I’m getting sick and tired of writing about the same old problems with this team every time they lose.
The offense can’t score early in the game. The defense can’t stop anybody from scoring. The play-calling leaves a lot to be desired. And after this latest loss to Atlanta, the Bucs are now further cemented in the cellar of the NFC South at 4-7.
Let’s start with Mike Smith’s pathetic defense – you know, the one that allowed at least 30 points for the fifth time this season. Look: Julio Jones is a great wide receiver – one of the best in the game. But how do you let a guy like that torch you for over 250 yards? You’d think it’d be worth double-covering him every now and then, even if it means man-to-man coverage on another receiver like Mohammed Sanu. You have to make someone other than Jones beat you, and Smith didn’t give that scenario a chance to play out.
This defense also has to be the worst in the league at getting off the field on third down. The Falcons were 11-of-14 on third down in this game. That is insane. And it’s been happening all year long. And let me tell you: we’re not talking 3rd-and-short, either. A lot of these conversions require double-digit yards, and the Bucs are letting their opponents convert with ease. How many times to do you a see a Tampa Bay defender playing so soft, that all the receiver has to do is run about two yards to move the chains before the defender even lays a hand on him?
Forcing turnovers is still an issue, though they did get a big one in the fourth quarter that nearly led to the Buccaneers coming all the way back from 21 points down.
That leads me to my next point: Dirk Koetter’s play-calling. After the turnover, the Bucs marched down the field and into the red zone. With about seven minutes to go, Tampa Bay had 2nd and 2 from the 19. Koetter called three straight pass plays – all of them incomplete. This was their big chance to tie up a game they had no business even being in, and they couldn’t get two yards in three plays? As for his decision to go for it on 4th down instead of kicking the field goal, I’m a bit torn. If you kick the field goal (and yes, we have a guy that can kick now) then you’d be trailing by four, meaning you’d still need a touchdown to win the game, not to mention stopping the Falcons’ offense. So I was actually okay with the decision to go for it, but I did not like the play-call at all.
Naturally, Atlanta got the ball back, marched right down the field and scored the you-knew-it-was coming insurance touchdown.
But that’s not the only questionable play-calling. Tampa Bay has two really good tight ends on this team: Cameron Brate and rookie O.J. Howard. Can someone explain to me why neither of them saw a pass thrown in his direction for the entire first half?
I really don’t see how Koetter and Smith still have jobs at the end of this lost season, especially Smith. The defense was the biggest problem last year; they’ve done nothing to fix that. On offense, they’ve got all of these weapons, yet they consistently struggle out of the gate. I know Jameis Winston is injured, but it’s been this way even when he’s been in there. That ultimately has to fall on the head coach.
OK – rant over.
Next week: the Battle of the Bays, at Lambeau Field.
Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Let’s call this one, winning ugly…part two.
For those who didn’t see (or listen to) this game in Miami, you’d look at the final score and think the Buccaneers dominated the Dolphins. Oh, how wrong you’d be.
The Bucs won the game when Patrick Murray split the uprights with four seconds left on the clock. But let’s talk about the bad football that preceded much of the winning kick.
The Bucs won this game because of two things: Jay Cuter and all those Miami penalties. Tampa Bay picked off Cutler three times in the first half and also recovered a fumble. But in true Bucs’ fashion, they only led by 13 points at the half. At the time, I said to myself, “this is going to come back to haunt them.”
And it did. Matt Moore came in for Cutler in the second half and lit up the Bucs defense like so many other quarterbacks (including some backups) have. The Bucs nearly gave up a safety that could’ve really changed things in the fourth quarter. Still, the Dolphins tied the game on one of those “how the heck do you let him get that wide open?” kind of deep throws. As if you needed any more proof that Mike Smith’s defense is horrendous.
But there were all those penalties against the Dolphins – a whopping 17 of them – that helped the Buccaneers’ cause. The Bucs had nine penalties of their own, including one that negated a touchdown. It was just bad football.
Of course, this was a win, so there are positives. O.J. Howard had one of the Bucs’ two touchdowns, on his birthday no less. Happy birthday, O.J.
Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to perform admirably in Jameis Winston’s absence. Fitzpatrick will never be mistaken for Tom Brady, but he’s been efficient. And he’s won two games with basically no running game and a swiss cheese defense.
Patrick Murray continues to make us forget about Roberto Aguayo and Nick Folk. Murray did miss a kick earlier in the game, but made the game-winner, and has played well since the Bucs re-acquired him.
On to Atlanta….
Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Times
Of all the games remaining on the Buccaneers’ schedule, Sunday night’s game against Dallas was the one I least expected them to win.
Still, this 26-20 defeat hurts. It hurts a lot.
Depending on what happens in the Redskins/Panthers game tonight, the Bucs may no longer control their own destiny in the NFC playoff race. A Washington win puts the ‘Skins a half-game ahead of the Bucs. Tampa Bay is also now one game behind Atlanta in the NFC South.
Why did they lose to the team with the NFC’s best record? Well, you can’t turn it over four times. Two of those miscues led to ten precious points. Jameis Winston lost a fumble and threw three picks (one of them was an INT on a Hail Mary at the end of the half, but still.)
There was also the dumb head-butt by Winston that cost his team 15 yards when they were in the red zone late in the first half.
The right tackle position continues to be a big problem, albeit one that I have not talked about much on this blog. Winston didn’t have much time to throw on many occasions; heck, I saw him in person running for his life against the Saints the previous week down at Ray-Jay. This team needs Demar Dotson back a.s.a.p.
And the defense, which had been forcing turnovers at will during the five-game winning streak, only got one takeaway against Dallas. The Bucs couldn’t turn it into points.
And yet, late in the game, trailing by six, the Buccaneers still had two more chances to drive down the field and win the game. But they didn’t come close to the blue-painted end zone at the other end of the field.
On a side note, I got a chuckle out of Ezekiel Elliott jumping into that huge Salvation Army kettle after his touchdown run. Yes, he got flagged for it, but if you’re going to throw flags for silly stuff like that, then the Lambeau Leap should draw a penalty every time. Think about it.
So in order for the Bucs to make the playoffs, they have to win their final two games, at New Orleans and at home against Carolina. That’s the first order of business. They may/may not need help, depending on what the Redskins do tonight. But in order to win the NFC South, the Buccaneers would need the red-hot Falcons to lose their last two. Atlanta finishes with the Panthers on the road and the Saints at home.
Don’t give up yet, Bucs fans.
Photo Courtesy: AP
Once a year, I make a trip down to Tampa to see the Buccaneers in action. Sunday’s game against the Saints was this year’s pilgrimage. And I left Ray-Jay with a big smile on my face; the Bucs hung on to beat New Orleans, 16-11.
I’ll get to my personal gameday experience in a moment. But first, a few thoughts about the game itself:
This was the definition of winning ugly. There was only one touchdown in the game, scored by Doug Martin, in the end zone near where I was sitting. Sprinkled in to the mix were flags – a lot of them: 13 for the Saints, 7 for the Bucs. It just breaks up the flow of the game when it seems like there’s yellow on the field every other play.
Then the mistakes came, most of them at the other end of the field from where I was. The first was the miscue by Josh Huff, muffing a kickoff at the 1-yard line and pinning the Bucs back to their goal line. On the next play, the Saints got a safety. The ensuing free kick went out of bounds, giving New Orleans the ball at midfield. The Saints had 1st and goal at the 1, but couldn’t punch it in, thanks to a penalty at a sack. They ended up with a field goal. So the screw-up by Huff cost his team five points.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, it looked like the Saints had taken the lead with a Drew Brees TD pass. It sure looked like it on the replays, too. So it was a pleasant surprise when the official came out and said it was an incomplete pass. I watched the FOX replay this afternoon, and the ball did hit the ground. Good call. But at the time, I thought the Bucs caught a big break. New Orleans settled for a field goal.
There were more key plays in the fourth quarter, all of them made by Tampa Bay: two on special teams, two on defense. Twice, the Bucs pinned the Saints deep inside the 5. One of them was an amazing save to down the ball at the 1. The other backed the Saints up to the 3.
With two minutes to go, Drew Brees had to take his team 97 yards with one timeout to win the game. He only got 45 of those yards. Keith Tandy made the game-clinching pick with :51 to play. The Bucs picked off the New Orleans QB three times.
Now to my personal experience: normally I fly solo when I go to the game. But this time, I was happy to be joined by two of my Vegas fanatics. One rooted for the Bucs, the other cheered for the Saints (she grew up in the New Orleans area.) She was hardly the only Saints’ fan at Ray-Jay: there were thousands of them scattered around, including a loud (but fun) group right behind us. I’ve heard enough of the “who dat?” chant for awhile, though we Bucs fans got our revenge at the end. To make a long story short, I was so excited to be joined by two of my friends this time around. We also had a memorable time at the Hard Rock casino the night before. Since this is a Bucs blog, I’ll spare you the details of that adventure.
In the third quarter, the skies opened up. The forecast was only for a 10 or 20 percent chance of a shower, but that most of the region would stay dry. Well, we got that 10-20 percent. A lot of fans ran for cover. Not me. I don’t mind getting a little wet, especially since Florida showers usually come and go quickly. When it did stop raining, it also got a lot more humid. Say what you will, but the rain seemed to stop what momentum the Saints had at the time.
I was disappointed that the game wasn’t a sellout. The team is on its longest winning streak in 14 years, and they’re tied for first place with an 8-5 record. How much more does it take to have a butt in every seat? Imagine what the crowd would’ve looked like without all of the Saints fans. Tampa always draws a lot of visiting team’s fans, so I wasn’t surprised by that at all.
The bottom line: the Bucs are 8-5, still tied with Atlanta atop the NFC South, and will face Dallas on Sunday Night Football. And the game times keep changing: the following week’s game in New Orleans has been pushed back to 4:25 now.
I have photos and videos from my Ray-Jay experience. I will share those with you on Tuesday.
If the season ended today, the Buccaneers would be in the playoffs as the #6 seed in the NFC.
I hate the dreaded phrase “if the season ended today,” even when it applies to the Bucs. There are still four games left, and things can (and will) change.
Let’s start with the obvious: if the Bucs run the table the rest of the way, they will be in the playoffs as at least a wild card.
But they’ve got their sights set on winning the division. Right now, they’re tied with the Falcons at 7-5 atop the NFC South. Tampa Bay has a tougher schedule the rest of the way, since it has to play Dallas (that game has been moved to prime time in case you haven’t heard.) Atlanta does not play a team with a winning record the rest of the way. If what I just read on the team’s official website is true, if the Bucs and Falcons both win out, Atlanta would win the division based on record against “common opponents.”
That’s way too complicated for me, but anyway…
It is also my sense that the Bucs are still not getting much national attention, though that is slowly starting to change.
The final push to the postseason starts with Sunday’s game against the Saints at Ray-Jay. I will be there to see it in person. A quick check of Ticketmaster finds there are still a LOT of seats available, especially in the upper deck on both sides. Dear Bucs fans: I know you’ve been hesitant to support the team in recent years because they’ve been lousy. That’s not the case right now. This is a very big game. There is no excuse for the stadium not to be sold out. Let’s fill the place up on Sunday.
Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs fans: we are in for one heck of a final quarter of the season. That’s because in the third quarter of the season, they were a perfect 4-0.
By beating the Chargers 28-21 on Sunday, and with the Falcons losing to the Chiefs (thank you Eric Berry), the Buccaneers are now tied with Atlanta for first place in the NFC South.
Who would’ve thought it a month ago?
This was one of those games where somehow, someway, Tampa Bay found a way to win. Take the defense, for example. At times, they looked the defense from the first half of the season, giving up two long touchdown passes to Philip Rivers. And they got ridiculously lucky in the fourth quarter when a wide open Chargers’ receiver dropped what would’ve been a potential game-tying touchdown. On the flip side, Lavonte David came up with a Pick 6 that put Tampa Bay in the lead in the third quarter. And with about three minutes to go in the game, Keith Tandy picked off Rivers in the end zone. The Bucs were able to run out the clock.
Jameis Winston had another good day: 280 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. He made plays when he had to. And he’s doing it with a running game that is still struggling big time.
Roberto Aguayo? He missed another field goal. Good Lord. It was a 31-yarder. That should be a chip-shot for every single kicker in the league. He’s lucky the Bucs were successful on a 2-point conversion after Cameron Brate’s TD. That “offset” Aguayo’s screw-up. He has missed six FG’s and two PAT’s this season. If the Chargers had tied the game in the fourth quarter, I would’ve been on the floor praying if the game came down to Aguayo’s leg. Thankfully it didn’t.
So the bottom line is this: the Bucs and Falcons are tied at 7-5 atop the NFC South. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head. They split those two games. I think the next tiebreaker is division record. Right now the Bucs are 2-1 in that department, but three of their last four are against division opponents.
And lastly, next week’s game against the Saints will be my annual trip down to Ray-Jay. I can’t wait. And for those who fans who are going to the game and didn’t hear the news this past week, it is now a 4:25 kickoff instead of 1:00.
Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If you would’ve told me a month ago that the Buccaneers would beat the Chiefs and Seahawks back-to-back, I would’ve said you’re crazy.
If you would’ve told me a month ago that the Bucs would score just 14 points against Seattle – at home – and still win the game – I would’ve said you’re crazy.
Well, there is nothing crazy about the way Tampa Bay is playing right now. The Bucs beat a very good Seahawks team at Ray-Jay on Sunday, 14-5. Yes, it’s one of those oddball-looking scores but you won’t find me or any other Bucs’ fans complaining about it.
This one was all about the defense, which was getting shredded week after week during the first half of the season. But in the last three games, we’ve seen a complete turnaround. On Sunday, they sacked Russell Wilson six times, picked him off twice, and kept the Seattle offense out of the end zone. One of those interceptions was by Alterraun Verner, who was on the field just two days after his father passed away. If you haven’t seen his reaction yet, you’ll have a tough time not crying. It was a scene very reminiscent of Kwon Alexander’s performance in Atlanta one year ago.
As for the offense, Mike Evans caught two more touchdown passes from Jameis Winston, both in the first quarter. The offense didn’t do much the rest of the way, but the strong performance of the defense bailed them out.
So where do things stand with five games to go? The Bucs are 6-5, still one game behind Atlanta in the NFC South. They are a half-game behind Washington for the #6 seed in the conference. Their remaining games are against the Saints (twice), the Panthers, the Chargers and Cowboys. Yeah, I had to sneak that Dallas reference in at the end. It won’t be easy, but the Bucs are peaking right now; they just have to keep it going.
Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers