WELL, THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!
Coming off of back-to-back wins and a bye week, presumably rested, refreshed and healthier, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed up in Cleveland unprepared and unmotivated to play a Browns team that had lost two in a row coming out of their Week 9 bye. The Bucs lost 23-17 in overtime after leading for most of the second half. The offense was inadequate once again. The defense was exhausted from being on the field too much in the second half. The special teams was surprisingly terrible. The playcalling was boring and predictable. And the coaching was boneheaded. It was a total team loss.
The only thing that surprises me about this team anymore is that they’ve somehow managed to win five games despite this coaching staff. When Bruce Arians stepped down and handed the head coaching reigns to Todd Bowles, he said he wanted to leave him with a talented roster that would allow him to succeed. Apparently, Arians drastically underestimated Bowles inability to coach or get the best out of his team. There’s been a lack of preparedness, a lack of accountability, a lack of energy and a lack of attitude from this team all season. It’s been a miracle they’ve won this many games this year and they’ll be lucky if they win another. Don’t think coaching makes that big a difference in the NFL? Just look at the 7-4 New York Jets, the 7-4 New York Giants or the 7-5 Washington Commanders. All much less talented teams, but all with better records than the Buccaneers. With that being said, here’s my GOOD, BAD & UGLY from the Bucs Week 12 matchup with the Cleveland Browns.
Seriously. I’m not even sure what to put here. Coming out of a bye week, I had expected this team to be much more efficient and productive on offense. They weren’t. Not even close. The defense was okay I guess. At least until they got gassed from being on the field so much in the fourth quarter. The special teams wasn’t even good. I honestly don’t know what to put here.
Still In First?
The only positive thing about this is that the Buccaneers are still in sole possession of first place in the NFC South. Whatever that means. The whole division is trash, so it’s not saying much. Besides, what good will it do to win the division with a 9-8 or even 8-9 record if you’re just going to get your ass whipped in the first round of the playoffs? Who gives a shit about winning the division at that point? Not me.
Even though Mike is definitely not playing up to his normal standards this season, he’s still setting records. He became the first player in Buccaneers franchise history with 10,000 receiving yards. He became just the 10th player in NFL history to reach that 10,000 yard mark in his first 9 seasons. That list includes :
Julio Jones Antonio Brown
Torry Holt DeAndre Hopkins
Jerry Rice Marvin Harrison
Randy Moss Larry Fitzgerald
Calvin Johnson Mike Evans
That’s pretty impressive company.
He also became just the 6th player in NFL history to record 10,000 yards AND 75 touchdowns in his first 9 seasons. That list includes :
Mike Evans Calvin Johnson
Jerry Rice Marvin Harrison
Randy Moss Larry Fitzgerald
He’s elite. A future Hall of Famer no doubt. But he hasn’t been playing like it lately. I’ll get into that later though. Right now, I just want to give him his props for these historical accomplishments.
“Bad” is not even the word for this offense. This offense is downright offensive. Mike Evans. Chris Godwin. Julio Jones. Russell Gage. Scotty Miller. Breshad Perriman. Leonard Fournette. Rachaad White. Cam Brate. Cade Otton. Kyle Rudolph. To have that many playmakers on one offense and be averaging less than 18 points per game is not just pathetic, it should be a fireable offense. It’s ineptitude at it’s finest.
There’s only five teams (Steelers, Rams, Texans, Colts, Broncos) in the NFL scoring fewer points per game than the Bucs right now. And we’re talking about a team and an offense that’s averaged 30 points per game for the last two years. The Bucs are one of three teams (Broncos & Texans) that have scored more than 23 points just once this season. Last year, they were tied with Green Bay for the most games with 23 or more points (14). What the hell happened?
They had 66 plays in this game and only had 16 first downs. They were 4 of 15 on 3rd down and that’s with going 2 for 2 on their first drive, so 2 for 13 after that. They were 0 for 8 on 3rd & 7 or longer. They only had 325 total yards and punted 9 times. After scoring the go-ahead touchdown midway through the 3rd quarter, the Bucs offense had seven possessions to add to their lead and put that game away in regulation or win it in overtime. They punted six times with 3 three and outs. The seventh possession was the final drive of regulation that ended with a Hail Mary in the endzone. They ran 32 plays on those drives and came out with 90 yards and no points. The two possessions in OT consisted of just 13 plays for a total of 34 yards and 3 first downs. Their final seven drives of this game were as follows :
3 plays/4 yards/0 first downs/2:09
6 plays/28 yards/2 first downs/2:48
3 plays/7 yards/0 first downs/1:28
3 plays/-10 yards/0 first downs/0:25
4 plays/27 yards/1 first down/0:32 (end of reg)
8 plays/18 yards/2 first downs/2:34 (OT)
5 plays/16 yards/1 first down/2:42 (OT)
I don’t think I’ve ever put Mike on my “BAD” list before, but I had to do it after this one. It doesn’t look like he and Tom Brady are on the same page like they were the first couple of seasons together. From Weeks 1-6, Evans had 24 catches on 33 targets for a catch rate of 73%. Since Week 7, he has just 27 catches on 49 targets for a catch rate of 55%. He hasn’t been the same since he dropped that wide open touchdown pass in Pittsburgh. Not only that, but there were at least two deep passes that I thought he could’ve caught if he had just made a little extra effort. He only finished with 2 catches on 9 targets for 31 yards in a game where he was being covered by a backup corner most of the time. He was also flagged for an offensive pass interference for pushing off, which negated a big gain. He has now gone seven straight games without a touchdown, which is the longest stretch of his career. It did look like he got both feet in on that one deep ball down the sideline, but for some reason it was never reviewed.
Multiple Buccaneers players left this game with injuries, but only one did not return. Right tackle Tristan Wirfs was injured on a strange play where a blitzing defender had leaped into the air in an attempt to jump over Ke’Shawn Vaughn who had picked him up in pass protection. Vaughn pushed him mid-air and he went flying into Wirfs left leg. It looked bad. Especially when they brought the cart out. The initial fear was a fractured leg, but x-rays were negative. The diagnosis appears to be a high ankle sprain, which means Wirfs could be out for at least 3-4 weeks.
I just don’t understand what’s going on. The team doesn’t seem to be properly prepared to play each week. I mean, they were coming off of a bye having two weeks to prepare for this Browns team and they still couldn’t score more than 17 points? How much was Bruce Arians running that offense over the last two years? It doesn’t seem the same now that it’s completely under Byron Leftwich.
And some of the personnel decisions are questionable at best. In this game for instance, the use or maybe I should say the lack of use of rookie tight end Cade Otton doesnt make sense. After totaling 8 catches for about 100 yards and a game-winning touchdown over the last two games, he had zero targets against the Browns. Cam Brate saw 5 targets in this game finishing with just 2 catches for 15 yards. Why was Otton ignored? Both Otton and Brate played about the same number of snaps, but Otton was never targeted. It just seemed odd to me.
And what about Scotty Miller? He was in for just 3 plays on offense and was never targeted. He was such a vital part of that final game-winning drive against the Rams. Why wasn’t he out there for the final drives of this game? Why wasn’t he utilized?
And the playcalling is still an issue. If Leftwich hasn’t “coached” himself out of a job for this season yet, he certainly has for next season. I think we’re all understanding why he wasn’t chosen for the head coaching job in Jacksonville now. He might be lucky to find another OC job next season at this point. Why does he keep running the same plays over and over again? When they actually have some success with a play, he ends up running that play multiple times throughout the rest of the game and it never works again. Like the screen pass to Chris Godwin for 9 yards early on in this game. They had some success, so they went back to it three more times in this game and it was stopped every other time. There’s no creativity in his playcalling. It’s too predictable. His best call of the night was the jet sweep to Julio Jones. He just doesn’t run enough stuff like that.
The Late Game Management
Let’s not even talk about the decision to punt from the Browns 37-yard line on 4th & 2, up 17-10 at the end of the 3rd quarter. I mean, how do you say you don’t trust your offense without saying you don’t trust your offense? Ball on the Browns 37, then intentionally take a delay-of-game to drop back to the 42 to punt, only to get a touchback and giving Cleveland the ball on their 25-yard line. That whole sequence got you 12 net yards. Great decision.
But I want to talk about the timeout, or the lack thereof I should say. This baffled me. I was screaming at my TV to call one and it never came. Let me lay out the scenario. The Bucs got the ball back with :32 left in the 4th quarter, starting from their own 25-yard line. The score was now tied 17-17, so all they needed was a field goal to win in regulation. The first down play was a quick pass to Rachaad White, but he was tackled right away for a 1-yard gain. As soon as he was down, a timeout SHOULD HAVE been called. It wasn’t. Instead, 17 seconds ticks off the clock before the ball is snapped and Brady completes a 26-yard pass to Julio Jones to the Browns 48-yard line. Then, and only then, did Bowles call a timeout. The problem is, now there’s only :08 left on the clock. Had they called a timeout after that first down play, here’s what the scenario COULD HAVE been. Instead of 1st & 10 on the Browns 48 with just :08 left and two timeouts, they now have 1st & 10 on the Browns 48 with :24 left and one timeout. That’s 24 seconds to move about 15-yards into field goal range for Ryan Succop. That’s it.
In Todd Bowles‘ press conference on Monday, he had a flimsy excuse why he didn’t call the timeout saying he was concerned about turning the ball over in that situation. But why? Brady has 2 interceptions in 470 pass attempts this season and at that moment he was concerned about it happening? It’s an odd excuse because the next play was the 26-yarder to Julio. Does Bowles not trust Brady in that situation? Despite the fact that he had just led a game-winning drive a few weeks ago against the Rams in a similar scenario? I just don’t get it. But it does explain at least part of the reason this talented Bucs team is 5-6 this season. That’s the difference between playing to win and playing not to lose.
BIG BUCS OF THE DAY
OFFENSE : WR Chris Godwin
The healthy Chris Godwin finally showed up for the first time this season. He finished this game with 12 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. They need more of that going down the stretch.
DEFENSE : CB Jamel Dean
I was going to go with Devin White here since he did have a team-high 13 tackles and a sack in this game. However, he did give up the game-tying touchdown to David Njoku, even if he did have pretty good coverage. Instead, I’m going with Dean who only had 3 tackles but he was excellent in coverage all game. He has turned into the Bucs “other” shutdown corner opposite Carlton Davis this season.
BAD BUCS OF THE DAY
OFFENSE : LT Donovan Smith
Myles Garrett just abused him all game. He gave up multiple sacks and just looked terrible. He also had multiple penalties in this game, including a big one in overtime that negated a 10-yard gain by Rachaad White that would’ve given the Bucs a 1st & 10 at the Browns 37-yard line. Instead, his illegal hands to the face put the Bucs in 3rd & 14 from their own 43 and they ended up punting. Boneheaded.
It wasn’t just this game though. He had zero penalties in the first 6 games of this season. He’s now had 7 in the last 5 games. No other Bucs player has more than 4 flags all season. He’s now given up 6 sacks this season, which is already two more than all of last season. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Smith ranks 69th out of 76 offensive tackles this year. Last year, they had him 14th out of 83 tackles.
DEFENSE : CB Carlton Davis III
It was hard to single out a “bad” player on defense for this game because there really wasn’t one. I’m just picking on Davis because he slipped on the turf and fell down, which led to Amari Cooper getting wide open for that huge 45-yard gain down to the Bucs 3-yard line on 3rd & 4 with less than a minute left in overtime. That led to the game-winning score. Somebody had to be the scapegoat here, so I’m going with Davis for that reason.
THE WRAP UP
Before Sunday, Tom Brady was 218-0 when his teams had a 7+ point lead with 2-minutes left in regulation. This was his first loss. Ever. That’s how historically bad this game was for his offense. Want to hear another crazy number? The Browns scored the game-tying touchdown on 4th & 10 with :32 left in this game. Since the beginning of the 2021 season, NFL teams have had 57 4th & 10 plays and only 28% of them went for first downs. This was the ONLY one that went for a touchdown. Once again, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on the wrong side of NFL history.
THE LOOK AHEAD
Well, don’t look now but the Buccaneers nemesis is coming to town for a primetime game on Monday Night Football. This is the last thing this team needs right now. The Bucs might be in first place of the NFC South right now, but that could all change with this game. This Bucs team is already in a bad place mentally after the loss to the Browns. A loss to their arch enemy on primetime might just push these guys over the edge and send the rest of the season spiraling out of control. Then again, an emotional win over the Saints, at home on MNF could give them a much needed emotional boost. The Bucs are now 0-4 against the AFC this year and 5-2 against NFC opponents. We’ll just have to wait and see which Buccaneers team shows up to Raymond James Stadium on Monday night.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!