TAMPA, Fla. — Mention the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the first thing likely to come to mind is Jameis Winston and an emerging offense.
Maybe it’s time an improved defense that keyed the team’s season-opening rout of the Chicago Bears gets a little love, too.
“Defense wins championships,” Winston said, reflecting on a 29-7 victory in which the Bears turned the ball over four times in the first half and were held to 20 yards rushing.
“When you’ve got a dominant defense,” the young quarterback added, “it opens up every single thing.”
Robert McClain returned an interception for a touchdown. Noah Spence had Tampa Bay’s only sack, forcing a fumble that led to another TD.
Specials teams also did its part to help Winston build a 26-0 halftime lead, recovering a fumble on a punt return at Chicago’s 13-yard line.
“It was crazy during the second quarter,” tight end Cameron Brate said. “We got a takeaway, we scored the first play and then the defense got a pick-six.
“So, we had run one play in the second quarter and we were already up 23-0,” Brate said. “It was a little weird because we really didn’t have to do too much to build that lead.”
Coach Dirk Koetter said the defense essentially took up where it left off last season, when Tampa Bay rebounded from a 3-5 start to finish 9-7.
The team’s first winning record in six years didn’t produce a playoff berth, but it heightened expectations for this season.
“If you look at that second half of last year, they were a dominant defense. In my opinion, they just picked up where they left off,” Koetter said. “It wasn’t really that surprising to me because we see them every day in practice.”
“If you look at last year, our defense, towards the end of the year they were lights out,” the third-year pro said. “That’s why our offense had success.”
As well as the defense played against the Bears, Koetter cautioned that there’s plenty of room for improvement.
The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, and the coach said it’s important to not lose perspective.
“When you play the perfect game, you can stop worrying about what you have to work on. But I haven’t seen it yet,” Koetter said.
“Everything about (Sunday) was really good. Exciting way to start the season. Unique way to start the season based on the set of circumstances,” the coach added. “But at the same time, that was just one game. We all have a tendency to be way over the top for the good or the bad, and reality is somewhere in the middle.”
Three-time Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward joined the Bucs this month after being released by Denver following the final preseason.
Ward was part of an elite defense that helped the Broncos win the Super Bowl two years ago. He’s impressed with his new teammates, and thinks the Bucs have the capability of becoming a dominant unit, too.
“We definitely can be number one,” Ward said. “The talent we have in this room, they work hard and it is everything you need to be a championship defense.”