ON TO THE DIVISIONAL ROUND!

The Buccaneers aren’t ready to go home just yet.  And they keep ending long droughts.  First, they made the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.  And now, they have their first postseason win since the Super Bowl season of 2002.

Tampa Bay beat Washington, 31-23, in the wild card round Saturday night.  The Bucs will either travel to New Orleans or host the Rams in the divisional round.

Tom Brady was his usual awesome self.  The offensive line was terrific against a fierce Washington defensive front.  It’s a shame that RG Alex Cappa got hurt and may not play next week.  Mike Evans – who didn’t look like he would play again this season after that injury in the Atlanta game – was spectacular.

On the flip side, the secondary was also its usual self, but I don’t mean that in a good way.  If they let Taylor Heinicke tear them apart like he did, imagine what Drew Brees will do to them.  Oh, wait – we already know the answer to that one.  Chris Godwin dropped a bunch of passes.  I’ll give him a pass for now, because he’s usually one of the most sure-handed receivers in the league.

As I write this post, the Saints are leading the Bears at the half, 7-3.  So, we won’t know for another hour and a half who the Bucs will be playing next.  But after tonight, there will be eight teams left standing, and Tampa Bay is one of them.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Go 11-5; Wild Card Game Up Next

If you had told me last winter that the Buccaneers would win eleven games in 2020, I wouldn’t have believed it.  Even after they picked up Tom Brady, I had the question: does he still have it at age 43?

Oh, yes, he does.  And the Bucs’ offense is on fire heading into next weekend’s wild card game in Washington.

Brady finished the regular season with 40 touchdown passes, including four more against the Falcons.  Chris Godwin is amazing.  Antonio Brown is heating up.  RoJo scored again.  But there is concern about Mike Evans, who injured his knee shortly after clinching his 7th straight 1,000-yard season.  He’s the first player in NFL history to begin a career like that.  But will the Bucs have him when they take on the Washington Saturday night?

Tampa Bay will be favored in the wild card round.  But even though the Bucs are playing a 7-9 team, don’t think for a moment that this will be a cakewalk.  Washington’s bread and butter is on defense, especially up front.  They are very, very good.  The Bucs’ offensive line needs to be stellar.

Tampa Bay has already snapped a 13-year playoff drought.  Now they’ll try to win a playoff game for the first time since the 2002 Super Bowl season.

Photo courtesy: Associated Press

PLAYOFF BOUND!

You can stop rubbing your eyes.  Believe it.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

The Bucs trounced the Lions on Saturday, 47-7.  That clinches Tampa Bay’s first postseason berth since the Jon Gruden days.

The Buccaneers were clicking on all cylinders in this one.  So much for those ridiculously slow starts.  The Bucs came out swinging, and buried Detroit early and often.  The Lions were undermanned – and were missing several coaches due to COVID – but that was an impressive performance by TB nonetheless.

This has been a long time coming for the entire franchise.  Mike Evans, Lavonte David and William Gholston, among others, will be getting their first taste of the postseason.

And what about us, the diehard fans?  You know, the ones who’ve been on board all along, long before some guy named Brady joined the party.  We’ve suffered mightily for more than a decade.  The Cleveland Browns have the longest playoff drought in the NFL.  The Bucs had the second-longest, until now.

So, what’s next?  Well, there’s one more regular-season game to go, against Atlanta at Ray-Jay.  If the Bucs win, they would wrap up the #5 seed, and would play the NFC East Champion.  If the Bucs end up with the #6 seed, who knows who they’ll play.  There’s still a lot to be determined in the NFC, including the #1 seed, who gets a bye.

But fans, our boys are in.  This season is already a success, in my opinion.  Let’s see if the Bucs can stay hot, and go all the way.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Big Comeback For the Bucs Against L.A.

Yeah, this Brady guy still has it.

On Sunday, he threw five touchdown passes to rally the Buccaneers from a 17-point deficit to beat the L.A. Chargers, 38-31.  It was Tampa Bay’s second-largest comeback in franchise history.

Those who still doubt TB12 will point to the pick-six he threw in the first quarter.  But he more than made up for that mistake.  What’s more, his five touchdown passes went to five different receivers.  And he did it without Chris Godwin, and lost O.J. Howard in the second half to an Achilles injury.  Early indications are that Howard may be done for the season.  But Howard, Mike Evans, Scotty Miller, Cameron Brate and even rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn found the end zone.

This game turned in the final minute of the first half.  The Chargers fumbled away a botched handoff inside their own 10.  The Bucs took over and scored a touchdown.  Tampa Bay went into the locker room down by 10 instead of 17.  The Bucs came out firing on all cylinders after halftime.

Another bright spot: Ronald Jones finally rushed for over 100 yards.  Without Leonard Fournette in the lineup, it was nice to see the Bucs were still able to establish a running game.

Was this a perfect performance?  No.  The young secondary got burned twice for deep touchdowns by a very game L.A. quarterback, Justin Herbert.  Ryan Succop missed a field goal.  There were way too many penalties – again.

But the Bucs have won three in a row, and ¼ of the way into the season, they are alone in first place in the NFC South.  They go to Chicago to play the 3-1 Bears on Thursday night.

Photo courtesy: USA Today

Bucs Get First Win of 2020

It was far from perfect.  But a win is a win, especially against a division rival.

On Sunday, the Buccaneers beat the Panthers for their first win of the season, 31-17.

The defense forced four turnovers.  It doesn’t matter much that the Panthers had over 400 yards of offense when you take the ball away four times.  Even special teams were a bright spot, with Ryan Succop making all of his kicks, and the unit was not fooled by Carolina’s fake punt in the first half.

Tom Brady looked much better than he did last week.  He threw one touchdown and one interception, but it’s worth noting: he had three potential touchdowns dropped.  Scotty Miller and LeSean McCoy dropped passes in the end zone.  And Cyril Grayson (who?) was all alone down the left sideline – with nobody around him – and the ball bounced right off his helmet.  Chris Godwin did not play, so other guys had to step.  Mike Evans sure did; he caught Brady’s lone touchdown and had over 100 yards receiving.

Another star was new running back Leonard Fournette.  He had over 100 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, including a 46-yarder that iced the game late in the fourth quarter after Carolina made a game of it.

While the headlines may be saying, “Brady gets first win in Tampa,” this game was won by the defense.  The Bucs sit alone in second place, pending what happens to the Saints tomorrow night.  We’re on to Denver next Sunday.

Photo courtesy: USA Today

Bucs Fall to Saints in Brady’s Debut

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that Tom Brady wasn’t the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020.  If you watched Sunday’s game against the Saints, you’d think were watching….a typical Bucs game.  Tampa Bay fell to New Orleans, 34-23.

This was a game where, yet again, the Bucs made too many mistakes to overcome.  But since this was Brady’s Tampa Bay debut, all of the spotlight was shining on him.  His first drive was great, capped off by a QB sneak into the end zone that Patriots fans saw so many times.

After that?  My goodness.

Brady threw two interceptions in this one.  The first was a miscommunication with Mike Evans.  The second was a bad throw that resulted in a pick-six for the Saints.  Brady looked out of sync with his receivers for much of the game.  I think that will improve as he gets more reps with them.

But before everyone hangs Brady out to dry, this was a team loss.  I wrote in my season preview about my chief concerns: the running game, the offensive line, the young secondary and the kicking game.  Well, the running game was a struggle yet again.  The pass protection was not good at all (why is Donovan Smith still our left tackle?)  The secondary actually played pretty well until Jamel Dean got burned in the fourth quarter.  And the kicking game is still a mess: new kicker Ryan Succop had a field goal blocked.  Another special teams mistake: the what-were-they-thinking moment on that botched kickoff in the fourth quarter that resulted in another turnover.

Another problem: penalties.  The Bucs were the most penalized team in the league last year.  On Sunday, they were penalized nine times for 103 yards.  Why can’t this team ever be disciplined, regardless of who’s coaching them?

Rob Gronkowski wasn’t a factor. Evans wasn’t a factor, though his hamstring injury may have had something to do with that.  I hardly heard LeSean McCoy or Cameron Brate’s names mentioned.

This was just one game, against one of the best teams in the NFL.  There is still time to make adjustments and turn this thing around.  Hopefully they can, or we’re looking at another season of the same ol’ Bucs.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Times

Week 1 Preview: Buccaneers at Saints

This is one of, if not the marquee game of Week 1.  Tom Brady’s debut as Tampa Bay’s quarterback, against Drew Brees and the Saints, who have won the division three straight years.  Both QB’s are in their 40s, and both are still playing at a very high level.

This has all the making of a shootout, especially in the passing game.  The Bucs have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski, though Evans is now listed as doubtful for Sunday.  The Saints have Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.  Both teams can, and probably will, light up the scoreboard.

The Bucs running game hasn’t been much to speak of in recent years.  Can they establish something on Sunday?

Defensively, Tampa Bay is top-notch up front, and has two quality linebackers in Lavonte David and Devin White.  The question becomes: can the young secondary keep Brees in check?

Do you remember…

….the last time these two teams opened the season in the Superdome?  It was two years ago, and the Bucs pulled off a 48-40 upset, with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing four touchdown passes.  That was arguably the greatest moment of 2018.  Tampa Bay finished 5-11.  They may need to score 48 points to win this opener as well.

The first game of the season is always tough to predict. But the Saints are the defending champs, and you’re going to have to beat them to prove otherwise.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2020 Season Preview

Let’s get this party started.

I admit: until this week, I really couldn’t get excited about the start of football because of everything that’s going on in the country right now.  But with the first game on tap for tonight, it’s time for me to give my overview of the 2020 season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Why I’m so excited:

We have some guy named Tom Brady at quarterback, who’s won six Super Bowls.  Heck, the whole offense is loaded.  Brady lured Rob Gronkowski out of retirement.  Throw in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and that’s one heck of a passing attack.

The defensive line – best in the NFL against the run last year – remains mostly intact, though Carl Nassib is no longer in Tampa.  Devin White and Lavonte David are solid linebackers.

The Bucs have five primetime games.  Thanks, Brady.  Here in the greater Boston area, you’d expect many of the non-national games are going to be televised around here when they’re not opposite the Patriots playing at home.

What concerns me, for now:

The Bucs haven’t had much of a running game to speak of over the past several years.  Ronald Jones is the starter, according to Bruce Arians.  LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette have been added to the mix.  But I want to see an actual running attack before I take this off the list of “concerns.”

Can the offensive line protect Brady, especially Donovan Smith at left tackle?  First-round pick Tristan Wirfs will start the year at right tackle.  Could he move over to protect Brady’s blind side if need be?  Sure.  He played left tackle at Iowa.  But Smith is the one I’m most worried about.

The secondary is very young.  While they showed improvement in the second half of the year – especially after getting rid of Vernon Hargreaves – this is the part of the defense that I think opposing quarterbacks will pick on the most.

The kicking game is ALWAYS a concern.  Matt Gay is out after just one year.  Ryan Succop is now our kicker.  The Bucs always seem to lose about two games a year due to missed field goals or PATs.  Can Succop please find a way to make his kicks?

It’s going to be a fun ride, ladies and gentleman.  The season begins on Sunday with a big one against the Saints.  I’ll preview that matchup in the next couple of days.

Photo courtesy: Associated Press

Catching Up On the Bucs

The Buccaneers’ training camp is well underway, and the regular season opener in New Orleans is just 17 days away, if the schedule holds.  Here are some observations from training camp so far:

Offensively, the Bucs are loaded.  Brady.  Evans.  Godwin.  Gronk.  All of them have looked great.  Brady, now 43, looks like he hasn’t missed a beat.  However, two Bucs have been lost for the season due to injury: John Franklin and T.J. Logan.

That leaves the offensive line and running game as question marks.  Ronald Jones is now joined by LeSean McCoy in the backfield.  And it looks like under Bruce Arians’ offense, they’re going to be catching a lot more passes out of the backfield.  They’re struggled a bit in that department.  That has to change.

We know the defensive line is top notch.  So much of the focus is on the young secondary.  The Bucs need Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Carlton Davis and others to continue showing improvement.  Second-year stud Devin White looks like he’s on the path to becoming a superstar.

And then, there’s special teams.  The Bucs have a kicking competition going on (don’t they always?)  It’s between second-year kicker Matt Gay and newcomer Elliott Fry.  Both of them have missed their share of kicks.  Arians says the one who’s the most consistent will get the job.  Can’t we just bring back Martin Grammatica?  And don’t even get me started on who’s going to be running back kicks.

There is, of course, much more to camp than just this.  The Bucs hold their first scrimmage at Ray-Jay Friday night.  Final cuts are coming soon.  This should be interesting.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Wow! Gronk Follows Brady to Tampa Bay

So, let me get this straight: not only is Brady a Buccaneer, but so is Gronk.

Wow.

Yes, the Bucs made it official Tuesday night what had been reported earlier in the day: they traded a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft in exchange for former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Gronk retired from the NFL last year and went on to pursue a career in professional wrestling.  And we all know what a party animal he is.  Well, now he’s un-retiring, and reuniting with the quarterback who’s thrown 90 touchdown passes to him over the years.

Think of Tampa Bay’s offense right now: Brady, Evans, Godwin and now Gronk.  The Buccaneers now have three tight ends when you add Howard and Brate to the equation.  Bruce Arians doesn’t use tight ends much in the passing game.  You’d have to think that’s going to change now.

But at a time when sports are not happening, the Bucs are currently the talk of the sports world.  When was the last time we could say that?

Hopefully they address their needs during the upcoming draft.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers