Some weeks, the Seahawks can flat out bully their opponents, wear them down by being relentless and intimidating. This was not one of those weeks, which may say as much about the resurgent Buccaneers as it does about Seattle.
One week after reviving their season with an upset win at Kansas City, the Buccaneers controlled Sunday’s game from start to finish en route to a 14–5 win. Tampa Bay scored on the game’s opening possession, eating up half of the first quarter before Mike Evans caught a Jameis Winston TD pass. A quick stop and another touchdown drive followed, with Evans beating Richard Sherman deep.
There was no historical precedent for how Seattle would play Sunday—it marked the first time since drafting him in 2010 that the Seahawks were without safety Earl Thomas. Aside from those opening two drives, though, Seattle’s defense pushed back when Tampa Bay had the ball.
The offense? No such luck. The Buccaneers spent all afternoon storming Russell Wilson, who continues to be hung out to dry on a regular basis by his overmatched offensive line. The only real break came when Wilson managed to escape the pocket and run. He finished with 80 of his team’s 127 rushing yards.
When Seattle appeared to find a little life, Tampa Bay quickly snuffed it out. An early fourth-quarter drive stalled out when safety Bradley McDougald demolished Tyler Lockett as he tried to make a grab across the minute. On a third-and-7 a few minutes later, Seattle’s virtual last-gasp rally died when TE Jimmy Graham tried to leap forward for a couple extra yards and was flipped head over heels by Lavonte David and Vernon Hargreaves, resulting in a fumble.
The Buccaneers were the more physical team. They deserved to win this game, probably by more than they did.
Seattle will turn in a performance like this one from time to time (see: a 9–3 loss to the Rams in Week 2). In and of itself, there’s no reason to panic. This is, of course, a team that handled Philadelphia last week and won in Foxborough two weekends ago. Despite the loss, the Seahawks still have a stranglehold on the NFC West and control their conference’s No. 2 seed.
Playing without Thomas, Michael Bennett, C.J. Prosise and others, it’s not necessarily a bad loss after a cross-country trip to play a confident opponent.
There should be, and no doubt will be, concern over trying to prevent these games from recurring as regularly as they have. A 6-6 tie vs. Arizona looked much the same, at least on offense, and a setback the following week in New Orleans was far from an all-time great performance by the Seahawks.
The reality is that their offensive line simply is not very good, even if it delivers a noteworthy performance here or there. Wilson has reestablished himself as an MVP candidate because of how he has played, sure, but also because he’s done it with so little help. Seattle entered Sunday ranked 28th in rushing; only Wilson’s mobility has kept the offense’s sack numbers from skyrocketing.
If there is any surprise to be had, it’s that, well, games like Sunday’s are not a monumental surprise anymore. Opponents willing and able to throw down with the Seahawks, at least on occasion, can dictate how games unfold.
And that is precisely what Tampa Bay did Sunday. The Buccaneers are now 6–5, right in the thick of the NFC South and wild-card races. Deservedly so. The past two weeks have been as impressive as anything seen from the Buccaneers in years, probably dating back at least to a 10-win 2010.
They weren’t flawless, either. On another day, they might have regretted not tacking on more points, especially on a late drive that included both a TD called back by penalty and a Winston interception. But other than that, this was a complete outing. The Buccaneers played the way we’ve come to expect the Seahawks will.
The Seahawks have no reason to panic, but there is cause for concern. Their defense, when it’s healthy, is still an elite unit—absences from Thomas and Kam Chancellor earlier in the season have exposed minor issues, but at 100% few teams are better. Their offense, on the other hand, has shown ample vulnerabilities when the opposition refuses to back down.
Tampa Bay didn’t budge Sunday.