Well, Bucs fans, we’ve waited half the season for it to happen, and it finally did…
THE WHEELS CAME OFF.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. It was inevitable. It’s the Buccaneers. I’m just surprised that it took this long, even with Tom Brady at quarterback. Despite being back home in Raymond James Stadium. Despite playing on primetime television on Sunday Night Football. Despite it being a division opponent. And despite this being what should’ve been a revenge game for that Week 1 loss in New Orleans. The 6-2 Bucs got their ass handed to them by the 5-2 Saints in what can only be described as a 38-3 curb-stomping in front of about 16,000 home fans. From the opening kickoff, until Jameis Winston took four straight knees to end this game, it was an absolute embarrassment. The Bucs got outcoached, out schemed, outplayed, out hustled, and out-muscled for 60 minutes. It was never even close.
As I said after that terrible performance in the Giants game last week, this is not a good football team. They’re just not. And they got exposed for the frauds that they are against Drew Brees and the Saints. Just like last week, I had a very hard time finding anything “GOOD” about this football game. At least for the Bucs. There was plenty “GOOD” about what the Saints did, but I don’t write about the Bucs opponents. I write about the Bucs. And right now, there’s nothing “GOOD” about this football team. On the flip side, there’s plenty of “BAD” and “UGLY” about them, so let’s get into it.
Nothing specific like the fact that the Bucs “high scoring” offense FINALLY put 3 points on the board with four minutes left in the game or that the defense held the Saints to just seven second-half points. Just that this game came to an end. That the clock hit zero; and put Bucs fans out of their misery. That we didn’t have to watch this Bucs team play another snap of football on Sunday. That’s it. That was the ONLY good thing about this game.
“Bad” isn’t even the word. The Bucs ran the ball four times for 9 yards. Tom Brady was 22 of 38 (58%) for 209 yards, no touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. His passer rating of 29.2 was the second-lowest in 294 career games. It was just the second time in 294 games where he had zero touchdowns and 3 interceptions and the first time since his 2006 season. The Bucs had just 194 yards of total offense, their lowest output since 2014, AND it was the fifth-fewest allowed by the Saints in the Payton/Brees era. It took the Bucs until 4 minutes into the second quarter to get their first 1st down and nearly 55 minutes to put points on the board. Despite the extensive arsenal of receiving weapons on their roster, Mike Evans was their leading receiver with 4 catches for 64 yards.
With 11:44 left in the second quarter, the Saints were already winning 21-0, had outgained the Bucs in total offense 202-25, AND had 12 first downs while the Bucs had none. Their first four possessions were three and outs. By the end of the game, the Saints had run 73 offensive plays to the Bucs 46 plays, doubled them up on first downs 27 to 13, outgained them in total offense 420 to 194, and doubled them up on the time of possession 40:04 to 19:56.
Tampa Bay had 1st & goal from the Saints 1-yard line and couldn’t punch it in. Despite coming into this game a perfect 22 for 22 in goal-to-go situations this year, they couldn’t score for the first time this season. The fact that they passed the ball three times out of four passing plays from the 1-yard line tells you how ineffective the offensive line was in this game. The Saints won this game in the trenches, no doubt about it.
Sofff-T with a capital T. That’s all I can say about the way this group played. Soft, just like the coverage that the Bucs corners were playing all night long for some reason. Instead of getting better, these guys are somehow getting worse. The Bucs defense came into this game ranked in the top five in the NFL, allowing just 20.6 points and 299 yards per game. The Saints were up 31-0 at halftime and already had 285 yards of total offense.
After the game, Bruce Arians said that their defensive game plan was to rush four guys and play zone defense on the back end. That turned out to be a TERRIBLE coaching decision. Not only were the Bucs not getting to Drew Brees with their front four, but he was able to stand in the pocket and pick that zone defense apart all game long. He ended up 26 of 32 for 222 yards and 4 touchdowns. He completed passes to twelve different receivers, and they had five players with at least 30 yards receiving. They also had three different players with at least 39 rushing yards who averaged at least 3.9 yards per carry, including Taysom Hill, who had 7 carries for 54 yards and a 7.7 yards per carry average.
What happened to that aggressive, blitz-happy defense that harassed Aaron Rodgers and suffocated that high scoring Green Bay Packers offense a few weeks ago? I want those guys back. This defense was not aggressive. It wasn’t fast. They were missing tackles. They were missing assignments. There were at least two occasions where Lavonte David was jumping up and down trying to get someone’s attention because somebody was out of place. They looked lost. They looked stumped; And that’s never a good thing.
Maybe Sean Payton and Drew Brees just have Todd Bowles number. Out of the 25 games Bowles has been the Bucs defensive coordinator, the opposing quarterback has completed 75% or more of their passes just five times. The Saints have done it in three of their four games. All other teams just twice in 21 games. Maybe Jameis Winston gave them some inside intel. Maybe the Saints offense is just that good. Or maybe, just maybe, this Bucs defense isn’t what it had been built up to be this season.
The Bucs got out coached in this game, but not necessarily during the game. It was before the game when the coaching staff was putting their game plans together. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich did not make the necessary adjustments to his playcalling, despite seeing how much his offensive line was missing left guard Ali Marpet. Even after watching Tom Brady get hammered throughout the first half, he never changed his game plan. And I won’t even talk about the four calls from the 1-yard line.
As for the defensive side of the ball, I’m not sure what led to the boneheaded decision to only rush their front four and play zone coverage against one of the smartest quarterbacks of all time. The defensive line wasn’t getting to Brees. The cornerbacks were playing 10 yards off the line, so the Saints receivers had no problems getting into their routes and getting underneath the coverage. It was probably like shooting fish in a barrel for Brees. And just like Leftwich, Bowles never made any adjustments. None. What’s that old saying? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.
Brady vs Brees on Sunday Night Football. It was supposed to be a marquis matchup on primetime. It was anything but that. In the first half, Brees was 18 of 23 for 189 yards and 3 touchdowns. Brady was 9 of 19 for 64 yards and an interception. Brees finished 26 of 32 (83%) for 222 yards and 4 touchdowns. Brady, on the other hand, was 22 of 38 (58%) for 209 yards and 3 interceptions.
This game was excruciatingly painful to watch. I haven’t seen the Bucs play that bad on both sides of the ball in a very long time. The 38-3 loss matched the most lopsided loss at home in franchise history, which was a 44-9 loss to the Bears during their 1985 Super Bowl season. It was also the most lopsided score of ANY game this NFL season. So that’s awesome.
The Bucs have definitely not played their best or even good football over the last couple of weeks. They nearly lost to the 1-6 Giants. Then they got destroyed by the Saints at home. It’s been two weeks of Buccaneers football that I’d like to forget about. But I can’t. It’s burned into my memory. It feels too familiar. It brings back bad memories of the last 18 or so years of disappointing, underachieving Bucs teams.
It has me worried.
Now that they’ve choked and given up first place in the NFC South, this game against the Panthers in Carolina on Sunday is even more important. It’s their first “must-win” of the season. At 6-3, they have to win to keep pace with the Saints, who now have a clear advantage in tiebreakers when it comes to the division. But that’s not all. After the Panthers, the Bucs have the Rams AND the Chiefs coming to Tampa over the next two weeks. Those two teams have a combined record of 13-4, so they won’t be easy games. A loss in Carolina puts the Bucs at 6-4 with two tough games coming up. If they keep playing like this, they’ll be 6-6 going into their Week 13 bye and staring down the barrel of another possible losing season. Luckily for them, their final four opponents have a combined 9-21 record, including the Falcons twice. So the road to the playoffs does get easier. Eventually. First things first, though. They have to take care of business with the Panthers. We’ll see if they can right the ship and get back on course this Sunday in Charlotte.