Well, it wasn’t the season opener that Bucs fans were hoping for, but it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. Even though I picked the Buccaneers to lose this game earlier this year when the schedule came out, I was still disappointed in the end result. But should we be? They lost by 11 points to a pretty good Saints team in New Orleans AND played like crap doing it. Like I said, it could’ve been worse.
This is my Good, Bad and Ugly column that I started last season, where I pick out the good things, the bad things, and an ugly thing about each game. This week, there was a bunch of each.
Sure the Saints scored 34 points in this game, but most of them weren’t the defense’s fault. If I told you that Drew Brees would only go 18 of 30 for 160 yards, Alvin Kamara would only have 12 carries for 16 yards and Michael Thomas would be held to 3 catches for 17 yards, you’d probably think the Saints had lost this game. With the exception of a few bad plays, the defense played pretty well for their first game. And they’ll only get better.
Ronald Jones II had a pretty good season opener with 17 carries for 66 yards averaging 4 yards per carry. He only lost five carries to recently signed Leonard Fournette and the Bucs played most of this game from behind which also cut into his touches, but he was productive when he did run it. This Tampa Bay backfield is going to be exciting once Fournette gets a full grasp of the playbook. It will be interesting to see what happens with RoJo when he does, but until then it looks as though RoJo is the workhorse of this backfield for now.
The Little White Guy
I said it as soon as Tom Brady was signed, “KEEP YOUR EYE ON SCOTTY MILLER THIS SEASON!” Against the Saints, he finished with 5 catches for 73 yards while averaging 15 yards per catch. It looks as though he and Brady have already developed a pretty good connection. And it will only get stronger from here.
The Young Secondary
With the exception of two big plays to Saints tight end Jared Cook, the Bucs secondary played extremely well, holding what some consider the best receiver in the league Michael Thomas to just 3 catches for 17 yards and no touchdowns. And for those blaming cornerback Jamel Dean for that long pass to Cook down the sideline late in the game, you van stop. Coach Arians said that it was NOT on Dean. It was actually on safety Andrew Adams who was supposed to be helping over the top in Cover 2, but instead, he bit on an inside route and left Dean out to dry. Other than the two catches by Cook and a couple of ticky-tack pass interference calls, this young group more than held their own against the Hall of Famer Drew Brees and Sean Payton.
The Dynamic Duo
Lavonte David and Devin White might just be the best inside linebacker duo in all of football. Both of them lit up the stat sheet in this game with 11 tackles each. David almost single-handedly stopped one Saints drive with back to back plays for loss of yards. These two speedsters are so much fun to watch, and they’re just getting started.
Relax folks. Tom Brady is now 14-4 in Week 1 games for his career. The other three losses in his first game all began seasons, where he ended up in the Super Bowl. He’s on a new team. He’s learning a new playbook. He’s learning his new teammates. They had limited time in training camp and no preseason games. These things take time. I picked the Bucs to lose this game back in May for that very reason. Brady isn’t done. He hasn’t lost it. He isn’t too old. He’s still the GOAT, and he’ll be fine. Look for him to bounce back in a HUGE way next week against Carolina. Oh, and by the way, the Buccaneers lost in New Orleans in Week 1 in 2002 on their way to a Super Bowl win as well.
After the game, Tom Brady did what every good quarterback does after a poor game, and accepted blame for the loss and the turnovers. No excuses. No pointing fingers. No throwing other guys under the bus. It was all on him. Well, according to Bruce Arians, that’s not entirely accurate. On the first pick, Brady read the defense one way and threw the ball down the middle of the field, and Mike Evans read the defense another way and cut his route off. Turns out Mike was wrong. However, on the pick-six, it was ALL on Brady. Arians said that play was supposed to be a screen set up on the left with a quick out on the right side. Brady not only made the wrong decision, but he also threw the ball inside and low instead of high and outside. It was an easy pitch and catch for a Saints touchdown. Those are easily fixable for a seasoned vet like him. It’s just going to take practice and reps. Brady finished 23-36 for 239 yards, and 2 touchdowns as well. If you factor in the four pass interference calls for 101 yards by the Saints, he potentially could’ve been 27-40 for 340 yards. For a guy seeing his first live-action with a new playbook and new teammates against a pretty solid pass defense, those are very good numbers.
The Not-So-Special Teams
In addition to the two interceptions by Brady, the Bucs special teams had a bad day as well. There was a blocked field goal attempt from 54 yards, which is the same thing as a turnover in my book. There was the muffed kickoff on the pooch kick where safety Mike Edwards ran backward to try catching the ball over his shoulder and ran into returner Jaydon Mickens that would result in a turnover. Then there was the punt coverage team that allowed 14 yards per return for the game. Each one of those mistakes led to a favorable field position for the Saints and points on the board. That stuff has to be corrected, or this team will continue to beat itself all season long.
The Bucs had nine penalties for 109 yards. What was even worse was the timing of most of those penalties. There were two neutral zone infractions by Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea, one on 4th & 2 that kept a drive alive for the Saints. There were two big pass interference calls, one of them somewhat questionable that resulted in a 33 yard gain down to the Bucs 6 yard line and then a 6-yard touchdown run by Alvin Kamara on the very next play. Mental errors that shouldn’t happen, but did. Hopefully, the Bucs can get this type of stuff corrected quickly, or this is going to be another disappointing year for all of us.
Losing to a division rival is always bad. But when you could’ve taken the outright lead in the division right out of the gate, it stings just a little bit worse. Both the Falcons AND the Panthers lost on Sunday. Had the Bucs pulled out this win in New Orleans, they would’ve been the ONLY 1-0 team in the NFC South after Week 1. Yes, I know it’s early. But division games are ALWAYS important, and this one could come back to haunt them later this season if the division/playoff race is tight.
Last year, left tackle Donovan Smith signed a 3yr/$41.25 million contract with $27 million guaranteed. Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan celebrated by tweeting out, “Food solidified for another three years!“. At $13.75 million per year, that makes Smith the 9th highest-paid left tackle in football. More than the Niners Trent Williams. More than the Cowboys Tyron Smith. More than the Chiefs Eric Fisher. More than the Packers David Bakhtiari. And more than the Vikings Riley Reiff. How’s that taste?
On Sunday, Smith gave up two sacks AND at least two tackles for loss on run plays; that I can remember. He finished the game with a 73.9% pass block win-rate, which ranked him 129th among ALL offensive linemen on Sunday and 54th out of 58 offensive tackles. That’s unacceptable. Especially when you’re responsible for protecting the blindside of a 43-year-old Hall of Fame quarterback. Bruce Arians agreed, saying that Smith probably had the easiest guy to block from the Saints d-line and did a poor job. He went on to say that “It was one of his worst games, but I expect him to bounce back next week.” He’d better. Or he won’t be protecting Brady’s blindside much longer. Especially after the debut performance that rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs had lined up against All-Pro Cameron Jordan. He only gave up two pressures on 41 dropbacks and vastly outplayed Smith on the outside.
Well, there you have it. My take on the Buccaneers Week 1 loss in New Orleans. Now, it’s time to put it behind us and look forward to the Carolina Panthers coming to town. Another division game and another chance for Tom Brady to prove he’s still got it. Unfortunately, none of us will be inside Raymond James to see it in person. Hopefully, we will be, eventually.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!