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Bucs Second Half Fire Not Enough Today!

Roy Cummings

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Oct 14, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) attempts a pass against Atlanta Falcons defensive end Brooks Reed (50) in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

It’s still too soon to know, but the second half of the Bucs 34-29 loss to the Falcons may go down as the point in the season where the Bucs defense caught fire and finally began to play at the level it was expected to.

Consider that in defending the Falcons during the first half Sunday, the Bucs allowed 265 yards, three touchdowns and a field goal across five possessions. Then came the second half.

Picking up on one of the things they actually did well – though not enough – in the first half, the Bucs came out blitzing in the second half, and until Gerald McCoy went down, they looked like a different defense.

Across the Falcons first three second-half possessions, the Bucs allowed just 30 yards, two first touchdowns and forced three punts, thereby creating a situation in which the Bucs were able to get back into the game.

The unit reverted to its old ways thereafter, allowing another TD and a field goal on the Falcons last two possession, but that field goal – a 58-yarder – was forced by a key stop on third-and-2 at the Bucs 39.

That will go down as a win in the Bucs defensive ledger, in part because it still gave the Bucs a chance to win a game that might have wound up differently had Chandler Catanzaro not missed a PAT.

Remember, it was that missed PAT that forced the Bucs to later try a 2-point conversion that also failed and eventually forced the Bucs to have to drive for a touchdown instead of a field goal at the end.

Now, this is not to absolve the Bucs defense of blame. Clearly, the play of the Bucs defense continues to be this team’s biggest issue, and in the first half, it was the play of the defense, not the design of it, that was the biggest issue of all.

Consider for example that there was one third down in which a safety (newcomer Andrew Adams) dropped deeper than the sticks in coverage, thereby allowing for an easy throw and catch for the first down.

Then, on another third down play, one on which the Bucs actually made a stop, a hands-to-the-face penalty charged to McCoy wiped out the outcome and gave the Falcons a first down.

And then there was the opportunity cornerback Ryan Smith had to stop Austin Hooper in a one-on-one situation near the goal line. Smith flat out missed the tackle, allowing Hooper to walk in for a 9-yard touchdown pass.

These are examples of the Bucs failing to execute basic fundamentals, and they’re only a few of the examples. There were plenty more, including a key reception made by Julio Jones when veteran cornerback Brent Grimes took his eyes off Jones to look back at the quarterback in a man situation.

Look, this game will do nothing to quell the calls for the dismissal of defensive coordinator Mike Smith, and given the way the Bucs played in the first half that’s understandable.

Oct 14, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) is tackled by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Jordan Whitehead (31) and outside linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 14, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) is tackled by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Jordan Whitehead (31) and outside linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

But the bottom line here is that the problems with this defense lie mostly in the failed execution of it and that was evident on Sunday when the Bucs were done in largely as a result of mental mistakes, including far too many made by key veterans who should flat out know better.

Now on to other matters.

Since the start of the 2015 season, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston has turned the ball over more than any other quarterback in the league (63 times) except Blake Bortles (69).

That number includes two giveaways (both picks) on Sunday, but it’s hard not to like what we saw of Winston in his first start of the season Sunday. When it was all said and done he completed 30 of 41 passes for 395 yards and four touchdowns for a passer rating of 115.4.

The Bucs are getting out of Jason Pierre-Paul exactly what they expected to get out of him. Pierre-Paul had another sack on Sunday, his fifth of the year, and he now has a sack in each of his last four games. The last Bucs defender to record a sack in four straight games was Simeon Rice. If he stays healthy, Pierre-Paul should become the first Bucs defender since Rice to record 10 or more sacks in a season.

It took a few weeks, but Barber on Sunday finally played like the every-down back the Bucs believe he can be. He ran 13 times for 82 yards and caught four passes for 24 more and a touchdown.

No team is deeper or perhaps more talented than the Bucs at tight end. If you think that’s a reach, consider that in the first half alone Sunday the Bucs threw touchdown passes to Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard and Antony Auclair threw the key block in springing running back Peyton Barber free for his longest run of the day (28 yards).

Falcons QB Matt Ryan picked on cornerback Ryan Smith most of the first half, going 5-for-6 for God knows how may yards and a TD, Ryan was just as effective throwing against Grimes, who just doesn’t look the same as he has the past two years.

If we learned anything Sunday (and it may be that we were simply reminded of this fact) it’s that the Bucs are still not good enough to overcome points lost because their kicker can’t make a kick.

Roy Cummings is a native of Chicago, Illinois who grew up in the suburb of Lombard. He and his family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Roy attended high school at Kathleen High. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communications in 1983 and immediately went to work for the Tampa Tribune. After five years working in a Polk County bureau covering everything from high school sports to college football to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, Roy moved back to Tampa and became the Tribune's first beat writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, covering the team from its inception through the first eight years on the ice. He was then moved to the Buccaneers beat, where he stayed until the paper was folded in May, 2016. A two-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year, Roy has extensive experience covering all Tampa professional sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Should RT Jack Conklin be on Bucs free agent radar?

Florida Football Insiders

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As NFL teams continue to do their due diligence on not only their own potential free agents, but what others might be out there too, an interesting name has emerged that could give the Bucs, and other teams, some offensive line help.

It appears that the Titans, fresh off a tremendous playoff run into the AFC Championship game may be willing to part with former number 1 pick, starting right tackle Jack Conklin. And if they’re going to let the former Michigan State star test free agency, Tampa Bay may have a real interest.

First, the Bucs are looking at options on their line, as the senior member of their roster, right tackle Demar Dotson, who’s played his entire 11 year career in Tampa and will be 35 years old this fall, is slated to be a free agent, as well.

And while Dotson has been a mainstay over the course of the last decade on the Bucs offensive line, GM Jason lick and Coach Bruce Arians maybe looking to get younger and some better play out of that position.

Tennessee elected not to pick up Conklin’s fifth year option on his rookie deal and there are some concerns about his ability to pass block. However, there’s no doubting that with power back Derrick Henry, Conklin was part of the unit on offense that played “smash mouth football” throughout the postseason. And, they scored upsets of the Patriots and the Ravens in part behind their tough ground game before falling at Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game.

Next, earlier this week, NFL.com’s reporter/writer Nick Shook, matched Conklin as a possible free agent fit with Tampa Bay, as free agency begins in March.

Conklin did suffer an ACL injury in his second season but is fully healed from that now, and he could be a very cost-effective option four teams looking to solidify their offensive line. Conklin made only $2.7 million in the final year of his initial four year deal with the team declining his $12.9 million option.

As for the Bucs, they already have massive money invested in center Ryan Jensen, guard Ali Marpet and left tackle Donovan Smith on their line, but at the same time, the Bucs also have close to $85 million under the cap once free agency begins.

Clearly, their top priorities are figuring out whether to bring back QB Jameis Winston (and at what price?) and also, how many free agent to be defensive linemen out of Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre Paul and Ndamukong Suh they can also fit under their cap.

Still, you cannot have enough good lineman, and perhaps grabbing the Titans former starter off a playoff team would improve their run game, which sputtered a lot of 2019.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Peter King- “Bridgewater to Tampa Bay makes sense”

Florida Football Insiders

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Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the start of another week, and speculation about “quarterback musical chairs” in NFL free agency continues. And a prominent NFL media member believes that current Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater might leave New Orleans and he sees a possible fit with the Buccaneers.

Peter King, now with Pro Football Talk, gave analysis on numerous quarterback situations and potential free agents to be in his Monday morning column. And, while he is not reporting that the Saints will allow Bridgewater to be a free agent and/or that the Buccaneers would be his destination, he does lay out a solid case for a marriage between the two:

Obviously, the Saints must first decide what to do with veteran Hall of Famer to be, Drew Brees, who is slated to become a free agent and cannot be franchise tagged. And, Bridgewater more than acquitted himself a year ago coming off the bench, when Brees was out with a fractured thumb. That included a four-touchdown performance in October in a a win at home against Tampa Bay.

King wrote in part, these thoughts Monday,

Teddy Bridgewater: Tampa Bay makes sense

I can hear it now: Bridgewater doesn’t have the deep arm Bruce Arians needs. I would dispute that. When Arians put Carson Palmer in the pilot’s chair in Arizona, his previous NFL yards per attempt in Cincinnati and Oakland was 7.2. Bridgewater’s career NFL yards per attempt: 7.2.

…..I noticed something with Arians this season. He defended almost every (Jameis) Winston miscue for the first three months of the season. In December, though, that changed. Tampa was 7-7 entering the last two games, both at home. In game 15, against Houston, Winston threw interceptions on two of the first five Buc snaps, and Tampa was down 10-0 after four minutes.

The Bucs lost by three. Next week: Overtime against Atlanta. First play, Winston somehow didn’t see lurker linebacker Deion Jones on tight end Cameron Brate. Pick six. “It smells as bad as it could possible smell,” Arians said after the game. The Bucs had a clear path to a redemptive 9-7 seasons, but six interceptions in the last two weeks ruined that. 

….. This is the story about Bridgewater I appreciate: After Drew Brees was lost with a hand injury in Week 2 and Bridgewater took over, Bridgewater hosted a dinner in Seattle—site of the next game—for all the offensive players, basically to say, All is not lost. We’ll be fine. Minus Brees, the Bridgewater-led Saints went 5-0.

Maybe the Bucs will think Winston deserves another chance with Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. But I won’t be surprised if they go after Bridgewater or Ryan Tannehill, the best free-agent quarterbacks on the market.”

Definitely a compelling argument, but, again, it still has to play out as to whether the Saints don’t re-sign Bridgewater and how, interested are the Bucs vs. other potential teams when the free agency mayhem begins?

As for Tampa Bay are obviously trying to decide what to do with their own free agent-to-be, Winston. As we wrote late last week, coach Bruce Arians remained non-committal on whether to bring back their starter of the last five seasons. This is mainly due to Winston’s inconsistent play, numerous interceptions and the fact the Bucs have had only had one winning season in his five years at the helm.

It this type of  “connect the dots” free agency talk will only continue to build until either Tampa Bay commits to Winston or free agency begins without the Bucs having signed Winston to a long term deal or given him the one year franchise tag. The clearest of indications that they’ve moved on and want a new QB.

And, everyone continues to wait on those decisions.

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