Giving Thanks for the Bucs

Before I dive into the Buccaneers, I hope everyone is having a great Thanksgiving.  Hang in there – we can’t get back to normal soon enough.

I am thankful for my health, my family and the Bucs being in the playoff hunt this time of year.  And while Tampa Bay has lost 2 of its last 3, and some fans are ready to throw Tom Brady and Bruce Arians under the bus, let’s pause for a moment.  When was the last time the Buccaneers were in serious playoff contention on Thanksgiving Day?

The Bucs are 7-4, heading into Sunday’s game against the Super Bowl champion Chiefs.  After that, they have their bye.  Then, their last four games are against teams with losing records: Minnesota, Detroit and Atlanta twice.  If they can get their act together, they can finish 10-6 or 11-5 and break a 13-year playoff drought.

But the key phrase here is “get their act together.”  The offensive line desperately needs Ali Marpet back.  A.Q. Shipley – who was inserted to the line due to injuries – may have a career-ending one himself.  The running backs need to catch the ball when Brady throws it their way.  Brady needs to stop throwing deep balls that land right in the arms of a defender.  The secondary needs to stop playing 8-10 yards off the opposing receivers.  The defensive line needs to stop jumping offside and giving the other team a free first down.  Finally – and this can account for some of my previous points – the coaching needs to improve.  If you’ve watched any of the past two losses, you know what I mean.

Obviously, Sunday’s game against Kansas City is the toughest test yet.  But Bucs fans should at least be thankful that we’re at the very least talking about a possible playoff berth as we near the end of November.

Photo courtesy: USA Today

Run, RoJo, Run! Bucs Bounce Back in Carolina

See?  All the Buccaneers had to do was beat Carolina, and the bad taste (much of it, anyway) would be out of our mouths.

And the Bucs did just that, using a big second half to turn a close game into a blowout.  Tampa Bay swept the season series against the Panthers.

The biggest headline from a team standpoint was the Bucs’ ability to bounce back from a humiliating defeat against the Saints in front of a national TV audience.  And I’m going to focus on Ronald Jones.  He was involved in the worst – and best – plays of the game for the Bucs.  His latest fumble – coming on the opening drive – led to the Panthers first touchdown.

But the buzz is about how he redeemed himself.  In the third quarter, with the Bucs pinned back at their 2 and up by 3, RoJo finally broke a big one, taking it 98 yards to the house.  It was the longest run in team history, and just the fourth run of 98+ yards in the history of the NFL.  Jones finished with 192 yards rushing.  We’ve been waiting for him to have that breakout game, and on Sunday he had it.

This wasn’t a perfect performance.  The defense continued to look like a sieve in the first half before tightening up considerably.  The receivers had several dropped passes.  The tackling needs to be better.  Special teams gave up a 98-yard kickoff return and had an extra point blocked (though they were not fooled on a fake punt.)

But the bottom line is this: the Bucs bounced back in a big way.  They have another big game next Monday night against the Rams – a game with major playoff implications.  Tampa Bay has struggled in prime-time this season.  The Bucs can’t afford another subpar performance under the lights.

Photo courtesy: Associated Press

Catching Up With the Bucs

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted an update here, so consider this an opportunity to get all caught up.

Flash back to October 25.  The Bucs came up with a big win against the Las Vegas Raiders.  I was out in Vegas watching the game with a group of fans called the Buccaholics.  I had never hung out with them until then, and I can tell you, they are fantastic.  I went in there as a solo traveler from the Boston area, not knowing anyone else, and I felt like I had been a member of the Buccaholics family for 30 years.

Next week, it was Monday night football against the Giants.  The Buccaneers did not play well in the Meadowlands, but eked out a win by foiling a game-tying 2-point conversion.  Tampa Bay was sitting pretty at 6-2.

And then, last night happened.  The mother of all disasters, in a huge game against the division rival Saints.  Only one team showed up, and it wasn’t the Bucs.  Who deserves the blame for that debacle at Ray-Jay?  I say, the entire team: the players, the coaches, everyone.  And just like that, even with a positive 6-3 record, a lot of Bucs fans are ready to jump ship, just as they were after the opening game in the Superdome.

But I’m not walking the plank.  While winning the NFC South will be tougher, now that the Saints own the tiebreaker, it’s not out of the question.  That said, Tampa Bay’s cannot afford another repeat of what happened last night when they play in Carolina.  The play-calling needs to better.  The execution needs to be better.  The secondary has to, well, cover people.  And if they ever get to 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard-line, they’d better come away with seven points inside of zero.

Look – last night was as bad as it gets.  We diehard fans hope the Bucs got it all out of their system last night, and bounce back against the Panthers.  I hope Ali Marpet comes out of concussion protocol, too.  We need him to make Donovan Smith look like less of a sieve.

Until next week, go Bucs, and stay safe.  And to the Buccaholics: I hope I get to see you again very, very soon.

Photo courtesy: Associated Press

Bucs Get Statement Win Over Packers

Whatever Tom Brady and Bruce Arians said to the team after that ugly loss in Chicago, wow, did it pay dividends.

On Sunday, the Bucs blew out the previously undefeated Packers at Ray-Jay, 38-10.  I’m trying to remember the last time Tampa Bay dominated a quality opponent like this.  It was a long, long time ago.

And the thing is, this one didn’t even start well.  Green Bay dominated the first quarter, taking a 10-0 lead.  But then Jamel Dean picked off Aaron Rodgers and returned it for a touchdown.  A few minutes later, another Rodgers INT, another Bucs’ touchdown.  The Bucs led 14-10, and that was only the beginning.  The Buccaneers scored 38 unanswered points.  This was blowout city.

Gronk caught his first touchdown in a Tampa Bay uniform.  The defense was incredible after Dean’s pick-six.  Ronald Jones had his third straight 100-yard rushing game.

But this may be the most impressive stat of them all: the Bucs had zero penalties in this game.  Zilch.  Nada.  Ndamukong Suh was flagged for a personal foul, but that was canceled out by an intentional grounding call on Rodgers.  How did they pull off such a clean game after what happened last Thursday at Soldier field?  I don’t know, but it was fun to watch.

The Bucs are now 4-2, and alone in first place in the NFC South as of this writing.  They’re off to Vegas next week, and so am I.  The Raiders won’t have any fans in their brand new stadium, but I’ll cheering for my Bucs someplace on the Strip.

Photo courtesy: USA Today

Undisciplined Bucs Lose to Bears; Vea Out for the Season

This was another one of those game where it’s so frustrating being a Bucs fan.

If I had to pick one word to sum up the Buccaneer’s 20-19 loss to the Bears, it would be “undisciplined.”  That’s not a new word, of course, and it’s been used over and over to describe Tampa Bay over the years.

Eleven penalties for 109 yards is inexcusable.  And while you can criticize the refs for a couple of them – the personal foul call on Shaq Barrett comes to mind – the main takeaway from this game was all the yellow flags thrown against the Buccaneers.  Yes, Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs had rough nights against a very good Chicago defense.  But still.

And what about the play-calling?  Don’t get me started on the drive when the Bucs were up by a point, went three-and-out, and took less than 20 seconds off the clock.  And no, Mr. Brady, you did not have one more down on that final drive.

And if that’s not bad enough, it appears the Bucs have lost Vita Vea for the rest of the season with a broken leg.  That is a huge loss for a defense that’s been outstanding against the run.

This was a winnable game.  The Bucs didn’t win it.  And the Packers come to town next Sunday.  Oh, boy.

Photo courtesy: Associated Press

A Big Comeback For the Bucs Against L.A.

Yeah, this Brady guy still has it.

On Sunday, he threw five touchdown passes to rally the Buccaneers from a 17-point deficit to beat the L.A. Chargers, 38-31.  It was Tampa Bay’s second-largest comeback in franchise history.

Those who still doubt TB12 will point to the pick-six he threw in the first quarter.  But he more than made up for that mistake.  What’s more, his five touchdown passes went to five different receivers.  And he did it without Chris Godwin, and lost O.J. Howard in the second half to an Achilles injury.  Early indications are that Howard may be done for the season.  But Howard, Mike Evans, Scotty Miller, Cameron Brate and even rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn found the end zone.

This game turned in the final minute of the first half.  The Chargers fumbled away a botched handoff inside their own 10.  The Bucs took over and scored a touchdown.  Tampa Bay went into the locker room down by 10 instead of 17.  The Bucs came out firing on all cylinders after halftime.

Another bright spot: Ronald Jones finally rushed for over 100 yards.  Without Leonard Fournette in the lineup, it was nice to see the Bucs were still able to establish a running game.

Was this a perfect performance?  No.  The young secondary got burned twice for deep touchdowns by a very game L.A. quarterback, Justin Herbert.  Ryan Succop missed a field goal.  There were way too many penalties – again.

But the Bucs have won three in a row, and ¼ of the way into the season, they are alone in first place in the NFC South.  They go to Chicago to play the 3-1 Bears on Thursday night.

Photo courtesy: USA Today

2 Wins in a Row for the Bucs

The Buccaneers are over .500.  They’ve won two in a row.  And yet, you get the feeling they’re still not where they want to be.

On Sunday, the Bucs were in control from the start, beating the Broncos 28-10 in Denver.  Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions.  And the defense was outstanding: two interceptions, a safety, and six sacks, including two by former Bronco Shaq Barrett, against an injury-riddled Denver team.  The defense deserves the game ball for this victory.

Still, there is work to be done.  The offense was inept in the second half for the second week in a row.  There were more dropped passes.  There were way too many penalties – again (9 for 71 yards.)  And while special teams blocked a punt that led to a TD, they also had a PAT blocked.  And who knows how serious the hamstring injury is to Chris Godwin.

But we’ll take the wins any way we can get them.  And it’s not every day the Bucs beat an opponent by 18 points.  They’re back home to face the Chargers next week.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Get First Win of 2020

It was far from perfect.  But a win is a win, especially against a division rival.

On Sunday, the Buccaneers beat the Panthers for their first win of the season, 31-17.

The defense forced four turnovers.  It doesn’t matter much that the Panthers had over 400 yards of offense when you take the ball away four times.  Even special teams were a bright spot, with Ryan Succop making all of his kicks, and the unit was not fooled by Carolina’s fake punt in the first half.

Tom Brady looked much better than he did last week.  He threw one touchdown and one interception, but it’s worth noting: he had three potential touchdowns dropped.  Scotty Miller and LeSean McCoy dropped passes in the end zone.  And Cyril Grayson (who?) was all alone down the left sideline – with nobody around him – and the ball bounced right off his helmet.  Chris Godwin did not play, so other guys had to step.  Mike Evans sure did; he caught Brady’s lone touchdown and had over 100 yards receiving.

Another star was new running back Leonard Fournette.  He had over 100 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, including a 46-yarder that iced the game late in the fourth quarter after Carolina made a game of it.

While the headlines may be saying, “Brady gets first win in Tampa,” this game was won by the defense.  The Bucs sit alone in second place, pending what happens to the Saints tomorrow night.  We’re on to Denver next Sunday.

Photo courtesy: USA Today

Bucs Fall to Saints in Brady’s Debut

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that Tom Brady wasn’t the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020.  If you watched Sunday’s game against the Saints, you’d think were watching….a typical Bucs game.  Tampa Bay fell to New Orleans, 34-23.

This was a game where, yet again, the Bucs made too many mistakes to overcome.  But since this was Brady’s Tampa Bay debut, all of the spotlight was shining on him.  His first drive was great, capped off by a QB sneak into the end zone that Patriots fans saw so many times.

After that?  My goodness.

Brady threw two interceptions in this one.  The first was a miscommunication with Mike Evans.  The second was a bad throw that resulted in a pick-six for the Saints.  Brady looked out of sync with his receivers for much of the game.  I think that will improve as he gets more reps with them.

But before everyone hangs Brady out to dry, this was a team loss.  I wrote in my season preview about my chief concerns: the running game, the offensive line, the young secondary and the kicking game.  Well, the running game was a struggle yet again.  The pass protection was not good at all (why is Donovan Smith still our left tackle?)  The secondary actually played pretty well until Jamel Dean got burned in the fourth quarter.  And the kicking game is still a mess: new kicker Ryan Succop had a field goal blocked.  Another special teams mistake: the what-were-they-thinking moment on that botched kickoff in the fourth quarter that resulted in another turnover.

Another problem: penalties.  The Bucs were the most penalized team in the league last year.  On Sunday, they were penalized nine times for 103 yards.  Why can’t this team ever be disciplined, regardless of who’s coaching them?

Rob Gronkowski wasn’t a factor. Evans wasn’t a factor, though his hamstring injury may have had something to do with that.  I hardly heard LeSean McCoy or Cameron Brate’s names mentioned.

This was just one game, against one of the best teams in the NFL.  There is still time to make adjustments and turn this thing around.  Hopefully they can, or we’re looking at another season of the same ol’ Bucs.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Times

Week 1 Preview: Buccaneers at Saints

This is one of, if not the marquee game of Week 1.  Tom Brady’s debut as Tampa Bay’s quarterback, against Drew Brees and the Saints, who have won the division three straight years.  Both QB’s are in their 40s, and both are still playing at a very high level.

This has all the making of a shootout, especially in the passing game.  The Bucs have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski, though Evans is now listed as doubtful for Sunday.  The Saints have Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.  Both teams can, and probably will, light up the scoreboard.

The Bucs running game hasn’t been much to speak of in recent years.  Can they establish something on Sunday?

Defensively, Tampa Bay is top-notch up front, and has two quality linebackers in Lavonte David and Devin White.  The question becomes: can the young secondary keep Brees in check?

Do you remember…

….the last time these two teams opened the season in the Superdome?  It was two years ago, and the Bucs pulled off a 48-40 upset, with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing four touchdown passes.  That was arguably the greatest moment of 2018.  Tampa Bay finished 5-11.  They may need to score 48 points to win this opener as well.

The first game of the season is always tough to predict. But the Saints are the defending champs, and you’re going to have to beat them to prove otherwise.