Doug Martin Done in Tampa Bay

We all saw this coming, but now it’s official.

 

Doug Martin’s tenure in Tampa is over.  The Bucs released him today after six seasons in red and pewter.

 

The Buccaneers took Martin in the first round of the 2012 draft.  He rushed for over 1400 yards, twice.  I will never forget that game in Oakland where he ran wild for about 250 yards and four touchdowns.  Heck, he was one of the top running backs in the NFL.

 

But it’s impossible to ignore how this all ended.  There was the second-to-last game of the 2016 season in New Orleans, with the Bucs still in playoff contention, and Martin was inactive.  At the time, we thought it was a benching, only to learn later he had been suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.  And Martin announced he had entered a drug rehab program.

 

In 2017, he just wasn’t the same.

 

This was a move that had to be made.  So now what?  Well, right now Peyton Barber moves into the lead running back role, pending what the Bucs do in the draft.

 

Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Recapping the 2017 Bucs, and the Expectations That Weren’t Met

Before the season began, it was understandable why so many Bucs’ fans were expecting a playoff year in 2017.  After all, Tampa Bay did go 9-7, and added a lot of firepower on the offensive side of the ball.

The Buccaneers finished 5-11.

So what happened?  Was the bar set too high?  I don’t think so, based on the success of last season.  But let’s break down what turned out to be a disappointing season in Bucs’ country.

Let’s start on the defensive side of the ball.  This was the biggest area of concern on 2016, the feeling that Mike Smith’s unit couldn’t stop anybody.  Well, in 2017, they still couldn’t stop anybody.  Guess where the Buccaneers finished in total defense (based on total yards allowed per game.)  They were dead last.  When it came to stopping the other team on third down?  Yep, dead last.  Guess which team had the fewest sacks in the NFL?  That would be Tampa Bay.  The defense gave up nearly 24 points a game, which puts them in the bottom ten in that category.  Sometimes stats can be misleading.  These aren’t.

And yet, Dirk Koetter said Monday that he expects Mike Smith to return with him next season.  Right.

Offensively, this was supposed to be the year Jameis Winston made the jump to the next level.  He’s shown flashes of brilliance.  The biggest one that comes to mind was just a day ago, when amazingly he led his team 95 yards in the final two minutes (with no timeouts) to beat the eventual NFC South champions.  But the turnovers are a problem – a big problem.  He continues to force the ball into double coverage (even triple coverage.)  And the fumbles are just as big an issue.  He has to do a better job hanging on to the football.  Period.

Finally, there was the disaster known as special teams.  Nick Folk started the year as the team’s kicker, taking over for Roberto Aguayo.  Folk was just as bad.  He single-handedly cost the Bucs the game against the Patriots.  Patrick Murray returned and stabilized that position a bit, though he missed some important kicks down the stretch.  And we won’t soon forget the other mishaps: allowing 100+ kickoff returns in each of the last two games, the punt block that the Saints ran back for a score in the Superdome.

So where do the Bucs go from here?  I was hoping Mike Smith would get fired, but Koetter says that’s not going to happen.  Koetter also said he’s going to keep calling the plays.  Good Lord.  The Buccaneers have a top-ten pick in the draft.  They need help just about everywhere, but fixing the defense should be the first priority (though other areas aren’t far behind.)

Finally, I conclude with some thank yous.  Thank you Gene Deckerhoff, Dave Moore, TJ Rives and the rest of the people at the Buccaneers radio network for keeping me entertained all season long.  Thank you to bloggers like JoeBucsFan and Pewter Report for their excellent coverage during the season (and offseason.)  If you don’t follow them on Twitter, I strongly suggest you do.

But most of all, thank you to my readers who come here for my sometimes silly take on my favorite football team.  Without you, I would not be doing this.  I live in the greater Boston area, and not everyone here is a diehard Patriots fan.  I just wish there were more Buccaneers’ fans around here.  This blog will remain mostly dormant until the NFL Draft.  But if something big happens before then, I’ll offer my take here.

Happy New Year, God Bless, and Go Bucs!

Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Yes! Thank God(win) For One Last Bucs’ Victory

If you’re like me, you’re still trying to comprehend how the Buccaneers beat the Saints in the season finale.

 

Jameis Winston threw three more interceptions, including a horrendous one into triple coverage.  The Bucs gave up a 100+ yard kickoff return for the second week in a row (but scored their own special teams touchdown in the fourth quarter.)  A missed extra point by Patrick Murray was looming large.  There’s no way Winston would drive his team 95 yards in the final two minutes.

 

Oh, but he did.  Yes, the recent turnover machine hit Chris Godwin on a deep ball with nine seconds left in the contest to win it.  And before all of the Saints fans in attendance could wipe away their tears of disbelief, they found out they’d won the NFC South anyway, because Carolina choked against Atlanta.

 

This Godwin kid is pretty good, the more I see of him.  He’s made some acrobatic catches, and with the disappointing season turned in by Desean Jackson, Godwin could be the number-two receiver on next year’s team.

 

Was this game perfect?  Of course not.  I mentioned the interceptions and the kickoff returns.  Mike Smith’s defense is still a sieve.  The lack of a pass rush was a problem all year, though they did sack Drew Brees twice.

 

But it was nice to finally win a game.  I’d much rather see them win than intentionally lose to improve their draft pick order.  Heck, this team needs help just about everywhere, so any decent player will do at this point.

 

Coming on Monday: my ‘year in review.’  As you might expect, with a 5-11 season, it won’t be pretty.  But tonight is a night to be joyous, because the boys in Pewter finally won another game.  Happy New Year, and good night.

 

Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Times

 

No Merry Christmas For the Bucs

How many ways can a football team lose a game?  When you’re 4-11, you find new ways every single week.

There were the Buccaneers, nursing a four-point lead in the closing minutes on Sunday against the Panthers.  They had a chance to extend it to seven.  Patrick Murray – who had already made four field goals – missed one that would’ve put Tampa Bay up by seven.

Admit it: you just knew Carolina would go down the field and win the game after that.  That’s what 4-11 teams do.  There was Chris Baker – jumping offside on 4th down – giving the Panthers new life.  Then Cam Newton – arguably my least-favorite player in the NFL – fumbling the shotgun snap, only to pick it up and run it into the end zone for the game-winner.

Carolina 22, Tampa Bay 19.

Winston continues to struggle with ball security.  He lost three more fumbles, the last of which led to a meltdown which I’m sure is already on every highlight reel across the country.  And lest we forget about the 100+ yard kickoff return that featured several missed tackles by the Bucs.

Does all of this sound familiar?  It should.  I’ve been writing about it all season, and Bucs fans have been seeing it for themselves all year.

Anyway, from all of us at Buccaneer Bri (which is actually just a one-man band for those who don’t know) Merry Christmas.  Some of us have to work our real jobs on Christmas Eve, and that group includes me.  And to my fellow fans: one more week of this torture!

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

 

 

No Defense, No Victory, Another 10-Loss Season

With another loss in the loss column, we’re getting closer to finding out what happens to Dirk Koetter and his cast of characters at the end of the season.

 

The Buccaneers lost again last night.  For the second week in a row, the score was 24-21.  For the second week in a row, the defense couldn’t stop anybody or get any pressure on the quarterback.  Oh, wait: that’s been the case all season.

 

I’ll be honest: I thought the Bucs would get blown out by the Falcons.  That didn’t happen.  Jameis Winston was outstanding, having arguably his best game of the season, even with his teammates dropping like flies due to injuries.   But Tampa Bay did what 4-10 teams do.  The fumble by Peyton Barber in the red zone was costly.  Twice the Falcons put the ball on the ground – including once in the Bucs’ end zone – and twice they couldn’t come up with a key takeaway.  As for Patrick Murray’s missed 54-yard FG attempt that would’ve forced overtime, well it’s been that kind of year.  At least Murray’s been light years ahead of guys named Aguayo or Folk.

 

So, what’s my big takeaway from this one?  Mike Smith’s defense still stinks.  Sure, he didn’t let Julio Jones go for 250 yards this time (but did you notice the times he was all alone in the middle of the field?)  So, Smith contained Jones, but he had no answer for Devonta Freeman.  If anyone deserves to get canned in two weeks, it’s Mike Smith.  Koetter may very well be done as well.  But if I had to pick one to get rid of, it’s the defensive coordinator.

 

Photo Courtesy: USA Today

A Disappointing, Chilly Day at Ray-Jay

On Sunday, I saw in person what I’ve been listening to on the internet and seeing on social media all season long: the Bucs are a bad team.  On Buccaneer Bri’s annual trip to Ray-Jay, the Bucs lost to the Lions, 24-21, on a field goal in the closing seconds.  But honestly, it shouldn’t have even been that close.

 

I saw with my own two eyes all of the reasons the Buccaneers are now 4-9.  They had five turnovers.  The tackling was terrible.  They have no pass rush.  None.  They never laid a finger on Matthew Stafford.  Heck, by my unofficial count, they only chased after him once….in the entire game…and that one play ended with a roughing the passer penalty.  The play-calling was questionable at times, as was the use of timeouts at the end of the game.

 

And yet, there they were, rallying from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game.

 

Do you think Mike Smith’s defense could do the job from there?  (insert sarcastic laugh here.)

 

Instead of me rambling on about how Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith are doomed after the season, I will dedicate the rest of this article to my personal Ray-Jay experience, since I only get down there once a year.

 

It was chilly.  No, really.  I brought my jacket and wore jeans, and I needed both.  The two ladies who came to the game with me were shivering as well as the game went on.  This was, by far, the coldest game I’ve ever been to in Tampa.  But it beat the snow that fell back home while I was gone.

 

I know Tampa always draws a lot of visiting team’s fans.  But geez, did the entire state of Michigan fly in for this game?  It felt like there were as many Lions’ fans there as Bucs’ fans.  Detroit fans deserve praise for traveling en masse to support their team.  But it’s depressing for Tampa Bay fans like me, and ownership needs to do something to change that.

 

This was also my first time sitting in the upper deck.  I don’t think I will do it again, and it had nothing to do with how far away I was from the action.  There was absolutely no vibe upstairs.  It was like being in a library for much of the game.  I didn’t feel like I was part of the festivities at all.  Oh well, I chose to sit upstairs because the area where I usually sit was just too expensive.  From now on, I think I will just spend the extra bucks and go back down to the lower bowl.

 

There was a nice couple from Detroit sitting behind us.  They left before halftime, after Stafford threw his second pick.  The guy said, “same old Lions!”  I overheard the lady he was with talk about going to the movies.  I hope they made it in time, if that’s in fact where they ended up.  For all I know, they may just have been sick of me yelling and trying to the enjoy the game in a morgue-like atmosphere, and they have just moved to another section.  Where they ended up is a question I will likely never know the answer to.

 

So, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen.  The Bucs have three more games left – all of them against division opponents – and in case you haven’t noticed, the rest of the division is really, really good.  I can easily see the Bucs finishing 4-12.  They’re on Monday Night Football next week against Atlanta.  Jon Gruden will be calling the game, then he’ll be honored at halftime.  If the ceremony is streamed live someplace, that may very well be the best part of the night.

 

Photo Courtesy: Me