First home victory is what Bucs coach Lovie Smith needed: proof of progress

Jags-Bucs game ball winners put on an offensive show (1:57)

Buccaneers reporter Andrew Astleford and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco hand out game balls to RB Doug Martin and QB Blake Bortles from the Bucs' 38-31 victory at Raymond James Stadium. (1:57)

TAMPA, Fla. -- Lovie Smith walked through a corridor at Raymond James Stadium, trading smiles with bystanders before entering a small interview room and stepping onto a stage where he had spoken so often about defeat.

"Waited a long time to come up," the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach said, "and talk to you after a win at Raymond James."

The Bucs' 38-31 victory on Sunday afternoon over the Jacksonville Jaguars did more than allow a flawed team to improve to 2-3. It snapped an 11-game streak of home losses -- with 10 of those defeats coming on Smith's watch.

Sunday's result was an important psychological victory for Smith, who needed to support his claim that the Bucs were making progress.

"Guys have been doing a lot of good things behind the scenes," Smith said on Sunday. "I talked last week about how much better we are getting, but you need to see it on the football field."

Leading the way was running back Doug Martin, who rushed for a season-high 123 yards and scored three touchdowns. Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston played turnover-free football one week after his four-interception flop against the Carolina Panthers. The defensive line made life difficult for Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who was sacked six times.

It's hard to imagine how uncomfortable the week ahead would have become had the Bucs lost. Smith's job wasn't riding on Sunday's outcome. But a loss to the struggling Jaguars, who have dropped 12 consecutive road games, could have been viewed as the beginning of the end for the coach.

Instead, Smith can claim small progress as the Bucs head into their bye week. They already have matched their win total from last year's dreadful 2-14 season. It's hard to see Tampa Bay finishing with a winning record, but five or six victories don't seem out of the question.

"It felt awesome," Martin said of the victory. "We haven't won a home game in so long, so it was good to get this win."

The Bucs still have far to go. The Jaguars began Sunday ranked No. 31 in the NFL in scoring offense, but Bortles attacked the Bucs' secondary as Jacksonville threatened well into the second half. The situation looked dicey for the Bucs when the Jaguars took a 24-20 lead on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to T.J. Yeldon late in the third quarter.

But this day was different, with the old frustration nowhere to be found. Fans greeted players with a standing ovation near a tunnel after time had expired. The Bucs had risen up. They earned the chance to stop talking about their slide at home.

"Huge," Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "We haven't won [at home] since 2013, and it's dang near 2016 right now, and we're going into a bye.

"Going into a bye week with a win, and the way we won, it feels good."

Late in Smith's postgame remarks, he was asked about matching last year's win total after just five games. The reality seemed to catch him off-guard.

"I have to think about that for a while," Smith said. "Two wins, and we've matched the total.

"We are 1-0 in the second quarter [of the season]. That's how we are looking at it with another opportunity."

Sunday presented an opportunity for Smith to prove that Tampa Bay can beat an inferior opponent. The Bucs did just that, and they gave their coach a rare reason to grin in the process.