For a long time – and you can measure it in seasons, in coaches or in quarterbacks – the Tampa Bay Bucs have waited for a day such as this one.
A day when the quarterback was superb.
A day when the running back could not be stopped.
A day when the defense flustered the opposition.
The Bucs have rarely had a day such as this one, when they bashed the Philadelphia Eagles 45-17 on their home turf in an easy victory. It was so convincing, in fact, that fans will barely remember that the Bucs were underdogs or that they trailed 7-0.
Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston had his finest day as a Bucs quarterback, becoming only the third rookie in history to throw five touchdown passes to five different receivers (a sixth went through the hands of Adam Humphries late). He hit Mike Evans for a four-yard touchdown, Vincent Jackson for 13, Russell Sheperd for four, Charles Sims for 14 and Cameron Brate for eight.
In all, Winston hit 19 of 29 passes for 246 yards and a rating of 131.6.
But it wasn’t all a Winston highlight film. Doug Martin rushed 27 times for 235 yards in the second-best day of his career. He had runs of 84 (the longest ever run by a Buc) and 58 yards and averaged 8.7 yards per carry.
But wait. How about Lavonte David, who intercepted two passes and returned one of them 20 yards for a score? Or Gerald McCoy, who had two sacks. Or Lovie Smith himself, whose team evened its record at 5-5 after a season in which the team went 2-14.
In other words, the Bucs did a lot of things correctly. They were as sharp as they have been in any game under Smith, as sharp as they’ve been in any game for a few coaches before him.
“It wasn’t perfect,” Smith said. “We could have done a lot of things better. But it’s as good as we’ve played in a long time. We’ve talked about wanting to be relevant again. I think we’re relevant.”
At 5-5, what is out of the Bucs’ reach? A .500 season? A wild-card berth? A run through the playoffs. Suddenly, not of it seems as far-fetched as it did.
Want to quibble? Well, the Bucs did have nine penalties for 82 yards. The Eagles scored quickly on their first possession. For the most part, however, that’s just seeds in the popcorn. The Bucs were at a level far beyond what most of us thought they were capable.
It was Tampa Bay’s third win its last four games and fourth in its last six.
The Bucs, who have been quarterback-hungry for most of their existence, finally seem to have hit the jackpot on one. A week after Winston led a comeback over Dallas, he led a dominating win over Philadelphia. He now has 15 touchdown passes on the season.
“You can see how good our team can be,” Winston said.
Winston managed to spread the ball around for most of Sunday’s game. Of his 19 completions, five different Bucs had three catches or more. For the fifth time in six games, Winston did not throw an interception.
Martin closed to 941 yards on the season. After not running it well for the previous two weeks, the Bucs came out determined to have a better ground game this week. The Bucs’ offensive line won its battle with the Eagles handily.
Tampa Bay tries to move to 6-5 next week when it visits the Indianapolis Colts, who are winning behind backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who is 3-0.