Monday Column: Tampa Bay Keeps Shooting Itself in the Foot

The Buccaneers had every opportunity to go to 2-1 on Sunday. But the same problems that plagued them last year did them again against Houston, with a new one rearing its ugly head.

Take your pick. In no particular order:

The Bucs’ defense could not stop a running game that did not have Arian Foster. And they could not stop a quarterback named Ryan Mallett.

Offensively, Tampa Bay was an awful 1-for-12 on third down. The running game is still ineffective. Jameis Winston completed just under half of his passes (but I do like the fact that he’s not afraid to throw the ball downfield.) Mike Evans had over 100 yards receiving, but he also had several key drops. Vincent Jackson could’ve had a touchdown, but he couldn’t get both feet inbounds.

And then, there are special teams. This is the “new one rearing its ugly head” part. Rookie kicker Kyle Brindza made a 58-yard field goal that would’ve been good from about 70. My reaction: wow. What he did do the rest of the way? He missed three other field goals and a PAT. My reaction to that: wow. So there are 10 points the Bucs left on the field. Yes, the last one attempt came during desperation time, but still.

And of course, there are the penalties: 10 of them in all for 84 yards. Seriously, can this team go more than, say, three plays without a yellow flag being thrown? Tampa Bay was the most penalized team in the league last year. So far this year, the Bucs are tied with the Steelers in that category. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: penalties=lack of discipline. Lack of discipline=bad coaching. I know Lovie Smith isn’t reading this, but that is fact.

The undefeated Panthers come to Ray-Jay on Sunday. I honestly have no idea what to expect.

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

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Monday Column: Buccaneers Defense Redeems Itself

After Tampa Bay gave up four touchdown passes to Marcus Mariota in the season opener, the obvious question crossed my mind: if a rookie can do that, imagine what a seasoned pro like Drew Brees would do against this defense.

Count me as one of the fans who was pleasantly surprised by what played out at the Superdome on Sunday.

The Buccaneers held Brees under 300 yards passing and sacked him four times.  They also forced three turnovers, which was huge given that the Bucs’ offense turned it over on consecutive series in a bizarre fourth quarter.

When Tampa Bay took a 16-point lead into the fourth quarter, I had a feeling the Saints would make a game of it. I’ve seen this movie too many times before. Sure enough, New Orleans found the end zone twice in the final period.

But the defense – and special teams – made enough key plays. After the first Saints’ TD made it a 10-point game, they foiled the two-point conversion, meaning it was still a two-score game. After another touchdown made it 23-19, perhaps the biggest play of the game came when William Gholston blocked the extra point. That means the Saints would need a touchdown at the end of the game to win, instead of a potential-tying field goal. And yes, they were in field goal range in the closing seconds.

That missed FG by the saints earlier in the fourth helped.  I’m not going to lie to you there.

One more note on the three sacks: Jacquies Smith now has four in the first two games. He’s leading the league in that category. That bears repeating: a Buccaneer is leading the NFL in sacks. Sure, it’s only two games, but when the last time (before now) that statement was true?

Sunday’s victory in New Orleans wasn’t perfect – not by a long shot. The Bucs still need to do a better job of closing out games when they’ve got the lead in the fourth quarter. But after a 2-14 season, we’ll take any positives that we can, and Sunday produced enough of them.

Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com

Bucs Win! A Great Way To Bounce Back

See? All is well in Bucs country, at least for now.

Talk about a bounce-back game. After the Buccaneers were booed off the field in an embarrassing season opener, they marched into the Superdome and beat the division-rival Saints, 26-19.

Jameis Winston had a good day: 14-of-21 for 207 yards. He threw for a touchdown and ran for another. He lost a fumble, but fortunately it didn’t prove costly.

The defense, which was maligned by fans (including me) last week, stepped up to force three turnovers. Those mistakes turned into nine Tampa Bay points.

The fourth quarter was insane. Even with Tampa Bay leading 23-7 going in, I knew New Orleans would make a game of it. Sure enough, the Bucs tried hard to give the game away on a silver platter – whether it was all those penalties, the ultra-conservative play calling or the two lost fumbles. But there were also key plays in their favor: a missed field goal, a blocked PAT, and a stop on a two-point conversion. Still, it wasn’t until the Bucs knocked down Drew Brees’ pass in the end zone as time expired, that we could breathe a sigh of relief.

But the bottom line is: a win is a win, against a division opponent no less. Bucs fans will gladly take it.

Let’s just hope Gerald McCoy’s injury isn’t serious. That would be a crushing blow so early in the year.

Photo Courtesy: AP

GAMEDAY: Bucs at Saints

So after that debacle in the season opener, the Buccaneers are in New Orleans today to take on the Saints.

The six division games on the schedule carry more weight than the rest, so hopefully the Bucs will show up and give Drew Brees and company a game in their own building.

Check back later this afternoon/evening for my thoughts on the game – good or bad.  There is never a shortage of things to talk about.

Enjoy the game, and go Bucs!

-Bri

Monday Column: Blame Lovie for the Bucs’ Opener

At first glance, it’s easy to look at the numbers from Sunday’s embarrassing 42-14 loss to the Titans, and place blame accordingly.

Sure, Jameis Winston struggled mightily in the season opener. He completed less than 50% of passes while throwing two ugly interceptions, the first of which was returned for a touchdown. His quarterback rating was a measly 6.7. I don’t know a lot about that stat, except to say that 6.7 is probably very bad.

I’m not letting Winston off the hook here, not in the least. But as a rookie quarterback, I’m willing to bet he’s going to have a lot more days like he had on Sunday. Even the great QB’s in the game today struggled in their first season. All I’m looking for from him is improvement as the season progresses.

No, there’s one guy who deserves the bulk of the blame: head coach Lovie Smith.

The short version is this: he did not have his team ready to play, in a much-anticipated opener, in front of a (briefly) energized fan base. When the Buccaneers walked off the field at halftime, that fan base was booing his players – loudly. I was listening to the radio broadcast; I heard it loud and clear.

For those who don’t know, Smith is now calling the plays on defense. So he deserves to be slammed for allowing Marcus Mariota to find wide open receivers, playing pitch and catch with them for three quarters before sitting out the fourth.  Smith has known for five months that he’d be facing the Titans in the opener, and that was his game plan?  His “Tampa 2” defense has not worked well from the minute he stepped foot at One Buc Place.

Smith deserves to be slammed for all of those penalties – 12 of them in all – and that doesn’t count the ones that Tennessee declined. Penalties=lack of discipline. Lack of discipline=bad coaching. Heck, the Bucs were the most penalized team in the league last year. Based on what we saw in the opener, they’re going to do it again in 2015 unless something changes in a hurry.

Is Lovie on the hot seat, just one game into his second season? If not yet, it won’t be long before he is. He has coached nine regular-season games at Ray-Jay, and is 0-9. Based on reading social media after Sunday’s debacle, most of the fans are irate with the head coach right now.

Count me as one of them.

Photo Courtesy: PewterReport.com

 

Drink Heavily, Bucs Fans

Earlier in the day, I wrote about how important it was for the Bucs to make a good first impression – in the season opener – in front of the home crowd. Well, my first impression is: this season could end up being a lot like the last one.

OK – it’s only one game. But geez, that 42-14 shellacking at the hands of the Titans was downright awful.

Let’s focus on the quarterbacks, since that was the headline coming into the game. Jameis Winston struggled in his professional debut. You knew it was going to be a bad day when his first pass turned into an ugly interception that was run back for a touchdown. He later threw another pick, and also fumbled twice (but recovered both.) He was sacked four times. He did throw two TD passes to Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but one of those came in the fourth quarter when the game was far out of reach.

On the other hand, the defense made Marcus Mariota look like a superstar. They let him throw four touchdowns…in the first half. Naturally, a lot of casual fans are already saying Mariota is a better quarterback than Winston. After one game, that is 100% true. Let’s see what happens when he goes up against a bunch of defenders that will allow the other team’s receivers to get wide open in the middle of the field.

I’ll have more to say about this debacle in the Monday column, including perhaps a few harsh words for Lovie Smith.

Photo Courtesy: Tampa Tribune

 

GAMEDAY: Bucs vs. Titans

It’s time to get this party started.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off their 2015 season today at home against the Tennessee Titans.   And based on what I’ve seen on Twitter, Ray-Jay will be very close to packed.  It’s not every day we can say that.

First impressions are worth a lot.  Tampa Bay needs to make one by coming out strong and winning the opener.

We’ll all have something to say about the game after it ends, so check back here this evening to get my take.

Enjoy the game, and go Bucs!

-Bri