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
I had a bad feeling about this game even before it started.
First, the bottom line: the Bucs can no longer win the NFC South, and they would need the mightiest of miracles to get a wild card. They spent their Christmas Eve by losing to the Saints in the Superdome, 31-24.
Let’s look at the reasons why Tampa Bay lost this game. First, the defense did a 180 from the way it played against Drew Brees and company two weeks ago. When I saw them in person, the Bucs picked him off three times. On Christmas Eve, Brees shredded the defense like other teams did in the first half of the season. They also allowed over 120 yards on the ground, including two TD runs by Mark Ingram. It was one big play after another for the explosive Saints’ offense.
How about that sequence at the start of the second half? Remind me again why Josh Huff is still on this team. He screwed up another kickoff, pinning the Bucs back near their goal line. Before you could blink, Jameis Winston threw a floater that was picked off, and Ingram was back in the end zone on the very next play. A six point halftime deficit was suddenly 13, and the Buccaneers never recovered.
Winston also threw another pick in the third quarter when the Bucs were in New Orleans territory.
It’s easy to second-guess, but I question Dirk Koetter’s decision to go for the onside kick with 2 minutes to go. The Bucs had all three timeouts left. You figure the kickoff would result in a touchback, so they wouldn’t lose any time there. They could’ve stopped the Saints in their territory, burned their timeouts, and gotten the ball back in decent field position with one last shot. In the end, it didn’t matter because the Saints got a first down. But even if they had stopped him, Tampa Bay would’ve had a much longer way to go after the Saints’ punt.
Now, back to the bad feeling I had before the game started. It came as a surprise to me – and apparently the players from what I’ve read – to find out that starting running back Doug Martin was inactive, and that it was a coaches’ decision. We don’t know the truth as of this writing, but I sure hope Koetter had a good reason to bench his starting running back with the team’s playoff chances hanging in the balance. Martin has not been the same as last season; there’s no question about that. But I’d love to know the back story behind all of this.
So, we have one more game to go. The Buccaneers host the Panthers in the season finale. There is some ridiculous scenario that would allow the Bucs to back into the playoffs next weekend, but it’s not likely. But if Tampa Bay is going to be a playoff team down the road, it has to win games like the one Saturday night. It’s as simple as that.
Photo courtesy: USA Today
Of all the games remaining on the Buccaneers’ schedule, Sunday night’s game against Dallas was the one I least expected them to win.
Still, this 26-20 defeat hurts. It hurts a lot.
Depending on what happens in the Redskins/Panthers game tonight, the Bucs may no longer control their own destiny in the NFC playoff race. A Washington win puts the ‘Skins a half-game ahead of the Bucs. Tampa Bay is also now one game behind Atlanta in the NFC South.
Why did they lose to the team with the NFC’s best record? Well, you can’t turn it over four times. Two of those miscues led to ten precious points. Jameis Winston lost a fumble and threw three picks (one of them was an INT on a Hail Mary at the end of the half, but still.)
There was also the dumb head-butt by Winston that cost his team 15 yards when they were in the red zone late in the first half.
The right tackle position continues to be a big problem, albeit one that I have not talked about much on this blog. Winston didn’t have much time to throw on many occasions; heck, I saw him in person running for his life against the Saints the previous week down at Ray-Jay. This team needs Demar Dotson back a.s.a.p.
And the defense, which had been forcing turnovers at will during the five-game winning streak, only got one takeaway against Dallas. The Bucs couldn’t turn it into points.
And yet, late in the game, trailing by six, the Buccaneers still had two more chances to drive down the field and win the game. But they didn’t come close to the blue-painted end zone at the other end of the field.
On a side note, I got a chuckle out of Ezekiel Elliott jumping into that huge Salvation Army kettle after his touchdown run. Yes, he got flagged for it, but if you’re going to throw flags for silly stuff like that, then the Lambeau Leap should draw a penalty every time. Think about it.
So in order for the Bucs to make the playoffs, they have to win their final two games, at New Orleans and at home against Carolina. That’s the first order of business. They may/may not need help, depending on what the Redskins do tonight. But in order to win the NFC South, the Buccaneers would need the red-hot Falcons to lose their last two. Atlanta finishes with the Panthers on the road and the Saints at home.
Don’t give up yet, Bucs fans.
Photo Courtesy: AP
Once a year, I make a trip down to Tampa to see the Buccaneers in action. Sunday’s game against the Saints was this year’s pilgrimage. And I left Ray-Jay with a big smile on my face; the Bucs hung on to beat New Orleans, 16-11.
I’ll get to my personal gameday experience in a moment. But first, a few thoughts about the game itself:
This was the definition of winning ugly. There was only one touchdown in the game, scored by Doug Martin, in the end zone near where I was sitting. Sprinkled in to the mix were flags – a lot of them: 13 for the Saints, 7 for the Bucs. It just breaks up the flow of the game when it seems like there’s yellow on the field every other play.
Then the mistakes came, most of them at the other end of the field from where I was. The first was the miscue by Josh Huff, muffing a kickoff at the 1-yard line and pinning the Bucs back to their goal line. On the next play, the Saints got a safety. The ensuing free kick went out of bounds, giving New Orleans the ball at midfield. The Saints had 1st and goal at the 1, but couldn’t punch it in, thanks to a penalty at a sack. They ended up with a field goal. So the screw-up by Huff cost his team five points.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, it looked like the Saints had taken the lead with a Drew Brees TD pass. It sure looked like it on the replays, too. So it was a pleasant surprise when the official came out and said it was an incomplete pass. I watched the FOX replay this afternoon, and the ball did hit the ground. Good call. But at the time, I thought the Bucs caught a big break. New Orleans settled for a field goal.
There were more key plays in the fourth quarter, all of them made by Tampa Bay: two on special teams, two on defense. Twice, the Bucs pinned the Saints deep inside the 5. One of them was an amazing save to down the ball at the 1. The other backed the Saints up to the 3.
With two minutes to go, Drew Brees had to take his team 97 yards with one timeout to win the game. He only got 45 of those yards. Keith Tandy made the game-clinching pick with :51 to play. The Bucs picked off the New Orleans QB three times.
Now to my personal experience: normally I fly solo when I go to the game. But this time, I was happy to be joined by two of my Vegas fanatics. One rooted for the Bucs, the other cheered for the Saints (she grew up in the New Orleans area.) She was hardly the only Saints’ fan at Ray-Jay: there were thousands of them scattered around, including a loud (but fun) group right behind us. I’ve heard enough of the “who dat?” chant for awhile, though we Bucs fans got our revenge at the end. To make a long story short, I was so excited to be joined by two of my friends this time around. We also had a memorable time at the Hard Rock casino the night before. Since this is a Bucs blog, I’ll spare you the details of that adventure.
In the third quarter, the skies opened up. The forecast was only for a 10 or 20 percent chance of a shower, but that most of the region would stay dry. Well, we got that 10-20 percent. A lot of fans ran for cover. Not me. I don’t mind getting a little wet, especially since Florida showers usually come and go quickly. When it did stop raining, it also got a lot more humid. Say what you will, but the rain seemed to stop what momentum the Saints had at the time.
I was disappointed that the game wasn’t a sellout. The team is on its longest winning streak in 14 years, and they’re tied for first place with an 8-5 record. How much more does it take to have a butt in every seat? Imagine what the crowd would’ve looked like without all of the Saints fans. Tampa always draws a lot of visiting team’s fans, so I wasn’t surprised by that at all.
The bottom line: the Bucs are 8-5, still tied with Atlanta atop the NFC South, and will face Dallas on Sunday Night Football. And the game times keep changing: the following week’s game in New Orleans has been pushed back to 4:25 now.
I have photos and videos from my Ray-Jay experience. I will share those with you on Tuesday.
If the season ended today, the Buccaneers would be in the playoffs as the #6 seed in the NFC.
I hate the dreaded phrase “if the season ended today,” even when it applies to the Bucs. There are still four games left, and things can (and will) change.
Let’s start with the obvious: if the Bucs run the table the rest of the way, they will be in the playoffs as at least a wild card.
But they’ve got their sights set on winning the division. Right now, they’re tied with the Falcons at 7-5 atop the NFC South. Tampa Bay has a tougher schedule the rest of the way, since it has to play Dallas (that game has been moved to prime time in case you haven’t heard.) Atlanta does not play a team with a winning record the rest of the way. If what I just read on the team’s official website is true, if the Bucs and Falcons both win out, Atlanta would win the division based on record against “common opponents.”
That’s way too complicated for me, but anyway…
It is also my sense that the Bucs are still not getting much national attention, though that is slowly starting to change.
The final push to the postseason starts with Sunday’s game against the Saints at Ray-Jay. I will be there to see it in person. A quick check of Ticketmaster finds there are still a LOT of seats available, especially in the upper deck on both sides. Dear Bucs fans: I know you’ve been hesitant to support the team in recent years because they’ve been lousy. That’s not the case right now. This is a very big game. There is no excuse for the stadium not to be sold out. Let’s fill the place up on Sunday.
Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If you would’ve told me a month ago that the Buccaneers would beat the Chiefs and Seahawks back-to-back, I would’ve said you’re crazy.
If you would’ve told me a month ago that the Bucs would score just 14 points against Seattle – at home – and still win the game – I would’ve said you’re crazy.
Well, there is nothing crazy about the way Tampa Bay is playing right now. The Bucs beat a very good Seahawks team at Ray-Jay on Sunday, 14-5. Yes, it’s one of those oddball-looking scores but you won’t find me or any other Bucs’ fans complaining about it.
This one was all about the defense, which was getting shredded week after week during the first half of the season. But in the last three games, we’ve seen a complete turnaround. On Sunday, they sacked Russell Wilson six times, picked him off twice, and kept the Seattle offense out of the end zone. One of those interceptions was by Alterraun Verner, who was on the field just two days after his father passed away. If you haven’t seen his reaction yet, you’ll have a tough time not crying. It was a scene very reminiscent of Kwon Alexander’s performance in Atlanta one year ago.
As for the offense, Mike Evans caught two more touchdown passes from Jameis Winston, both in the first quarter. The offense didn’t do much the rest of the way, but the strong performance of the defense bailed them out.
So where do things stand with five games to go? The Bucs are 6-5, still one game behind Atlanta in the NFC South. They are a half-game behind Washington for the #6 seed in the conference. Their remaining games are against the Saints (twice), the Panthers, the Chargers and Cowboys. Yeah, I had to sneak that Dallas reference in at the end. It won’t be easy, but the Bucs are peaking right now; they just have to keep it going.
Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers