By Leo Haggerty


The Bucs, after spotting the Chargers a 24-7 first half advantage, roared back in the last 30 minutes to secure a 38-31 victory at Raymond James Stadium.  Tampa Bay moved to 3-1 on the season and Los Angeles fell to 1-3 for the campaign.

The Pewter Pirates took the opening kickoff and found the end zone after 5 minutes of play.  QB Tom Brady (30-of-46 for 369 yards and 5 TDs along with 1 INT) found Cameron Brate with a 5-yard strike.  K Ryan Succop was good with the PAT and the Buccaneers took an early 7-0 lead.

The Thunderbolts would answer on their first drive.  QB Justin Herbert (20-of-25 for 278 and 3 TD’s plus 1 INT) found Tyrone Johnson with a 53-yard pass.  K Michael Badgley was true with the extra point to tie the score a 7-7 but the Chargers weren’t finished.

Los Angeles would post the next 17 points of the contest.  DB Michael Davis took a Brady pass back to the house for a Pick 6.  Herbert found Donald Parham for a 19-yard score and Badgley hit on both PATs and finished off the Chargers scoring spurt with a 53-yard FG to put the visitors up 24-7 with 1:37 left before intermission.

It looked like the arithmetic would stay that way at halftime but Tampa Bay made a huge play to turn momentum to their side of the field.  After a Tampa Bay punt, LA faced a 1st-and-10 from their own 9 yard line with only 47 seconds left in the second period.

Rather than take a knee and go to the locker room with a 24-7 halftime advantage, the Thunderbolts chose to give Joshua Kelley the football on a simple dive play to run out the clock.  DL Ndamukong Suh broke through the Chargers line and forced a fumble that was recovered by LB Devin White at the LA 9 yard line.

I asked the University of Nebraska alum the following question about the depleted LA O-line.  His answer is below.

LH : The Chargers were playing without three offensive linemen.  Is it harder for you to go against linemen where you haven’t had film to watch or does instinct just take over when the game starts?

NS : I think, for me, that when I look at a situation that we had with them not having Trai Turner or Bulaga who are their starters. You have to understand what they want to do.  They want to keep things basic so they can run their offense.  When we get into passing situations, going back to your technique and understanding that you have to feel, regardless.  You have to see what they are going to give you.  So, you can have things pre-programed and ready to go but you have to be able to switch it up on the fly.  That’s the situation for me.  I’m just starting out the game that way.

It took the Pewter Pirates three plays and 16 seconds to find paydirt  Brady found Mike Evans in the back of the end zone and Succop’s conversion made it 24-14 with 22 seconds left before halftime.

It took Tampa Bay a half to figure out what they needed to do to come away with a victory.  Whatever was decided at halftime worked to perfection.

From a defensive standpoint, the Pewter Pirates were able to increase the pressure on Herbert.  Carlton Davis gave me a great response to that query.

LH : Did the defense change their scheme to get to Chargers Quarterback Justin Herbert more in the second half?

CD : Yeah, we were a little more aggressive in the second half.  We put more pressure on them and gave them different looks. From there, we just had to play ball. We had to play better. We had to read our keys. We had to be more disciplined in our coverage. Halftime we made some adjustments and it worked.

Other than a 72 yard Herbert to Jalen Guyton strike, the Bucs defense was flawless from a scoring standpoint.  The Chargers were held to seven points in the second half.

On the offensive side, the Tampa Bay offense came to life.  The Buccaneers posted 24 points of their own.  Brady found TE OJ. Howard and WR Scotty Miller as well as rookie RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn before Succop kicked a 22-yard FG to put TB up 38-31 with 2:40 left in regulation.

Miller, when asked, said that the Chargers gave the Pewter Pirates some different looks in the first half.  He said that the adjustments made at halftime by the coaching staff reaped huge benefits.

LH : You said that they played a lot more Cover 2 than you thought they would.  Did that open up the deep sidelines and the deep middle more than you expected?

SM : A little bit, yeah.  For instance, Tom and I didn’t connect on one.  I think that it was late in the first half during the two-minute drill.  We missed a shot.  It was like that we weren’t prepared for that at all.  Then, we had Gronk going down the middle, J Wat and Mike catching that deep one down the sideline.  That’s stuff we didn’t necessarily game plan for but, like I said, the coaches did a great job of adjusting and putting us in great positions to make plays no matter what the defense was running.

That left it up to the defense to protect a seven-point lead.  Davis stepped up to the plate and picked off Herbert with 2:22 left.  RB Ronald Jones rumbled for two yards and then a game-clinching 14-yard dash. That allowed Brady to kneel three times to put the contest in the win column for the Bucs.

Now, on a short week, the Buccaneers heads to Chicago to take on the 3-1 Bears.  Look for Senior Writer Rob Kriete to flip-flop his columns because of the scheduling.

His Bucs Up article will appear on Wednesday and his popular Game On column will post on Saturday.  Enjoy both of them.