It’s about time this happened. But what took them so long?
On Monday, the Buccaneers announced the news that I and every other Bucs fan have been waiting to hear: Mike Smith is out as the defensive coordinator.
Under Smith, Tampa Bay had the worst defense last year, and so far, the worst defense this year. The Bucs have given up 30 or more points in four of their five games. Remember that fantastic win over the Saints in the season opener? Yes, I do. It’s easy to overlook at Smith’s defense still allowed 40 points. This, even though the team supposedly upgraded the defensive side of the ball during the offseason.
This move should’ve been made a long time ago – as in, say, nine months or so ago. But the Bucs finally pulled the trigger.
So now what? Linebackers’ coach Mark Duffner will take over as defensive coordinator in the interim.
How this plays out over the next eleven weeks remains to be seen. We’d all be shocked if this defense pitches a shutout against an improved Cleveland team on Sunday. But finally, the Bucs have rid themselves of the guy responsible for the biggest weakness on this team.
One of the big questions coming into this season was: how would the Buccaneers start out with Jameis Winston suspended for the first three games?
Wow. Just wow.
Enter Mr. Fitzpatrick. He was unbelievable in Sunday’s 48-40 stunner over the Saints in the Superdome. How amazing was Fitz? He was 21-28 for 417 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a score. And, he made arguably the biggest play of the game by running for a first down late in the fourth quarter to help the Bucs run out the clock.
Remember last year how Winston couldn’t connect with DeSean Jackson on the deep ball? Fitzpatrick had no problem. The two connected for two long touchdowns. Fitz also hit Mike Evans for a deep score. We didn’t see much of that last year. Evans and Jackson combined for almost 300 receiving yards in this one.
It’s worth mentioning that offensive coordinator Todd Monken – who called the plays during the preseason – was calling the shots in the opener. Dear coach Koetter: please keep it this way.
This was not a perfect game by any means. Mike Smith’s defense is still a sieve, allowing 40 points to Drew Brees and company. The pass rush – even with all those off-season acquisitions – only had one sack. The secondary had its struggles. They did force two turnovers, including a fumble return for a TD, but Smith is lucky the offense bailed him out.
But this was all about “Fitz-Magic.” I said it before, and will say it again: what if the Bucs win 2 out of 3 without Winston? Well, they’ve got the first one.
Photo Courtesy: Associated Press
If you’re like me, you’re still trying to comprehend how the Buccaneers beat the Saints in the season finale.
Jameis Winston threw three more interceptions, including a horrendous one into triple coverage. The Bucs gave up a 100+ yard kickoff return for the second week in a row (but scored their own special teams touchdown in the fourth quarter.) A missed extra point by Patrick Murray was looming large. There’s no way Winston would drive his team 95 yards in the final two minutes.
Oh, but he did. Yes, the recent turnover machine hit Chris Godwin on a deep ball with nine seconds left in the contest to win it. And before all of the Saints fans in attendance could wipe away their tears of disbelief, they found out they’d won the NFC South anyway, because Carolina choked against Atlanta.
This Godwin kid is pretty good, the more I see of him. He’s made some acrobatic catches, and with the disappointing season turned in by Desean Jackson, Godwin could be the number-two receiver on next year’s team.
Was this game perfect? Of course not. I mentioned the interceptions and the kickoff returns. Mike Smith’s defense is still a sieve. The lack of a pass rush was a problem all year, though they did sack Drew Brees twice.
But it was nice to finally win a game. I’d much rather see them win than intentionally lose to improve their draft pick order. Heck, this team needs help just about everywhere, so any decent player will do at this point.
Coming on Monday: my ‘year in review.’ As you might expect, with a 5-11 season, it won’t be pretty. But tonight is a night to be joyous, because the boys in Pewter finally won another game. Happy New Year, and good night.
Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Times
The Buccaneers’ season has been over for a week now, so it’s time form some final thoughts on the 2016 team. Arguably, I should’ve done this several days ago, but a new work schedule has something to do with that.
Dirk Koetter was promoted to head coach from offensive coordinator during the offseason. He finished his first season with a 9-7 record, the first Bucs team to have a winning season since 2010. I like the fact that he will always tell you exactly how he feels. He did make some questionable decisions in some games, and the Bucs had a knack for burning timeouts early in games, though that seemed to improve as the season went on.
Second-year QB Jameis Winston had a good season as a whole. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also had 18 INT’s, including six in the final three games. The Bucs had to win two of those three to get into the playoffs, but were only victorious in the finale against the Panthers. He made a lot of plays that make you say ‘wow’ – both good and bad.
The running game was a disappointment. First, you had Doug Martin. He started off slow, got hurt, came back, but never was the same. Then he was benched (or so we thought at the time) in the critical second-to-last game against New Orleans. A few days later, he revealed he had been suspended for violating the league’s drug’s policy, and would be seeking treatment for addiction. Jacquizz Rodgers did look promising when he was in there, however, averaging 4.3 yards a carry. The play of the offensive line didn’t help the running game, either.
Defensively, I’d call it a mixed bag. When Tampa Bay won five in a row to get into playoff contention, the defense looked like it was among the best in the league. But those five games aside, they gave up too many big plays in the passing game, which is one of the things that cost Lovie Smith his job. The Bucs ranked 23rd in the league in total defense, which is based on total yards allowed. That’s not good enough to become a playoff contender. I didn’t hear Lavonte David’s name nearly enough this year. One of his few shining moments came in San Diego: a pick-six that helped in the win over the Chargers.
And how can I not talk about the rookie kicker, Roberto Aguayo. He was an adventure every time he came out on the field. He made just 71% of his field goals (22-for-31) and missed two extra points. There was a stretch late in the season where he made nine straight FG’s, but then his last two in the final game were a miss, and a block. He did not have any competition for his job in 2016. That will definitely change next season.
So how did I feel about the season overall? I was pleased. The Bucs have gone from 2-14, to 6-10, to 9-7 in the past three years. There were the impressive victories over the Chiefs and Seahawks, and the ugly defeat against the Rams in the home opener.
But it’s always nice when they win the game that I fly down to see in person. Next year’s goal: playoffs or bust.
Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
So now we know the deal with Doug Martin – why he was surprisingly inactive for the Saints game, and in turn the finale against Carolina this weekend.
Martin released a statement late this afternoon, saying he’s been suspended four games for violating the league’s drug policy. Not only that, he’s entering rehab for it. Martin’s suspension starts with Sunday’s game against the Panthers, then he will have to sit out the first three games of 2017. What happens to him after that remains uncertain.
Wow. I didn’t see this coming.
Martin was the league’s second-leading rusher last year, but this season has been a disappointment. He missed a bunch of games due to injury, and when he has been on the field, he just hasn’t been the same.
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