The Buccaneers’ 2018 schedule is now out. Now it’s time to dissect it, decide which games are most winnable, and for out-of-town fans like me, think about which game to head south to see.
My first thought after taking a look at this: ouch! What a tough five-game stretch to open with. The Bucs face four playoff teams, starting with the division champion Saints in the Superdome, followed by the Super Bowl champion Eagles in the home opener. Then, they get the Steelers on a Monday night. How does a Bucs’ team that went 5-11 last season end up on MNF? Oh, that’s right, they’re playing the Steelers, which will give the idiots at BSPN something to crow about while at the same time dissing Jameis Winston, even if Winston gets off to a good start.
Tampa Bay goes to Chicago in September. It sure beats December. But Baltimore in mid-December could be interesting to say the least.
There is a stretch of three straight home games in late November/early December. And wouldn’t it be interesting if the finale against the dirty birds from Atlanta is meaningful? One can dream, anyway.
Here’s the schedule:
Sept. 9 — @ New Orleans
Sep. 16 — PHILADELPHIA
Sept. 24 — PITTSBURGH (Monday)
Sept. 30 — @ Chicago
Oct. 14 — @ Atlanta
Oct. 21 – CLEVELAND
Oct. 28 — @ Cincinnati
Nov. 4 — @ Carolina
Nov. 11 – WASHINGTON
Nov. 18 @ NY Giants
Nov. 25 – SAN FRANCISCO
Dec. 2 – CAROLINA
Dec. 9 – NEW ORLEANS
Dec. 16 — @ Baltimore
Dec. 23 — @ Dallas
Dec. 30 – ATLANTA
It’s difficult to judge a football team by one preseason game, especially one where many of the starters either hardly play or don’t play at all. Still, there are some things we can take away from Thursday night’s 17-9 loss in Philadelphia.
Are special teams going to be a problem yet again? Good teams don’t fumble away the opening kickoff. I’m looking at you, Kenny Bell.
Good teams have quarterbacks that take care of the football. I’m looking at you, Jameis Winston.
However, there were good signs. Winston bounced back after the turnover to lead a touchdown drive.
The defensive line was getting pressure on the quarterback (what a concept!) They had four sacks. You mean to tell me…that could actually be a strength this year?
But again, it’s so hard to form an opinion after one meaningless preseason game. The next one will tell us a little more, and the third one is the traditional “dress rehearsal” if you will.
Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
That season went by way too quickly. It’s hard to believe it’s already over.
The Tampa Bay Bucs finished with a record of 6-10. That’s an improvement over their 2-14 record of 2014, but they still finished in last place in the NFC South. I thought I’d take a look back at the best – and worst – of the Bucs’ 2015 season.
Please note: these are listed in no particular order.
Jameis Winston. Remember what happened on his first pass of the season? I do. It was intercepted and run back for a touchdown. Sure, there were many moments where the No. 1 overall pick looked like a rookie. But there were many more where he looked like the Bucs may have found their franchise quarterback. Winston threw for over 4,000 yards (4,042 to be exact.) That’s the third-most passing yards of any rookie QB in NFL history. He threw 22 touchdowns vs. 15 interceptions. He also ran for six touchdowns. You can make a very compelling case for him being named rookie of the year. Perhaps most of all, he looks and acts like a leader. He needs to work on the deep ball, but that can be done.
Doug Martin. This was the last year of his contract in Tampa. I am with a lot of Bucs’ fans in begging the team to re-sign him. Martin had his best year since his rookie season: he rushed for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns. The TD number is a bit low, but he had a number of long, long runs that put his team in excellent scoring position. His best game was Week 11 against Philadelphia – when he ran wild for 235 yards.
Dirk Koetter. Why does the offensive coordinator make this list? It’s simple: the Bucs didn’t have one last year; remember when Jeff Tedford left before the season began? Koetter came in, and made an instant impact. The Bucs finished with the fifth-best offense in the NFL in terms of total yards. They averaged just over 21 points per game, which ranks 20th in the league, but still a big improvement over last year. But when I look back at the season, this wasn’t the same old dink-and-dunk Tampa Bay offense that I’ve seen since…well, forever.
The defense. As I’ve said repeatedly over the past four months, Lovie Smith was calling the plays on the defensive side of the ball. That’s why he deserves much of the blame for a unit that allowed just over 26 points per game, sixth-most in the league. The secondary was just awful. Take your pick: Johnthan Banks, Mike Jenkins, Sterling Moore, Alterraun Verner – it didn’t matter who was trying to cover the opposing team’s receivers. Here is the most alarming stat I could find: the Bucs allowed their opponents to complete 70% of their passes. That is insane. Whether it’s the players, the scheme or the coaching – this should be the first order of the business in the offseason.
Mike Evans. On one hand, he had another 1,000 yard season – gaining 1,206 yards. On the other hand, he only scored three touchdowns. And then there were the drops – all of them. According to sportingcharts.com, Evans led the league with eleven dropped passes. And he heard some boos from the fans at Ray-Jay periodically.
BEST GAME: week 11, when they walloped the Eagles, 45-17, and racked up 521 yards of total offense.
WORST GAME: week 7, when they lost to the Redskins, 31-30, a game in which Tampa Bay blew a 24-0 lead. I know Washington ended up winning the NFC East, but blowing a lead like that against anyone is unacceptable.
As always, it’s been a lot of fun writing about the Bucs this season. And I am most grateful to my readers. This is neither goodbye nor farewell, of course. It’s just me saying thank you.
Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com
Let’s flash back to November 22 for a moment. The Bucs were in Philadelphia, and turned in their best performance of the season, a 45-17 thrashing of the Eagles. Tampa Bay improved to 5-5, and was very much in the playoff hunt in the NFC.
Today, the Buccaneers are 6-9, and will miss the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season.
So what happened? Since that impressive performance at Lincoln Financial Field, the Bucs have dropped games to the Colts, Saints, Rams and Bears. We’re not talking Patriots, Panthers or Cardinals here. We’re talking about games that were winnable, and yet Lovie Smith’s team didn’t get the job done, aside from a victory over a Falcons’ team that just knocked off Carolina.
The biggest disappointment down the stretch has arguably been the biggest one all season: the play of the defense. Now we know why Smith says he needs his defenders to force turnovers. When they don’t, the other team seems to march down the field at will, particularly through the air, regardless of whether the quarterback is Drew Brees or Case Keenum. The secondary is awful, regardless of who’s back there. There’s no question the suspension of Kwon Alexander hurts. But I can’t picture the loss of one player having that much of an impact.
Tampa Bay is -4 in the turnover ratio. Somehow it feels worse than that. Over the past five games, the Bucs have forced a grand total of one takeaway.
Should Lovie Smith be fired at the end of the season? I think he should, but my gut says he won’t. The team did triple its win total from a year ago. But consider this: Smith is calling the shots on defense this year, and I have seen absolutely no improvement in this unit from 2014. None.
Smith is 8-23 in two seasons in Tampa. His predecessor, Greg Schiano, went 11-21 before receiving his pink slip. If Schiano got fired for that record, then why should Smith get a free pass? There’s a growing “rumbling” (for lack of a better term) on blogs and social media that the fans would like to see offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter promoted to head coach. He has done a nice job this year with an offense that includes a rookie quarterback, and Jameis Winston wouldn’t have to learn a entirely new offense. So why not give Koetter a shot? You’d keep the rhythm on offense, and it would allow them to give the other side of the ball a much-needed shakeup. There is talent on defense (Lavonte David for one) but the scheme is not working out.
One final note: the Bucs’ season finale against Carolina is now scheduled for 4:25 p.m. instead of 1 p.m. Carolina is coming off its first loss of the year, and needs to win to clinch home-field advantage. Why can’t they just play the game at 1:00 and get the torture over with?
Let’s flash back to the offseason for a moment. The Buccaneers decided not to pick up the fifth-year option on Doug Martin’s contract. That essentially meant 2015 could be his last year in a Tampa Bay uniform.
Dear Jason Licht: please re-sign this guy.
Martin is back and better than ever, showing the brilliance we haven’t seen since his rookie year. After Sunday’s performance in Philadelphia in which he rushed for 235 yards, No. 22 is one of the top running backs in the NFL – second-best, in fact. In ten games, he has 941 yards on the ground. Only the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson has more.
And while Martin has only found the end zone four times, I believe his success – and the effectiveness of the entire running game – is a factor in Jameis Winston’s recent success. What quarterback wouldn’t like to have a running game like the Bucs have right now? They’re averaging 142 yards per game on the ground – third best in the league.
Hopefully Martin can keep running wild for the rest of the year, and be rewarded in the offseason for doing so.
I’m not going to lie to you. I didn’t see this coming. But I’m sure not complaining about it.
Who would’ve thought the Buccaneers would score 45 points in a victory over the Eagles in Philadelphia. I’m not saying they couldn’t win this game, but to dominate the way they did – my goodness.
Who would’ve thought Jameis Winston would throw five touchdown passes – to five different receivers no less. His performance tied an NFL record for a rookie; Matthew Stafford is the only other QB to throw five TD’s in his first season in the league.
Who would’ve thought the Bucs would go 9-for-12 on third down conversions.
And who would’ve thought Doug Martin would run wild at Lincoln Financial Field for a whopping 235 yards. OK, so we’ve seen him do that before, in his rookie year at Oakland. But still, that was sweet. Tampa Bay set a franchise record with 283 yards on the ground, and their 521 total yards were the second-most ever.
Let’s not forget about the defense, which held the fast-paced Eagles’ offense in check. Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy, who have both taken some heat for not making enough big plays, stepped it up. McCoy had 1.5 sacks. David had two interceptions, returning one of them for an icing-on-the-cake score late in the fourth quarter.
Most importantly, the Buccaneers are back at .500. What looked like another rough season just a month ago….now has some hope.
Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com
Sometimes, being lucky is better than being good. Heck, I’ll take luck any day of the week.
That was the case in the Buccaneers’ 10-6 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday. It was ugly. The Bucs did not play well offensively. Neither did the Cowboys. But Tampa Bay finally saw a break go its way for a change.
There was Jameis Winston, five yards away from a potential game-winning touchdown. He scanned the field. He couldn’t find anyone open. So he took off for the goal line, leaping high into the air. The problem was, the ball didn’t stay with him the whole time. It was a fumble. Dallas recovered in the end zone.
But hold on – what’s that yellow thing on the field in the end zone? Nah, it couldn’t possibly be a penalty on the Cowboys, because these are the Bucs, and they find every way imaginable to lose games. But a funny thing happened: the referee signaled holding against the defense.
It’s about time Tampa Bay caught a break. And on the next play, Winston took advantage of the second chance on a brilliant play-call: a bootleg that saw him walk into the end zone untouched.
But the final outcome still hadn’t been settled. There was that final heave into the end zone, intended by that Dallas receiver who seems to be known more for his temper these days than his pass-catching ability. The pass was picked off by Bradley McDougald, who was playing the ball the whole way, although it looked like he gave Dez Bryant a slight push.
That was break number two. Can you imagine if the refs had called pass interference on that play? Dallas would’ve had the ball at the 1, with a few seconds left to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Instead, the Bucs have already doubled their win total from all of last year. Their next two games are on the road, at Philadelphia and Indianapolis. They may not have to face either Sam Bradford or Andrew Luck. I’m not suggesting they’re going to win either one of those games, but their chances are better than they were before Sunday.
I hope that ends up being another break.
Photo Courtesy: AP