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

Advertisements

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

Getting Caught Up On the Bucs

So I’ve been out of the blogging mix for a couple of weeks. Blame it on Las Vegas.  When Vegas comes calling, I have to defer to my favorite vacation destination.

 

But I’ve been keeping an eye on what the Buccaneers have been doing. And it hasn’t been pretty.

 

I was watching from a distance inside one of the casinos in Vegas when the Bucs let the Raiders beat them in overtime, despite Oakland committing a record number of penalties. And I was watching from my living room on Thursday night, when the Buccaneers got blown out at home by the Falcons.

 

We are halfway through the season, and Tampa Bay has a 3-5 record. All of its wins have come on the road.  The ghost of Ray-Jay continues.

 

There is plenty of blame to go around, as you would expect. But the biggest problem – and biggest disappointment – has to be the play of the defense.  Despite the moves the Bucs made in the offseason, this defense looks identical to the one that cost Lovie Smith his job.  They can’t cover.  They can’t tackle.  They commit penalties at the worst possible times; the one that comes to mind immediately is the one on 4th down that would’ve won the game against Oakland.  The defense has given up 1,087 yards over the past two games, and allowed Derek Carr and Matt Ryan to complete nearly 70 percent of their passes (thanks to ESPN staff writer Jenna Laine for those tidbits.)

 

Head coach Dirk Koetter looks like he’s over his head. I cannot figure out some of his decisions.  Why is he afraid to get points on the board at the end of a half when he’s got timeouts in his pocket?  And here’s an idea: when the opposition is flagged for a personal foul, don’t be afraid to push them back and not basically concede three points.  That was a key moment in Thursday night’s abysmal effort against Atlanta.

 

Mike Evans is really the only thing the Bucs have going for them right now. The guy is a beast.  They really, really need Doug Martin to get back on the field.  Still, it may be too little, too late.

 

Or maybe it isn’t. There are a lot of “meh” teams out there this year.  Tampa Bay is one of them.  But they have to start winning at home.  They have another chance next Sunday when the Bears come to town.

 

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

 

2 In a Row! Bucs Beat the 49ers

All of a sudden, things are looking up for the Buccaneers.

They beat the 49ers on Sunday, 34-17, for their second straight win. The Bucs are now back at .500.

Jameis Winston shook off an early, poorly-thrown interception to end up with a nice day. Mike Williams is showing no signs of a sophomore slump. And even without Doug Martin, the Bucs suddenly have found a running game, thanks to another big day from Jacquizz Rodgers.

When Tampa Bay fell behind 14-0 early, I thought it was going to be a long afternoon in Santa Clara. No sir. The next 27 points were scored by the road team.

The fact that San Francisco’s run defense is terrible should not diminish the effort by Rodgers, who finished with 154 yards on the ground. Evans’ performance (two more TD’s) is even more impressive when you consider that Vincent Jackson was placed on injured reserve last week. Russell Shepard and Peyton Barber also found the end zone. Who are those two guys? That’s my point; other players stepped it up nicely.

The defense is also playing much better. Yes, they let the ‘Niners march right down the field to start the game. And the second TD they gave up was the direct result of a bonehead mistake by Winston. But the D held San Francisco to a field goal the rest of the way.

Roberto Aguayo missed another field goal. Yes, it was a 50-yarder, but it’s only going to add to the scrutiny surrounding the second-round pick. He’s now 6-for-11 on FG’s this season. Not good enough.

But six games in, and the Bucs are very much right in the mix. The next three games are at Ray-Jay, where Tampa Bay has struggled to win in recent years. That has to change, starting with the game against a very good Oakland team next Sunday.

Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com

 

Bucs Beat the Panthers! Winning Ugly Beats Losing

Well, that was worth staying up late for a Bucs’ game that was actually on TV.

This was a game that neither team seemed to want. But in the end, there was beleaguered kicker Roberto Aguayo, who had already missed two kicks earlier in the game, standing out there on the field with :03 left on the clock and the outcome resting on his right foot.

And wouldn’t you know – he nailed it.

The Bucs picked up an important win over a division rival, beating the Panthers, 17-14.

There is so much to dissect. Just look at the last drive alone. Dirk Koetter’s play-calling continues to bewilder me. The Bucs got the ball back with just under 2:00 remaining, and Koetter called two straight running plays, the second of which resulted in the running back going out of bounds, allowing Carolina to save a timeout. Then on the 3rd down, the Bucs threw it to pick up a first down, and suddenly they’re not just trying to milk the clock anymore. They marched down the field, and caught a break when the Panthers were called for a personal foul facemask. They caught another break when the refs said Vincent Jackson went out of bounds after making a catch, when the replay showed otherwise.  That stopped the clock when it otherwise would’ve kept running.  It all resulted in Aguayo’s redemption kick – right down the middle – that set off a late-night celebration in my apartment.

Don’t worry – I kept it down. There are a lot of older people in my building who likely went to bed after Big Papi’s career earlier in the night.

All I heard about going into this game was Carolina not having Cam Newton and running back Jonathan Stewart. Well, the Bucs didn’t have running back Doug Martin, and were without three-quarters of their starting defensive front: Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald and Robert Ayers.

Derek Anderson had beaten the Bucs twice before. It looked like he might do it again, but he made a critical mistake when Brent Grimes picked him off in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, one of four Tampa Bay takeaways.

As I said, this game was far from perfect. Jameis Winston is still making too many dumb decisions. Aguayo gives me a heart attack every time he steps on the field. You’d think the Buccaneers would decide to cover Greg Olsen every now and then. They’re still committing too many costly penalties and crucial times – whether it’s a 3rd and short situation,  or the other team is punting it away and they decide it’s a good idea to knock the punter down to the ground right after he kicks it.

I mentioned Koetter’s play-calling at the end. What about that 3rd down call in the fourth quarter – a running play?  The next play: Aguayo – wide left.

One thing that was great to see was the performance of Jacquizz Rogers, who rushed for over 100 yards, much of it in the first half. The Buccaneers put Charles Sims on IR earlier in the day (he’s been lousy anyway) so it was nice to have a running game in the absence of Doug Martin.

The Bucs are now 2-3, with both wins coming on the road against division opponents. They have their bye week next week, which gives them a chance to get healthy. Thank goodness.

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

 

Same Old Story For the Bucs Against Denver

Broncos 27, Buccaneers 7

I’m getting tired of writing the same old stuff week after week. But there isn’t much else I can do these days.

The Buccaneers looked awful again on Sunday. More turnovers, more penalties, more poor play in the secondary. And naturally, when Denver had to bring in its backup rookie quarterback, Tampa Bay made him look like him look like a ten-year veteran.

Jameis Winston, after a scintillating performance in the opener against Atlanta, has looked terrible the past three weeks. Against the Broncos, he threw two more interceptions, both of which resulted in Denver touchdowns. By the way – did you notice who made both of those picks? Yes, that’s Aqib Talib, the former Buc. Getting back to Winston, he’s thrown seven INT’s in the last three games.  The dreaded sophomore slump is in full effect right now.

The Bucs need Doug Martin back a.s.a.p. Charles Sims is awful. Aside from being unable to run the ball effectively, he screwed up again in the Denver game. What the heck was he thinking when he apparently tried to lateral the ball – and in the process cough it up – up on 3rd and 1 in Broncos’ territory? They should bench his ass.

The defense – particularly the safeties – continues to be a major disappointment. I’m looking at you, Chris Conte and Brent Grimes. Aside from their poor coverage, Grimes had an interception go right through his hands. He would’ve saved Tampa Bay three points. The defense did get some nice pressure on Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch in the first half, but were totally gassed in the second. Denver played keep-away, and the Bucs couldn’t get anything going on offense.  The Broncos’ defense is very, very good.

And I’m not letting Dirk Koetter off the hook, either. Ultimately, this all lies on him. One decision in the fourth quarter stood out: you’re down by 20, midway thru the 4th quarter, you’re facing 4th and 6 on Denver’s side of field, and you punt? I don’t understand that. They still had a chance – albeit a very slim one – of pulling off a miraculous comeback. But by punting there, aren’t you essentially waving the white flag?  Geez.

Next week, the Bucs play in Carolina on Monday Night Football. The whole country gets to see the frustration we Bucs fans have been dealing with for many, many years.

Photo Courtesy: AP