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
For those of us who love taking road trips to see an NFL game, it’s always fun when the NFL schedule is released. It came out this past week. Here’s how 2016 is shaping up for the Bucs:
SEPTEMBER 11 @ Atlanta 1:00
SEPTEMBER 18 @ Arizona 4:05
SEPTEMBER 25 L.A. RAMS 4:05
OCTOBER 2 DENVER 4:05
OCTOBER 10 @ Carolina 8:30 (Monday Night)
OCTOBER 23 @ San Francisco 4:05
OCTOBER 30 OAKLAND 1:00
NOVEMBER 3 ATLANTA 8:25 (Thursday Night)
NOVEMBER 13 CHICAGO 1:00
NOVEMBER 20 @ Kansas City 1:00
NOVEMBER 20 SEATTLE 4:05
DECEMBER 4 @ San Diego 4:25
DECEMBER 11 NEW ORLEANS 1:00
DECEMBER 18 @ Dallas 1:00
DECEMBER 24 @ New Orleans 1:00
JANUARY 1 – CAROLINA 1:00
A number of things stand out to me immediately:
*The Buccaneers have to make three trips to the western time zone. I can tell you from past experience: things haven’t gone well over the years when they head west.
*Is it me, or does Tampa Bay have more 4:00 games than usual, whether it be 4:05 or 4:25? Even three of the home games are late kickoffs.
*They have to play both Super Bowl teams from a season ago. Obviously they get Carolina twice since it’s a division opponent, but the world-champion Broncos also visit Ray-Jay.
*Cold weather doesn’t seem to be much of an issue, although we’ll see what mid-November in Kansas City is like.
*Wouldn’t it be sweet if the season finale against the Panthers was for the NFC South title? Hey, a guy can dream.
I like to head to Tampa in November or early December. So I’m eyeing the games against the Bears or Seahawks, two teams I have never seen in person before. We shall see.
Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Times
Simply put, that stunk.
There were the Buccaneers, with a chance to creep closer to Minnesota in the Wild Card hunt. Instead, they laid an egg in a 24-17 home loss to the Saints at Ray-Jay. They’re now two games behind the Vikings and Seahawks with three games remaining.
What cost the Bucs against New Orleans? Well, it was the same mistakes that we’ve seen over and over again: bad play in the secondary, too many critical (and some stupid) penalties, and questionable coaching.
Tampa Bay’s defense let Drew Brees have his way pretty much all day. He threw 41 passes. And given the sieve that is the Bucs’ secondary, I’m surprised he didn’t throw it 50 times. They let the Saints convert 12 of 17 third-down conversions. That’s unacceptable for a team fighting for its playoff life.
The Bucs had eight penalties for 80 yards (amazingly, the Saints outdid them in that department with 12.) It started on Tampa Bay’s first offensive play: a long completion to Vincent Jackson that was nullified by a holding call. Then there was Mike Evans getting back-to-back flags in the fourth quarter for pass interference, followed by a personal foul. Mr. Evans needs to get his head in the right place, because we the fans are not happy with him these days. I heard the boos myself during the Atlanta game last week. And just when it looked like the Bucs would get the ball back for one more shot, a defensive holding call gave New Orleans a fresh set of downs.
The play-calling? The Bucs were facing the worst defense (in terms of yards allowed per game) in the NFL. New Orleans is dead-last against the run. So why the heck did Doug Martin only get eleven carries? He was averaging more than seven yards a carry, and the game wasn’t really out of reach until the very end. And why did Evans – dropsies and all – not even see a pass thrown in his direction until the second half?
Oh, and don’t throw the ball to Donteea Dye (who?) anymore. That was a critical drop late in the game that would’ve kept the potential game-tying drive alive. I know Vincent Jackson was out with an injury, but wasn’t there a better option?
It was a disappointing, frustrating game. I’ve seen so many.
Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com
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.
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The short answer to that question is….yes.
But you didn’t come here for a one-word response. The long answer is the focus of this week’s column.
With five games remaining, the Buccaneers have a record of 5-6, having lost to Indianapolis on Sunday. Even though they’re a game under .500, the Bucs are only one game out of a wild card spot, currently held by Seattle, which beat Pittsburgh.
Tampa Bay plays three of its final five games at Ray-Jay, including the next two against division rivals Atlanta and New Orleans. Then the Bucs head to St. Louis for a Thursday night matchup, return home to host Chicago, and then finish the year at Carolina. I think the Buccaneers will probably have to win four of those games. Heck, they may even have to run the table, which is hard to even think about, given that they still have to go to Charlotte.
In order to do that, they can’t be making the mistakes that cost them against the Colts on Sunday. The stupid penalties need to be reduced dramatically. The secondary has to play much better. The pass protection has to improve. Receivers need to make the big catches (I’m looking at you, Mike Evans.) Jameis Winston needs to keep the number of turnovers at a minimum.
The Bucs’ playoff chances took a hit at Lucas Oil Stadium. But in the NFC, which features a couple of great teams and a lot of mediocre ones, Tampa Bay still has a chance. It’s been awhile since Bucs’ fans have even thought about the playoffs heading into December.
I’ll be heading down to Tampa next weekend to see the Buccaneers play the Falcons. A win would be huge, because it would mean sweeping Atlanta and owning the tiebreaker against them.
Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com
After Tampa Bay gave up four touchdown passes to Marcus Mariota in the season opener, the obvious question crossed my mind: if a rookie can do that, imagine what a seasoned pro like Drew Brees would do against this defense.
Count me as one of the fans who was pleasantly surprised by what played out at the Superdome on Sunday.
The Buccaneers held Brees under 300 yards passing and sacked him four times. They also forced three turnovers, which was huge given that the Bucs’ offense turned it over on consecutive series in a bizarre fourth quarter.
When Tampa Bay took a 16-point lead into the fourth quarter, I had a feeling the Saints would make a game of it. I’ve seen this movie too many times before. Sure enough, New Orleans found the end zone twice in the final period.
But the defense – and special teams – made enough key plays. After the first Saints’ TD made it a 10-point game, they foiled the two-point conversion, meaning it was still a two-score game. After another touchdown made it 23-19, perhaps the biggest play of the game came when William Gholston blocked the extra point. That means the Saints would need a touchdown at the end of the game to win, instead of a potential-tying field goal. And yes, they were in field goal range in the closing seconds.
That missed FG by the saints earlier in the fourth helped. I’m not going to lie to you there.
One more note on the three sacks: Jacquies Smith now has four in the first two games. He’s leading the league in that category. That bears repeating: a Buccaneer is leading the NFL in sacks. Sure, it’s only two games, but when the last time (before now) that statement was true?
Sunday’s victory in New Orleans wasn’t perfect – not by a long shot. The Bucs still need to do a better job of closing out games when they’ve got the lead in the fourth quarter. But after a 2-14 season, we’ll take any positives that we can, and Sunday produced enough of them.
Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com