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
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
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
We have reached the halfway point of the season, and the Buccaneers have a 3-5 record. They’ve already eclipsed their win total from all of last year, and there are signs of optimism, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Still, this team has more losses than wins. That means there are problems that still haven’t been fixed. The biggest one involves Lovie Smith’s supposed calling card: the defense.
This unit does not appear to be much better than 2014, if it all. You can look at all the stats you want. The Bucs are allowing nearly 29 points per game. That’s a lot. They have not shown the ability to come up with the big play late in the game. The most glaring examples came when they blew double-digit leads in the second half to Washington and Atlanta (they did beat the Falcons in overtime.) Then in yesterday’s game against the Giants, Tampa Bay could not stop New York from chewing up precious time off the clock after the Bucs had pulled to within two points.
In the past month, we haven’t seen much of a pass rush. From what I’ve read, Gerald McCoy is taking a lot of heat from the media down in Tampa for his lack of production. He is one of the leaders on this defense, yet he does not have a sack in 2015. And he only has 18 tackles through eight games. Those numbers are staggering, given what the Bucs are paying him.
But the worst part of this defense has to be the secondary. Maybe someday they will learn how to defend the slant. Maybe one of these they will fight receivers at the line of scrimmage. Maybe one of these days they will stop allowing the opposition to get wide open in the middle of the field and beyond.
Lovie Smith is supposedly still calling the plays on defense, unless I’ve missed something. Who knows what defensive coordinator Leslie Frazer is doing these days, or whether he would even be able to make a difference. Smith benched starting cornerbacks Jonathan Banks and Mike Jenkins against the Giants. It’s about time.
On to Dallas next Sunday….
Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com
Bucs fans: have you had enough of Lovie Smith?
I know I have.
Sunday’s devastating collapse at the hands of the Redskins was the final straw. It was a game in which the Buccaneers blew a 24-0 lead.
When a game like that happens, the head coach has to be the fall guy. There are no exceptions. Smith cannot coach. His team is undisciplined. He is supposedly a defensive guru, but consider the quarterbacks he’s lost to so far this season: Marcus Mariota, Ryan Mallett, Cam Newton and now Kirk Cousins. Ignore Newton, and focus on the other three. Tampa Bay beat Blake Bortles, but even he put up impressive numbers against this sieve of a defense.
Please don’t tell me how the Bucs’ defense is in the top ten, in terms of total yards allowed. As I mentioned in a previous column, look at the points they’re giving up. Tampa Bay is giving up almost 30 points a game on average. The Buccaneers are tied for dead-last with the Bears in that category. The secondary, in particular, has been awful.
But let’s get back to Lovie’s bad coaching. The debacle began to unravel in the third quarter. After Washington scored to make it 24-14, the Redskins pulled off a successful onside kick. The Bucs were not ready for that. That’s bad coaching. The ‘Skins went on to score another touchdown to make it a three-point game.
Let’s skip ahead to late in the fourth quarter. Doug Martin, who had another big game, had just ripped off a big run to the Redskins’ five-yard line. On 3rd and goal from the 1, the Bucs run….a toss sweep….to Charles Sims? Are you serious? When Sims took the ball, 3rd and 1 just became 3rd and 5. Washington wasn’t fooled. Why does Sims even get the ball in that situation? Why not throw one up in the end zone for Mike Evans, who broke out of his slump in a big way? Anyway, Lovie’s team ended with a field goal and a six-point lead with about 2:20 to go. When Washington got the ball back, I knew the Redskins would march right down the field, with receivers running wide open, and get the game-winning score.
There’s one more thing that dawned me overnight: it was so nice of the Bucs to burn all of their timeouts before the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter. That’s bad coaching. What if they had one timeout left on that final desperation play? Instead of Sims trying a desperation lateral that resulted in a fumble (the clock would’ve run out anyway), Tampa Bay would’ve had the ball on the Washington 39. It’s possible Connor Barth could’ve saved the day with a 56-yarder at the gun. Who knows?
And then there are the penalties – 16 of them for 142 yards. Many of them were 15-yard personal fouls. That’s lack of discipline. That’s bad coaching. Lovie deserves the blame for that.
Lovie Smith has been Tampa Bay’s head coach for 22 games. His record is 4-18. After yesterday’s debacle, I don’t think he deserves to coach his 23rd game in Atlanta next Sunday. We’ll see if the Glazers feel differently.
Photo Courtesy: USA Today
This is the type of game that often costs the head coach his job.
The Buccaneers, up 24-0 at one point against the Redskins, gave it all away. You can add Kirk Cousins to the list of so-so quarterbacks that the Bucs’ defense makes look like a superstar. The clinching score came with just 24 seconds left.
Washington 31, Tampa Bay 30.
Blowing a 24-point lead is bad enough. Then there were the penalties: 16 of them for 142 yards, including more than handful of personal fouls. Then there is the defense, which once again failed to close out a game in the second half. If there is a worse secondary in the NFL, I’d like to see it. Then there is Lovie’s awful clock management at the end of each half. What the heck was up with that play call on 3rd and goal from the 1, late in the fourth quarter, clinging to a three-point lead?
All of that spoiled an otherwise great day for Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and Doug Martin. Don’t blame those guys.
Blame the head coach.
I’m calling for Lovie’s head, and I know I’m not the only Bucs’ fan who feels that way.
Photo Courtesy: AP
If you’re an out-of-town fan like me, you live for the day when the NFL schedule is released. Now we can all start planning trips to Tampa et al.
Without further commentary, here is the 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers schedule:
9/20 @ New Orleans
9/27 @ Houston
10/25 @ Washington
11/1 @ Atlanta
11/8 NY Giants
11/22 @ Philadelphia
11/29 @ Indianapolis
12/13 New Orleans
12/17 @ St. Louis (Thurs.)
1/3 @ Carolina
A note to my readers: now the draft is over (and you all know who the Bucs picked, from Jameis Winston on down) I will be going into hibernation for a little while until training camp/the preseason gets going. I am grateful to everyone who reads this blog, and I look forward to reconnecting with you for the 2015 season!