I SUPPOSE AN UGLY WIN IS STILL A WIN, RIGHT?
And it was ugly. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers once again had to come from behind and kick a field goal in overtime to pull out what should’ve been an “easy” win against a “bad” Arizona Cardinals team. The Bucs “won” 19-16 in a game that shouldn’t have even been close. I guess I shouldn’t expect anything different from these 2022 Buccaneers. All they’ve done all season is disappoint, underachieve and underperform. In any case, they won and held on to their slim lead for first place in the NFC South and their hopes for a playoff birth. Against all odds, they live to fight another day.
But do they deserve it?
This Buccaneers football team isn’t good. They’re talented, but they’re not good. In fact, they’re a pretty bad football team. They’re not even as good as their 7-8 record. They’re definitely not a playoff worthy team. They’re just lucky that they are playing in the worst division in the NFC. The Cardinals were 1-7 at home coming into this game. Their quarterback was making his first career start. Their defense was giving up the most points per game (26.6) in the NFL before this game. Even with as bad as the Bucs had been playing up to this week, they shouldn’t have struggled this bad against this team. Yet, here they are once again struggling to put points on the board. Here they are again needing to come from behind to beat an inferior football team. It shouldn’t be this hard. Sure, they have a ton of injuries up front. But they still have enough talent on offense to make plays and score points. This offense is so bad. Historically bad. I’m convinced that if this team didn’t have a decent defense, they’d be 0-15 right now. That’s not an exaggeration. The ONLY reason they’ve even had a chance at these last minute, come from behind wins is because their defense has kept Tom Brady within reach.
Anyway, there’s plenty of time to get on my soapbox later in this piece about all that, so right now I’ll get off of it and get into the GOOD, BAD & UGLY of this game.
They shouldn’t have needed it, but they did. The Buccaneers went down 16-6 at one point in this game against the Cardinals third string QB making his first career start. They scored 10 points in the final 10 minutes of the 4th quarter to tie the game and force overtime. After a pretty rough first three quarters, Tom Brady went 18 of 22 for 174 yards and 1 touchdown in the 4th quarter and overtime. In OT alone, he went 6 of 6 for 69 yards to set up Ryan Succop’s game-winning 40-yard field goal. The Bucs must like these types of games. This is the fourth game this season where they’ve had to come from behind to win. In those games, they score a combined 18 points in the first three quarters (Saints-3, Rams-6, Saints-3, Cardinals-6), while scoring a combined 54 points in the 4th quarters of those games (Saints-17, Rams-10, Saints-14, Cardinals-13).
This Buccaneers defense has been carrying this team all season. Out of their 15 games, they have held teams to 22 points or less in 10 of them. The Bucs have won seven games this year while scoring 21 points or less. The only team to do it more in the Super Bowl era is the 2005 Chicago Bears (8). In 74 plays by the Cardinals, they allowed just 16 first downs with Arizona going 5 for 19 on third down. The Cardinals offense had 14 possessions and totaled just 325 total yards, averaging just 4.4 yards per play. They held quarterback Trace McSorley to 24 of 45 for just 217 yards and no touchdowns. They put the clamps on DeAndre Hopkins holding him to just 1 catch for 4 yards. With all the weapons they have on their offense, a practice squad return man named Greg Dortch was their leading receiver with 10 catches for 98 yards. James Conner finished with 15 carries for 79 yards while averaging 5.3 yards per carry, which doesn’t sound good as far as the Bucs defense is concerned. However if you take his two runs of 11 yards and 22 yards away, he only averaged 3.5 yards per carry. And they were FINALLY able to force some turnovers in this game ending with three of them (1 interception, 2 fumbles). They kept the Bucs in this game and gave Tom Brady an opportunity for another historic comeback.
After the Bucs scored that 4th quarter touchdown to make it 16-13 with about 8 minutes left, the Cardinals offense got the ball back. They began marching down the field gaining two first downs while chewing up 33 yards and over 3 minutes of valuable game clock. On a 3rd & 1 play, Trace McSorley attempted a pitch to James Conner that was mishandled and fumbled. Defensive tackle Will Gholston was able to jump on the football recovering it for the Bucs and giving the offense a chance to tie the game up with a field goal with under 5 minutes left. It was pure luck. A bad pitch by the young quarterback that literally bounced into Gholston’s open arms. Had it not been for that lucky play, the Bucs may not have had the opportunity to tie the game up and force overtime.
It’s really bad folks. It all starts up front with the big fellas. Injuries have plagued this o-line all season and it continued in this game. I’ll get into that later. The offense has been a real issue, whether it’s been the injuries, bad playcalling, lack of chemistry, poor execution or whatever. You name it and it’s probably wrong with this offense. For the first 52 minutes of this game, all they could do against the worst scoring defense in the NFL was score 6 points on a team allowing 27 points per game. This team is barely averaging 18 points per game, which is 12 points less per game than they were averaging the previous two years. If that doesn’t improve, it would be the biggest drop-off for any team since like 1970. They have now scored the fewest points of any team in the NFC this season. It’s that bad guys. And I don’t see it getting any better.
If the o-line is truly the problem, the situation is not getting any better anytime soon. Josh Wells is now “OUT” for the rest of the season with a torn patella in his knee. Donovan Smith may or may not be ready for Sunday. Tristan Wirfs re-injured his ankle on Sunday, so his status could be in question for the Carolina game. They managed 396 total yards from 78 plays, but only averaged 5.1 yards per play. Brady threw the ball 48 times, but only finished with 281 passing yards averaging just 5.9 yards per pass. They did have 30 rush attempts trying to establish their run game, but only averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Brady threw two more interceptions in this game, both targeting Mike Evans. They can’t convert third downs (6 for 17). They can’t score touchdowns in the redzone (1 for 3). They can’t get on the same page. I mean, this is stuff that’s supposed to be ironed out in training camp. They shouldn’t be having these same issues in Week 16 that they were having in Week 1. It’s unacceptable. And it’s something that this coaching staff will have to answer for after this season is over.
That’s right, it’s so bad they are getting it twice this week. I just don’t get it. There’s so many things wrong with this offense that I don’t even know where to start. Obviously, the o-line has it’s issues. That’s a given. But are those guys up front really that bad? Bad enough to create this historically bad offense? That can’t be all there is to it. Byron Leftwich’s playcalling has been questionable at times. This game was a good example. On the Bucs second drive of the game, Josh Wells was called for a false start on their first play pushing them back to a 1st & 15 at their own 38-yard line. Leonard Fournette broke off a 14-yard run to make it 2nd & 1 on the Cardinals 48-yard line. The next three plays were all runs up the middle by Fournette for a net of -1 yard leading to a turnover on downs at midfield. Luckily, the Bucs defense held and forced a punt. But it still doesn’t excuse the poor play selection. Why no play-action pass on 2nd down? Why no play-action pass on 3rd down? Not even one of those quick screens to Chris Godwin that they love so much? Nothing? Just three straight up the gut right at JJ Watt, who by the way is still a pretty good football player. Why? Where is the creativity? Where is the imagination? Where is that “NO RISK IT, NO BISCUIT” mentality that you supposedly learned from Bruce Arians?
I just don’t get it.
Then there’s the personnel decisions. Fournette had a pretty good game and I understand going with the hot hand as Todd Bowles put it, but him out-snapping Rachaad White 49 to 29 in this game is absurd. White had a pretty decent day as well averaging over 5 yards per carry and adding 4 catches for 17 yards including that late touchdown. It’s not a trust issue for the rookie. He’s been much better at pass blocking than Fournette this season with a 61.6 grade compared to Fournette’s 34.2 grade according to ProFootballFocus.com. And this is the second time Brady has looked to the rookie for a touchdown pass late in close games. The kid is a playmaker and needs to be splitting snaps EVENLY with Fournette at the very least at this point. I just don’t understand why he’s not being utilized.
Next is Mike Evans. What is going on between him and Brady? Only 3 touchdowns in 15 games this season? In danger of not reaching 1,000 yards for the first time in his career? What’s wrong? It’s not for lack of targets like I thought. He’s actually already surpassed the amount of targets he had in his first two seasons with Brady (2020-109, 2021-114) with 115 and he’s on pace for 131, which would be the most since his 2018 season (138). The problem is there’s nothing deep. Right now he’s averaging just 13.7 yards per catch, which would be the lowest average of his career. The closest he’s come is 13.8 yards per catch in 2016, his third year in the league. He now has 917 yards, just 83 yards short of extending his NFL record to nine straight seasons of 1,000 yards. He’s averaging 65.5 yards per game this season and needs 41.5 yards per game to reach his mark. Will he get it? I think he does. The bigger question I have is can Mike and Tom get on the same page before they go into the playoffs (assuming they make it in)? For whatever reason, the connection hasn’t been there. Especially in the redzone where Evans used to be such a HUGE weapon. They have to get him more involved inside the 20-yard line. They have to make him a priority when they’re in scoring position.
BIG BUCS OF THE DAY
OFFENSE : RB Leonard Fournette
He was on the field for 49 snaps in this game and finished with 20 carries for 72 yards AND 9 catches on 10 targets for 90 yards for 162 yards of total offense. It was by far his biggest output since Week 5 against Atlanta.
DEFENSE : CB Carlton Davis III
I almost gave this to the other cornerback in this game Sean Murphy-Bunting who played another really solid game filling in for Jamel Dean finishing with 4 tackles and 2 pass break-ups. However, I’m giving it to Carlton Davis III for the second straight week after another strong performance. He only had 4 tackles and 1 pass defensed in this game, but he allowed just 2 catches on 6 targets for 16 yards in 45 coverage snaps. Not bad. He’s had a pretty good season. Coming into this game, QB’s had the 2nd worst QB rating (29.8) when targeting him in man coverage. He also led the NFL with a 39% forced incompletion rate and his 8 pass break-ups in man coverage was leading the league. Unfortunately, this inept coaching staff only has him in man coverage about 20% of the time, which is the 14th lowest rate among qualifying corners.
BAD BUCS OF THE DAY
OFFENSE : QB Tom Brady
What is going on with “The GOAT” this season? He has not looked like the Tom Brady we’ve known for the past two years. He’s anxious and uncomfortable in the pocket. It’s almost as if he can’t get the ball out of his hands fast enough. It looks like he’s playing a game of “Hot Potato” with every snap. He’s overthrowing guys. He’s underthrowing guys. He’s missing wide open guys. He’s misreading coverages. He’s just not the same player. And the numbers show it. He only has four 300+ yard games this season. He’s thrown two or more touchdowns just five times in 15 games. He’s on pace for the lowest yards per attempt average of his career (6.2 yards). At one point on Sunday, 15 of his 25 completions were at or behind the line of scrimmage. He had 205 passing yards, while his receivers had 203 yards after the catch. That’s crazy. There’s no deep shots. There’s no going through his progressions. There’s just dump-offs, check-downs and quick screens. That’s Tom Brady and this offense right now. And then there’s the turnovers. He had 3 interceptions in the first 12 games. He now has six in the last 3 games. That’s 8 turnovers total over the last three weeks. He may have led another historic come-from-behind win in Arizona, but they wouldn’t have had to if he had just taken care of the football.
DEFENSE : DT Akiem Hicks
I have to admit that when the Bucs signed Hicks in free agency, I was pretty excited about the idea of him and Vita Vea playing next to each other in the middle of that defense. The only question was could he stay healthy? That answer was “NO!“. He’s missed a total of 6 games this season. But even when he has been healthy, he hasn’t had the impact that I thought he would. Especially without Vea by his side. He was without him in this game and he finished with a disappointing 2 tackles. He has 19 tackles this season, which would be the third lowest total of his 12 year career. He has zero tackles for loss and zero sacks, which would both be the fewest since his 2015 season when he only played in 3 games.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
It’s simple. Win and they’re in. If they can beat Carolina at home on Sunday, then they clinch the NFC South title and earn a home playoff game. If they lose on Sunday, they can still win the division IF they win in Atlanta AND the Panthers lose to New Orleans next week. There’s an outside chance that they could make it in WITHOUT winning the division as a wildcard at 8-9, but they would need some help. The easiest path for them is to take care of business here at home on Sunday and clinch back-to-back NFC South titles for the first time in franchise history.
NFC South Standings
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-8
Carolina Panthers 6-9
New Orleans Saints 6-9
Atlanta Falcons 5-10
THE LOOK AHEAD
The last time the Bucs played the Panthers, Carolina was 1-5 having lost three straight games. They beat the Bucs 21-3 that day. Carolina went on to lose their next two games for a 2-7 record. Since then, they’re 4-2 and coming off of a 37-23 win over the Detroit Lions last week. This is going to be a battle. At least I hope it will be. I hope the Bucs fight for this. I hope the Bucs want it. I hope this team wants to make the playoffs. I hope this team wants to prove all the doubters (including myself) wrong. This one’s for all the marbles, folks. The playoffs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers start on Sunday. I hope they’re ready.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!