Let’s flash back to November 22 for a moment. The Bucs were in Philadelphia, and turned in their best performance of the season, a 45-17 thrashing of the Eagles. Tampa Bay improved to 5-5, and was very much in the playoff hunt in the NFC.
Today, the Buccaneers are 6-9, and will miss the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season.
So what happened? Since that impressive performance at Lincoln Financial Field, the Bucs have dropped games to the Colts, Saints, Rams and Bears. We’re not talking Patriots, Panthers or Cardinals here. We’re talking about games that were winnable, and yet Lovie Smith’s team didn’t get the job done, aside from a victory over a Falcons’ team that just knocked off Carolina.
The biggest disappointment down the stretch has arguably been the biggest one all season: the play of the defense. Now we know why Smith says he needs his defenders to force turnovers. When they don’t, the other team seems to march down the field at will, particularly through the air, regardless of whether the quarterback is Drew Brees or Case Keenum. The secondary is awful, regardless of who’s back there. There’s no question the suspension of Kwon Alexander hurts. But I can’t picture the loss of one player having that much of an impact.
Tampa Bay is -4 in the turnover ratio. Somehow it feels worse than that. Over the past five games, the Bucs have forced a grand total of one takeaway.
Should Lovie Smith be fired at the end of the season? I think he should, but my gut says he won’t. The team did triple its win total from a year ago. But consider this: Smith is calling the shots on defense this year, and I have seen absolutely no improvement in this unit from 2014. None.
Smith is 8-23 in two seasons in Tampa. His predecessor, Greg Schiano, went 11-21 before receiving his pink slip. If Schiano got fired for that record, then why should Smith get a free pass? There’s a growing “rumbling” (for lack of a better term) on blogs and social media that the fans would like to see offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter promoted to head coach. He has done a nice job this year with an offense that includes a rookie quarterback, and Jameis Winston wouldn’t have to learn a entirely new offense. So why not give Koetter a shot? You’d keep the rhythm on offense, and it would allow them to give the other side of the ball a much-needed shakeup. There is talent on defense (Lavonte David for one) but the scheme is not working out.
One final note: the Bucs’ season finale against Carolina is now scheduled for 4:25 p.m. instead of 1 p.m. Carolina is coming off its first loss of the year, and needs to win to clinch home-field advantage. Why can’t they just play the game at 1:00 and get the torture over with?
The short answer to that question is….yes.
But you didn’t come here for a one-word response. The long answer is the focus of this week’s column.
With five games remaining, the Buccaneers have a record of 5-6, having lost to Indianapolis on Sunday. Even though they’re a game under .500, the Bucs are only one game out of a wild card spot, currently held by Seattle, which beat Pittsburgh.
Tampa Bay plays three of its final five games at Ray-Jay, including the next two against division rivals Atlanta and New Orleans. Then the Bucs head to St. Louis for a Thursday night matchup, return home to host Chicago, and then finish the year at Carolina. I think the Buccaneers will probably have to win four of those games. Heck, they may even have to run the table, which is hard to even think about, given that they still have to go to Charlotte.
In order to do that, they can’t be making the mistakes that cost them against the Colts on Sunday. The stupid penalties need to be reduced dramatically. The secondary has to play much better. The pass protection has to improve. Receivers need to make the big catches (I’m looking at you, Mike Evans.) Jameis Winston needs to keep the number of turnovers at a minimum.
The Bucs’ playoff chances took a hit at Lucas Oil Stadium. But in the NFC, which features a couple of great teams and a lot of mediocre ones, Tampa Bay still has a chance. It’s been awhile since Bucs’ fans have even thought about the playoffs heading into December.
I’ll be heading down to Tampa next weekend to see the Buccaneers play the Falcons. A win would be huge, because it would mean sweeping Atlanta and owning the tiebreaker against them.
Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com
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
Sometimes, being lucky is better than being good. Heck, I’ll take luck any day of the week.
That was the case in the Buccaneers’ 10-6 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday. It was ugly. The Bucs did not play well offensively. Neither did the Cowboys. But Tampa Bay finally saw a break go its way for a change.
There was Jameis Winston, five yards away from a potential game-winning touchdown. He scanned the field. He couldn’t find anyone open. So he took off for the goal line, leaping high into the air. The problem was, the ball didn’t stay with him the whole time. It was a fumble. Dallas recovered in the end zone.
But hold on – what’s that yellow thing on the field in the end zone? Nah, it couldn’t possibly be a penalty on the Cowboys, because these are the Bucs, and they find every way imaginable to lose games. But a funny thing happened: the referee signaled holding against the defense.
It’s about time Tampa Bay caught a break. And on the next play, Winston took advantage of the second chance on a brilliant play-call: a bootleg that saw him walk into the end zone untouched.
But the final outcome still hadn’t been settled. There was that final heave into the end zone, intended by that Dallas receiver who seems to be known more for his temper these days than his pass-catching ability. The pass was picked off by Bradley McDougald, who was playing the ball the whole way, although it looked like he gave Dez Bryant a slight push.
That was break number two. Can you imagine if the refs had called pass interference on that play? Dallas would’ve had the ball at the 1, with a few seconds left to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Instead, the Bucs have already doubled their win total from all of last year. Their next two games are on the road, at Philadelphia and Indianapolis. They may not have to face either Sam Bradford or Andrew Luck. I’m not suggesting they’re going to win either one of those games, but their chances are better than they were before Sunday.
I hope that ends up being another break.
Photo Courtesy: AP
If you’re an out-of-town fan like me, you live for the day when the NFL schedule is released. Now we can all start planning trips to Tampa et al.
Without further commentary, here is the 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers schedule:
9/20 @ New Orleans
9/27 @ Houston
10/25 @ Washington
11/1 @ Atlanta
11/8 NY Giants
11/22 @ Philadelphia
11/29 @ Indianapolis
12/13 New Orleans
12/17 @ St. Louis (Thurs.)
1/3 @ Carolina
A note to my readers: now the draft is over (and you all know who the Bucs picked, from Jameis Winston on down) I will be going into hibernation for a little while until training camp/the preseason gets going. I am grateful to everyone who reads this blog, and I look forward to reconnecting with you for the 2015 season!