Just Like That, the Bucs Playoff Hopes Are All But Gone

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

Bucs in the Playoffs? Why Not?

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

 

The Newest Buccaneers

Now that the NFL draft is in the books, it’s time to take a look at the newest Buccaneers. By now, you probably know who Tampa Bay chose. Also, I’m no draft analyst, nor do I really follow big-time national college football. So with the disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at what the Bucs did.

I’m glad the Bucs focused on the defensive side of the ball. That’s the reason Lovie Smith is no longer the head coach. The first-round pick generally garners the most attention, so I’ll do the same. Vernon Hargreaves III played cornerback at Florida. Tampa Bay needs people to do a better job defending the pass. So this pick makes a lot of sense. Remember the percentage at which opposing QB’s were completing passes against this defense last year? I don’t, but I know it was way up there. And some of those quarterbacks weren’t exactly superstars.

In the second round, they took Noah Spence. Lord knows the Bucs need a pass rusher, or two, or three, or….well, you get the idea. So that was a good move as well.

They also drafted a kicker in the second round, Roberto Aguayo out of Florida State. This is the move that seems to be getting the most criticism, especially since Tampa Bay traded up to get him. From what I’ve read, this guy was money from inside 40 yards. Okay, so what happens when he comes on to try a 50-yarder with the game on the line? I’ll take a wait-and-see approach on this. The Bucs kicking game has been wobbly at best over the past couple of years. Let’s see what happens.

Those are my thoughts. I won’t dissect the other picks because, as I alluded to earlier, I just don’t know enough about their college careers. But I was pleased to see the defense be the priority in this year’s draft.

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

 

Lovie Got Fired!

So a lot of the so-called experts thought Lovie Smith would be on the hot seat at the start of next season.

Guess what?  His seat is now open.

The Bucs fired Lovie last night after two disappointing seasons in which he only won 8 games.

I love how the national media are “stunned” by this.  To me, the only surprising element is that Tampa Bay chose 10pm on a Wednesday night to make the move.

Clearly, the others just looked at the Bucs being ranked in the top 10 in total offense and defense.  They obviously didn’t actually pay attention to what happened in the Red Zone, or the record-setting number of penalties.

I’ll have more to say a bit later.  For now. I say that I agree with this move.

Yes! Bucs Finally Win a Home Game!

The Buccaneers did something today they hadn’t done in nearly two years: they won a game at Ray-Jay. They beat the Jaguars, 38-31.

The Bucs scored 38 points. 38!

Thank you, Doug Martin. He’d actually been running pretty well even before today, but it had been overshadowed by all of the negative stuff surrounding Lovie Smith and company. Today, Martin ran for 123 yards and three touchdowns – one of them receiving. He’s now rushed for over 400 yards through the first five games. He’s looking at a 1,000-yard season if he stays on this pace.

I’m giving Connor Barth a shout-out because of the mess the kicking game had been until now. He was 3-for-3 on field goals and perfect on PAT’s. Everyone take a deep breath now.

Another honorable mention goes to Bobby Rainey for his work on kickoff returns. One of them was a 58-yarder that led to Martin’s touchdown reception.. And for a change, the penalty flags stayed away for the most part on special teams (I think there may have been one.)

How about the defense? Well, at times they let Blake Bortles look like Tom Brady. But they also sacked him six times and picked him off once. And the key play of the game came in the third quarter, when Jacquies Smith recovered a Jacksonville fumble in the end zone to put Tampa Bay back in the lead for good. The Bucs had blown a 13-point lead, then a Barth FG cut the lead to one before the big play happened.

Jameis Winston had a decent day: 13-19, 201 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, he did not turn it over. The latter is perhaps the biggest thing worth mentioning.

Sure, it was hardly perfect. There were still too many penalties. And I don’t understand Lovie Smith’s stupid play-calling at the end of the first half when he had all three timeouts and decent field position. Oh, by the way: this win may have saved his job for the time being.

A win is a win. We the fans will take them any way we can.

Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com

Welcome Back, Connor Barth

The Bucs took action this morning to fix their major kicking problems. Their new kicker is Connor Barth. Sound familiar? It should; Barth was the team’s kicker for the previous six years, and a pretty darn good one at that.  He is the team’s all-time leader in field goal percentage.

Below is the official release, courtesy of buccaneers.com

“On Tuesday, the Buccaneers announced that they have signed kicker Connor Barth. The moves comes after the team released rookie Kyle Brindza, who had been the team’ starter through their first four games.

Barth, a seven-year veteran, spent most of his NFL career with the Buccaneers. He was the team’s kicker from 2009 to 2014 after playing with the Chiefs his rookie season. Barth has connected on 116 of 136 field goals in his career, 83 percent of his kicks. He’s missed just four times when attempting kicks shorter than 40 yards, converting on 63 of 67 attempts.

Barth was brought in by the Buccaneers during training camp to compete with Brindza, but the team ultimately decided to go with the rookie for the first quarter of the season. Barth had been a free agent until returning to Tampa Bay.”

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

Monday Column: Lovie Smith on the Hot Seat

We are ¼ of the way through the 2015 season. The Buccaneers have a 1-3 record. It’s time to ask the question: are they better at this point in the season than they were four games into 2014?

Looking solely at the record (1 win vs. 0), the answer is yes. But looking at the big picture, the answer is no. And that’s why I’m putting Lovie Smith under my personal hot seat.

He has now been the head coach of the Bucs for 20 games. He has lost 17 of them, including all ten at Raymond James Stadium. Many of those home losses – including the first two this year – have been by double-digits, and his team has not been competitive. That brings up a somewhat obvious statement: Smith does not have this team ready to play.

Sure, there are plenty of areas to point the finger at. He has a rookie quarterback whose five turnovers yesterday single-handedly gave Carolina a win. Many fans are already saying Tampa Bay drafted the wrong quarterback. I’m holding off on that for the time being.

The kicking game has been atrocious. In case you haven’t heard the news, Kyle Brindza was finally cut today. Who his replacement will be remains to be seen.

Smith is also calling the shots on defense. The result so far: the Buccaneers have the third-worst scoring defense in the NFL behind the Bears and Chiefs.

In the end, it all comes back to the head coach.

When the team is struggling, something has to change. If you believe what you read on social media, there is talk that Smith could get fired if he loses at home to the Jaguars next Sunday. Since he hasn’t won a home game in ten tries, that outcome is certainly possible. The Bucs have their bye week after that. Consider this: the Dolphins used the start of their bye week to kick Joe Philbin out of town. His overall record was four games under .500. If Philbin can get ousted for that, then it stands to reason why the Bucs should not be any more patient with Smith.

We, the fans, are angry. And most of our displeasure is directed right at Smith. This is his team, his players. If they are unable to turn this sinking ship around, then he deserves to go sooner rather than later.

Photo Courtesy: AP

It Gets Even Uglier for the Bucs

It was another dreadful game. We’ve seen so many in recent years.

On Sunday afternoon, the Buccaneers laid another egg in front of the hometown crowd, falling to the Panthers, 37-23, at Ray-Jay.

Who’s to blame for this one? Take your pick. The Bucs turned it over five times – four of them coming on Jameis Winston interceptions. One of them was returned for a touchdown. The Panthers scored (by my count) 27 points off those mistakes. You don’t need me to tell you that you’re not going to win many games when you turn the ball over like that.

The kicking game was horrendous for the second straight week. Kyle Brindza missed two more field goals and another extra point. Remember last week when Lovie Smith said Brindza is still his kicker? Dear Bucs: please call Connor Barth and get him in uniform. Better yet, call me. I can’t kick field goals that well, either, but I could use a bump in pay.

And don’t look much into this stat: Carolina only had 244 yards of total offense. This is one time where numbers are so deceptive. Thanks to all those turnovers, the undefeated Panthers didn’t have to go far on many of their scoring drives.

The Bucs are now 1-3. In two home games, their opponents have scored 79 points. Some of those are from “Pick 6’s” but you get the idea: Tampa Bay isn’t being very competitive in its home stadium.

Coming up in the Monday Column: the state of the Bucs’ through the first quarter of the season. I think you can guess what the tone will be.

Photo Courtesy: AP

Wow – the Bucs Looked Good on Monday Night

Tampa Bay fans: there is reason for hope.

There was a lot to be excited about in Monday night’s preseason victory over the Bengals at Ray-Jay. Jameis Winston looked great. Doug Martin looked like the Doug Martin of his rookie season. Heck, even the defense sacked Cincinnati QB’s a few times.

I know, I know: it’s only preseason. But how could you not like what you saw in the first half of that game? I will only talk about the first half, because all of the stars were out of the game in the second.

Let’s start with Winston. Man, he has cannon for an arm. He marched his team right down the field to start the game, capping it with a scramble to the right pylon to open the scoring. Jameis finished 8-of-13 for 90 yards before limping off the field in the second quarter. It doesn’t appear to be a serious injury, and the Bucs did the right thing taking him out of the game at that moment.

Speaking of injuries, hopefully the one suffered by Mike Evans isn’t critical, either.

Martin also looked great while he was in there: six carries for 59 yards, including an impressive 30-yarder on the opening drive. We haven’t seen this from him the past two seasons. Hopefully this is a return to his rookie form, when he rushed for over 1400 yards.

The defense sacked Andy Dalton three times. Let me repeat that: the defense recorded three sacks. We haven’t said that much over the past few years. Gerald McCoy looked like the leader he’s believed to be. Altrerraun Verner had a Pick 6, courtesy of A.J. Green having butterfingers.

There was one problem area that still needs to be addressed immediately: the penalties. The Bucs had 14 of them for 153 yards, most of them coming in the first half while the starters were still in there. Penalties were a huge problem last year, and on Monday night, it seemed like there was a yellow flag on the field on almost every other play.

Still, a win is a win, even in the preseason. And Monday night’s performance gave Buccaneer fans reason to at least hope that things could be different in 2015.

Photo Courtesy: Fox Sports