DIFFERENT COUNTRY. SAME RESULT.
I’m not even sure what to say at this point. I’m at a loss for words. This team usually doesn’t live up to the hype or expectations, but this year felt different. With this new “all-star” coaching staff and the free-agent additions, there was even more excitement and higher hopes than normal. However, here in Tampa Bay, that just means bigger disappointment and heartbreak.
After a gut-wrenching loss to the Saints, this was the Bucs opportunity to keep pace with them in the division and put some space between them and the Panthers. Instead, they flew all the way to London to lose a “home game” against a less talented division opponent. They couldn’t block. They couldn’t throw. They couldn’t catch. They couldn’t run. They couldn’t cover. They couldn’t do much of anything right, and they lost a “must-win” game because of it.
It wasn’t a fun game to watch, and they didn’t make it easy for me to find ANYTHING good about their performance, but after some careful thought, I have come up with a few even though I might be stretching a bit with them. As far as the bad and the ugly go, well those were much easier to figure out. So without any further adieu, here’s what I came up with for this Week 6 matchup of the Bucs vs Panthers in London.
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY
The Special Teams – This was the only group that actually made the flight to London apparently. With the exception of returner Bobo Wilson, who fumbled a punt that the Panthers recovered, the Bucs special teams unit did some good things in this game. Punter Bradley Pinion pinned Carolina inside their 1-yard line with the help of gunner Ryan Smith on one punt. Unfortunately, the defense, then allowed the Panthers to march 99-yards and run almost 8-minutes off the clock on their way to a touchdown. Smith also forced a fumble on a Carolina punt return, which the Buccaneers recovered, giving them great field position. Rookie kicker Matt Gay nailed his only field goal attempt of the game from 54-yards out and also made his only extra-point try. This group wasn’t perfect, but they produced some of the few Buccaneer highlights for the day.
The Run D – The Bucs defense was once again able to shut down Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey holding him to 22 carries for just 31 yards, or a 1.4 yards per carry average. In his other 4 games NOT against the Bucs, McCaffrey has totaled 209 yards from scrimmage, 188 yards from scrimmage, 179 yards from scrimmage, and 237 yards from scrimmage. In both games versus the Bucs, he’s only totaled 110 yards from scrimmage. They may not be able to stop ANYONE from passing on them, but this defense can focus-in on the opposing running back and shut down the run.
The “#2 Guy” – Chris Godwin continued his impressive season, finishing with 10 catches for 151 yards, which gives him 43 catches for 662 yards and 6 touchdowns for this season so far. He’s on pace to have a career year, but is it because he’s that talented, or is he simply taking advantage of the attention that Mike Evans is getting? I think it’s a little of both, but does it really matter? He’s producing, which is more than I can say about some other guys.
The Bye – Usually after a bad game/loss like this, I’d say the best thing is for this team to put it behind them and get back to work preparing for their next opponent.
At this point, I’m glad this team has a bye, it gives them a chance to step back and take a good look at what exactly has gone wrong in these first 6 games. It allows this loss to sink in and fester a bit, and I think it needs to.
Jameis Winston once said that he wants to be surrounded by guys who hate to lose more than they want to win. Every player on this team needs to do some soul searching to figure out if that’s the case. If not, then this loser mentality that has grown to be the culture around here in One Buc will continue, and so will the losing.
The Return – As I mentioned before, special teams was one of the few bright spots in London. The return of Ryan Smith was a big part of that. Not only did he field the Bradley Pinion punt that pinned the Panthers inside their own one-yard line, but he had a forced fumble on a Carolina punt return as well. It was good to see him back in action after his 4-game suspension for PEDs.
The “Franchise QB” – Oh Jameis. What are we gonna do with you, man? In a year where he’s surrounded by an experienced coaching staff and the “Quarterback Whisperer” himself, where he is playing for a new contract that could potentially set him and his family up for life, he goes out in the sixth game of the season and throws a career-high five interceptions AND fumbles twice losing one of them. By the way, he was also 30 of 54 for 400 yards and a touchdown, but does that even matter?
HE TURNED THE BALL OVER SIX TIMES!
That just can’t happen. He knows that. So when does it stop? This is his fifth season.
At some point, the young age isn’t an excuse anymore. At some point this season, Jason Licht will have to decide if Jameis Winston is the Buccaneers franchise quarterback of the future and worthy of a new $150 million contract. I’d hate to be in his shoes for this one.
At this point, he may be looking at this upcoming 2020 NFL Draft, and asking himself which one of those superstar QB’s he’ll be targeting with their first-round pick. Games like this don’t help.
Winston is now 102 of 166 (61%) for 1,771 yards with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He says it every week in his postgame presser, and it’s pretty obvious he has to be better. If he doesn’t “get better”, I don’t even think he’s going to earn a franchise tag for next season. If he doesn’t “get better”, then we might be seeing Ryan Griffin’s first regular-season start at some point this year. If he doesn’t “get better”, then this team will continue to lose games that they should be winning.
They committed 7 turnovers in this game and only lost by 11 points. Hell, they even had a chance to come back at the end of this game, but the supposed “franchise QB” of this Buccaneers team threw that chance away, literally. No, not all of the picks were his fault. No, he wasn’t getting much time back there in the pocket. Yes, his receivers were dropping balls all day. But at the end of the day, whether it’s fair or not, the blame falls at his feet. It’s part of being a quarterback. He’ll be the first to tell you that. And he continually says that he needed to be better. Well, he needs to stop saying it every week and do it already. He’s running out of time quickly!
The NO-line – The Bucs offensive line has been quite offensive all season, especially in pass protection. In London, it was at it’s worst. We all knew it was going to be an issue with right tackle Demar Dotson and right guard Alex Cappa being out, but it was even worse than we could’ve expected.
They allowed the Panthers to sack Jameis Winston seven times, including three by former Buc Gerald McCoy. At one point in the first half, Winston had dropped back 11 times and had been sacked 4 times and hit 7 times. That means that he had been hit every time he had dropped back to pass.
Was it all Earl Watford and Josh Wells’s faults? Of course not. The entire o-line played like hot garbage. Even Ali Marpet, who’s been having a Pro Bowl type season, got called for a hold that negated a big play by Ronald Jones.
Winning in the trenches is all about who wants it more. So far this season, the Bucs opposing defensive lines have wanted it more than the Bucs offensive line, and it shows. This starting unit probably won’t be whole again until Week 9 in Seattle, so they’re going to need this bye week to figure out how to get through their Week 8 game in Tennessee without getting Jameis Winston killed.
The Juice – Apparently the juice is not loose. It’s actually souring. After 6 games, Howard now has 13 catches for 176 yards and no touchdowns. He hasn’t seen many opportunities in Arians offense, so far this season, but offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich says that will change soon. I think it needs to.
There are now rumors swirling of Howard possibly being traded for the right price. I’m not so sure that will happen. But should he stay in Tampa, he needs to step his game up.
He had three drops that I can remember against the Panthers, and that’s simply unacceptable. He may be a better in-line blocker than Cam Brate, but he’s definitely not the best pass catcher. He was supposed to be the total package tight end when the Bucs drafted him in 2017, and I was all for that pick, but he needs to start living up to that first-round pick status soon, or the Bucs may be tempted to trade him for a new #1 cornerback.
The Drops – I’m not sure exactly how many drops there were in this game, but there were too damn many. Especially from Mike Evans. I think he dropped at least four passes, including two that would’ve been huge gains.
The “#1 Guy” – Mike Evans considers himself one of the top receivers in the NFL, and there’s no doubt that the talent is there. However, in order to be considered one of the best, he can’t have games like this or like the one he had last week in New Orleans, where he was held without a catch for the first time in 56 games.
Sure he finished with 9 catches for 96 yards, so he didn’t have a bad game on paper. However, he also had 4 drops, and two of those drops were on beautifully thrown deep balls from Jameis Winston. For whatever reason, Evans said that he was having a lot of trouble “tracking the ball” in this game. But this isn’t a new problem for Mike. He’s had issues throughout his career with drops, even leading the league one season.
Some people consider him one of the NFL’s top receivers. He seems to think he’s in that “elite” category. But in order to be “elite”, you can’t drop passes EVER. Deandre Hopkins is widely considered to be the best in the game right now. Why? Because he catches EVERYTHING. In 2018, he caught a Texans franchise-record 115 passes and had ZERO DROPS. Mike Evans had four against Carolina alone, and that’s just not getting it done. I love Big Mike to death, but he’s got to do better. He knows that, and I think he’ll respond by rising to the challenge.
The Showing – Buccaneers fans showed up in London to watch their team play. Unfortunately, the Bucs didn’t show up to play for them. Bruce Arians keeps saying that “the guys played hard” and “the effort was there” and “we had a great week of practice” (insert Lovie Smith joke here), but that’s not how it seems to me. This team has the talent, so being physically prepared to play is not the issue. They have an all-star coaching staff in place, so being mentally prepared is not the issue. So what’s left? Heart. Will. Desire. Effort. Want. All four of their losses can be attributed to a lack of any combination of those things. If they think I’m wrong, then they need to prove it to me.
The “Team” – These guys may claim to have a “great locker room”, but I’m not so sure that I believe it. There has to be some animosity. Some finger-pointing. Some lack of leadership. Some lack of accountability. Some lack of responsibility. There has to be a lack of belief at this point. A lack of belief in themselves, in each other, in the coaching staff, in the game plans, in the systems, and/or in the culture. Either way, this “team” is not ready to take the next step.
I am rapidly losing faith in this team and this coaching staff. I understand that it takes time for a team to get adjusted to new coaches and new systems, but we’re now 6 games into this season, and the team seems to be getting worse. They really need to take this bye week and get their shit together. They need to refocus. They need to reconnect. They need to figure out what this team is about. Are they really “One team. One cause.” Or are they not?
Next up after the bye is the Tennessee Titans, who have now lost two in a row and sit at 2-4 just like the Buccaneers. They also could be in the middle of a quarterback controversy after head coach Mike Vrabel benched starting QB Marcus Mariota and brought in Ryan Tannehill during their 16-0 loss to the Broncos. If the Bucs lose to this Titans team coming off of a bye week, then they’ll really be in trouble. This is one of the few “winnable games” left on their remaining schedule. If they can’t get it done against them, then they may not even get to that 5-11 mark as they have in the last two seasons. We’ll see on October 27 in Nashville.
Until then, as always, “GO BUCS!!”
[Image Credit: The New York Post]