linebacker Mason Foster, who suffered a concussion in Week 11 against Atlanta.

His backup, Adam Hayward, made a key pass breakup on a throw to Calvin Johnson late in Sunday's game, as seen in the photo above.

Entering the game against the Detroit, the Buccaneers also knew that they would be without starting free safety Dashon Goldson, who was suspended for a personal foul committed in Week 11.

His backup, Keith Tandy, secured a critical interception in the third quarter to prevent a scoring drive for Detroit. And digging even deeper on the depth chart at the safety position, it was reserve defensive back Kelcie McCray who knocked the ball from the grip of Calvin Johnson at the end of the game and ended the comeback hopes for the Lions.

During Sunday's game, the Fox broadcast team reported that starting cornerback Darrelle Revis left the game with a leg injury.

His replacement as the man with primary coverage on Calvin Johnson, Johnthan Banks, deflected a pass and would eventually intercept the game-winning deflected throw in his time filling in for Revis.

The Buccaneers had every excuse to not have a great day on defense on Sunday, but they managed to have their best defensive performance of the year from a turnover standpoint and give their struggling offense a hand with a defensive touchdown and four more turnovers to help the field position battle.

 

A "Team" Win

The Tampa Bay defense could have folded up shop when Darrelle Revis exited the game and Calvin Johnson started to get involved in the passing attack.

But instead they fought through, and that's because the leadership on defense didn't care that Revis wasn't on the field.

That mentality was evident, as the Buccaneers would shut down the Detroit offense at just the right time thanks to contributions from undrafted players like Kelcie McCray and Leonard Johnson.

It was also evident by the way McCoy played, as he disrupted the pocket for Matthew Stafford all afternoon and made it tough for the Detroit signal-caller to get into a rhythm. He continued to pursue the quarterback after Darrelle Revis left the game, because he knew that was what his team needed of him.

The Buccaneers may not be in the playoff hunt, and they're certainly not one of the better teams in the NFL. But the talent on defense is starting to gel, and it's developing a reputation as a clutch group that doesn't fold under pressure.

Gone are the days of personal fouls to set up game-winning field goals. The new identity for the Tampa Bay defense is to carry a lackluster offense to victories.

And that reflects well on the man who orchestrates the defense, head coach Greg Schiano.

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