ONE WIN FROM THE SUPER BOWL!

Bucs fans: our team is one win away from playing in the Super Bowl.  One more win.

The only thing standing in the way is a victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game.  Of course, that means a trip to frigid Lambeau Field.  But it can be done.

On Sunday, the Bucs knocked off the Saints in the divisional round, 30-20.  This is the same New Orleans team that humiliated the Bucs on national TV in week 9.  But the same unit that got shredded in that game – the secondary – was the difference in Sunday’s victory.  Tampa Bay forced four turnovers, and the offense turned those miscues into 21 points.  The Buccaneers, on the other hand, played turnover-free football, and ran the ball effectively.  The offensive line also turned in another solid performance.

This will be Tom Brady’s 14th trip to a conference championship game, and his first in a pewter uniform.  This will be the Bucs’ fourth appearance in the NFC title game.  The last time was in January of 2003, when they shut down Veterans Stadium in Philly by beating the Eagles.  They would go on to beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl.

Never before has a “Battle of the Bays” meant so much.  Tampa Bay beat Green Bay handily during the regular season, but the Saints also did that to the Bucs.  Brady and a few others are used to playing in the cold, so I expect them to be ready.  Buckle up: this ride isn’t over just yet.

Photo courtesy: @jwhite_333 (Jordan Whitehead’s twitter)

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

Catching Up With the Bucs

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted an update here, so consider this an opportunity to get all caught up.

Flash back to October 25.  The Bucs came up with a big win against the Las Vegas Raiders.  I was out in Vegas watching the game with a group of fans called the Buccaholics.  I had never hung out with them until then, and I can tell you, they are fantastic.  I went in there as a solo traveler from the Boston area, not knowing anyone else, and I felt like I had been a member of the Buccaholics family for 30 years.

Next week, it was Monday night football against the Giants.  The Buccaneers did not play well in the Meadowlands, but eked out a win by foiling a game-tying 2-point conversion.  Tampa Bay was sitting pretty at 6-2.

And then, last night happened.  The mother of all disasters, in a huge game against the division rival Saints.  Only one team showed up, and it wasn’t the Bucs.  Who deserves the blame for that debacle at Ray-Jay?  I say, the entire team: the players, the coaches, everyone.  And just like that, even with a positive 6-3 record, a lot of Bucs fans are ready to jump ship, just as they were after the opening game in the Superdome.

But I’m not walking the plank.  While winning the NFC South will be tougher, now that the Saints own the tiebreaker, it’s not out of the question.  That said, Tampa Bay’s cannot afford another repeat of what happened last night when they play in Carolina.  The play-calling needs to better.  The execution needs to be better.  The secondary has to, well, cover people.  And if they ever get to 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard-line, they’d better come away with seven points inside of zero.

Look – last night was as bad as it gets.  We diehard fans hope the Bucs got it all out of their system last night, and bounce back against the Panthers.  I hope Ali Marpet comes out of concussion protocol, too.  We need him to make Donovan Smith look like less of a sieve.

Until next week, go Bucs, and stay safe.  And to the Buccaholics: I hope I get to see you again very, very soon.

Photo courtesy: Associated Press

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.

The Bucs are Back to Work

It’s time to get fired up for another season (hopefully) of Tampa Bay Buccaneers football.

The Bucs reported to training camp this week, as they start getting ready for the season opener in New Orleans on September 13.  In case you haven’t heard, the entire preseason has been canceled.  So, there won’t be any “dress rehearsal” during the third preseason game or anything like that.  Nope – on 9/13, it’s Bucs/Saints in the Superdome.

The Bucs have already signed all of their draft picks.  That is good news.

As always, there are a lot of questions heading into the 2020 campaign.  And the biggest one has nothing to do their superstar quarterback, Tom Brady, who will soon turn 43.  The biggest question right now is: will there even be a season because of the pandemic?  For now, it’s game on.  But as we’ve seen over the past six months, things can change on a dime.  Just look at what’s happening with Major League Baseball, in particular, the Miami Marlins.  A bunch of them got Covid, and games have already been postponed.  I hope that doesn’t happen in the NFL, but it certainly could.  Some players have already said they will opt out.  Bucs’ tackle Donovan Smith has hinted he might do that, though he has not made an official decision.

Anticipation is so high with this team with the additions of Brady and Gronk.  And yet, because of the pandemic, it appears only a fraction of Ray-Jay will be full for home games.  I usually head south for a game every year.  The chances of that happening are slim in 2020. 

But for now, let’s think positive, stay safe, and hope that the Bucs can become the first team to play (and win) a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

An UGLY Performance by the Bucs

This was disgusting.  Absolutely disgusting.

There was nothing to like about Sunday’s game at Ray-Jay, where the Buccaneers were soundly beaten by the Saints, 34-17.  New Orleans is the better team; there’s no questioning that.  Still, this was bad.

The problems with this team are the same ones we’ve seen game in and game out.  The secondary is awful.  The offensive line can’t protect anybody.  Jameis Winston continues to turn the ball over with relative ease.  He had four more INT’s in this game.  I blame the first one on O.J. Howard, but the other three are all on the quarterback.  He has nearly 100 turnovers (including lost fumbles) in his nearly five years in Tampa.  And don’t get me going on the whole “they’re not all his fault” thing.  That’s true, but the number of miscues is still alarming to say the least.

By the way, Howard didn’t get another pass thrown to him after he caused that first turnover. 

But it doesn’t stop there.  The play calling is horrible.  51 passes and only 8 rushes?  And it’s not just this game.  I have serious concerns about Byron Leftwich’s ability.  And Bruce Arians’ postgame act is getting old.  He can rip the officials all he wants.  But he was brought in to fix this mess, and it hasn’t happened.  And Bruce, you may want to think twice before challenging another pass interference call.

For weeks, I’ve been quietly saying to myself that Tampa Bay is still better than Atlanta.  Well, now they’re tied.  And the Falcons are playing better than the Bucs right now.  After next week, our team could very well be in sole possession of the NFC South cellar…again.

Photo courtesy: USA Today

Finally, Another Win!

Winning cures everything, right?

Well, I would hardly say the Buccaneers are cured of all their problems.  But it’s always nice at the end of the day when your score is higher than your opponent’s.  Tampa Bay beat Arizona at Ray-Jay on Sunday, 30-27.

This was by no means a work of art.  Jameis Winston threw two more interceptions.  The secondary looked like, well, the secondary.  The Bucs got schooled on a fake punt.  And they got the break of the season when Arizona’s Maxx Williams dropped what would’ve been an easy touchdown on 4th down in the fourth quarter.

But in the end, Peyton Barber’s 1-yard run with 1:43 left was the game-winner.  And after the Bucs took the lead, raise your hand if you thought the Cardinals would march right down the field to tie or win the game.  Surprisingly, that didn’t happen.

There was definitely an effort to get Ronald Jones more involved in the game.  He had more yards receiving (77) than rushing (29.)  He did score a touchdown on the ground, but also lost a fumble without being touched. 

It was easy to see why both teams have losing records.  There were mistakes galore on both sides.  But Tampa Bay’s four-game losing streak is over, and it feels so good.

The Saints come to Ray-Jay next week.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Familiar Problems Plague Bucs in Loss to Saints

After scoring 55 points in a big win over the Rams last week, Bucs fans were hoping Tampa Bay could keep it going in a divisional matchup against the Saints.

Nope.

The Buccaneers lost to the Saints, 31-14.  The biggest problems continue to be the pass defense and the offensive line.  For a team that’s made a living of making backup quarterbacks look like superstars, the Bucs did just that with Teddy Bridgewater.  And Jameis Winston was sacked six times.

Mike Evans did not have a catch in this game.  The Bucs defensive line barely touched Bridgewater.  Credit New Orleans for that.

But let’s get back to the secondary for a moment.  The coordinator has changed.  The formations have changed.  And while the run defense has been impressive, the pass defense is once again among the worst in the league.  That is mind-boggling, given all of the draft picks spent on this unit.  One player who’s really drawn the ire of us fans is former first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III.  But he is not alone.  The entire secondary is abysmal.  The Bucs have allowed 103 points in the last three weeks (that includes 40 to the Rams in a game the Bucs won.)

Yes, there is time to turn this around.  Beat the Panthers (who have turned things around since losing to the Bucs in Week 2) in London, and Tampa Bay will be 3-3 heading into the bye.  But for the love of God, something has to be done with the awful secondary.

Photo courtesy: New Orleans Saints

Some Final Thoughts on the 2018 Bucs

 

As we say goodbye to 2018, it’s time to reflect on the Buccaneers season that ended with a last-place finish, and the firing of Dirk Koetter as head coach.

 

BEST MOMENTS: the first two games against the Saints and Eagles, both won by the Bucs.  Nobody outside of us diehard fans thought they win a shootout in the Superdome, then beat the defending champs in the home opener, both with Jameis Winston suspended for the first three games.

 

WORST MOMENT: things started going downhill with the blowout loss to the Bears in Chicago, followed by another defeat in Atlanta after the bye week.  It was only then that the Bucs decided to fire Mike Smith as defensive coordinator.  Smith should’ve been let go before the season began, much less five games in. With Smith at the helm, his defense allowed at least 30 points in four of the first five games.

 

BEST OFFSEASON ACQUISTION: Jason Pierre-Paul.  What a steal this guy was.  He had 12.5 sacks on a team that, last year, hardly got any pressure on the quarterback. 

 

BIGGEST DRAFT DISAPPOINTMENT: Ronald Jones.  The Bucs drafted him in the second round.  He gained a grand total of 44 yards rushing.  He didn’t even play in more than half of the games, and not all of those were due to injury.  The Bucs clearly were not happy with him from the start of training camp, hence the lack of playing time.

 

GOOD RIDDANCE AWARD: DeSean Jackson.  He made it clear he wants out.  I say, get out of town.  This whiner was unhappy that Winston wasn’t getting him the ball.  He pulled off similar antics when he played for Philadelphia and Washington.

 

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK GOING FORWARD: Jameis Winston.  General Manager Jason Licht has made it clear that Winston will return in 2019.  We saw a lot of good Jameis, and a lot of bad Jameis: 19 TD passes, 14 INT’s and three lost fumbles.

 

INTERESTING FACT: on December 2nd, I saw the Bucs beat the Panthers at Ray-Jay.  That was the last time Tampa Bay tasted victory. 

 

Sure, there are other good and bad moments, but these are the ones that come to mind at first.  I wish all of you a Happy New Year, and go Bucs.