WELL, THAT COULD’VE BEEN MUCH WORSE.
The Buccaneers came out of their corner for a heavyweight bout with the 9-1 Kansas City Chiefs and got punched in the mouth. Repeatedly. However, they overcame a 20-7 halftime deficit and nearly pulled off the come from behind upset win. It didn’t happen. They ended up losing to the defending Super Bowl champs 27-24 at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon. I suppose you could call it a “moral victory“, whatever the hell that means. I’ll call it what it was…a second straight loss at home that shouldn’t have happened.
Maybe I just expected too much from this team this year. Then again, I do that every year. But I thought this season would be different. Adding Brady, Gronk, McCoy, Fournette and now Brown to an already stacked roster seemed like it would’ve made this Bucs offense IMPOSSIBLE to defend. Apparently not. Keeping the defense together for a second season under Bowles with the young guys gaining another year of experience seemed like it would’ve made this Bucs defense rock solid. Apparently not. I mean, who would’ve ever thought that the ONLY consistent part of this football team would be the kicker?
Unlike the other losses this season, I did find a number of “GOOD” things about this one. Of course, the “BAD” and the “UGLY” were pretty easy to figure out too, so let’s get into all of it so we can put this to bed and get on with our much needed bye week.
The Blind Side
Left guard Ali Marpet finally came back from his concussion after missing 3 games. He did draw two holding penalties (even though one was questionable), but it was good to see him back out there and the offensive line was better for it. Left tackle Donovan Smith was still nursing an ankle injury suffered against the Rams last week and didn’t even practice all week. In fact, he showed up for the Sunday’s game in a walking boot and not only played every snap, but played fairly well. The Bucs starting o-line was whole again and only gave up one sack in this game against the Chiefs. On a side note, Smith has really cleaned up his play. After getting flagged for 7 penalties in the first 5 games this season, he’s only had one over the last 7 games. This guy gets a ton of criticism, even from me sometimes, but I’ll give him credit when it’s due. The guy is a warrior.
The Other Side
Rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs had one of his best games of the season. And that’s saying a lot since he’s had an outstanding rookie year so far. He allowed ZERO SACKS AND ZERO PRESSURES on 45 pass blocking snaps against the Chiefs and was given a perfect grade by ProFootballFocus.com. The young man has been impressive to say the least.
The Deep Ball
After really struggling with the deep ball over the last month or so (0 for 19 on passes of 20+ yards), Tom Brady was FINALLY able to connect on a number of long passes against the Chiefs. He hit Mike Evans for a 31 yard touchdown. He connected with Chris Godwin for a 44 yard diving catch. And Rob Gronkowski snagged a 48 yarder down the seam. Unfortunately, he did throw two more interceptions in this game, although one ricocheted off of a defensive lineman’s helmet. He now has 7 interceptions in his last 4 games after throwing just 4 picks in his first 8 games. He now has eleven for the season, which matches his highest season total since 2012. He’s not alone. Most quarterbacks struggle with throwing to the other team in their first year in Bruce Arians offense. In 2007, it was Ben Roethlisberger with 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In 2012, it was Andrew Luck with 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. In 2013, it was Carson Palmer with 24 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. Which brings us to Jameis Winston’s 33 touchdown and 30 interception season last year. Brady has completed 65% of his passes for 3,300 yards, 28 touchdowns and 11 picks. He’s on pace for 4,400 yards, which would be the sixth highest total of his career. And he’s on pace for 37 touchdowns, which would be the third highest total of his career and the most since 2011 when he threw 39 touchdowns. He’s also on pace to break Winston’s franchise record for passing touchdowns in a season from last year. Lucky for him, the Bucs final three opponents (Falcons twice), are all ranked in the bottom eight in pass defense this season so it wouldn’t shock me to see him get to 40+ touchdowns and 4,500+ yards.
The Buccaneers were down 17-0 after the first quarter and 20-7 at halftime. They were outgained 238 to 44 in the first quarter and 377 to 131 in total yards in the first half. Patrick Mahomes was 25 of 33 for 359 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half. Tom Brady was 10 of 16 for 116 yards and a touchdown in the first half. Tyreek Hill had 9 catches for 260 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half. The offense wasn’t in sync and the defense didn’t have an answer for Hill’s speed. It wasn’t looking too good for Tampa Bay. However, they fought back in the second half outscoring the Chiefs 17-7 and outgaining them 286 to 166 in total offense. And the defense held the Chiefs to 10 points on their last seven drives. Even though they came up a few points short, it was the first time I’ve seen the team really fighting for a win this season.
After Tyreek Hill had 9 catches for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half, Todd Bowles finally made some adjustments to his not so well thought out game plan. Instead of leaving poor Carlton Davis one on one with Hill, Bowles had the speedier Ross Cockrell cover him gave him some safety help over the top and it seemed to work much better in the second half.
The Bye Week
We’re heading into Week 13 of this NFL season and the Bucs are finally getting their bye week. It’s been a long time coming. The coaches are fried. The players are tired and hurting. Everyone could use the week off, including us fans. This bye couldn’t have come at a better time. Coming off of two straight losses, heading into the final quarter of the season at 7-5 and in the wildcard race, the Bucs should use it to get healthy and regroup. They need to figure out the identity of this football team. Are they a passing offense or a power running team who uses that to set up play action passes downfield? Are they an aggressive, press man, blitzing defense or a soft, zone coverage, rushing four kind of team? Is Ronald Jones the guy or not? If he is, then give him his 20+ touches and let him do his thing. If not, then stop saying he is. Hopefully, they use this bye week to figure all of that out.
The Positive Spin
The Bucs are now 7-5 after losing two straight and three of their last four games. It was NOT a good third quarter of the season. However, I’m trying very hard to look at this with a positive attitude. With the exception of the two Saints games where they lost by a combined 46 points, their other three losses were by a TOTAL of 7 points to three teams that are in the playoff hunt. And this Bucs team hasn’t even played a complete game on both sides of the ball yet, except for the Packers game. And we saw how that game turned out when they did. This team has the talent and the potential, IF they would just stop beating themselves.
The Bucs game plans, on both sides of the ball, was terrible on Sunday. Why Todd Bowles thought it was a good idea to leave poor Carlton Davis one-on-one with Tyreek Hill, with no safety help, is beyond my comprehension. Lucky for us, Bowles rethought his strategy after the first half where Hill already had 9 catches for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns. I picked on Davis for the poor performance, but the truth is that it wasn’t his fault. He just doesn’t have the speed to keep up with Hill. Not many corners do. Davis runs a 4.52, while Hill runs a 4.2…it’s wasn’t fair.
I was just as disappointed with Byron Leftwich on offense. Tony Romo was even tearing the offensive scheme apart and criticizing it during this game. I hate the way they’re playing, or I should say NOT playing Ronald Jones. He needs touches. Give them to him. The Bucs had 1st & goal from the 5 yard line against the 26th ranked rush defense in the NFL and RoJo never came on the field. Instead, Fournette was in the game and ran 1 yard on first down, then caught a pass for -4 yards on second down. The third down play was an incomplete pass to Gronkowski and the Bucs had to settle for a field goal. That’s four points they left on the field because of poor coaching decisions. Meanwhile, they lost by 3 points.
The RoJo Experiment
I just don’t get the coaching decisions with the Bucs running back snaps. Bruce Arians has said before that he likes riding the hot hand, but that hasn’t been the case with Ronald Jones. After rushing 23 times for 192 yards against the Panthers, Jones only has 19 carries over the last 2 games. This year, Jones has had 5 games where he got more than 17 carries and he’s gone for 100+ yards in four of them. FEED HIM THE FRIGGIN ROCK! Even in this game, he had the 37 yard receiving touchdown and never caught another pass. In the 9 carries he did have against the Chiefs, he averaged 7.3 yards per carry while Leonard Fournette averaged just 3.3 yards per carry. Yet Fournette played 56% of the offensive snaps while Jones played just 36% of the offensive snaps. I don’t get it. Arians says that Jones is “their guy“, but they’re not treating him like it.
Yes, Jamel Dean was out with a concussion. But Sean Murphy-Bunting started this season as the other starting cornerback opposite Carlton Davis, so that shouldn’t have been a big issue. It was their lack of depth that hurt them. Regardless, Patrick Mahomes was able to sling it all over the field on Sunday, especially in the first half where he was 22 of 27 for 360 yards and 2 touchdowns. It was the most passing yards in a half since the 2004 season. He would eventually finish the game 37 of 49 for 462 yards and 3 touchdowns. The 462 yards is the third most by any QB this season and it’s Mahomes second highest total of his career. This was the second week in a row that the Bucs secondary has allowed the opposing QB to complete at least 80% of his passes in the first half. Last week, it was Jared Goff going 21 of 25 for 215 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Tyreek Hill was a major problem. He had 8 catches for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns in that first half. For whatever reason, Todd Bowles thought it would be a smart move to put Carlton Davis on him mano y mano, and that turned out to be what cost them the game. They wised up in the second half and put the faster Ross Cockrell on Hill AND gave him some safety help over the top. It worked for the most part I suppose. Hill was held to just 3 catches for 59 yards and a touchdown in the second half.
As bad a day as Davis had against Hill, he did have the only two passes defensed in this game. Which is pretty sad considering Mahomes threw the ball 50 times. The Bucs did have two interceptions that were negated by questionable penalties though.
The Slow Starts
I don’t know what happened to them, but this Bucs team just can’t get it going in the first half these days. In their first 3 games, they outscored opponents 31-0 in the first quarter. In the last 4 games, they’ve been outscored 49-7 in the first quarter.
Their second loss in a row and third straight at home puts this Bucs team at 7-5 for the season. It may not be where some or most of us thought they would be at this point, but it is what it is. The last time they were 7-5 was in 2016 under Dirk Koetter. They won two of their last four to finish 9-7 in his first year as head coach. Before that, you have to go back to 2010 where they won three of their last four to finish 10-6. This loss could’ve been much worse though. Luckily, the Rams, Cardinals and Bears all lost as well which kept the Bucs in the sixth seed for the playoffs. They still have a pretty good shot at getting to 11-5 this season, which they haven’t done since 2005. Of the six NFC teams competing for the wildcard spots, the Bucs have the easiest schedule remaining. Despite being “off” for most of this season, they aren’t far off from being 10-2 right now. They’ve lost three of their five games by a total of 7 points, and they were all to teams competing for the playoffs. If they can use this bye to get healthy and refocused, then winning out is not out of the question and 11-5 would almost assure them a playoff spot.
All Hill Broke Loose
They call him “The Cheetah” for a reason. And Tyreek Hill showed exactly what that reason is on Sunday versus the Bucs. Despite averaging just 75.2 yards per game this season, he tore into the Buccaneers secondary with 8 catches for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns…IN THE FIRST HALF! He had catches of 34 yards, 23 yards and 19 yards with touchdowns of 75 yards and 44 yards in the first two quarters. He added a 21 yard catch and a 20 yard touchdown in the second half to finish with 13 catches for 269 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was just the third time since 1980 that a player had 200+ yards in a quarter.
This team needs a bye week. Twelve weeks is a long time to go without any time off, especially during a football season. They need to rest up. They need to heal up. They need to regroup. And they need to refocus. This team needs to figure out who they are and what they want out of this season. They need to get their shit together.
It’s the final quarter of the season. It’s playoff push time. It’s crunch time. If this team wants to get into the tournament for the first time in 13 years, then it starts now. It starts with this bye week. Get your mind right and get to work on the Vikings. The most important game is the next game.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!