Bucs Lose To 49ers in Ugly Opener

Here are some quick thoughts on the Buccaneers’ 31-17 loss to the 49ers in the season opener at Ray-Jay:

As ugly as this game was, I will start with some positives.  The Bucs actually had a running game, led by a rejuvenated Ronald Jones.  The defense looks much, much better than past years.  Vernon Hargreaves III came up with a rare pick-six.  This unit only allowed one offensive touchdown.  So how did San Francisco get 31 points?  Oh, I’m getting to that.  But first, one more positive: rookie kicker Matt Gay was perfect on the day.

Now, let’s get to the ugly stuff:

Jameis Winston had an awful game.  He had three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.  The other one, admittedly, went right through O.J. Howard’s hands.  But Winston was consistently off-target.  He fumbled a snap.  This is the year he has to break out and play like a No. 1 overall pick.  This was not a good start.  And if Twitter was a member of the Bucs coaching staff, Winston would be out on the street right now looking for work.  He MUST do better than this, or his ass is going to be on the bench very soon.

I said I was concerned about the offensive line before the season began.  They did not perform well against the ‘Niners.  Winston was sacked three times, and Demar Dotson was penalized twice for holding, which nullified would-be touchdowns.  The offensive line play makes the running game’s performance even that much more amazing.

Now, I want to take about the curious decision by Bruce Arians early in the fourth quarter.  The score was 20-14.  The Bucs kicked a field goal, but the 49ers were penalized for offsides.  Instead of making it a three-point game, Arians decided to go for it on 4th down from the 2.  Winston’s pass was batted away.  So instead of it being 20-17, the Bucs still needed a touchdown to pull it out – a score they would not get.  So, Arians is a gambler, eh?  He’s 0-for-1 so far.

Next up: the Panthers on Thursday night.  This is the Gerald McCoy Bowl, part one.

Photo courtesy: San Francisco 49ers

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It’s Time For Bucs Football

We’re about to get our first look at the 2019 Buccaneers. The team holds its first workout of training camp on Friday.

 

There’ve been a lot of changes since the end of last season. That comes with the territory of eleven straight seasons without making the playoffs. Bruce Arians is now in charge. Gerald McCoy is gone – to a division rival no less. Jason Pierre-Paul is out of commission for a while – possibly the entire season. Enter Ndamukong Suh, and first-round pick Devin White, who Tampa Bay hopes will be the next Derrick Brooks. And under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, the Bucs will be moving to a 3-4 defense.

 

On offense, this has to be Jameis Winston’s breakout season, otherwise he won’t be around much longer. O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are back from injuries. The running game is still in flux, with Peyton Barber apparently in the starting role for now. Can Ronald Jones do…well, anything? Can the offensive line do…well, anything?

 

On special teams, there’s a kicking competition between Cairo Santos and rookie Matt Gay. As I often say on social media, can we just get someone who can make a kick? And while we’re at it, how about a special teams’ touchdown or ten?

 

One thing we already know: Arians is a soundbite machine. Watch any of his news conferences and you’ll see what I mean.

 

And for me, as I unofficially begin my seventh season of this blog, I thank you for your continued support. Let’s shock the world. Go Bucs.

 

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

O.J. Howard: Oh, No

It just keeps getting worse for the Buccaneers.

 

Tight end O.J. Howard, who was having an outstanding second season, is done for the rest of the year.  He injured his foot and ankle in the game against the Giants on Sunday.

 

O.J. had five touchdowns this year, and was averaging over 16 yards a catch.  Simply put, he was right up there with the most productive tight ends in the league.

 

The Bucs still have Cameron Brate, but this is another big loss for a team that’s seen its season go down the drain in a hurry.

 

In other news, Jameis Winston is once again the Bucs’ starting quarterback.  Ryan Fitzpatrick is back on the bench.  I mean, at this point, what the heck…

 

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Times

(Sigh) Another Frustrating Loss

Before I rip Mike Smith to shreds again, let’s start off with the final play of the game.

 

On one hand, it seems crazy: with the ball at the Atlanta 20, they call a play featuring a couple of laterals, that could’ve ended with DeSean Jackson running into the end zone with no time on the clock.  D-Jax never caught the lateral from Mike Evans, so it was a moot point.  Had Jackson caught it, would he have scored?  He says he would have.  But after watching the play over and over, there were three Falcons closing in on him.  It would’ve been VERY close.

 

Now, here’s my beef: you had the ball at the 20.  You have guys like Evans, D-Jax, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard on your team.  This wasn’t a 50-yard Hail Mary.  Why wouldn’t you take a shot in the end zone with those stud receivers/tight ends?  I don’t understand that.

 

Let’s talk about Jameis Winston’s first start.  He had four touchdowns, but he also threw two interceptions: an overthrown deep ball, and a pass that ricocheted off a defender in the end zone.  You can’t have those kinds of plays.

 

Then there’s the kicking game, featuring a missed PAT by Chandler Catanzaro.  That was huge, because when the Bucs cut the lead to 24-22 early in the fourth, they had to go for two to try to tie the game.  They failed. 

 

And now, let’s get to that so-called “defensive coordinator” with a last name of Smith.  This was the fourth time already that his unit has allowed at least 30 points.  And again, the opposition racked up over 400 yards of offense, with wide open receivers all over the field.  And lest we forget that final 26 seconds of the first half when the Bucs had cut the lead to 21-13.  Smith’s defense allowed the Falcons to easily get into field goal range to add three points before going to the locker room.

 

And Koetter refuses to fire him.  Well, if this keeps up, Koetter will also be gone at the end of the season.

 

There is still time to right this ship.  There are still eleven games remaining.  But based on the unwillingness of Tampa Bay to make changes on the defensive side of the ball, this has the potential to get very ugly, very quickly.  I hope I’m wrong.

More FitzMagic: Down Go the Champs!

I don’t know about you, but I kind of like this whole FitzMagic thing that’s going on right now.

 

Two games, two wins.  And we’re not talking about wins over cellar-dwellers.  The Buccaneers have started the season by beating the NFC South champs and the defending Super Bowl champs.

 

Take that, so-called experts who had the Bucs losing their first three games.

 

There is no question who the story is right now: it’s backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Sure, other players stepped up on Sunday.  I’ll get into that in another article.  But Fitz is the headliner right.  He threw four more touchdown passes, two of which went for 75 yards apiece.  He had over 400 yards passing.  He did throw his first interception of the season, which was more the result of O.J. Howard’s inability to hang onto the ball after making a catch.

 

Fitzpatrick has eight touchdown passes in the first two games (and a rushing TD to boot.)  He is just the third player in NFL history to have at least four TD passes in each of his team’s first two games.

 

Let that sink in for a moment.  We’re talking Ryan Fitzpatrick here.  A Buccaneer quarterback is doing this!  Keep pulling magic out of that beard, sir.

 

Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Another Tampa Bay Loss, Another Tampa Bay Rant

I’m getting sick and tired of writing about the same old problems with this team every time they lose. 

 

The offense can’t score early in the game.  The defense can’t stop anybody from scoring.  The play-calling leaves a lot to be desired.  And after this latest loss to Atlanta, the Bucs are now further cemented in the cellar of the NFC South at 4-7.

 

Let’s start with Mike Smith’s pathetic defense – you know, the one that allowed at least 30 points for the fifth time this season.  Look: Julio Jones is a great wide receiver – one of the best in the game.  But how do you let a guy like that torch you for over 250 yards?  You’d think it’d be worth double-covering him every now and then, even if it means man-to-man coverage on another receiver like Mohammed Sanu.  You have to make someone other than Jones beat you, and Smith didn’t give that scenario a chance to play out.

 

This defense also has to be the worst in the league at getting off the field on third down.  The Falcons were 11-of-14 on third down in this game.  That is insane.  And it’s been happening all year long.  And let me tell you: we’re not talking 3rd-and-short, either.  A lot of these conversions require double-digit yards, and the Bucs are letting their opponents convert with ease.  How many times to do you a see a Tampa Bay defender playing so soft, that all the receiver has to do is run about two yards to move the chains before the defender even lays a hand on him?

 

Forcing turnovers is still an issue, though they did get a big one in the fourth quarter that nearly led to the Buccaneers coming all the way back from 21 points down.

 

That leads me to my next point: Dirk Koetter’s play-calling.  After the turnover, the Bucs marched down the field and into the red zone.  With about seven minutes to go, Tampa Bay had 2nd and 2 from the 19.  Koetter called three straight pass plays – all of them incomplete.  This was their big chance to tie up a game they had no business even being in, and they couldn’t get two yards in three plays?  As for his decision to go for it on 4th down instead of kicking the field goal, I’m a bit torn.  If you kick the field goal (and yes, we have a guy that can kick now) then you’d be trailing by four, meaning you’d still need a touchdown to win the game, not to mention stopping the Falcons’ offense.  So I was actually okay with the decision to go for it, but I did not like the play-call at all.

 

Naturally, Atlanta got the ball back, marched right down the field and scored the you-knew-it-was coming insurance touchdown.

 

But that’s not the only questionable play-calling.  Tampa Bay has two really good tight ends on this team: Cameron Brate and rookie O.J. Howard.  Can someone explain to me why neither of them saw a pass thrown in his direction for the entire first half?

 

I really don’t see how Koetter and Smith still have jobs at the end of this lost season, especially Smith.  The defense was the biggest problem last year; they’ve done nothing to fix that.  On offense, they’ve got all of these weapons, yet they consistently struggle out of the gate.  I know Jameis Winston is injured, but it’s been this way even when he’s been in there.  That ultimately has to fall on the head coach.

 

OK – rant over.

 

Next week: the Battle of the Bays, at Lambeau Field.

Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Bucs Win Again Thanks to Self-Destructing Dolphins

Let’s call this one, winning ugly…part two.

 

For those who didn’t see (or listen to) this game in Miami, you’d look at the final score and think the Buccaneers dominated the Dolphins.  Oh, how wrong you’d be.

 

The Bucs won the game when Patrick Murray split the uprights with four seconds left on the clock.  But let’s talk about the bad football that preceded much of the winning kick.

 

The Bucs won this game because of two things: Jay Cuter and all those Miami penalties.  Tampa Bay picked off Cutler three times in the first half and also recovered a fumble.  But in true Bucs’ fashion, they only led by 13 points at the half.  At the time, I said to myself, “this is going to come back to haunt them.”

 

And it did.  Matt Moore came in for Cutler in the second half and lit up the Bucs defense like so many other quarterbacks (including some backups) have.  The Bucs nearly gave up a safety that could’ve really changed things in the fourth quarter.  Still, the Dolphins tied the game on one of those “how the heck do you let him get that wide open?” kind of deep throws.  As if you needed any more proof that Mike Smith’s defense is horrendous.

 

But there were all those penalties against the Dolphins – a whopping 17 of them – that helped the Buccaneers’ cause.  The Bucs had nine penalties of their own, including one that negated a touchdown.  It was just bad football.

 

Of course, this was a win, so there are positives.  O.J. Howard had one of the Bucs’ two touchdowns, on his birthday no less.  Happy birthday, O.J.

 

Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to perform admirably in Jameis Winston’s absence.  Fitzpatrick will never be mistaken for Tom Brady, but he’s been efficient.  And he’s won two games with basically no running game and a swiss cheese defense.

 

Patrick Murray continues to make us forget about Roberto Aguayo and Nick Folk.  Murray did miss a kick earlier in the game, but made the game-winner, and has played well since the Bucs re-acquired him.

 

On to Atlanta….

 

Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Times