THE BUCS ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!
After a strong showing on the road in L.A. where they hung 55 points on a good Rams defense, they went into New Orleans to battle for outright first place in the NFC South and brought us all back down to reality.
This could have been a statement game for this team. This could have been an opportunity to take control of the NFC South. This could have been a chance to “stack wins” like their head coach talks about. Instead, it’s another loss, the third in their first five games this season. Instead, they pissed away whatever momentum they built up with the Rams win and will now be flying across the pond to play a Carolina team that’s now won their last 3 games WITHOUT Cam Newton.
As I sit here and ponder about what I just witnessed trying to find something “GOOD” about it, I can’t help but wonder if this is just the same old Bucs with a few new faces. I’m disappointed with the loss, but I’m not surprised. I’m angry about the way they played, but I’m not shocked. That’s what they do. They show up one week and disappear the next. They win the games they should lose and lose the games they should win. They beat quality teams and lose to backup quarterbacks. The inconsistency of this team over the last 15 years or so is infuriating, yet we’re totally used to it.
It’s a shame, and it’s depressing that we’re so accepting of mediocrity and numb to losing. It used to ruin my day and send me into a downward spiral for at least a day or two on the verge of losing my mind. Now, nothing. Sure, I get mad. I get sad. I curse the football gods. I badmouth the team. I question their effort and heart. But after an hour or so, it’s back to regularly scheduled programming, and I move on with my life for the most part. I do start getting a little fired up again when I start writing about them losing yet again, but it doesn’t linger anymore like it used to with me.
Anywho, back to the meat and potatoes. This was a very difficult game to find positives in. There wasn’t much to be happy about. Unfortunately, it was mostly “BAD” and “UGLY”. With that being said, here’s what I came up with this week for the Bucs first matchup of the year with the Saints.
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY
The Lion – Chris Godwin was one of the very few positives in this game. Once again, the third-year player from Penn State showed up to play and finished with 7 catches for 125 yards and 2 touchdowns. He now has 511 yards and 6 touchdowns in 5 games this season.
The Sophomore – Running back, Ronald Jones, continued to show that he can play in this league with splashes of big plays throughout this game. He didn’t light up the stat sheets, finishing with just 9 carries for 35 yards, but he did average 4 yards per carry in this contest. He also added 2 catches for 21 yards. Unfortunately for him, he just didn’t get enough touches.
The Kicker – The rookie Matt Gay continued his string of made kicks. After making all nine of his kicks last week against the Rams (2 field goals, 7 extra points), he made his only field goal attempt from 42 yards and all three of his extra points this week. He seems to have put that missed game-winner behind him so hopefully we fans can do the same.
The Bright Side – If there is a “bright side” or positive spin to put on this loss, it’s that, despite playing like absolute dog shit, they still only lost by one score. I know a loss is a loss. But they played what was arguably their worst game of the season and still only lost by 7 points on the road to a good 3-1 football team. I may be grasping at straws with this one, but like I said, the “GOOD” is tough to find in this one.
The Start – In their last 2 games, the Bucs started hot right out of the gate, scoring 28 points in the first half of each of them. Against the Saints, they only managed to score 10 points in the first half and trailed 17-10 at the break. With New Orleans getting the ball first in the second half, they were playing catch up all the way to the end. This team isn’t built for that. They’re built to score fast and furious, grab early leads, force the other team to throw the ball, then get after the QB and create turnovers. Playing from behind was an issue for this team. Let’s hope it doesn’t continue.
The No Shows – The so-called “superstars” of this team DISAPPEARED for this game on both sides of the ball. Jameis Winston has been playing lights out lately, but never got into a rhythm out there because he was running for his life all night. He finished 15 of 27 (55%) for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns. No interceptions today, but that was pure luck. He had two terribly thrown balls picked off, but they were negated by ticky-tack penalties. Mike Evans finished with ZERO CATCHES and failed to record at least one reception for the first time in 65 games. Apparently, Marshon Lattimore is no longer his son. The Bucs dynamic tight end duo of OJ Howard and Cam Brate COMBINED for 2 catches for 21 yards. That is just unacceptable. At least one of them has to start producing with Evans and Godwin getting most of the attention from the opposing secondary. As far as the defense goes, take your pick. Shaq Barrett failed to record a sack for the first time this season. Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh weren’t getting their usual push up the middle and pressuring the quarterback. I don’t remember hearing Lavonte David’s name all day either. Carlton Davis, the Bucs’ best cover corner, was disqualified early in the game because of the NFL’s new pussified rules. Mike Edwards looked like he was playing scared out there all game shying away from contact on a few occasions. And Vernon Hargreaves, well, I’ll dig into his ass later. Almost EVERY PLAYER that’s had a significant impact on the Bucs play over the first four weeks was an absolute no-show against the Saints.
The O-line – They sucked, period. After not allowing Aaron Donald, Dante Fowler, and Michael Brockers a single sack last week, the entire line was a freaking turnstile against the Saints. They gave up 7 sacks to six different players in the Superdome. That’s absurd! They didn’t allow Jameis Winston ANY TIME AT ALL to throw, let alone allow plays to develop downfield, and they only rushed for 94 yards. This was BY FAR the worst performance by this group so far this season. I don’t know what New Orleans did that the Rams did not do last week, but whatever it was worked. The whole offensive line got their asses kicked in this game. Veteran right tackle Demar Dotson left the game early, and I don’t know if it was due to injury or just because he was getting put on his ass every other play. Either way, it’s a problem. As I’ve said before, his liability is starting to outweigh his reliability, and it may be time for the Bucs to look at other options. Recently signed free agent Josh Wells came in for Dotson but didn’t fare much better, so I’m not so sure that he’s the answer either.
The Defense – Similar to the offensive line, the Bucs front seven were nowhere to be found in New Orleans. Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh were not getting pressure up the middle. The linebacker blitzes weren’t getting home. “Sack Attack” Shaq Barrett didn’t have one for the first time this season. In fact, I don’t even remember him getting close to sacking Bridgewater. They did manage to keep Alvin Kamara somewhat under control, but he still finished with 62 yards rushing (the most allowed by the Bucs to a running back this season) and 42 yards receiving. This defense is predicated on stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback. When they don’t get pressure, you end up with days like today.
The Trenches – They say that football games are won or lost in the trenches. The Bucs lost that battle on both sides against the Saints. The offensive line couldn’t give Jameis Winston any time in the pocket, and the defensive line wasn’t getting any pressure on Teddy Bridgewater whatsoever. It’s hard enough to win in the NFL when a team isn’t doing one of those things (just ask the Chiefs), but it’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE to win if they can’t do either of them.
The Secondary – Oh boy, this secondary. The group that was already on pace to give up THE MOST PASSING YARDS IN A SEASON IN NFL HISTORY gave up a bunch more to the Saints backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Despite throwing for just 535 yards and 2 touchdowns in his previous 3 games COMBINED, this Bucs defense allowed him to complete 26 of 34 passes for 314 yards and 4 touchdowns to 3 different players. Michael Thomas showed up to play (unlike some Bucs players) and finished with 11 catches for 182 yards and 2 touchdowns, but no other Saints receiver had more than 42 yards (Kamara). Part of the issue was Carlton Davis getting ejected, but the whole group played horrible as a unit. The one exception may be safety Jordan Whitehead, who continues to get better in this Todd Bowles system.
The Penalties – The Bucs only finished with 4 penalties for 30 yards, but once again, they were at very inopportune times. This has been an ongoing issue with this team, and it will continue to be until they get more disciplined.
The Finish – In Week 1, this team didn’t “finish”, and they lost. In Week 2, this team did “finish”, and they won. In Week 3, they didn’t “finish” again, and they lost again. In Week 4, they “finished”, and they won. Do you see the pattern there? Bruce Arians talked about the need to finish games all week, but apparently, it didn’t sink in with these guys, because once again, they didn’t “finish”, and once again they lost. Until this team learns how to CONSISTENTLY “finish” games, they will continue to lose these winnable games.
The Numbers – The Saints beat the Bucs in every way possible, and the numbers show it.
Total Plays: TB- 55 NO- 67
Total Yards: TB- 252 NO- 457
3rd Down: TB- 3 of 11 NO- 8 of 15
Passing Yards: TB- 158 NO- 345
Rushing Yards: TB- 94 NO- 112
Time of Poss: TB- 26:33 NO- 33:27
1st Downs: TB- 19 NO- 25
Sacks: TB- 0 NO- 6
This game wasn’t near as close as that 7 point margin says. The sad part is, the Bucs ONLY lost by 7 points DESPITE playing this bad. I’m really trying to use that as the positive take from this game, but it’s really hard to find anything good in this one.
The “Team” – After such a convincing performance in L.A. last week, this “team” came out flat, unprepared and uninspired to play a division rival for what would’ve been outright first place in the NFC South.
HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN?
No, seriously, I’m asking the question. How does a team show up (or NOT show up) to play a division opponent NOT ready to play? I don’t get it. I guess the ugliest part for me is the inconsistency. It’s been the norm here in Tampa for the last 15 years or so and foremost of this team’s 44 years of existence. Good football teams ARE consistent. You know what you’re going to get from them week in and week out. Consistent effort. Consistent preparedness. Consistent performances. Consistent winning. It all goes hand-in-hand with good football teams. Despite being 5 games in with a new coaching staff, new systems, new philosophies, and a new culture, this team just isn’t there yet. At this point, I’m not even sure they ever will be. It may just be the Buccaneers’ way to be consistently inconsistent.
The Gator – Vernon Hargreaves. What can I say? Ever since he got to Tampa in 2016, I have been a fan of his. I’ve continued to support him when other fans were wanting him benched or even gone. I’ve always blamed the system for his inadequacies and poor play. But now he’s out of those excuses. Now he’s playing in a system that he SHOULD be thriving in. A system similar to the style he played in college at Florida. Yet he’s still struggling. He got used and abused by the Saints’ Michael Thomas all game long to the tune of 11 catches for 182 yards and 2 touchdowns. I can’t say for sure that ALL 11 catches were against Hargreaves, but I will say that MOST of them were. Some were him being out of position, and some were just him getting flat out beat. I realize that Thomas is a handful and that it’s tough for anyone to cover him one-on-one, but 11 catches for 182 yards? Come on, man. And he’s not the only receiver to put up big numbers on this defense this year. In Week 1, Greg Olsen had 6 catches for 110 yards. In Week 3, Evan Engram had 6 catches for 113 yards, and Sterling Shepard had 7 catches for 100 yards. In Week 4, Robert Woods had 13 catches for 164 yards, and Cooper Kupp had 9 catches for 121 yards. Unfortunately, VH3 has been on the wrong end of most of these performances. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want him gone. I just want him to play better. I want him to live up to the hype of being the 11th pick of the 2016 Draft. He needs to be better. He has to be better. This whole secondary has to be better or this team is in real trouble.
The Officiating – I’m not usually one to blame a loss on bad officiating, especially in football, where there are so many other factors that go into winning or losing a ball game. HOWEVER, this officiating crew sucked! There were AT LEAST three questionable calls that I can think of that had a tremendous influence on the outcome of this game. The first was the decision to eject cornerback Carlton Davis for “targeting”. Do I agree that it should’ve been a penalty? Sure, I suppose. In this new age NFL, what isn’t a penalty on the defense? But even though it was a penalty, it didn’t warrant an ejection. The second bad call was the CLEAR fumble recovery by Antony Auclair after the muffed punt by the Saints. The third bad call, or no call as it was, was the offensive pass interference committed by Michael Thomas when he CLEARLY pushed off on Vernon Hargreaves on that long reception. This crew was terrible all day. Last week, Saints coach Sean Payton was bragging that his team was 13-1 in games with that particular officiating crew. Who knows, maybe the Saints have a similar winning record with this week’s crew as well.
It’s so damn hard to be a die-hard Buccaneers fan. It’s a miracle that this team still has what little loyal fan base it does. There’s not many of us left. That’s evident during every “home” game at Raymond James Stadium. The toughest part is the inconsistency that I talked about earlier. I would rather see this team lose EVERY WEEK and suck EVERY YEAR than go through what we go through EVERY SEASON. They show flashes of brilliance one week and then shit the bed the next. I would probably be much happier if they just consistently sucked every week.
Now this team is 2-3 heading to London to play a surging Carolina team that’s now won three straight games WITHOUT Cam Newton. Coaches always talk about how hard it is to win games in the NFL. It’s even harder to beat a team twice in one season. This is a MUST WIN GAME for the Buccaneers. They cannot lose this one. It’s a “home game”. It’s a division game, and it’s the last game before their Week 7 bye. If they lose two in a row before their week off, then who knows what it will do to this young team’s confidence.
Even though I’m usually writing doom, and gloom after a loss like this, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The Bucs schedule gets a little bit easier after their bye. IF they can beat the Panthers in London, and IF they can at least split the next two games in Tennessee and Seattle, they’ll be sitting at 4-4 midway through the season with five of their final eight games at home. Up until this Saints game, I thought all eight of them were very winnable. But with this team, there’s no such thing. Then again, there is this Bruce Arians factor. In his first year with the Cardinals, they started the 2013 season 2-2 before dropping to 3-5 at the midway point. They proceeded to win seven of their last eight games to finish 10-6 and just barely missed out on the playoffs. Maybe this Bucs team can do something similar? We’ll see how they do across the pond first!
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!