That season went by way too quickly. It’s hard to believe it’s already over.
The Tampa Bay Bucs finished with a record of 6-10. That’s an improvement over their 2-14 record of 2014, but they still finished in last place in the NFC South. I thought I’d take a look back at the best – and worst – of the Bucs’ 2015 season.
Please note: these are listed in no particular order.
Jameis Winston. Remember what happened on his first pass of the season? I do. It was intercepted and run back for a touchdown. Sure, there were many moments where the No. 1 overall pick looked like a rookie. But there were many more where he looked like the Bucs may have found their franchise quarterback. Winston threw for over 4,000 yards (4,042 to be exact.) That’s the third-most passing yards of any rookie QB in NFL history. He threw 22 touchdowns vs. 15 interceptions. He also ran for six touchdowns. You can make a very compelling case for him being named rookie of the year. Perhaps most of all, he looks and acts like a leader. He needs to work on the deep ball, but that can be done.
Doug Martin. This was the last year of his contract in Tampa. I am with a lot of Bucs’ fans in begging the team to re-sign him. Martin had his best year since his rookie season: he rushed for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns. The TD number is a bit low, but he had a number of long, long runs that put his team in excellent scoring position. His best game was Week 11 against Philadelphia – when he ran wild for 235 yards.
Dirk Koetter. Why does the offensive coordinator make this list? It’s simple: the Bucs didn’t have one last year; remember when Jeff Tedford left before the season began? Koetter came in, and made an instant impact. The Bucs finished with the fifth-best offense in the NFL in terms of total yards. They averaged just over 21 points per game, which ranks 20th in the league, but still a big improvement over last year. But when I look back at the season, this wasn’t the same old dink-and-dunk Tampa Bay offense that I’ve seen since…well, forever.
The defense. As I’ve said repeatedly over the past four months, Lovie Smith was calling the plays on the defensive side of the ball. That’s why he deserves much of the blame for a unit that allowed just over 26 points per game, sixth-most in the league. The secondary was just awful. Take your pick: Johnthan Banks, Mike Jenkins, Sterling Moore, Alterraun Verner – it didn’t matter who was trying to cover the opposing team’s receivers. Here is the most alarming stat I could find: the Bucs allowed their opponents to complete 70% of their passes. That is insane. Whether it’s the players, the scheme or the coaching – this should be the first order of the business in the offseason.
Mike Evans. On one hand, he had another 1,000 yard season – gaining 1,206 yards. On the other hand, he only scored three touchdowns. And then there were the drops – all of them. According to sportingcharts.com, Evans led the league with eleven dropped passes. And he heard some boos from the fans at Ray-Jay periodically.
BEST GAME: week 11, when they walloped the Eagles, 45-17, and racked up 521 yards of total offense.
WORST GAME: week 7, when they lost to the Redskins, 31-30, a game in which Tampa Bay blew a 24-0 lead. I know Washington ended up winning the NFC East, but blowing a lead like that against anyone is unacceptable.
As always, it’s been a lot of fun writing about the Bucs this season. And I am most grateful to my readers. This is neither goodbye nor farewell, of course. It’s just me saying thank you.
Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com
Now that I’ve had time to sleep on Sunday’s bitter defeat, it’s time to take a look back and dissect the biggest issues surrounding the Buccaneers right now. There are many, but one seems to stand out among fans more than the rest.
What about that play-calling in the red zone?
On two different occasions in the second half, the Bucs were in scoring position. Yet all they did was hand the ball off to Bobby Rainey. Rainey had a terrific day running the ball, no doubt about that. But the play-calling was far too conservative. Don’t you have to take a shot to the end zone? Or, at least put the ball in the air on third-and-seven to pick up the first down? If you don’t trust Josh McCown to throw it in that situation, then why is he your starting quarterback?
In those two red zone opportunities, the Bucs ended up with three points. The other attempt ended in a blocked field goal that led to three points for the Rams.
Sure, this team has other problems. The defense let a third-string quarterback pick them apart. Special teams had two kicks blocked. But let’s start at the top: coaching. Jeff Tedford, it was learned after the game, was not calling the plays for the second straight week. Tampa Bay’s offense was awful last year, and they have yet to put 20 points on the board in 2014. They’re 0-2, and playing three straight on the road, starting in Atlanta on Thursday night. This could get ugly in a hurry.
I hope I’m wrong.
Photo Courtesy: AP
Here are some thoughts on the Buccaneers’ 19-17 loss to the Rams on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. When the Bucs lose, there is usually more in the “bad” and “ugly” category. But I’ll always put the “good” first because, well, that’s how the saying goes.
This award goes to running back Bobby Rainey. Filling in for the injured Doug Martin, he rushed for 144 yards on 22 carries. The play of Logan Mankins was definitely a factor in a much-improved running game.
The Bucs lost to third-string quarterback Austin Davis. They let him lead a game-winning drive in the final minutes. And they lost to a backup QB last week, too. Both losses have come at home. Let that sink in for a moment.
Special teams were atrocious. The Bucs had two kicks (a punt and a field goal) blocked. Both led to St. Louis field goals.
What’s with the conservative play-calling down in the red zone. The Bucs were inside the 20 on two separate occasions, facing third down, and didn’t take a shot into the end zone. The first occasion ended with the aforementioned blocked field goal. The other ended with three points. I’m confused: don’t you have to take a shot? I’m looking at you, Lovie Smith and Jeff Tedford.
It has to be that awful interception thrown by McCown down near the goal line in the second quarter. The Bucs had first and goal from the 9, and McCown forced the throw, and was picked off by Rodney McLeod. McCown did have two rushing touchdowns in this game, but his mistake was a costly one.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE CRAZY ENDING
What a crummy way to have the game end. Mike Evans made a great catch on a long pass in the closing seconds, but was clobbered on the play. He was clearly hurt, and the trainers had to help him. The Bucs didn’t have any timeouts. There were eight seconds on the clock, but the injury to Evans required a ten-second runoff. The game was over.
When Evans was hit, there were about 14-15 seconds, and the Bucs would’ve had time to rush down the field, spike the ball, and set up a game-winning field goal attempt. What a lousy rule. I know why it’s there, but I don’t think anyone felt Evans was faking an injury, given the hit he took.
Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Times
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Buccaneers have a new head coach – and he’s someone very familiar to Tampa Bay fans.
Welcome back to Tampa, Lovie.
Lovie Smith was a defensive assistant assistant under Tony Dungy, so he knows how things used to be in Tampa when the Bucs had a nice run during the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Not only that, he has previous NFL head coaching experience – something Greg Schiano did not have. Smith took the Bears to the Super Bowl seven years ago, and was 81-63 in nine seasons in Chicago. In other words, he knows how to win. From a public relations perspective, this is a great move – one that I agree with 100%. Whether it translates into success on the field remains to be seen.
Lovie’s staff is also starting to come into focus. According to ESPN, former Vikings’ head coach Leslie Frazier will be the Bucs’ new defensive coordinator, and former Cal coach Jeff Tedford will be running the offense.
We’re still waiting to see who the Glazers will choose to be the new general manager. That will be the next big move they make. In the meantime, Smith will be formally introduced at a Monday afternoon news conference.
Photo Courtesy: AP