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.
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.
Is the FitzMagic Show Over?
I think I know now why Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter stuck with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB for Sunday’s game against the Giants. It seems the plan all along was to stick with Fitz until he exceeded Jameis Winston’s pick total.
That would make a move back to Winston seem warranted and to the surprise of few, Fitzpatrick obliged on Sunday by throwing three picks, including a pick-six, during a 38-35 loss at Giants Stadium.
That brought Fitzpatrick’s season pick total to 12, two more than Winston, and so FitzMagic is gone. His magic touch has been gone for a while, but now he and his magic touch are gone for good. Unless they’re not.
You never know with these Bucs, so let’s break this one down.
Let’s start with Winston, whose redemption tour began in fine fashion. After replacing Fitzpatrick early in the third quarter he engineered four straight scoring drives to give the Bucs hope in a game in which all hope seemed lost.
It wasn’t always pretty. Winston got lucky when Mike Evans fell on his fumble in the end zone at the end of his first drive and got lucky a couple more times when the butterfingered Giants couldn’t hold on to a couple of tipped passes.
But Winston was more good than bad and was at times spectacular in completing 12 of 15 passes for 199 yards and two touchdown tosses before a last-ditch throw wound up in the Giants hands with 13 seconds left.
Not only that, but the return of Winston to the lineup Sunday seemed to bring a sense of normalcy to this team, a feeling that this is how it’s supposed to be, how it was supposed to be all along.
Like Winston a few weeks ago, Fitzpatrick more than earned his place on the bench. His three picks Sunday gave him seven in the three games he started ahead of Winston and they came at critical junctures.
The first came on a throw from his own 30-yard line, which means it wiped out a scoring chance. The second was a pick-six and the third was simply thrown up for grabs at a point when the Bucs still had time to rally.
Oh, and let’s not forget that the Bucs caught a break when the Giants didn’t challenge a would-be Fitzpatrick fumble on second-and-11 from the Giants 15 early in the game.
At the end of the day, Fitzpatrick’s giveaways led to 10 points for the Giants, and the Bucs wound up losing by three. It’s easy to say then that without those picks, the Bucs could have easily won.
The defense never had a chance in this one. Before the game even started, the Bucs were without linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, safeties Justin Evans and Chris Conte, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and defensive lineman Vinny Curry.
That’s more than half this team’s projected starters on that side of the ball, and nowhere are the Bucs thinner than on defense, where they just don’t have enough quality depth, particularly in the secondary.
Throw on top of that the fact that the Bucs spent the bulk of the first half blowing their gap assignments in the running game and it’s no wonder they spent the day playing catchup.
They mostly struggled to stop Barkley, who ran 27 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns, but they were equally ineffective against quarterback Eli Manning, who matched a career-best start by completing each of his first 11 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
For one week at least, the kicker wasn’t an issue. Cairo Santos, who was brought in this week to replace Chandler Catanazaro, who was finally fired after missing two more field goal tries last week, five for five on PATs. He did not attempt a field goal.
Gameday- Bucs searching for win in New York
Who: Bucs (3-6) at Giants (2-7)
When: Sunday 1 p.m.
Where: Metlife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
Spread: Giants by 2 1/2 points (Courtesy of VegasInsider.com)
Here’s what to watch:
Bucs Must be better in Red Zone
There is no disputing of the Buccaneers move the football between the 20 yard lines last week to the tune of 500 yards of total offense. There’s also no disputing that the Bucs were 0 – 5 in the red zone on scoring points and lost 16 – 3.
Tampa Bay ran 12 plays last week in the red zone and had -8 yards to show for them. That has to be better against a Giant defense that has been vulnerable. Some of that is the fault of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (above), who has five turnovers in the last two Bucs games, and two of those were inside the opponent’s 20 last week.
Further, in their last three games the Bucs are 27th in red zone touchdown percentage converting on just 41.6% of them.
It’s Not the Only key for the Buccaneers offense, but if they get inside the 20 yard line, it’s a big one.
Pressure Eli Manning
One area where the Buccaneers have to have an impact if they want to win is putting pressure on Eli Manning. He has been knocked around like a pinata this season, as the Giants have given up 3.6 sacks per game so far this year. That’s 31st in the league.
Their protection was better in the Monday night 27-23 win over the 49ers, where Manning was only sacked once.
Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has registered eight sacks so far this season in nine games and is anxious to have a chance to hit Eli Manning for the first time in his career.
If Manning consistently gets time to throw, the Buccaneers are going to be in big trouble.
The Buccaneers have been horrible in this category with just 6 takeaways so far in 9 games. That is 31st in the NFL trailing only San Francisco with five. Also the Buccaneers turnover differential is the worst in the NFL at – 19.
Now, the Giants aren’t much better. In fact they have only 9 takeaways on the season, but their turnover margin is just – 1.
It’s safe to say then if either team can take it away two or maybe three times in this game, it will likely decide who wins.
Final injury updates for Bucs and Jaguars Sunday games
As the Buccaneers get set to head to New York to play the Giants and the Jaguars are preparing to host the Steelers Sunday, it’s time to take a look at the injuries in those two games. (Reminder the Dolphins have their bye week for this weekend.)
Here’s a look at the latest:
For the Bucs, there Friday injury report has defensive names littered all over it and the news is not good for some of them.
After we were told by a source that Lavonte David was going to try to play Sunday, he apparently was overruled by the training staff and head coach Dirk Koetter, etc, and the Pro Bowl linebacker will be inactive with his sprained knee. Likewise, Vinny Curry will miss another game at defensive end, his fourth in the last five with a sprained ankle.
It’s the same situation with second year safety Justin Evans, who will miss the game with an injured toe suffered in the game with Washington last week. Defensive end Carl Nassib, who’s been a pleasant find off the waiver wire at the beginning of the season, is questionable with a left elbow injury suffered agains the Redskins, although he was able to practice on Friday.
The Bucs also list their receiver Chris Godwin as questionable with an ankle injury, and another important injury is starting center Ryan Jensen, who’s questionable with a hamstring injury. If Jensen is unable to play Sunday, then Ali Marpet, starting at left guard this year, but who played center a lot of 2017, would likely take his place.
The Buccaneers opponents, the Giants, had four players on their injury list this week, but all of them are now slated to play in the game on Sunday.
For the Jaguars match-up, they have two significant injuries to update, starting linebacker Telvin Smith was able to practice this week with his shoulder injury and is listed as questionable, but expected to play against Pittsburgh. There is concern for defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with a triceps injury and he is also listed as questionable. Dareus will likely be a game time decision.
Defensive back A.J. Bouye has been bothered by a calf injury, but he is also expected to play after being able to practice Thursday and Friday and listed as questionable. Coach Doug Marrone also announced that tackle Erik Flowers, who left last week’s game with tendonitis in his knee will start on the makeshift Jaguars line.
As we wrote earlier in the week, Jacksonville placed Center Brandon Linder on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered in last week’s lost Indianapolis.
The Steelers have no significant injuries, despite Ben Roethlisberger and James Conner both being on the injured list,. They will both be playing on Sunday. Connor was a much bigger concern having been in concussion protocol earlier after suffering one in the win last Thursday night over Carolina.
However, he cleared the protocol and was able to fully practice this week.
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