This is Bad, Bucs Fans. Very Bad

Just when you thought the Buccaneers’ season couldn’t get any worse, it has.

 

Oh, has it ever.

 

In what is quickly becoming a season to forget, the Bucs were trounced by the Saints in the Superdome today, 30-10.  We saw a lot of the same old Bucs: the defense got picked apart again. The running game was non-existent.  Jameis Winston was ineffective (before leaving the game with a shoulder injury.)  And special teams were problematic yet again, with the Saints blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown, and another missed field goal (though that was the least of the problems on this day.)

 

But here’s the question that a lot of fans – including me – are asking right now: has Dirk Koetter lost this team?  The lasting image from this game will be the scuffle on the Tampa Bay sideline, which appeared to be instigated by Winston, and involved Mike Evans annihilating Marshon Lattimore.  I am shocked Evans did not get kicked out of the game, but he could very well be suspended for that hit.  But look closely at the replay: you see Koetter doing absolutely nothing to diffuse the situation.  Nothing.  Doesn’t the head coach need to take the control there?  Well, Koetter didn’t do that.   This is about a lack of discipline, and a lack of discipline can be traced to bad coaching.  I’ve written the same thing about Lovie Smith in years’ past, and I’m not letting Koetter off the hook, either.

 

This was supposed to be the year the Bucs made the jump to the next level – the playoffs.  Instead, they sit at 2-6 and in the basement of the NFC South, and are arguably one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL right now.  This five-game losing streak started with the New England game the Bucs could’ve won.  There was the early knockout punch in Arizona.  There was the late meltdown in Buffalo.  And now we’ve seen back-to-back abysmal performances against division opponents.  Do the Glazers have the guts to make a change-mid season?  We shall see.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Times

Things That Bugged Me About the Bucs’ Loss to the Rams….

If the Buccaneers are going to be a contender this season, they cannot lose games like the one they squandered on Sunday against the Rams.

It was the home opener. They were playing a team that hadn’t scored a touchdown in its first two games. And yet again, the Bucs found a way to make the Rams look like an offensive juggernaut. Final score: Rams 37, Bucs 32.

This was a very frustrating defeat, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Here’s what bothered me, in no particular order:

Why don’t we start with the final drive of the game, which happened while most of the country was already tuned in to Sunday Night Football due to a weather delay. The Bucs got the ball back with less than two minutes remaining, two timeouts, and trailing by five. They marched down to the L.A. 15. But after completing that pass to Charles Sims, they inexplicably let a precious 15-20 seconds tick off the clock before running another play. Why wouldn’t you burn a timeout there? Tampa Bay easily could’ve had an extra two plays at the end. The game ended with the Bucs leaving a timeout on the board, and Jameis Winston lying on the ground about five yards from the goal line. Did the thought of throwing the ball into the end zone on the final play ever cross his mind? Once he crossed the line of scrimmage, he had no choice but to pull off a miraculous run. It didn’t happen. The clock management was awful, and Dirk Koetter and Winston need to take the blame for that.

The defense – particularly the secondary – looks as bad as it did under Lovie Smith, and that’s saying something. The number of big plays they’ve given up are mind-boggling. How do you let Case Keenum beat you deep? He did it on the opening drive, and he did it again in the fourth quarter. How do you let a team that scored nine points in two games…put up 37 against you in the home opener?

Then there’s Roberto Aguayo. You know, he’s the guy the Bucs drafted in the second round. He missed an extra point. Then he missed a field goal. That is unacceptable from any kicker, much less a second-rounder. That was four critical points the Bucs didn’t get. And the missed PAT forced the Bucs to go for two twice, and failed both times. Who knows how the game would’ve played out if Aguayo had just done his job?

Turnovers are still a problem. Winston threw a pick that wasn’t his fault (Sims should’ve caught it) and the Rams turned it into a touchdown. Then there was the strip-sack that L.A. returned 77 yards for another score.

We’re only three games in, but this was by far the most frustrating game of the season. And the next two games are against last year’s Super Bowl teams: home against Denver, at Carolina.

Ay ay ay….

Photo Courtesy: AP

40-7?! Let’s Pretend That Bucs’ Game Never Happened

Well, that was an old-fashioned clunker.

There isn’t a whole lot of good to say about Sunday’s game against Arizona. Whatever could go wrong for the Bucs, did go wrong.

They turned it over five times. One of them was a screw-up on a handoff between Jameis Winston and Charles Sims. Winston also threw four interceptions, one of which was returned all the way for a touchdown. And to be honest, there were a couple of others that also could’ve been picked. By the way, why was he still playing in the fourth quarter when the game was long out of reach?

They dropped passes.

They missed tackles.

They suffered some key injuries. Doug Martin, Robert Ayers, Luke Stocker and Cecil Shorts were all knocked out of the game.

The defense has allowed 64 points in the first two games, and hasn’t forced a turnover. Lovie Smith is probably laughing his ass off in Champaign, IL.

Arizona is a very good team. There’s no question about that. But I was hoping for a much better showing than this. There is a lot of stuff to fix before the home opener against the Rams.

Photo Courtesy: Arizona Cardinals

 

The Newest Buccaneers

Now that the NFL draft is in the books, it’s time to take a look at the newest Buccaneers. By now, you probably know who Tampa Bay chose. Also, I’m no draft analyst, nor do I really follow big-time national college football. So with the disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at what the Bucs did.

I’m glad the Bucs focused on the defensive side of the ball. That’s the reason Lovie Smith is no longer the head coach. The first-round pick generally garners the most attention, so I’ll do the same. Vernon Hargreaves III played cornerback at Florida. Tampa Bay needs people to do a better job defending the pass. So this pick makes a lot of sense. Remember the percentage at which opposing QB’s were completing passes against this defense last year? I don’t, but I know it was way up there. And some of those quarterbacks weren’t exactly superstars.

In the second round, they took Noah Spence. Lord knows the Bucs need a pass rusher, or two, or three, or….well, you get the idea. So that was a good move as well.

They also drafted a kicker in the second round, Roberto Aguayo out of Florida State. This is the move that seems to be getting the most criticism, especially since Tampa Bay traded up to get him. From what I’ve read, this guy was money from inside 40 yards. Okay, so what happens when he comes on to try a 50-yarder with the game on the line? I’ll take a wait-and-see approach on this. The Bucs kicking game has been wobbly at best over the past couple of years. Let’s see what happens.

Those are my thoughts. I won’t dissect the other picks because, as I alluded to earlier, I just don’t know enough about their college careers. But I was pleased to see the defense be the priority in this year’s draft.

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

 

Lovie Got Fired!

So a lot of the so-called experts thought Lovie Smith would be on the hot seat at the start of next season.

Guess what?  His seat is now open.

The Bucs fired Lovie last night after two disappointing seasons in which he only won 8 games.

I love how the national media are “stunned” by this.  To me, the only surprising element is that Tampa Bay chose 10pm on a Wednesday night to make the move.

Clearly, the others just looked at the Bucs being ranked in the top 10 in total offense and defense.  They obviously didn’t actually pay attention to what happened in the Red Zone, or the record-setting number of penalties.

I’ll have more to say a bit later.  For now. I say that I agree with this move.

The Best And Worst of the 2015 Buccaneers

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.

THE BEST
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 WORST
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.

UNDECIDED
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

 

Bucs Stink Up the Season Finale

Well, that was a dud.

What’s more – it’s pretty much what I thought I was going to happen.

The Buccaneers ended their season Sunday night with a 38-10 blowout loss to the division-rival Panthers in Charlotte.

The Bucs had nothing to play for. Carolina still had to win to clinch the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Panthers had no trouble.

We all know how badly the Bucs allow opposing quarterbacks to complete passes at an alarmingly-high rate. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Cam Newton was 21-for-26 in this game.

If you didn’t see (or listen to) any of the game, don’t be fooled by the final stats that show the Bucs outgaining the Panthers, 386-366. Tampa Bay got a lot of that yardage in the second half when the game was pretty much already over. The Buccaneers also turned it over three times.

The Bucs lost four straight after being 6-6. And wouldn’t you know – because the Saints won, the Bucs finished in last place in the NFC South….again.

I hope Lovie Smith gets canned because of his lousy defense; remember, he called the plays this year. But I don’t think it’ll happen. As for the offense, will Doug Martin be back? What about Vincent Jackson? The questions will be answered in the days and weeks to come.

Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com

Monday Column: The Bucs Were in Playoff Contention, and Then….

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?

 

…..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

 

My Trip to Tampa: Thoughts on Bucs/Falcons and Playoffs

By now, you know the result of the Buccaneers/Falcons game on Sunday. Tampa Bay won it, 23-19. This was also the game I chose to make my annual trip south for, and it was worth it. Here are my thoughts on what I heard and saw, followed by some playoff talk:

This game had it all: key plays, turnovers, lead changes, drama in the fourth quarter, you name it.

The play of the day (and of the Bucs’ season so far) was the run by Jameis Winston on 3rd and 19 on the game-winning drive. I was sitting at the opposite end of the field, so at first I didn’t realize how great it really was. It wasn’t just picking up the first down; it was running into a group of Falcons and refusing to go down. Judging by the reaction of those around me, Jameis is indeed famous right now down in Tampa. He also ran for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Mike Evans is still having a serious problem with dropped passes. One of them went off his hands and into the waiting arms of an Atlanta defender. The Falcons turned that into a field goal just before the half. But wouldn’t you know: Evans also caught the game-winning TD pass. It’s funny when it happens down at the other end of the field; you sort of have to rely on the crowd reaction to know whether it was a catch or not.

Speaking of drops, Austin Seferian-Jenkins missed an easy touchdown in the third quarter. The Bucs had to settle for a field goal instead.

Doug Martin continues his resurgence with another strong game, including a TD run (which I did have a good look at.) He also lost a fumble early in the fourth quarter, which Atlanta turned into six. That took all of the air out of Ray-Jay. I mean, the place was dead for a good ten minutes until the drama of the Bucs’ final drive.

I’m still trying to figure out referee’s Ed Hochuli’s train of thought in the third quarter. With Tampa Bay up by a point, he called Matt Ryan for intentional grounding, and because it happened in the end zone, it was a safety. But while we were all celebrating, Hochuli came back a few seconds later and said it wasn’t a safety. After seeing the replay, we were screaming for Lovie Smith to challenge it. No sale.

After the Bucs missed a two-point conversion, I listened in to a nice conversation behind me about when/when not to go for two. Ah, the power of alcohol.

And then there was the older guy sitting next to me, who told me about all the jello shots he had while tailgating. Don’t let me hold you back, brother.

One more note about the crowd: what was up with all the empty seats, especially on the Atlanta side of the field? The Bucs were playing their first meaningful December game in years, and the place isn’t sold out? Oh well, can’t blame the weather, either. It was sunny and 80 down there.

The Bucs are now 6-6, and have exceeded a lot of people’s expectations, not to mention mine. Here we are, eight days into December, and the Bucs are in the playoff conversation. At this moment, they are at the top of the “in the hunt” category, one game behind the Seahawks for the No. 6 seed. Tampa Bay’s win over Atlanta was huge because it gives the Buccaneers the tiebreaker over their division rivals. All they can do is keep winning, and get some help. For starters, they’ve got to beat the Saints on Sunday.

It’s going to be a wild ride to the finish. I’m ready.

Follow me on Twitter @briwillwerth