If any of us had forgotten what it feels like to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, we all got a painful reminder on Thursday.
The Bucs went into Chicago riding a three-game win streak and took a fake 3-1 Bears team right down to the wire before losing 20-19 in the end. A 13-0 Bucs lead late in the first half vanished within two minutes, and they never regained the momentum. The passing game never got on track, but that’s no surprise missing as many pieces as they were. The defense didn’t play bad, but they didn’t step up when it really counted. Bad coaching. Bad playcalling. Bad execution. Really bad officiating. It all contributed to the Bucs losing their second game of the year and falling to 3-2 on the season.
I really had to reach down deep to find ANYTHING “good” about this game. I came up with a few, but they weren’t enough to outweigh all the “bad” things that caused this loss. And as for my “ugly” for this week, I think everyone will agree with me on that one. So without any further delay, let’s take a look at what I saw so that we can put this loss behind us and move on.
Ronald Jones II FINALLY played his first game as the Bucs primary back, and he didn’t disappoint. He finished this game with 17 carries for 106 yards for a 6.2 yards per carry average. He also added 3 catches for 19 yards as well. This was RoJo’s second straight 100-yard game and just the third of his career. He now has 359 yards through 5 games, averaging nearly 5 yards per carry, and is on pace for 1,150 yards for the season.
Ryan Succop was one of the few bright spots in this game, hitting all four of his field-goal attempts and his only extra point. He is now 9 of 11 on field goals and 14 of 15 on extra points this season.
The Harvard Grad
With the season-ending injury to OJ Howard, Cam Brate stepped it up with 5 catches for 44 yards. It was good to see him FINALLY involved in this offense. And I’m sure that Tom Brady is saying the same thing since he’s been lobbying for Brate to have a bigger role all season.
The Bucs rookies played well yet again as they have all season. Rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs had his hands full with Chicago’s Khalil Mack and finally gave up his first sack of the entire season early in the second half of this game. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr finished this game with 5 tackles and a pass defensed. And wide receiver Tyler Johnson had a bigger role in the offense with Chris Godwin AND Justin Watson out for this game, and all he did was lead the team with 4 catches for 61 yards, ALL in the first half. This year’s rookie class is really stepping up so far this season, and they should be exciting to watch grow up as the season progresses.
To say the defense was “bad” in this game might not be accurate. They did hold the Bears to just 243 total yards. They only allowed 35 rushing yards. They only gave up 208 passing yards to Nick Foles. And they only gave up 6 points in the second half. The problem is that all six of those points came in the final 2:21 of the game, which gave the Bears a one-point lead. Until Sunday, Tom Brady had won an NFL best 42 games in a row when his team had led by 13 points or more. That streak was ended by Foles and the Bears; because the Bucs defense couldn’t do their job at the end of the game.
Yes, they were missing Chris Godwin. Yes, they were missing OJ Howard. Yes, they were missing Justin Watson. Yes, they were missing LeSean McCoy. Yes, they were missing Leonard Fournette. Yes, Mike Evans was playing on one leg. But this Bucs team still had plenty of other offensive firepower. Tom Brady finished 25 for 41 for 252 yards and a touchdown. It’s not the stat line that earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week last week, but it wasn’t a bad game. Ronald Jones II had his second straight 100-yard game. And 8 different receivers caught balls with four of them having at least 40 yards. However, they didn’t produce the points. They only managed three field goals in the final three-quarters of this game. THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE, especially with all the talent that they have on that side of the ball.
It continues to be an issue five games into the season. Yes, the officiating in this game was absurd at times, but that’s no excuse. The Buccaneers had 11 penalties for 109 yards. On one drive in the second half alone, the Bucs committed five offensive penalties in six plays. That’s ridiculous. That’s undisciplined. That’s “poor coaching” according to Bruce Arians. Donovan Smith now has more penalties in these first five games (7) than he did all of last season AND leads the league. Carlton Davis is right behind him with six of his own this season. Last year, Shaq Barrett and Demar Dotson led all Bucs players with ten penalties each. That shows you the kind of pace that these guys are on this year. No matter who is to blame, it needs to be corrected. Quickly.
This Bucs team has yet to put together four quarters of solid football on both sides of the ball. We keep waiting for it to happen, but it’s not. The offensive line that was starting to be talked about as one of the top five in football looked lost for most of the game, especially in pass protection. Tom Brady got hit more in this game than he did in the first four games combined. Is the Bears pass rush that good? I don’t think so.
At one point, the Bucs were dominating the Bears statistically, but then the wheels just fell off. The Bucs went one for their last eight on third-down conversions. Brady was 2 of 7 for 16 yards on his final two drives. And the Bucs came into this game with the NFL’s best red-zone offense scoring 80% of the time, but only went 1 for 3 against the Bears.
The Bucs coaching staff should be taking some of the blame for this loss after what happened in this game. Even Bruce Arians said that they got “outplayed AND outcoached” in the 4th quarter against the Bears. There were a number of questionable play calls throughout this game, but the most costly ones were in the 4th quarter. Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher decision was the 4th & 1 call to kick a field goal from the Bears 7 yard line with 4:52 left in the game, trailing 17-16 instead of going for the first down. Earlier in the game, the Bucs did try for a 4th & 1 conversion on their own 19-yard line and got it. Why not do the same here? I do understand the temptation to take the easy points with the 25-yard field goal, but it still only gives them a two-point lead with nearly five minutes left in the game. Another fourth-down conversion not only gives them a few more shots at a touchdown, but it takes more time off the clock. If they don’t get it, the Bears take over inside their own 10-yard line, and the Bucs have a chance at forcing a punt and flipping the field to get a shot at a game-winning field goal. I just don’t get the decision here.
The Bucs offense had two drives in the final three minutes of this game and could’ve put it away. They couldn’t get it done. They got the ball with 2:48 left with a 19-17 lead and a chance to run out the clock, but instead had a quick three and out, taking just 16 seconds off the clock. The Bears got the ball back with 2:21 left and marched down the field to kick the go-ahead field goal. But for some reason, Chicago left Tom Brady 1:15 on the clock and gave him a chance to win this game. Five plays later, the Bucs were turning the ball over on downs with 38 seconds left, and the Bears ended the game taking a knee.
After losing this Thursday night game, the Bucs now have a “mini bye” week. It’s good because it gives some of these guys a few extra days to get treatment and get healthy. On the other hand, for us fans, the wait is brutal. We have to live for a week and a half with the shitty taste of this loss in our mouths. That’s not fun.
The No Shows
After averaging 6 targets and 83 yards in the last two games, Scotty Miller wasn’t even looked at in this game. In a game where they were missing Chris Godwin AND Justin Watson, the Bucs leading receiver was nowhere to be found. I expected BIG things from Miller this season with Brady at quarterback and still do, but if he’s going to be the #3 WR on this team, he can’t have games like this one.
Shaq Barrett also disappeared against the Bears. He finished this game with just 2 solo tackles and zero sacks. In a game where three other Bucs players, Jason Pierre-Paul, Vita Vea, and Will Gholston all got to the quarterback, Barrett did not. In a game where the Bucs needed their “star pass rusher” to make a play to end this game, he couldn’t get it done. If he wants to be one of the “elites” in the NFL, that needs to be his time to shine, not fade away.
The Injury Bug
Things were already bad before this game, and they were even worse afterward. The Bucs went into Chicago down Chris Godwin, Justin Watson, Leonard Fournette, and LeSean McCoy AND had lost OJ Howard for the season. Now they are losing one of their key defensive players too. Vita Vea suffered a broken ankle against the Bears when Devin White rolled him up during a tackle. It’s very unfortunate after the season he was having so far. Bruce Arians said that he didn’t know if there was a better nose tackle in the league right now. Vea was a big part of the Bucs top-ranked run defense, so it will be interesting to see how his loss impacts the team’s effectiveness there. Arians said that Raheem Nunez-Roches will be taking his place. At least as much as he can. Vea will be tough to “replace” in the middle.
A hold on Vita Vea. A hold on Ndamukong Suh. A hold on Shaq Barrett. A hit at the knees of Tom Brady. None of them called. The “roughing the passer” on Shaq Barrett. The “pass interference” on Carlton Davis. The “helmet to helmet” on the Bears Kyle Fuller. All questionable calls. This was the worst officiated game that I’ve seen in a long time. I’m not blaming the refs for this loss by any stretch. The Bucs deserved what they got by playing the way they did. However, no football fan enjoys watching a poorly officiated game. And THIS game, was very poorly officiated. Bruce Arians wouldn’t comment on it during his post-game press conference, but I will. This crew was terrible.
I was already on the fence about this team BEFORE the Thursday night game. After this game, I’m not buying into the hype any longer. Not until they can prove they are capable of playing four quarters of consistently good football. The bad thing is that despite all of the talents on this roster, I don’t think they are capable of that. They haven’t done it in these first five games, so why should we think any differently? There are teams with much less talent and much less experienced coaching staffs that have been playing better football this season. So what’s wrong with the Bucs? They don’t have any excuses this season; it’s do or die time, it’s win or walk time, and it’s put up or shut-up-time. No more talking about getting better or building chemistry.
It’s now. Just do it.
And what better measuring stick is there than to have Aaron Rodgers and the 4-0 Green Bay Packers come to town? This is it. This is the game that could determine the rest of the Bucs season. A win could give this team the confidence it needs to finish the season strong and make a playoff push. A second straight loss could be devastating to the psyche of this young team. We’re going to find out if Tom Brady has truly changed the culture of this franchise next week. And I’ll be there to see it first hand.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!