Let’s face it: when your team loses by a score of 48-10, there is absolutely nothing positive worth writing about. I could go on and on about so many things that happened in Chicago on Sunday.
But the bulk of my anger – and the anger of many Tampa Bay fans – is pointed directly at defensive coordinator Mike Smith. I have seen enough. If I’m the Bucs, I send him packing by noon tomorrow at the latest, and bring in someone who can try to fix this laughingstock of a defense. And if they don’t fire him during this bye week, I will gladly borrow someone’s blowtorch and literally set him on fire.
The Bucs have given up 139 points through four games. In two of them, their opponent scored at least 40, and Pittsburgh put up 30. And it’s not just all those points. We the fans are sick of seeing wide-open receivers on just about every play. How many of those touchdowns they’ve allowed could be classified as “too easy?” The answer: too many. And it’s not just the first four games of this season: we saw too much of this in 2016 and 2017.
This team brought in, and drafted, a lot of defensive talent. Yes, I know there are injuries. Yes, I know they’re young. But for goodness sake: can we please get someone who can cover somebody?
There are other problems, of course: I think we’ve seen the end of Fitzmagic. And the Bucs still don’t have much of a running game to speak of. But the defense – or lack thereof – is by far the biggest problem. To those in charge of the organization: you’ve got a week off to make what appears to be an easy decision. Please, throw Smith in one of the cannons and fire his ass out of Ray-Jay, and into a bay full of alligators.
When you turn the ball over four times and make other costly miscues – like committing a holding penalty on what would’ve been a punt return for a touchdown – you usually don’t win in the NFL. The Buccaneers dug themselves a big hole on Monday Night Football against Pittsburgh, and there wasn’t enough Fitzmagic left in the air at Ray-Jay to complete a miraculous comeback.
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions, including one in the red zone and one from his end zone that ended up being a pick-six. He played much better in the second half, but it wasn’t enough. The Steelers gave the Bucs every opportunity to pull it out, but there was no miracle on this night.
Let’s look at the big picture here. After three games without Jameis Winston, the Bucs are 2-1. And they’ve done it with a backup quarterback, Mike Smith’s still-awful defense (especially the secondary) and no….and I mean no…running game whatsoever. I will gladly take a 2-1 record given those facts.
So now that Winston’s suspension is over, now what? Who gets the start at Soldier Field next Sunday? Will Koetter stick with Fitzpatrick for one more game, knowing the bye week follows? Or does he think Winston will be ready to go? That will be a very interesting decision the coach has to make.
This week, I start a new feature called “Bucs Extra.” It will focus primarily on other elements of the game that might otherwise go unnoticed.
What a little pass rush can do
The Buccaneers sacked Nick Foles three times in this game, and disrupted him on many other plays. Remember when Tampa Bay had no pass rush whatsoever? Gerald McCoy, Jason Pierre-Paul and Kwon Alexander all sacked the Super Bowl MVP. That helped ease the pressure a bit on an injury-plagued secondary. Ryan Smith also had a strong game. The defense allowed over 400 yards for the second week in a row, but they made enough key plays to be a factor.
Struggling running game
As great as the offense has been, the Bucs have struggled to get much of a running game going through two weeks. 43 yards rushing isn’t going to cut it. Second-round pick Ronald Jones has been a healthy scratch for each of the first two games. What’s up with that? He did struggle in the preseason, but I wonder if there’s more we don’t know.
Can this issue please go away someday? Chandler Catanzaro missed an extra point that really could’ve come back to haunt the Bucs. The PAT needs to be automatic; end of story. He also missed a FG last week in New Orleans. Ever since Connor Barth’s basketball injury way back in the day, our kicking situation has been a mess.
I don’t know about you, but I kind of like this whole FitzMagic thing that’s going on right now.
Two games, two wins. And we’re not talking about wins over cellar-dwellers. The Buccaneers have started the season by beating the NFC South champs and the defending Super Bowl champs.
Take that, so-called experts who had the Bucs losing their first three games.
There is no question who the story is right now: it’s backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Sure, other players stepped up on Sunday. I’ll get into that in another article. But Fitz is the headliner right. He threw four more touchdown passes, two of which went for 75 yards apiece. He had over 400 yards passing. He did throw his first interception of the season, which was more the result of O.J. Howard’s inability to hang onto the ball after making a catch.
Fitzpatrick has eight touchdown passes in the first two games (and a rushing TD to boot.) He is just the third player in NFL history to have at least four TD passes in each of his team’s first two games.
Let that sink in for a moment. We’re talking Ryan Fitzpatrick here. A Buccaneer quarterback is doing this! Keep pulling magic out of that beard, sir.
One of the big questions coming into this season was: how would the Buccaneers start out with Jameis Winston suspended for the first three games?
Wow. Just wow.
Enter Mr. Fitzpatrick. He was unbelievable in Sunday’s 48-40 stunner over the Saints in the Superdome. How amazing was Fitz? He was 21-28 for 417 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a score. And, he made arguably the biggest play of the game by running for a first down late in the fourth quarter to help the Bucs run out the clock.
Remember last year how Winston couldn’t connect with DeSean Jackson on the deep ball? Fitzpatrick had no problem. The two connected for two long touchdowns. Fitz also hit Mike Evans for a deep score. We didn’t see much of that last year. Evans and Jackson combined for almost 300 receiving yards in this one.
It’s worth mentioning that offensive coordinator Todd Monken – who called the plays during the preseason – was calling the shots in the opener. Dear coach Koetter: please keep it this way.
This was not a perfect game by any means. Mike Smith’s defense is still a sieve, allowing 40 points to Drew Brees and company. The pass rush – even with all those off-season acquisitions – only had one sack. The secondary had its struggles. They did force two turnovers, including a fumble return for a TD, but Smith is lucky the offense bailed him out.
But this was all about “Fitz-Magic.” I said it before, and will say it again: what if the Bucs win 2 out of 3 without Winston? Well, they’ve got the first one.
On Sunday, the Buccaneers kick off the 2018 season in New Orleans against the Saints.
Remember last year when we had to wait half the year to play a division foe? Well, we get one right out of the gate this time.
There are a lot of questions, as always. How can the Bucs do with Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of Jameis Winston for the first three games? Can the defense actually stop anyone, unlike last year? (Vita Vea and Brent Grimes will not play in New Orleans.) Will Todd Monken keep calling the plays, or will Dirk Koetter re-take control?
I would love to see an amazing turnaround this season to prove the doubters wrong. No one outside of us diehards thinks Tampa Bay’s going to do anything this year. That includes Vegas; trust me, I was just there last week, and saw the long odds we’re facing. But beating the Saints in the opener would be a great start.
So come along for the ride, and I’ll have a few things to say about the game Sunday night, win or lose.