A Great Opener For the Bucs

After one week of the season, the Buccaneers are alone in first place in the NFL South.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The Bucs played a great game in beating the Falcons in Atlanta, 31-24. The Saints lost.  So did the Panthers on Thursday night.

There was so much to like about this game. Let’s start with Jameis Winston, who threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers.  It was a great way to bounce back from an early interception that led to a Falcons’ touchdown.  Mike Evans and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins made gorgeous catches in the end zone.  And then there was the short toss to Charles Sims, who broke about four tackles on his way to pay dirt.  It was an amazing individual effort.  Brandon Myers caught the other TD; who saw that one coming?

The defense was…..well, good enough to win. They sacked Matt Ryan three times.  The real star was Kwon Alexander, who had 17 tackles to go with one of those sacks.  And late in the game – when you were starting to have flashbacks to the Washington debacle from last season – the defense came up with the stop it needed.

Roberto Aguayo made all five of his kicks. After what he went through in the first half of the preseason, that deserves a mention.

It would’ve been nice to see more from the running game. Doug Martin and company struggled throughout, though Martin did have a couple of big runs in the fourth quarter to help bleed the clock.

Congrats, Dirk Koetter. You’re 1-0 as an NFL head coach.

The bottom line: Tampa Bay beat a division opponent on the road. That in itself is a big deal.

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

 

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My Trip to Tampa: Thoughts on Bucs/Falcons and Playoffs

By now, you know the result of the Buccaneers/Falcons game on Sunday. Tampa Bay won it, 23-19. This was also the game I chose to make my annual trip south for, and it was worth it. Here are my thoughts on what I heard and saw, followed by some playoff talk:

This game had it all: key plays, turnovers, lead changes, drama in the fourth quarter, you name it.

The play of the day (and of the Bucs’ season so far) was the run by Jameis Winston on 3rd and 19 on the game-winning drive. I was sitting at the opposite end of the field, so at first I didn’t realize how great it really was. It wasn’t just picking up the first down; it was running into a group of Falcons and refusing to go down. Judging by the reaction of those around me, Jameis is indeed famous right now down in Tampa. He also ran for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Mike Evans is still having a serious problem with dropped passes. One of them went off his hands and into the waiting arms of an Atlanta defender. The Falcons turned that into a field goal just before the half. But wouldn’t you know: Evans also caught the game-winning TD pass. It’s funny when it happens down at the other end of the field; you sort of have to rely on the crowd reaction to know whether it was a catch or not.

Speaking of drops, Austin Seferian-Jenkins missed an easy touchdown in the third quarter. The Bucs had to settle for a field goal instead.

Doug Martin continues his resurgence with another strong game, including a TD run (which I did have a good look at.) He also lost a fumble early in the fourth quarter, which Atlanta turned into six. That took all of the air out of Ray-Jay. I mean, the place was dead for a good ten minutes until the drama of the Bucs’ final drive.

I’m still trying to figure out referee’s Ed Hochuli’s train of thought in the third quarter. With Tampa Bay up by a point, he called Matt Ryan for intentional grounding, and because it happened in the end zone, it was a safety. But while we were all celebrating, Hochuli came back a few seconds later and said it wasn’t a safety. After seeing the replay, we were screaming for Lovie Smith to challenge it. No sale.

After the Bucs missed a two-point conversion, I listened in to a nice conversation behind me about when/when not to go for two. Ah, the power of alcohol.

And then there was the older guy sitting next to me, who told me about all the jello shots he had while tailgating. Don’t let me hold you back, brother.

One more note about the crowd: what was up with all the empty seats, especially on the Atlanta side of the field? The Bucs were playing their first meaningful December game in years, and the place isn’t sold out? Oh well, can’t blame the weather, either. It was sunny and 80 down there.

The Bucs are now 6-6, and have exceeded a lot of people’s expectations, not to mention mine. Here we are, eight days into December, and the Bucs are in the playoff conversation. At this moment, they are at the top of the “in the hunt” category, one game behind the Seahawks for the No. 6 seed. Tampa Bay’s win over Atlanta was huge because it gives the Buccaneers the tiebreaker over their division rivals. All they can do is keep winning, and get some help. For starters, they’ve got to beat the Saints on Sunday.

It’s going to be a wild ride to the finish. I’m ready.

Follow me on Twitter @briwillwerth

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

 

What Else is New: Bucs Lose (Again) to Browns

At the halfway point of the 2014 season, the Buccaneers are 1-7.  Their latest loss came against the Browns on Sunday, 22-17.  Here are some takeaways from the game:

 

SPECIAL TEAMS WERE AWFUL.

Patrick Murray had a field goal blocked in the first quarter, which led to a Cleveland field goal.  He also missed a long one later in the period (55 yards.)  Gerald McCoy was called for offside when the Browns were lining up for a field goal.  The Browns ended up converting on fourth down, and found the end zone two plays later.  Michael Koenen had a punt blocked in the fourth quarter.  On the ensuing Cleveland possession, Brian Hoyer found a wide-open Taylor Gabriel for what turned out to be the winning score.

 

IS GLENNON STILL THE STARTING QB?

He’s making a strong case to lose his job.  Glennon threw two interceptions, one of them coming in the end zone on a tipped pass.  Many of his passes were short of their intended targets.  Heck, even his first TD pass to Mike Evans was underthrown; Evans made a great adjustment to haul it in.  Glennon completed just over half of his passes (17-of-33) which seems to be all he’s good for.  That’s not going to win you many games.  So will it be Josh McCown or Glennon next week against Atlanta?  Whatever Lovie Smith decides, it will be the lesser of two evils.

 

ABOUT THAT FINAL DRIVE….

Tampa Bay had a shot to win the game, driving into Cleveland territory in the final two minutes.  But on second down, Vincent Jackson dropped what would’ve been a first down.  On third and one, the play call was a head-scratcher: a deep pass down the sideline?  Then on fourth down, Mike Evans was called for pass interference, negating his catch that would’ve kept the drive going.  Following the penalty, Glennon tried unsuccessfully to connect with Austin Seferian-Jenkins.  You’ve got Evans and V-Jax on your team; why the heck would you not go to one of those targets, instead of the guy who fumbled away the opening play of overtime a week ago?

 

Tomorrow, it’s time to hand out midterm grades.  Get ready.

 

Photo courtesy: cleveland.com

They Blew It! Bucs Fall in OT

Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory….or however that old saying goes.

There were the Bucs, taking their first lead of the game with just over two minutes to go. But in “where-have-we-seen-this-before” fashion, they let Teddy Bridgewater march the Vikings right down the field at the end of regulation, and Minnesota tied the game with a field goal on the final play.

How many different ways can a football team find a way to lose? On the first play of overtime, Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught a pass, fumbled the ball, Anthony Barr picked it up and took it into the end zone for the Vikings’ victory.   Yes, Tampa Bay lost on the equivalent of a walk-off fumble.

It was another pathetic showing by the Bucs offense. Through the first three quarters, they had gained less than 100 total yards.  They finished with a paltry 225.  Doug Martin, who’s rumored to be on the trading block, had only 27 of the team’s 66 rushing yards.  The offensive line was awful once again; Mike Glennon was sacked five times.

And the defense, which was decent through 57 ½ minutes, couldn’t seal the deal when Tampa Bay finally had the lead. We’ve seen our fair share of that over the years (although there haven’t been many “close-out” opportunities in 2014.)  Dear Jonathan Banks: why couldn’t you pick off that pass on the final drive?

I really like Lavonte David, though. You could argue that he is the best player on this team, both offense and defense.  Dear Bucs: please don’t give him away if you do a fire sale.

Photo Courtesy: AP

 

Hey Bucs: About All Those Penalties….

It’s time to look back at how the Buccaneers blew a fourth-quarter lead in the Superdome, and allowed the Saints to eventually win in overtime.

There is one stat that stands out more than any other: penalties. Tampa Bay had every chance to win this game, but kept shooting itself in the foot with one yellow flag after another – 15 of them in all for 113 yards.

Early in the game, whenever Mike Glennon completed a big pass downfield, the Bucs were flagged. Or, his receiver dropped the ball (I’m looking at you, Austin Seferian-Jenkins.) The dropped passed are one thing. But it’s the penalties that cost the Buccaneers a chance to finish a tough, three-game road trip with a more-than-respectable 2-1 record.

The real killers came late in the fourth quarter and in overtime. How awful was that Bucs’ series after the Saints had cut the lead to five? They started on the 20. An offensive holding penalty pushed the ball back to the 10. The next play was an errant snap that sailed to Glennon’s right, which he fell on at the 2. That was followed by back-to-back fouls for delay of game and false start. Next play: Junior Gallette comes in untouched, and brings the Saints to within a field goal. New Orleans would tie the game on its ensuing possession after the free kick.

The last ridiculous (and in my opinion, questionable) penalty came in overtime, when Jonathan Banks was flagged for illegal use of hands to the face. I’ve watched the play over and over, and I still don’t see the penalty. Of course, the Fox crew didn’t exactly provide a conclusive replay, either. But regardless of how Bucs fans feel about the call, the point is this: the penalty came on third down. Instead of forcing the Saints to punt, the Bucs gift-wrapped a first down for them. We all know what happened after that.

Yes, the defense wilted in the fourth quarter and overtime. They had to be out of gas. But the Buccaneers didn’t help their cause with all of those mistakes. It’s a problem that needs to be fixed, in a league where the refs are now throwing flags on seemingly every other play. This game was there for the taking, and the Bucs let it slip through their hands.

Photo Courtesy: AP

Bri Breaks Down the 2014 Buccaneers

On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off a new season against the Carolina Panthers at Ray-Jay. What’s new about this year’s team? Well, just about everything. Here’s a breakdown of what to keep an eye on this weekend, and all season long.

 

THE OFFENSE
This is Josh McCown’s team now. He’s 35, and coming off his best season while filling in for Jay Cutler in Chicago. Still, he’s playing in a division where the other quarterbacks are named Brees, Ryan and Newton. So he has to prove himself almost right off the bat, otherwise Mike Glennon, who started most of last year, is waiting in the wings.

The Bucs spent their entire draft this year on upgrading the offense. That was a wise move, given that the offense last year was nothing short of awful. They also brought in a new offensive coordinator in Jeff Tedford, who may not even be around for the opener due to an undisclosed medical condition. It would be sweet if rookie Mike Evans became a formidable duo in the passing game along with veteran Vincent Jackson. The same holds true for rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, especially now that Tim Wright is in New England.

The offensive line is probably the biggest thing to pay close attention to. But this group got a boost with the addition of Logan Mankins. Mankins was a proven leader with the Pats who made multiple trips to the Pro Bowl. Still, this area is a huge question mark. The o-line must step it up in both the running game and in pass protection.

 

THE DEFENSE
This group showed improvement last year. And if the preseason is any indication, this could be a breakthrough year for Leslie Frazier’s squad. Players like Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David are poised to have pro bowl seasons. In the secondary, Revis Island is no longer there, but Mark Barron, Dashon Goldson and newcomer Alterraun Verner are. As far as Goldson is concerned, can he make the necessary adjustments to stop costing his team 15 yards every time he clocks a receiver?

Lovie Smith prides his team on forcing turnovers. It won’t be enough to just shut down the opposing offense. The defense needs to take the ball away.

 

THE KICKER
This will be another intriguing area to watch. Rookie Patrick Murray will handle the kicking duties, having beaten out Connor Barth for the starting job. Barth was the most accurate kicker in team history, but missed all of last year due to an injury he suffered playing basketball. If Murray struggled in the first game or two, how much will Bucs fans be clamoring for Connor?

I’m really looking forward to writing about the Bucs this season. The addition of Lovie Smith as head coach brought Tampa Bay instant credibility at least in the eyes of public opinion. It would be great to see the off-field excitement translated into wins on the field.

 

Go Bucs!

 

One final note: I will not be doing any breakdown of the Carolina game because I will be on vacation. My coverage will continue with the Week 2 game against the Rams.

Photo Courtesy: USA Today