Tennessee Titans vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa Bay Grades, Notes and Quotes
It was supposed to be the dawning of a new era for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
But a packed house at Raymond James Stadium was treated to yet another embarrassing blowout, as the Tennessee Titans demolished the Bucs 42-14, making Tampa Bay look like it was still stuck in 2014.
In a matchup of first-time rookie starters at quarterback, Tennessee's Marcus Mariota was dominant, completing 13 of his 16 passes for 209 yards. The former Oregon standout threw four touchdowns—all in the first half, a new record for an NFL debut—and left many questioning whether or not the Bucs took the right signal-caller with the top pick in the 2015 draft.
Jameis Winston, on the other hand, threw a pick-six on his first pass attempt and, despite later throwing a pair of touchdowns, was never able to settle into a rhythm. The former Heisman Trophy winner and national champion completed just 16 of his 33 passes for 210 yards, throwing a second interception just before the half that led to yet another Titans touchdown.
The Titans were up 21-0 halfway through the first quarter and clearly had plenty of momentum, but the first of two touchdown strikes from Winston to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins got the Bucs on the board and gave fans hope for a potential comeback with plenty of time remaining.
But two more Mariota touchdown passes gave the Titans a 35-7 lead at halftime, and all of the air had been sucked out of a Tampa Bay team hoping to thrive on a sold-out home crowd. Instead, the Bucs limped through the second half to their 10th consecutive regular-season loss at home.
Each of Mariota's touchdown tosses went to a different receiver, with Harry Douglas, Kendall Wright, Delanie Walker and Bishop Sankey each accounting for a scoring reception. Wright led the Titans with 101 yards on four catches, while Sankey led the team with 74 yards rushing, also finding the end zone once the ground.
The Bucs lost the turnover battle, racked up 97 yards on 12 penalties and allowed Winston to be sacked four times and hurried on countless dropbacks.
Seferian-Jenkins led the Bucs with 110 yards on five catches along with his two scores, while Doug Martin led the Bucs with 52 yards rushing on 11 carries.
Position Grades for Bucs
This was an ugly one from top to bottom for the Bucs, which got blown out at home by seemingly the most beatable opponent on their 2015 regular-season schedule.
Winston played like a rookie quarterback in his first start, making plenty of mistakes and looking a bit overwhelmed at times. But he also showed flashes of talent and ended up with a fairly respectable stat line considering how poorly the offensive line played.
Speaking of the offensive line, it didn't do many favors for Martin, either, but the running back still turned in a solid performance. Martin gained 52 yards on his 11 carries, continuing to prove he's returned to his 2012 form. The Bucs also had multiple runs and catches by their backs called back for penalties by the offensive line, as well.
Tampa Bay's receivers did the best they could with the few opportunities they had, with Vincent Jackson leading the group with four catches for 51 yards. Jackson appeared to catch two touchdowns on the Bucs' final drive, but one was called for pass interference, and the other was ruled out of bounds.
The offensive star of the day for Tampa Bay was Seferian-Jenkins, who had a breakout performance with five catches for 110 yards and both of the team's touchdowns. In an otherwise forgettable performance for the Bucs, the second-year pro was easily the brightest spot.
Tampa Bay's defense was simply atrocious at every level for most of the game, from failing to consistently get after Mariota to poor fundamentals such as tackling, pursuit angles and pre-snap confusion. Mariota was given plenty of time in the pocket to pick apart the back seven, while too many missed tackles led to plenty of extra yardage on the ground and after the catch for the Titans.
Bobby Rainey was solid in the return game, as was new punter Jacob Schum. The coverage units weren't terrible, and new kicker Kyle Brindza showed off his big leg on kickoffs.
Tampa Bay's coaches looked completely unprepared, and the coaching was arguably the worst aspect of the game. The Bucs got knocked around by a team that also had a 2-14 record last season and also started a rookie quarterback in Week 1. Alignment penalties, confusion on defense and an unwillingness to challenge a fairly obvious touchdown catch by Jackson that was ruled incomplete led to a failing grade for head coach Lovie Smith and his staff.
Winston Struggles in Regular-Season Debut
Months of hype and hope for Bucs fans came to a sputtering halt Sunday afternoon, as Winston's NFL debut was full of cringe-worthy moments.
The top overall pick in this year's draft, Winston tossed a pick-six on his first pass attempt, struggled behind a porous offensive line and dealt with a game that got out of hand way too quickly. Winston would throw another interception on a poorly thrown screen pass later in the game, nearly threw a small handful more and was sacked four times.
Winston's ball placement was all over the place, but he did have his positive moments, including a pair of touchdown passes to Seferian-Jenkins.
Any rookie quarterback starting in Week 1 is bound to have his ups and downs, and Bucs fans should be patient with their new field general. That said, it was definitely a deflating afternoon for the Tampa Bay faithful, and Winston's play didn't do much to lighten the mood.
Bucs Defense Makes Mariota Look Like a Seasoned Veteran
The Tampa Bay defense was supposed to take advantage of a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start on the road. Instead, it made Mariota look like he was back in the Pac-12.
Much like many of his starts during his stellar college career at Oregon, Mariota shredded the opposing defense calmly and mercilessly for three quarters before putting on a ball cap and watching his backup clean up. The rookie averaged a touchdown pass every four throws, ending his NFL debut with a perfect quarterback rating.
Tampa Bay's pass rush was nonexistent for most of the afternoon, managing just a pair of sacks and giving Mariota a clean pocket from which to work. This made life difficult for the back seven, allowing plenty of easy completions and way too many yards after the catch.
Bucs fans were hoping to see significant improvements in Year 2 of Coach Smith's defensive overhaul, but this week's loss looked like just more of the same from last year's 2-14 team.
Seferian-Jenkins One of Few Silver Linings for Bucs
In a game filled with embarrassing moments, Seferian-Jenkins had a career game in Sunday's loss to the Titans.
The 38th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, Seferian-Jenkins tied his touchdown reception total from last season in just one game, catching both of Tampa Bay's touchdowns Sunday. In all, the former Washington Husky hauled in five passes for 110 yards, leading the Bucs in both categories and showing the potential that made him such a high pick, despite a foot injury that kept him out of pre-draft workouts.
With Mike Evans out with a hamstring injury, the Bucs needed another receiving target to pick up the slack, and Seferian-Jenkins did that and more, despite an awful loss. Expect him to be a key component in Winston's development throughout the new quarterback's rookie season.
Winston on His NFL Debut
The Winston era in Tampa Bay didn't get off to the most impressive start, as this year's top overall draft pick struggled for much of the afternoon in a season-opening home loss.
Winston knows he can't make big mistakes early in games, but he also acknowledged the opportunity to learn and improve, per Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com:
I can't turn it over on the first possession; that's just something for me to learn from. So I put us behind the eight-ball a little bit. But we bounced back. When we're playing Buccaneer football, we play well. Obviously, I've got to protect the football. But the guys played great; it was just a learning experience for me.
It was an ugly loss for the Bucs, but Winston's struggles shouldn't take the brunt of the blame. He didn't get much protection and was without his best receiver in Evans.
It's a marathon for Winston, not a sprint, but there's no denying his first step out of the gate was a bit of a clunker.
Coach Smith on Winston, Titans
It wasn't even halftime before fans of all teams were slamming the Bucs on social media, many clamoring about Tampa Bay's decision to draft Winston over Mariota.
But while Coach Smith admitted his Bucs got outplayed in every way Sunday, he's still confident in his new quarterback, as he told Smith of Buccaneers.com:
Their quarterback played better today. Their football team played better today. They're coach did a better job of coaching their football team than I did today. But it's today. This is one game. Let's not overreact to a bad performance. We're going to feel bad about this one and give them all their due credit, but it's no more than that. We have a guy that's perfect for us going forward.
Winston did look far inferior to Mariota in their first game, but it's obviously far too early to pass judgement on their entire NFL careers after just 60 minutes of football. It was a black eye for Winston and the Bucs, but there's still plenty of time for Winston to prove he was the right pick for Tampa Bay.
Seferian-Jenkins on His Breakout Performance, Priorities
One of the few bright spots for the Bucs on Sunday was Seferian-Jenkins, who led the team with 110 yards on five catches, catching both of Winston's first NFL touchdown passes.
But despite his big day, the Washington product said his focus is on winning, per Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times:
I want to win. I want the W, so personally, when my head hits the pillow, I'm thinking about how we're going to get better for the New Orleans Saints. I'm not worried about my stats. What I did is great, but we all saw the scoreboard. We lost, and the most important thing is winning.
After dealing with nagging injuries all throughout his rookie season, the 2014 second-round pick showed off his rare blend of size and athleticism Sunday. But his effort was wasted in a losing effort, something he hopes won't happen next week in New Orleans.