Doug Martin Done in Tampa Bay

We all saw this coming, but now it’s official.

 

Doug Martin’s tenure in Tampa is over.  The Bucs released him today after six seasons in red and pewter.

 

The Buccaneers took Martin in the first round of the 2012 draft.  He rushed for over 1400 yards, twice.  I will never forget that game in Oakland where he ran wild for about 250 yards and four touchdowns.  Heck, he was one of the top running backs in the NFL.

 

But it’s impossible to ignore how this all ended.  There was the second-to-last game of the 2016 season in New Orleans, with the Bucs still in playoff contention, and Martin was inactive.  At the time, we thought it was a benching, only to learn later he had been suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.  And Martin announced he had entered a drug rehab program.

 

In 2017, he just wasn’t the same.

 

This was a move that had to be made.  So now what?  Well, right now Peyton Barber moves into the lead running back role, pending what the Bucs do in the draft.

 

Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Plenty of Blame to Go Around For This Bucs’ Loss

There are many reasons why the Buccaneers lost to the Super Bowl champion Patriots on Thursday night, 19-14.  Let me count the ways:

 

The kicking game still stinks.  This is the most glaring problem, but as you’ll see, hardly the only one.  Why can’t we get a kicker who can consistently kick the ball through the uprights?  Nick Folk missed three more field goal attempts.  That’s six missed kicks in less than a week, covering two games.  And these were bad misses – not even close to being good.  One of them was a 56-yarder that would’ve been no good from 26.  I am stunned that he is still on the roster after his performance.  Can we turn the clock back and bring Matt Bryant back to Tampa?

 

Jameis Winston is too inconsistent.  Ignore his final numbers, which show he threw for over 300 yards.  He continues to throw into double coverage.  He’s missing open receivers.  He can’t consistently throw the deep ball very well.  Remember that play where DeSean Jackson was open down the sideline?  Jackson can’t be a factor downfield if Winston doesn’t get him the ball.

 

The play-calling was pathetic at times.  Doug Martin was running wild through the Pats’ defense in the first half.  So why did Koetter basically abandon the running game in the second?  Fast-forward to the fourth quarter, after the Bucs cut the lead to two with just over two minutes remaining.  The Bucs went for the onside kick, which was unsuccessful.  New England converted it into three points.  Why the onside kick?  They had one timeout left plus the two-minute warning.  They could’ve kicked it deep, gotten a touchback, meaning no time would come off the clock.  They could’ve stopped New England, and gotten the ball with about a minute left – in much better field position – and only needing a field goal to win the game (and heck, maybe Folk would’ve made one for a change.)

 

All the talk up here in New England is about the Pats much-maligned defense bouncing back.  Okay, I’ll buy that.  But this is a Bucs’ blog, so you get the Bucs’ perspective on the game.  Tampa Bay held a Tom Brady-led team to under 20 points.  The game was there for the taking, and the Buccaneers didn’t grab it.

 

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Season Preview: 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s time to get down to business.

 

One week from today, the Buccaneers kick off the 2017 season against the Dolphins in Miami.  Here are some things I’ll be keeping an eye on as the games begin to count:

 

THE OFFENSE: by all accounts, the Bucs are loaded.  Jameis Winston is starting his third year in Tampa Bay, and does he ever have weapons.  The names are many: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Doug Martin (after he finishes serving his suspension.)  On that last note, I want to see how they’re going to run the ball in Martin’s absence.  It appears Jacquizz Rogers will be the featured back, along with Charles Sims (who I’m not a big fan of.)

 

Here are two things to look for: can Winston cut down on his mistakes?  And perhaps an even bigger question: can this team finish off drives with touchdowns?  It’s one thing to move the ball at will down the field, but if you can’t finish it off with six, that’s disappointing.

 

THE DEFENSE: this is the group I’m most concerned about.  I know what you’re thinking – ‘well, they looked great during the preseason.’  The key word there is the last one.  This is a unit that gave up a lot of big plays last year, especially in the passing game.  The Buccaneers play in a loaded NFC South – with quarterbacks named Ryan, Brees and Newton.  The tackling has to be better.  The secondary has to be a lot better than it was in 2016.  I think the Bucs are going to score a lot of points, but I can also see them giving up a lot as well.  We’ll see.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS: the kicking game was solved during the preseason.  Nick Folk is the guy now.  Roberto Aguayo was cut, and is now unemployed.  He signed on with the Bears, but they let him go, too.  Given all of the issues in the kicking game last season, Folk will be under intense scrutiny, and will surely hear about it when he misses a kick.

 

It’s playoffs or bust for the Bucs.  They went 9-7 last year and missed the postseason by one game.  There’s only way 2017 will be considered a success is if Dirk Koetter’s guys are still playing football come January.

 

Until then, it’s on to Miami for the season opener….

 

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Some Thoughts on the Bucs’ Win Over the Jags

Here are some random thoughts on the Buccaneers’ 12-8 victory over the Jaguars in the second preseason game.

 

The offense looks really, really good…..for the most part.  Jameis Winston sizzled in the first half, completing 21 of 29 passes and showing his ability to push the ball downfield.  Of course, there was that awful pass he threw while falling down, that ended up getting picked off in the end zone.  Although the INT was nullified because the refs ruled Winston was down, we can’t have Winston making too many more dumb plays like that.

 

Doug Martin is making a strong case that he should still be in Tampa when he returns from his suspension.

 

Mike Evans continues to shine, although he let a sure touchdown go right through his hands.  I was also impressed with rookie tight end O.J. Howard.

 

The defense also looked strong, stifling the Jacksonville attack for much of the time the regulars were in there.  This unit gave up a lot of big plays last year, and the secondary would’ve been burned for another TD in this contest by Allen Robinson if he had someone other than Blake Bortles as his quarterback.

 

Nick Folk is the guy now in the kicking game.  He made 2 field goals.  But he also missed one, and had one blocked.  Why can’t we get someone who can make a kick?

 

The next preseason game is against the Browns at Ray-Jay this weekend. If you watch any exhibition game, make it this one.  The third game is considered the dress rehearsal.

 

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs are Perfect for “Hard Knocks”

After watching Tuesday night’s premiere of “Hard Knocks” on HBO featuring the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I can’t wait for the rest of the season.

 

It was great to see the Bucs’ training camp through the lenses of NFL Films.  Those people do an outstanding job during football season every year.  There were the tense moments, like Dirk Koetter chewing out Jameis Winston after throwing a pick.  Then, there were the personal, family stories of players like Winston and Gerald McCoy.

 

And then, there were the lighter moments.  I got a chuckle out of Winston answering the question about whether he wanted extra Marriott points if he didn’t let housekeeping into the room.  And then there were the rookies singing in front of the rest of the crowd.  Chris Godwin, Riley Bullough, Antony Auclair – my goodness.  And poor Maurice Fleming and Justin Evans – getting run off stage, with Doug Martin serving as a Gong Show host of sorts.

 

It looks like next week’s episode will focus, in part, on the kicking battle between Roberto Aguayo and Nick Folk.  It will likely also include great shots from the preseason opener in Cincinnati.  I don’t know how the rest of the football universe is enjoying Hard Knocks so far, but I definitely am.

 

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

2016 Buccaneers: Season in Review

The Buccaneers’ season has been over for a week now, so it’s time form some final thoughts on the 2016 team. Arguably, I should’ve done this several days ago, but a new work schedule has something to do with that.

Dirk Koetter was promoted to head coach from offensive coordinator during the offseason. He finished his first season with a 9-7 record, the first Bucs team to have a winning season since 2010. I like the fact that he will always tell you exactly how he feels. He did make some questionable decisions in some games, and the Bucs had a knack for burning timeouts early in games, though that seemed to improve as the season went on.

Second-year QB Jameis Winston had a good season as a whole. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also had 18 INT’s, including six in the final three games. The Bucs had to win two of those three to get into the playoffs, but were only victorious in the finale against the Panthers. He made a lot of plays that make you say ‘wow’ – both good and bad.

The running game was a disappointment. First, you had Doug Martin. He started off slow, got hurt, came back, but never was the same. Then he was benched (or so we thought at the time) in the critical second-to-last game against New Orleans. A few days later, he revealed he had been suspended for violating the league’s drug’s policy, and would be seeking treatment for addiction. Jacquizz Rodgers did look promising when he was in there, however, averaging 4.3 yards a carry. The play of the offensive line didn’t help the running game, either.

Defensively, I’d call it a mixed bag. When Tampa Bay won five in a row to get into playoff contention, the defense looked like it was among the best in the league. But those five games aside, they gave up too many big plays in the passing game, which is one of the things that cost Lovie Smith his job. The Bucs ranked 23rd in the league in total defense, which is based on total yards allowed. That’s not good enough to become a playoff contender. I didn’t hear Lavonte David’s name nearly enough this year. One of his few shining moments came in San Diego: a pick-six that helped in the win over the Chargers.

And how can I not talk about the rookie kicker, Roberto Aguayo. He was an adventure every time he came out on the field. He made just 71% of his field goals (22-for-31) and missed two extra points. There was a stretch late in the season where he made nine straight FG’s, but then his last two in the final game were a miss, and a block. He did not have any competition for his job in 2016. That will definitely change next season.

So how did I feel about the season overall? I was pleased. The Bucs have gone from 2-14, to 6-10, to 9-7 in the past three years. There were the impressive victories over the Chiefs and Seahawks, and the ugly defeat against the Rams in the home opener.

But it’s always nice when they win the game that I fly down to see in person. Next year’s goal: playoffs or bust.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Doug Martin Suspended

So now we know the deal with Doug Martin – why he was surprisingly inactive for the Saints game, and in turn the finale against Carolina this weekend.

Martin released a statement late this afternoon, saying he’s been suspended four games for violating the league’s drug policy.  Not only that, he’s entering rehab for it.  Martin’s suspension starts with Sunday’s game against the Panthers, then he will have to sit out the first three games of 2017.  What happens to him after that remains uncertain.

Wow.  I didn’t see this coming.

Martin was the league’s second-leading rusher last year, but this season has been a disappointment.  He missed a bunch of games due to injury, and when he has been on the field, he just hasn’t been the same.

 

Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Times

 

Just Like That, the Bucs Playoff Hopes Are All But Gone

I had a bad feeling about this game even before it started.

First, the bottom line: the Bucs can no longer win the NFC South, and they would need the mightiest of miracles to get a wild card. They spent their Christmas Eve by losing to the Saints in the Superdome, 31-24.

Let’s look at the reasons why Tampa Bay lost this game. First, the defense did a 180 from the way it played against Drew Brees and company two weeks ago. When I saw them in person, the Bucs picked him off three times. On Christmas Eve, Brees shredded the defense like other teams did in the first half of the season. They also allowed over 120 yards on the ground, including two TD runs by Mark Ingram. It was one big play after another for the explosive Saints’ offense.

How about that sequence at the start of the second half? Remind me again why Josh Huff is still on this team. He screwed up another kickoff, pinning the Bucs back near their goal line. Before you could blink, Jameis Winston threw a floater that was picked off, and Ingram was back in the end zone on the very next play. A six point halftime deficit was suddenly 13, and the Buccaneers never recovered.

Winston also threw another pick in the third quarter when the Bucs were in New Orleans territory.

It’s easy to second-guess, but I question Dirk Koetter’s decision to go for the onside kick with 2 minutes to go. The Bucs had all three timeouts left. You figure the kickoff would result in a touchback, so they wouldn’t lose any time there. They could’ve stopped the Saints in their territory, burned their timeouts, and gotten the ball back in decent field position with one last shot. In the end, it didn’t matter because the Saints got a first down. But even if they had stopped him, Tampa Bay would’ve had a much longer way to go after the Saints’ punt.

Now, back to the bad feeling I had before the game started. It came as a surprise to me – and apparently the players from what I’ve read – to find out that starting running back Doug Martin was inactive, and that it was a coaches’ decision. We don’t know the truth as of this writing, but I sure hope Koetter had a good reason to bench his starting running back with the team’s playoff chances hanging in the balance. Martin has not been the same as last season; there’s no question about that. But I’d love to know the back story behind all of this.

So, we have one more game to go. The Buccaneers host the Panthers in the season finale. There is some ridiculous scenario that would allow the Bucs to back into the playoffs next weekend, but it’s not likely. But if Tampa Bay is going to be a playoff team down the road, it has to win games like the one Saturday night. It’s as simple as that.

Photo courtesy: USA Today

5 Wins in a Row! Bri Sees The Bucs Win In Person

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.

 

Bucs Win a Game They Absolutely Had To Have

The Buccaneers needed this game in the worst possible way. And they got it.

With the exception of one play, the Bucs dominated the Bears on Sunday, winning 36-10.

After the defense looked downright awful the past two games, they actually decided to show up against Chicago. They sacked Jay Cutler four times. They forced four turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown by the much-maligned Chris Conte.  They also forced a safety, and shut out the Bears in the second half.

So what was that “one play?” Cutler completed a Hail Mary for a touchdown on the final play of the half that made it a seven-point game. But on the first drive of the third quarter, Jameis Winston pulled off another magic act. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’m sure it’ll be on every NFL highlight reel. He escaped a bunch of Bears, avoided a major sack, scrambled around and launched one downfield that Mike Evans came down with. That was the play of the game. Two plays later, Winston threw a long TD pass to Freddie Martino (who?) and the Bucs were in control the rest of the way.

It was great to see Doug Martin back on the field. The Bucs need him desperately. And while the running game struggled mightily behind a makeshift offensive line, he did find the end zone late in the fourth quarter.

But this day was really about the defense finally showing up and playing a good game. And heck, it’s about time the Bucs won a game at Ray-Jay. They only won one of three consecutive home games.

Tampa Bay is now 4-5. Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans all lost, so this was good day all the way around for the Buccaneers. A tough trip to Kansas City awaits next Sunday.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers