2 In a Row! Bucs Beat the 49ers

All of a sudden, things are looking up for the Buccaneers.

They beat the 49ers on Sunday, 34-17, for their second straight win. The Bucs are now back at .500.

Jameis Winston shook off an early, poorly-thrown interception to end up with a nice day. Mike Williams is showing no signs of a sophomore slump. And even without Doug Martin, the Bucs suddenly have found a running game, thanks to another big day from Jacquizz Rodgers.

When Tampa Bay fell behind 14-0 early, I thought it was going to be a long afternoon in Santa Clara. No sir. The next 27 points were scored by the road team.

The fact that San Francisco’s run defense is terrible should not diminish the effort by Rodgers, who finished with 154 yards on the ground. Evans’ performance (two more TD’s) is even more impressive when you consider that Vincent Jackson was placed on injured reserve last week. Russell Shepard and Peyton Barber also found the end zone. Who are those two guys? That’s my point; other players stepped it up nicely.

The defense is also playing much better. Yes, they let the ‘Niners march right down the field to start the game. And the second TD they gave up was the direct result of a bonehead mistake by Winston. But the D held San Francisco to a field goal the rest of the way.

Roberto Aguayo missed another field goal. Yes, it was a 50-yarder, but it’s only going to add to the scrutiny surrounding the second-round pick. He’s now 6-for-11 on FG’s this season. Not good enough.

But six games in, and the Bucs are very much right in the mix. The next three games are at Ray-Jay, where Tampa Bay has struggled to win in recent years. That has to change, starting with the game against a very good Oakland team next Sunday.

Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com

 

Bucs Beat the Panthers! Winning Ugly Beats Losing

Well, that was worth staying up late for a Bucs’ game that was actually on TV.

This was a game that neither team seemed to want. But in the end, there was beleaguered kicker Roberto Aguayo, who had already missed two kicks earlier in the game, standing out there on the field with :03 left on the clock and the outcome resting on his right foot.

And wouldn’t you know – he nailed it.

The Bucs picked up an important win over a division rival, beating the Panthers, 17-14.

There is so much to dissect. Just look at the last drive alone. Dirk Koetter’s play-calling continues to bewilder me. The Bucs got the ball back with just under 2:00 remaining, and Koetter called two straight running plays, the second of which resulted in the running back going out of bounds, allowing Carolina to save a timeout. Then on the 3rd down, the Bucs threw it to pick up a first down, and suddenly they’re not just trying to milk the clock anymore. They marched down the field, and caught a break when the Panthers were called for a personal foul facemask. They caught another break when the refs said Vincent Jackson went out of bounds after making a catch, when the replay showed otherwise.  That stopped the clock when it otherwise would’ve kept running.  It all resulted in Aguayo’s redemption kick – right down the middle – that set off a late-night celebration in my apartment.

Don’t worry – I kept it down. There are a lot of older people in my building who likely went to bed after Big Papi’s career earlier in the night.

All I heard about going into this game was Carolina not having Cam Newton and running back Jonathan Stewart. Well, the Bucs didn’t have running back Doug Martin, and were without three-quarters of their starting defensive front: Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald and Robert Ayers.

Derek Anderson had beaten the Bucs twice before. It looked like he might do it again, but he made a critical mistake when Brent Grimes picked him off in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, one of four Tampa Bay takeaways.

As I said, this game was far from perfect. Jameis Winston is still making too many dumb decisions. Aguayo gives me a heart attack every time he steps on the field. You’d think the Buccaneers would decide to cover Greg Olsen every now and then. They’re still committing too many costly penalties and crucial times – whether it’s a 3rd and short situation,  or the other team is punting it away and they decide it’s a good idea to knock the punter down to the ground right after he kicks it.

I mentioned Koetter’s play-calling at the end. What about that 3rd down call in the fourth quarter – a running play?  The next play: Aguayo – wide left.

One thing that was great to see was the performance of Jacquizz Rogers, who rushed for over 100 yards, much of it in the first half. The Buccaneers put Charles Sims on IR earlier in the day (he’s been lousy anyway) so it was nice to have a running game in the absence of Doug Martin.

The Bucs are now 2-3, with both wins coming on the road against division opponents. They have their bye week next week, which gives them a chance to get healthy. Thank goodness.

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

 

Bucs Stink Up the Season Finale

Well, that was a dud.

What’s more – it’s pretty much what I thought I was going to happen.

The Buccaneers ended their season Sunday night with a 38-10 blowout loss to the division-rival Panthers in Charlotte.

The Bucs had nothing to play for. Carolina still had to win to clinch the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Panthers had no trouble.

We all know how badly the Bucs allow opposing quarterbacks to complete passes at an alarmingly-high rate. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Cam Newton was 21-for-26 in this game.

If you didn’t see (or listen to) any of the game, don’t be fooled by the final stats that show the Bucs outgaining the Panthers, 386-366. Tampa Bay got a lot of that yardage in the second half when the game was pretty much already over. The Buccaneers also turned it over three times.

The Bucs lost four straight after being 6-6. And wouldn’t you know – because the Saints won, the Bucs finished in last place in the NFC South….again.

I hope Lovie Smith gets canned because of his lousy defense; remember, he called the plays this year. But I don’t think it’ll happen. As for the offense, will Doug Martin be back? What about Vincent Jackson? The questions will be answered in the days and weeks to come.

Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com

Ugh! Bucs’ Playoff Hopes Dashed By Saints

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

 

Monday Column: Tampa Bay Keeps Shooting Itself in the Foot

The Buccaneers had every opportunity to go to 2-1 on Sunday. But the same problems that plagued them last year did them again against Houston, with a new one rearing its ugly head.

Take your pick. In no particular order:

The Bucs’ defense could not stop a running game that did not have Arian Foster. And they could not stop a quarterback named Ryan Mallett.

Offensively, Tampa Bay was an awful 1-for-12 on third down. The running game is still ineffective. Jameis Winston completed just under half of his passes (but I do like the fact that he’s not afraid to throw the ball downfield.) Mike Evans had over 100 yards receiving, but he also had several key drops. Vincent Jackson could’ve had a touchdown, but he couldn’t get both feet inbounds.

And then, there are special teams. This is the “new one rearing its ugly head” part. Rookie kicker Kyle Brindza made a 58-yard field goal that would’ve been good from about 70. My reaction: wow. What he did do the rest of the way? He missed three other field goals and a PAT. My reaction to that: wow. So there are 10 points the Bucs left on the field. Yes, the last one attempt came during desperation time, but still.

And of course, there are the penalties: 10 of them in all for 84 yards. Seriously, can this team go more than, say, three plays without a yellow flag being thrown? Tampa Bay was the most penalized team in the league last year. So far this year, the Bucs are tied with the Steelers in that category. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: penalties=lack of discipline. Lack of discipline=bad coaching. I know Lovie Smith isn’t reading this, but that is fact.

The undefeated Panthers come to Ray-Jay on Sunday. I honestly have no idea what to expect.

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

Season Preview: 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s just about time to kick things off for real.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open the regular season on Sunday, September 13 at home against the Tennessee Titans.  Today, we preview each facet of this year’s team.

THE OFFENSE
After last year’s dismal performance, this is the unit that will get the most attention.  The biggest addition, of course, is Jameis Winston, taken by the Bucs with the top overall pick in this year’s draft.  The rookie had his ups and downs during the preseason.  He did not throw a touchdown pass in the three games he played in, though he did rush for a pair of scores.  He actually has a real-life offensive coordinator this year in Dirk Koetter, who comes over from division-rival Atlanta.  Here’s a thought: get the ball in the hands of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson as much as possible.

The second most-watched group will be the offensive line.  With a rookie quarterback running the show, it will be up to this group to take some of the pressure off Winston, and open up holes in the running game.  Last year, these guys were awful in both categories.

Speaking of that, will Doug Martin bounce back, in what could be his final season in Tampa?  In his rookie season in 2012, he was fantastic.  Since then – not so much.

THE DEFENSE
Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy are the leaders of this group.  There is no doubting that.  Tampa Bay improved in the secondary even more by signing two-time Pro Bowler Jim Jennings just this week.  Dashon Goldson, Mason Foster, Michael Johnson and Da’Quan Bowers are all gone.

SPECIAL TEAMS
For the second year in a row, the Buccaneers have a rookie kicker.  Kyle Brinzda won the starting job over last year’s kicker, Patrick Murray, and former Buc Connor Barth (remember him?  He’s briefly re-joined the team after Denver cut him.)  Brinzda made two field goals over 50 yards in the preseason finale against Miami to seal the deal.

The team also has a new punter.  Michael Koenen is no more.  The new guy in town is Jacob Schum, who was claimed off waivers from the Jets.  Hopefully he will be an upgrade from Koenen, who struggled big-time last year.

The whole unit needs to be much better than last year, especially on kickoff and punt returns.  We the fans are sick of seeing a flag for illegal block in the back on nearly every return.

COACHING
Is Lovie Smith on the hot seat in just his second year?  If the Bucs get off to a slow start, I say the answer is yes.  Admittedly, this season could be also be challenging because of a rookie starting quarterback.  But if the team doesn’t at least show some improvement, then the fire’s going to start burning a lot more under the head coach.

Photo Courtesy: USA Today

Breaking Down Jameis Winston’s Preseason Debut

Saturday night was the first time we got to see Jameis Winston take the field in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ uniform. He’s a rookie, and for the most part, he looked like one.

 

THE GOOD: Winston showed the ability push the ball down the field. His longest completion was a 40-yarder to Vincent Jackson. He looked really good on the touchdown drive late in the first half, which he finished off himself with an 8-yard run. Yes, it was against the Vikings’ second-string defense. But these days, we’ll take any bit of good news we can get. Winston finished 9 for 19 for 131 yards.

 

THE BAD: early on, Winston was way off the mark on his passes. He threw an ugly-looking interception right to a Minnesota defender, which led to a Vikes’ touchdown. He mishandled two snaps; the first one was snapped nearly over his head in the shotgun, the other was an exchange under center. Those mistakes need to be cleared up.

 

Besides Winston’s performance, I think the offensive line remains a serious concern. The left tackle didn’t put up much of a fight on the first sack of Winston in the first quarter. And on the right side, Demar Dotson left the game with a knee injury. It looks like he’ll be out for awhile. Defensively, the Bucs forced three turnovers. But Minnesota’s first-team offensive was impressive against Tampa Bay’s starters.

 

Next week, the Bucs host the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night.

 

Mike Evans is a Beast For Tampa Bay

When the Buccaneers chose Mike Evans with their first-round pick in this year’s draft, the idea was to create a powerful tandem with fellow wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

So far, Evans has done a lot more than that. He is now the No. 1 receiver on this football team. There’s no question about that.

Through ten games, Evans has 794 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, five of them coming in the last three games. He’s broken the 100-yard plateau three games in a row, and on Sunday against Washington he went for 209 yards and two long TD catches. Evans became the first rookie receiver in eleven years to have at least 200 yards and two touchdowns in a game. The last time it was happened, it was done by some guy named Anquan Boldin.

He turned out to be pretty good.

I know Evans is only a rookie. And the Bucs have had their share of rookies who’ve had big first seasons, only to be forgotten about shortly thereafter. Remember Michael Clayton? And more recently, anyone heard from Doug Martin lately? So we can only hope that No. 13 doesn’t follow in their footsteps. Imagine if Evans had a quality quarterback who could get him the ball more often.

Evans would be a candidate for Rookie of the Year if he didn’t play on a 2-8 team. Think about that.

One more thought about the Bucs: I find it laughable that everyone’s saying they’re only two games out of first place in the awful NFC South. Yes, that is true. But this is not a quality football team. You’re playing for pride, and the future, at this point. The only way they would even have the slightest chance is to win out and finish 8-8. If that miracle were to happen, they would be a home underdog in the playoffs. It’s nice to dream, though.
Next weekend, the Bucs travel to Chicago to play the Bears, the team Lovie Smith took to the Super Bowl a few years’ back.

Photo Courtesy: AP

 

I Saw the Bucs Lose With My Own Two Eyes…

This past weekend, I made my annual trip down to Raymond James Stadium to see the Bucs play in person. We all know they lost to the Falcons. But you see and experience so much more when you’re at the game, so I wanted to share my thoughts about what I saw. I’m not going to include any stats in this article.

The Bucs lost this game for the same reasons they lost seven others: too many dumb mistakes. Everyone sitting around me (who’ve clearly been to a lot more games than I) knew that every flag was going to be against the home team. Seriously, how many times did the Bucs bail out the Falcons in this game? On Atlanta’s first TD drive, the Bucs jumped offside THREE times. And then there were the occasions that the Falcons faced third and long, only to be given new life by a defensive penalty away from the ball? The penalties are a lack of discipline. A lack of discipline can be traced to bad coaching. You hear that, Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier?

I also saw an Atlanta receiver wide open in the end zone TWICE. How does that happen? On the first one, the Bucs got lucky that Matt Ryan’s pass was underthrown, and the defender was able to get back in time to knock it away. I don’t remember who it was, because it happened at the opposite end of the field. But I DID have a good luck at Devin Hester all alone in the end zone nearest my seat, and he dropped the ball. The Falcons had to settle for a field goal. That dropped pass cost Atlanta four points. I was really hoping that drop would come back to haunt the Falcons. Wishful thinking.

The Bucs need to draft a franchise, stud quarterback next year. I heard that from fans sitting around me at Ray-Jay, and even more in a sports bar after the game. We were all surprised that Josh McCown was given the start. If Mike Glennon is “the future” (Lovie’s words) than why wouldn’t you play him the rest of the season? McCown didn’t disappoint, and I say that sarcastically. For three quarters, he played mistake-free, albeit unspectacular football. But in the fourth quarter, when he needed to rally his team, he couldn’t do it. Even with two minutes to go and trailing by ten, the Bucs still had an outside shot to pull off a miracle. They were down by the goal line, and had all three timeouts that they could’ve used on defense. But McCown threw a pick in the end zone. The fans who hadn’t left the stadium by then started heading for the exits. He got his share of boos.

The other guy who we booed a lot was punter Michael Koenen. He is not having a good year, and he shanked a couple of kicks in the second half that gave Atlanta superb field position. He was also handling kickoffs. Remember Connor Barth? Remind me why got rid of him again?

While the Bucs need a stud quarterback, I can tell you Mike Evans is a stud receiver. Man, some of the catches he was making….he was amazing. He and Vincent Jackson make a formidable receiving tandem, IF only they had a decent quarterback who could not only get them the ball, but hit them in stride every once in awhile. That was another thing I noticed: how many passes from McCown did not give the receiver any chance of gaining yards after the catch?

There was a nice crowd at the game. I thought there would be a lot more empty seats than there were, given this was a matchup between two bad teams. While it wasn’t a sellout by any means, but decent nonetheless. There were quite a few Falcons’ fans in attendance, not surprising based on simple geography.

So those are my observations from my seat in Section 121. If you were at the game, I’d love to hear yours.

Bucs’ Midseason Report Card

Now that the Buccaneers have reached the midway point of the 2014 season, it’s time for a midterm report card. As you might expect, there are more bad grades than good ones on a team that’s 1-7. I’m not going to grade each and every player, because that would take forever.

 

LOVIE SMITH AND JASON LICHT: F
When the Bucs hired Smith almost immediately after firing Greg Schiano, there was a sense of hope among Tampa Bay fans, a sense that things would start to turn around. There was hope that Smith’s defense would be as fierce as what we saw in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Licht and Smith brought in a ton of free agents on defense (while letting Darrelle Revis go.) They spent their entire 2014 draft on upgrading the offense. Eight games into the season, the Bucs are second from the bottom in both total offense and defense. Some of the pundits predicted the Bucs could be a sleeper team for the playoffs. I was just hoping for some improvement. It hasn’t happened. We should’ve known something was up when they dropped their first two games at home to backup quarterbacks. Even coming off a 4-12 year, the Bucs have been a major disappointment in my opinion.

 

OFFENSE – OVERALL GRADE: D

QUARTERBACKS: D
The Bucs started the season with Josh McCown as the starting quarterback. In 2 ½ games, he threw two touchdowns, four interceptions, and put the ball on the turf a number of times. He’s been sidelined with an injured thumb suffered during the Thursday night debacle in Atlanta.

Enter Mike Glennon. He’s completed 57% of his passes so far. At times, he’s looked OK. Other times, like Sunday in Cleveland, he looked terrible. Now, he’s in danger of losing his job back to McCown. While the quarterback position is hardly the only problem on this team, it should be priority #1 in next year’s draft.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE: F
This group has also been a big disappointment. Remember back to just before the season began, when Tampa Bay acquired pro bowl guard Logan Mankins from the Patriots? That hasn’t helped a unit that has struggled in both the running game and pass protection. Left tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith have not played well at all. The line has given up 21 sacks through the first eight games, and that doesn’t count all of the times the quarterback has been running for his life. It’s worth noting that Smith and Licht also overhauled this unit from last year as well.

 

MIKE EVANS: B
He was the Bucs’ first-round draft pick this year, and we’ve gotten a glimpse of what he can do. While he hasn’t been perfect, he leads the receivers in yards (460) and touchdowns (4) and is tied with Vincent Jackson for the team lead in receptions. He has the potential to be a star down the road, no question about it.

 

DEFENSE – OVERALL GRADE: D-
Let’s think back to the defensive players Smith brought in: Michael Johnson, Alterraun Verner and Clinton McDonald come to mind. Have any of them made an impact? I don’t think so. I hadn’t heard Verner’s name much at all until Sunday, when he was beaten soundly for the winning touchdown in Cleveland. This is the guy who supposedly has to fill Revis’ shoes in the secondary. As mentioned early, Tampa Bay is 31st in the league in total defense behind only Atlanta. They’ve given up the third most points; only Jacksonville and the Jets are worse. They’re near the bottom of the league in sacks. And turnovers – something Smith prides himself on – have not come as often as the fans would like.  Oh, and former first-round pick Mark Barron is now with the Rams.

 

GERALD MCCOY: B+
I’m giving McCoy a grade, because he’s one of the leaders of this defense, and recently signed a 7-year, $98 million contract. He has been one of the few bright spots on defense. His five sacks lead the team. And this guy was playing with an injured hand for a few games.

 

LAVONTE DAVID: A
You mean there’s a player on a 1-7 team that deserves such a grade? Like McCoy, David is a leader on defense. He leads the team in tackles. This guy is everywhere on the field. I look forward to watching #54 in person when I travel to Ray-Jay this weekend to see the Bucs play the Falcons.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

Rookie kicker Patrick Murray has been so-so this year.  He is 8-of-12 on field goals.  He’s had two kicks blocked, one of them coming in the most recent loss to the Browns.  The mistakes on special teams on Sunday actually caused me to lower this grade from a C to a D.

 

Photo Courtesy: AP