A Most Improbable Victory!

Well, where do we begin to dissect this one?

There is so much that happened in this wacky game.  But for now, let’s focus on the guy who, in the words of Gene Deckerhoff, puts “toe to leather”: Chandler Catanzaro.

For the second game in a row, he missed an extra point that came back to haunt the Bucs.  Then, with the game tied, he had a chance to it with a 40-yarder at the end of regulation.  Nope – wide right.

Fast-forward to late in overtime.  There was Catanzaro, sent back on to the field with less than two minutes remaining in OT.  It was a 59-yard attempt.  The ball starts out heading toward the right upright, then curves back in.  And it had the distance.

Ballgame.  My goodness.

Remember when the Bucs had Matt Bryant?  Sure – that guy was money.  Every other kicker Tampa Bay has had, with the exception of a brief flash of brilliance from Connor Barth, had been terrible.  Was this remarkable kick in overtime enough to save his job?  Stay tuned.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

…..and the Bucs Lose Again

In football, when you turn the ball over more than your opponent, you generally lose.

On Sunday, the Buccaneers turned it over three times. And Tampa Bay lost to Chicago at Ray-Jay, 26-21

All of the miscues were costly. The first turnover was Doug Martin fumbling after catching a pass. That led to a Bears’ field goal. The second was Jameis Winston throwing a pick down by the goal line, ending a long drive in which the Bucs could’ve extended a one-point lead. Then late in the third quarter, Martin coughed it up again. Chicago went on to score the go-ahead touchdown, and the Bears never trailed after that.

Then there was the bad shotgun snap that meant a longer field goal attempt for Connor Barth, which he missed. The kicking situation is suddenly starting to look like it did at the beginning of the year.

Lovie Smith prides himself on winning the turnover battle. Consider this: the Bucs only have one takeaway in the past five games. Tampa Bay’s defense came into the game allowing the opposing quarterbacks to complete nearly 70% of their passes. On Sunday, Jay Cutler was successful on 74% of his attempts (20-for-27.)

More rants coming in the Monday Column.

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

 

Bucs Revert To Old Form in Loss to Indy

After two straight wins to get back to .500, the Buccaneers suddenly look like the team we saw early in the season. You know – the team that drops passes, misses kicks, commits way too many penalties and lets the other team’s receivers get wide open down the field.

Tampa Bay lost to Indianapolis on Sunday, 25-12. The loss puts a dent in the Bucs’ playoff hopes with five games remaining.

There is plenty of blame to go around. In no particular order:

*Jameis Winston was sacked five times – four of them in the second half dominated by the Colts.

*The Bucs were penalized 12 times for 95 yards. One of them nullified a Doug Martin touchdown run.  Another came on a field goal by Adam Vinatieri, when they were penalized for “leaping.” Who gets flagged for that? The Bucs sure know how. Indy took the points off the board, and ended up scoring a touchdown that put the game out of reach.

*Mike Evans continues to have costly drops. In one of the key sequences of the game, he dropped a potential touchdown pass late in the third quarter. Connor Barth missed the ensuing field goal, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave the Colts the ball in Tampa Bay territory.  Indy turned that into a field goal.

*The Bucs’ defense made 40-year old Matt Hasselbeck look like a superstar. We’ve seen that movie many times before.

*Martin had 90 yards rushing in the first half. So why the heck did he hardly touch the ball in the second 30 minutes? The game wasn’t out of reach until late in the fourth quarter, for crying out loud.

This was a missed opportunity for Tampa Bay. I know it’s hard to win on the road in the NFL, but I feel like the Buccaneers let the Colts get off easy, especially in the second half.

Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com

Bucs Win in Overtime: Amazing!

For a moment, I was getting to write about how the Buccaneers blew another double-digit lead and suffered a devastating defeat.

Well, they did blow the lead. But instead of losing, they found a way to a win the game this time. The Bucs beat the Falcons in overtime, 23-20. Connor Barth kicked the winning field goal on the first possession of OT, and the Bucs defense followed that up by doing something they hadn’t done the entire second half: stop Matt Ryan.

Jameis Winston had another solid day in which he did not turn it over. He threw for 177 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for a score on a broken play in the third quarter. He hasn’t turned the ball over in three straight games now.

Sure, Tampa Bay’s defense still stinks. Besides blowing another big lead, they let Ryan throw for nearly 400 yards. The Falcons were just shy of 500 yards in total offense on the day. But – and this is a big “but” – they turned it over four times. The Buccaneers turned those mistakes into points, and that was the key.

The bright spot in this unit was rookie Kwon Alexander, who picked off Ryan and also recovered a fumble. It turns out he had just lost his brother a couple of days earlier to gun violence. Man, for him to play like that after what happened…..what an inspiring story that should not be overlooked.

The bottom line is, the Buccaneers improved to 3-4 with their second road victory over an NFC South opponent. Instead of talking about the awful secondary, or why in the world Lovie Smith went for it on 4th down on his side of the 50 late in the fourth quarter, I choose to focus on the end result.

If you like fantasy stats, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones probably got you some serious points. But I don’t play fantasy football. The Bucs won the game. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

Monday Column: It’s Time For Lovie Smith To Go

Bucs fans: have you had enough of Lovie Smith?

I know I have.

Sunday’s devastating collapse at the hands of the Redskins was the final straw. It was a game in which the Buccaneers blew a 24-0 lead.

When a game like that happens, the head coach has to be the fall guy. There are no exceptions. Smith cannot coach. His team is undisciplined. He is supposedly a defensive guru, but consider the quarterbacks he’s lost to so far this season: Marcus Mariota, Ryan Mallett, Cam Newton and now Kirk Cousins. Ignore Newton, and focus on the other three.  Tampa Bay beat Blake Bortles, but even he put up impressive numbers against this sieve of a defense.

Please don’t tell me how the Bucs’ defense is in the top ten, in terms of total yards allowed. As I mentioned in a previous column, look at the points they’re giving up. Tampa Bay is giving up almost 30 points a game on average. The Buccaneers are tied for dead-last with the Bears in that category.  The secondary, in particular, has been awful.

But let’s get back to Lovie’s bad coaching. The debacle began to unravel in the third quarter. After Washington scored to make it 24-14, the Redskins pulled off a successful onside kick. The Bucs were not ready for that. That’s bad coaching. The ‘Skins went on to score another touchdown to make it a three-point game.

Let’s skip ahead to late in the fourth quarter. Doug Martin, who had another big game, had just ripped off a big run to the Redskins’ five-yard line. On 3rd and goal from the 1, the Bucs run….a toss sweep….to Charles Sims? Are you serious? When Sims took the ball, 3rd and 1 just became 3rd and 5. Washington wasn’t fooled. Why does Sims even get the ball in that situation? Why not throw one up in the end zone for Mike Evans, who broke out of his slump in a big way? Anyway, Lovie’s team ended with a field goal and a six-point lead with about 2:20 to go. When Washington got the ball back, I knew the Redskins would march right down the field, with receivers running wide open, and get the game-winning score.

There’s one more thing that dawned me overnight: it was so nice of the Bucs to burn all of their timeouts before the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter. That’s bad coaching. What if they had one timeout left on that final desperation play? Instead of Sims trying a desperation lateral that resulted in a fumble (the clock would’ve run out anyway), Tampa Bay would’ve had the ball on the Washington 39. It’s possible Connor Barth could’ve saved the day with a 56-yarder at the gun. Who knows?

And then there are the penalties – 16 of them for 142 yards. Many of them were 15-yard personal fouls. That’s lack of discipline. That’s bad coaching. Lovie deserves the blame for that.

Lovie Smith has been Tampa Bay’s head coach for 22 games. His record is 4-18. After yesterday’s debacle, I don’t think he deserves to coach his 23rd game in Atlanta next Sunday. We’ll see if the Glazers feel differently.

Photo Courtesy: USA Today

Monday Column: The Bucs at the Bye

The Buccaneers have hit their bye week with a record of 2-3. That is considerably better than they were at this time last season. But they’re still not nearly ready to compete with the big boys in the NFL.

That last statement is not a surprise, though. This is a very young team that only won two games in 2014. The biggest thing I’m looking for in 2015 is improvement.

Let’s start with quarterback Jameis Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Through five games, he has an equal number of touchdown passes and interceptions (seven of each.) He’s completing 56% of his passes. Sunday’s win against the Jaguars was a nice bounce-back game for him, as he played mistake-free football after being responsible for five turnovers the previous week against Carolina.

The running game has been a positive so far. Don’t look now, but Doug Martin is tied for second in the NFL in rushing yards with 405. He had his best game of the season on Sunday, rushing for 123 yards and three touchdowns (one of them receiving.) That is the Doug Martin we all remember from his rookie year.

Is Mike Evans dealing with a sophomore slump? So far, the answer is yes. He has only 174 yards receiving, though he was injured earlier in the year. Still, the Bucs will need him to revert to last year’s form, and create a formidable tandem with Vincent Jackson.

How about the defense? Here’s an area where if I give a bunch of stats, you’d have no clue whether this unit is really good or really bad. On one hand, the Bucs are eighth in the league in total defense – i.e. yards allowed. They also have 15 sacks. But on the other hand – and this is the one that bothers me – they are dead last in scoring defense. They’ve given up 148 points in five games. They allowed two quarterbacks named Mariota and Bortles to combine to throw eight touchdown passes against them. The secondary in particular has been a sieve. How many times can Tim Jennings blow coverage? And how long can Lovie Smith continue to keep him in the lineup even though he keeps screwing up?

The kicking game was awful through the first four games. Case in point: Kyle Brindza is gone. Connor Barth is back, and he was flawless against the Jags. Thank goodness that issue has been resolved, at least for now.

Looking forward, Tampa Bay needs to keep running the ball, limit mistakes, and make some adjustments on defense, especially in the secondary.

Photo Courtesy: bucsnation.com

Yes! Bucs Finally Win a Home Game!

The Buccaneers did something today they hadn’t done in nearly two years: they won a game at Ray-Jay. They beat the Jaguars, 38-31.

The Bucs scored 38 points. 38!

Thank you, Doug Martin. He’d actually been running pretty well even before today, but it had been overshadowed by all of the negative stuff surrounding Lovie Smith and company. Today, Martin ran for 123 yards and three touchdowns – one of them receiving. He’s now rushed for over 400 yards through the first five games. He’s looking at a 1,000-yard season if he stays on this pace.

I’m giving Connor Barth a shout-out because of the mess the kicking game had been until now. He was 3-for-3 on field goals and perfect on PAT’s. Everyone take a deep breath now.

Another honorable mention goes to Bobby Rainey for his work on kickoff returns. One of them was a 58-yarder that led to Martin’s touchdown reception.. And for a change, the penalty flags stayed away for the most part on special teams (I think there may have been one.)

How about the defense? Well, at times they let Blake Bortles look like Tom Brady. But they also sacked him six times and picked him off once. And the key play of the game came in the third quarter, when Jacquies Smith recovered a Jacksonville fumble in the end zone to put Tampa Bay back in the lead for good. The Bucs had blown a 13-point lead, then a Barth FG cut the lead to one before the big play happened.

Jameis Winston had a decent day: 13-19, 201 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, he did not turn it over. The latter is perhaps the biggest thing worth mentioning.

Sure, it was hardly perfect. There were still too many penalties. And I don’t understand Lovie Smith’s stupid play-calling at the end of the first half when he had all three timeouts and decent field position. Oh, by the way: this win may have saved his job for the time being.

A win is a win. We the fans will take them any way we can.

Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com

Welcome Back, Connor Barth

The Bucs took action this morning to fix their major kicking problems. Their new kicker is Connor Barth. Sound familiar? It should; Barth was the team’s kicker for the previous six years, and a pretty darn good one at that.  He is the team’s all-time leader in field goal percentage.

Below is the official release, courtesy of buccaneers.com

“On Tuesday, the Buccaneers announced that they have signed kicker Connor Barth. The moves comes after the team released rookie Kyle Brindza, who had been the team’ starter through their first four games.

Barth, a seven-year veteran, spent most of his NFL career with the Buccaneers. He was the team’s kicker from 2009 to 2014 after playing with the Chiefs his rookie season. Barth has connected on 116 of 136 field goals in his career, 83 percent of his kicks. He’s missed just four times when attempting kicks shorter than 40 yards, converting on 63 of 67 attempts.

Barth was brought in by the Buccaneers during training camp to compete with Brindza, but the team ultimately decided to go with the rookie for the first quarter of the season. Barth had been a free agent until returning to Tampa Bay.”

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

It Gets Even Uglier for the Bucs

It was another dreadful game. We’ve seen so many in recent years.

On Sunday afternoon, the Buccaneers laid another egg in front of the hometown crowd, falling to the Panthers, 37-23, at Ray-Jay.

Who’s to blame for this one? Take your pick. The Bucs turned it over five times – four of them coming on Jameis Winston interceptions. One of them was returned for a touchdown. The Panthers scored (by my count) 27 points off those mistakes. You don’t need me to tell you that you’re not going to win many games when you turn the ball over like that.

The kicking game was horrendous for the second straight week. Kyle Brindza missed two more field goals and another extra point. Remember last week when Lovie Smith said Brindza is still his kicker? Dear Bucs: please call Connor Barth and get him in uniform. Better yet, call me. I can’t kick field goals that well, either, but I could use a bump in pay.

And don’t look much into this stat: Carolina only had 244 yards of total offense. This is one time where numbers are so deceptive. Thanks to all those turnovers, the undefeated Panthers didn’t have to go far on many of their scoring drives.

The Bucs are now 1-3. In two home games, their opponents have scored 79 points. Some of those are from “Pick 6’s” but you get the idea: Tampa Bay isn’t being very competitive in its home stadium.

Coming up in the Monday Column: the state of the Bucs’ through the first quarter of the season. I think you can guess what the tone will be.

Photo Courtesy: AP

Season Preview: 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s just about time to kick things off for real.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open the regular season on Sunday, September 13 at home against the Tennessee Titans.  Today, we preview each facet of this year’s team.

THE OFFENSE
After last year’s dismal performance, this is the unit that will get the most attention.  The biggest addition, of course, is Jameis Winston, taken by the Bucs with the top overall pick in this year’s draft.  The rookie had his ups and downs during the preseason.  He did not throw a touchdown pass in the three games he played in, though he did rush for a pair of scores.  He actually has a real-life offensive coordinator this year in Dirk Koetter, who comes over from division-rival Atlanta.  Here’s a thought: get the ball in the hands of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson as much as possible.

The second most-watched group will be the offensive line.  With a rookie quarterback running the show, it will be up to this group to take some of the pressure off Winston, and open up holes in the running game.  Last year, these guys were awful in both categories.

Speaking of that, will Doug Martin bounce back, in what could be his final season in Tampa?  In his rookie season in 2012, he was fantastic.  Since then – not so much.

THE DEFENSE
Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy are the leaders of this group.  There is no doubting that.  Tampa Bay improved in the secondary even more by signing two-time Pro Bowler Jim Jennings just this week.  Dashon Goldson, Mason Foster, Michael Johnson and Da’Quan Bowers are all gone.

SPECIAL TEAMS
For the second year in a row, the Buccaneers have a rookie kicker.  Kyle Brinzda won the starting job over last year’s kicker, Patrick Murray, and former Buc Connor Barth (remember him?  He’s briefly re-joined the team after Denver cut him.)  Brinzda made two field goals over 50 yards in the preseason finale against Miami to seal the deal.

The team also has a new punter.  Michael Koenen is no more.  The new guy in town is Jacob Schum, who was claimed off waivers from the Jets.  Hopefully he will be an upgrade from Koenen, who struggled big-time last year.

The whole unit needs to be much better than last year, especially on kickoff and punt returns.  We the fans are sick of seeing a flag for illegal block in the back on nearly every return.

COACHING
Is Lovie Smith on the hot seat in just his second year?  If the Bucs get off to a slow start, I say the answer is yes.  Admittedly, this season could be also be challenging because of a rookie starting quarterback.  But if the team doesn’t at least show some improvement, then the fire’s going to start burning a lot more under the head coach.

Photo Courtesy: USA Today