Solid Opener: Bucs Roll the Bears

If you were worried about any rust from the Buccaneers’ season being delayed by a week, worry no more.  Tampa Bay dominated the bumbling Chicago Bears at Ray-Jay on Sunday, 29-7.

 

You don’t have to look far to find the story of this one.  The Bears were sloppy, and the Bucs made them pay.  Tampa Bay’s first TD came one play after Chicago fumbled while deciding to scoop up a punt.  A Mike Glennon (remember him?) fumble led to another touchdown.  And the icing on the cake, if you will, was Robert McClain picking off Glennon, and running it back for a “pick six.”

 

And that was all in the first half.

 

Mike Evans is poised for a gigantic year.  He caught his first TD pass of the season following the fumbled punt return, and finished with 93 yards on the day.  The addition of DeSean Jackson is huge.  Even though D-Jax only had 3 catches, his presence allows for a lot of 1-on-1 coverage for both receivers, and Evans is already reaping the benefits. 

 

Jacquizz Rodgers had a decent day that included a 1-yard touchdown run.  Speaking of the running game, can we please get rid of Charles Sims?  He’s terrible, and I’ve been saying that for a while.

 

So, what about Jameis Winston?  I’ll call his day ‘efficient.’  He did have the nice TD to Evans, and he didn’t throw a pick.  But he still needs some work on the deep ball.  There were several times where he missed an open receiver on a long ball.

 

For the defense, it was all about the turnovers.  Good thing, because Glennon was finding open receivers, and had a number of dropped passes.  But if you can take the ball way, who cares?

 

Nick Folk made all 3 of his field goal attempts.  But he missed an extra point.  Oh, Roberto Aguayo, where are you?  That’s right – he’s unemployed.  He could’ve been on the field for this one, but he didn’t make the Bears’ roster after the Bucs let him go.

 

It’s great to win the opener.  It gives us fans hope that this season will be special.  Next week: the Bucs head to Minnesota to play the Vikings.

 

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

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Bucs’ Third Preseason Game: U-G-L-Y

Remember all that optimism from the Monday night victory over the Bengals?

It’s all gone for now.

What we saw in the third – and arguably most important – preseason game on Saturday night was similar to what we saw all of last year.  The Bucs played poorly on all sides of the ball.

On offense, Jameis Winston looked like a rookie.  He struggled all night long, especially when the Browns blitzed him.  He only threw for 90 yards and one ugly-looking interception.  Don’t think for a moment that other teams aren’t going to follow the same blueprint once the season starts.

That brings up the second area of concern: the offensive line.  The pass protection was awful, allowing Winston to be sacked four times (and Mike Glennon twice.)  The running game wasn’t any better.  Yes, Doug Martin did have a nice 19-yard touchdown run.  But aside from that, it was slim pickings.

The defense wasn’t that great.  Josh McCown (remember him?) threw two touchdown passes against his former team.

Special teams?  How about that 53-yard punt return by Travis Benjamin?  Yeah, he plays for Cleveland.

At least the Buccaneers cut down on the penalties, anyway.

So there wasn’t a whole lot to be excited about at Ray-Jay on Saturday night.  Lovie Smith has two weeks to get all of this fixed in time for the opener against the Titans.  I’m not even going to talk about the final preseason game; the fourth one is the most meaningless of all because the starters on both teams hardly ever play.

Photo Courtesy: USA Today

Bucs Lose Again: I Need a New Dictionary

As a journalist, I’m supposed to come up with new and creative ways to state my opinion. After seeing the same old story from the Buccaneers on Sunday in Carolina, I’m open to new terminology.

Josh McCown is pathetic. All three of the Bucs turnovers can be traced directly to him: two lost fumbles and an interception. Sure, you can argue all you want about that phantom fumble that was revered on a challenge by Ron Rivera. But the bottom line is, this guy is dreadful when it comes to protecting the football. Then there’s the lack of a sense of urgency. Down by two scores late in the fourth quarter (before McCown found the end zone with his legs) he took forever getting his team organized at the line of scrimmage. Even Dave Moore, the Bucs’ radio commentator, was all over him for that. Would Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers ever play like that? No way.

And yet, Mike Glennon, who stood on the sidelines once again, wonders if he’ll ever take another snap for this team. I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue saying it: Glennon is not the answer at quarterback, but he’s sure looked a LOT better than the guy now known as “McClown.” Josh needs to be benched, but if Lovie Smith hasn’t done it by now, it’s probably not going to happen.

And the defense? They lost to backup QB Derek Anderson for the second time this season. They made him look like a star. He threw for 277 yards. The entire Bucs offense only had ten more than that. Carolina held the ball for over 37 minutes, as the defense could not get off the field. We saw this in the season opener, and we saw it again on Sunday. They did force a turnover down by the goal line, but there were other chances – especially in the fourth quarter – to get the ball back and they couldn’t capitalize. An interception of Anderson was wiped out by a roughing-the-passer penalty. Then there was Alterraun Verner’s inability to hang on to a sure pick.

Again, we’ve seen these problems all year long. Why should they change now? The Packers will be angry when they come to Ray-Jay next weekend, having lost to Buffalo. And in the season finale, the Saints may need that game to win the division that nobody seems to want.

But hey – the Bucs are still in the running for the No. 1 draft pick!

Photo Courtesy: AP

 

Bucs Implode Against Bears: Can We Please Bench McCown?

I think I share the sentiment of Bucs fans everywhere when I say, why the heck is Josh McCown still quarterbacking this team?

He practically single-handedly gave the Bears the game on a silver platter on Sunday during a second-half implosion that resulted in a 21-13 Chicago win. Sure, there are other problems besides the play of the quarterback. But “McClown”, as we the fans now call him, is the easiest target.

After the Bears had cut the lead to 10-7, McCown coughed up the football on a sack. It was yet another awful display of ball control. One play later, Chicago was ahead.

On the very next possession, McCown threw a pick deep in Tampa Bay territory. Four plays later, the Bucs were looking at an 11-point deficit.

It’s not just McCown who’s drawn my ire. The play-calling at the end of the game left a lot to be desired. Fast-forward to late in the fourth quarter. The Bucs were trailing by eight and facing a 4th and short. The Bucs were not showing any urgency on offense. Yet they rushed up to the line, and McCown ran a quarterback sneak that went nowhere. I double-checked the clock: there was 2:07 remaining when he snapped the ball. Why on earth would you not let seven more seconds tick off the clock, so that you could take some time to discuss the biggest play of the game? Nope, Lovie Smith decided not to do that. Instead, the play call was a sneak behind the awful center known as Evan Dietrich-Smith?

But wait – it gets worse. After the 2:00 timeout, Smith decided to challenge the play, even though it was pretty clear McCown did not pick up the first down. Why is this significant? It cost the Bucs a timeout, meaning they could’ve gotten the ball back with more time than the handful of seconds they ended up with.

Yes, there were other problems that contributed to this loss. But once again, the play of “McClown” is at the top of the list. Can we please put Mike Glennon back in there? McCown has been a disaster, and while Glennon is no superstar, it makes a lot more sense to play the young QB at this point.

If only Lovie would see it that way.

Photo Courtesy: chicagobears.com

 

I Saw the Bucs Lose With My Own Two Eyes…

This past weekend, I made my annual trip down to Raymond James Stadium to see the Bucs play in person. We all know they lost to the Falcons. But you see and experience so much more when you’re at the game, so I wanted to share my thoughts about what I saw. I’m not going to include any stats in this article.

The Bucs lost this game for the same reasons they lost seven others: too many dumb mistakes. Everyone sitting around me (who’ve clearly been to a lot more games than I) knew that every flag was going to be against the home team. Seriously, how many times did the Bucs bail out the Falcons in this game? On Atlanta’s first TD drive, the Bucs jumped offside THREE times. And then there were the occasions that the Falcons faced third and long, only to be given new life by a defensive penalty away from the ball? The penalties are a lack of discipline. A lack of discipline can be traced to bad coaching. You hear that, Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier?

I also saw an Atlanta receiver wide open in the end zone TWICE. How does that happen? On the first one, the Bucs got lucky that Matt Ryan’s pass was underthrown, and the defender was able to get back in time to knock it away. I don’t remember who it was, because it happened at the opposite end of the field. But I DID have a good luck at Devin Hester all alone in the end zone nearest my seat, and he dropped the ball. The Falcons had to settle for a field goal. That dropped pass cost Atlanta four points. I was really hoping that drop would come back to haunt the Falcons. Wishful thinking.

The Bucs need to draft a franchise, stud quarterback next year. I heard that from fans sitting around me at Ray-Jay, and even more in a sports bar after the game. We were all surprised that Josh McCown was given the start. If Mike Glennon is “the future” (Lovie’s words) than why wouldn’t you play him the rest of the season? McCown didn’t disappoint, and I say that sarcastically. For three quarters, he played mistake-free, albeit unspectacular football. But in the fourth quarter, when he needed to rally his team, he couldn’t do it. Even with two minutes to go and trailing by ten, the Bucs still had an outside shot to pull off a miracle. They were down by the goal line, and had all three timeouts that they could’ve used on defense. But McCown threw a pick in the end zone. The fans who hadn’t left the stadium by then started heading for the exits. He got his share of boos.

The other guy who we booed a lot was punter Michael Koenen. He is not having a good year, and he shanked a couple of kicks in the second half that gave Atlanta superb field position. He was also handling kickoffs. Remember Connor Barth? Remind me why got rid of him again?

While the Bucs need a stud quarterback, I can tell you Mike Evans is a stud receiver. Man, some of the catches he was making….he was amazing. He and Vincent Jackson make a formidable receiving tandem, IF only they had a decent quarterback who could not only get them the ball, but hit them in stride every once in awhile. That was another thing I noticed: how many passes from McCown did not give the receiver any chance of gaining yards after the catch?

There was a nice crowd at the game. I thought there would be a lot more empty seats than there were, given this was a matchup between two bad teams. While it wasn’t a sellout by any means, but decent nonetheless. There were quite a few Falcons’ fans in attendance, not surprising based on simple geography.

So those are my observations from my seat in Section 121. If you were at the game, I’d love to hear yours.

Bucs’ Midseason Report Card

Now that the Buccaneers have reached the midway point of the 2014 season, it’s time for a midterm report card. As you might expect, there are more bad grades than good ones on a team that’s 1-7. I’m not going to grade each and every player, because that would take forever.

 

LOVIE SMITH AND JASON LICHT: F
When the Bucs hired Smith almost immediately after firing Greg Schiano, there was a sense of hope among Tampa Bay fans, a sense that things would start to turn around. There was hope that Smith’s defense would be as fierce as what we saw in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Licht and Smith brought in a ton of free agents on defense (while letting Darrelle Revis go.) They spent their entire 2014 draft on upgrading the offense. Eight games into the season, the Bucs are second from the bottom in both total offense and defense. Some of the pundits predicted the Bucs could be a sleeper team for the playoffs. I was just hoping for some improvement. It hasn’t happened. We should’ve known something was up when they dropped their first two games at home to backup quarterbacks. Even coming off a 4-12 year, the Bucs have been a major disappointment in my opinion.

 

OFFENSE – OVERALL GRADE: D

QUARTERBACKS: D
The Bucs started the season with Josh McCown as the starting quarterback. In 2 ½ games, he threw two touchdowns, four interceptions, and put the ball on the turf a number of times. He’s been sidelined with an injured thumb suffered during the Thursday night debacle in Atlanta.

Enter Mike Glennon. He’s completed 57% of his passes so far. At times, he’s looked OK. Other times, like Sunday in Cleveland, he looked terrible. Now, he’s in danger of losing his job back to McCown. While the quarterback position is hardly the only problem on this team, it should be priority #1 in next year’s draft.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE: F
This group has also been a big disappointment. Remember back to just before the season began, when Tampa Bay acquired pro bowl guard Logan Mankins from the Patriots? That hasn’t helped a unit that has struggled in both the running game and pass protection. Left tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith have not played well at all. The line has given up 21 sacks through the first eight games, and that doesn’t count all of the times the quarterback has been running for his life. It’s worth noting that Smith and Licht also overhauled this unit from last year as well.

 

MIKE EVANS: B
He was the Bucs’ first-round draft pick this year, and we’ve gotten a glimpse of what he can do. While he hasn’t been perfect, he leads the receivers in yards (460) and touchdowns (4) and is tied with Vincent Jackson for the team lead in receptions. He has the potential to be a star down the road, no question about it.

 

DEFENSE – OVERALL GRADE: D-
Let’s think back to the defensive players Smith brought in: Michael Johnson, Alterraun Verner and Clinton McDonald come to mind. Have any of them made an impact? I don’t think so. I hadn’t heard Verner’s name much at all until Sunday, when he was beaten soundly for the winning touchdown in Cleveland. This is the guy who supposedly has to fill Revis’ shoes in the secondary. As mentioned early, Tampa Bay is 31st in the league in total defense behind only Atlanta. They’ve given up the third most points; only Jacksonville and the Jets are worse. They’re near the bottom of the league in sacks. And turnovers – something Smith prides himself on – have not come as often as the fans would like.  Oh, and former first-round pick Mark Barron is now with the Rams.

 

GERALD MCCOY: B+
I’m giving McCoy a grade, because he’s one of the leaders of this defense, and recently signed a 7-year, $98 million contract. He has been one of the few bright spots on defense. His five sacks lead the team. And this guy was playing with an injured hand for a few games.

 

LAVONTE DAVID: A
You mean there’s a player on a 1-7 team that deserves such a grade? Like McCoy, David is a leader on defense. He leads the team in tackles. This guy is everywhere on the field. I look forward to watching #54 in person when I travel to Ray-Jay this weekend to see the Bucs play the Falcons.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

Rookie kicker Patrick Murray has been so-so this year.  He is 8-of-12 on field goals.  He’s had two kicks blocked, one of them coming in the most recent loss to the Browns.  The mistakes on special teams on Sunday actually caused me to lower this grade from a C to a D.

 

Photo Courtesy: AP

 

What Else is New: Bucs Lose (Again) to Browns

At the halfway point of the 2014 season, the Buccaneers are 1-7.  Their latest loss came against the Browns on Sunday, 22-17.  Here are some takeaways from the game:

 

SPECIAL TEAMS WERE AWFUL.

Patrick Murray had a field goal blocked in the first quarter, which led to a Cleveland field goal.  He also missed a long one later in the period (55 yards.)  Gerald McCoy was called for offside when the Browns were lining up for a field goal.  The Browns ended up converting on fourth down, and found the end zone two plays later.  Michael Koenen had a punt blocked in the fourth quarter.  On the ensuing Cleveland possession, Brian Hoyer found a wide-open Taylor Gabriel for what turned out to be the winning score.

 

IS GLENNON STILL THE STARTING QB?

He’s making a strong case to lose his job.  Glennon threw two interceptions, one of them coming in the end zone on a tipped pass.  Many of his passes were short of their intended targets.  Heck, even his first TD pass to Mike Evans was underthrown; Evans made a great adjustment to haul it in.  Glennon completed just over half of his passes (17-of-33) which seems to be all he’s good for.  That’s not going to win you many games.  So will it be Josh McCown or Glennon next week against Atlanta?  Whatever Lovie Smith decides, it will be the lesser of two evils.

 

ABOUT THAT FINAL DRIVE….

Tampa Bay had a shot to win the game, driving into Cleveland territory in the final two minutes.  But on second down, Vincent Jackson dropped what would’ve been a first down.  On third and one, the play call was a head-scratcher: a deep pass down the sideline?  Then on fourth down, Mike Evans was called for pass interference, negating his catch that would’ve kept the drive going.  Following the penalty, Glennon tried unsuccessfully to connect with Austin Seferian-Jenkins.  You’ve got Evans and V-Jax on your team; why the heck would you not go to one of those targets, instead of the guy who fumbled away the opening play of overtime a week ago?

 

Tomorrow, it’s time to hand out midterm grades.  Get ready.

 

Photo courtesy: cleveland.com