Sunday was yet another defensive disaster for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, especially in the first half and when it was all said and done, it resulted in a fifth loss in eight games.
And as coach Dirk Koetter and his new interim defensive coordinator Mark Duffner begin to assess things on Monday, it’s obvious what has to stop:
The Bucs have to figure out how to keep the opposing team from running off at least 21 straight points early on their defense.
By the time RB Christian McCaffrey was done catching and running early, WR Curtis Samuel was weaving through almost the entire defense on a double-reverse touchdown, and Cam Newton lasered a touchdown to his favorite target, tight end Greg Olsen, the Panthers had scored 28 points in a row before the break.
On their way to a franchise-record 35 first-half points, Carolina looked unstoppable. However, to Bucs fans, it looked a lot like the previous month and a half of defensive football.
Now, a lot of blame has been laid at the feet of former, now fired, defensive coordinator Mike Smith. But, the scheme and the personnel being used to play it these last two weeks against the Panthers and in Cincinnati, was up to Duffner. And frankly, the defense was no better than Smith’s in either game.
Recall that two weekends ago, Andy Dalton fired repeated opening half bullets for the Bengals at the Bucs secondary and Joe Mixon ran for over a hundred yards, as Cincinnati led 21-0 midway through the second quarter and then, 27 – 9 at the half.
Granted it was still Smith at the defensive play-calling controls three weeks ago in Atlanta. That’s when, after an early Jameis Winston touchdown pass had given Tampa Bay 6 – 0 lead, the defense promptly surrendered 21 immediate points to Matt Ryan and the Falcons passing attack.
The Bucs were able to battle back in the second half, but that’s not really the point.
Too big a hole in the first half has been “too big of a theme,” recently.
More awful reminders for the fans includes, when the Bears humiliated the Bucs with another franchise-record 38 points first half points, and 48-10 rout September 30th at Soldier Field.
That day, the Buccaneers made second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky look like a Hall of Famer, as he threw five touchdowns in the first half and the Bears took an insurmountable 35-point lead to the locker room.
So, if you weren’t keeping track of all of that above, in four of Tampa Bay’s last five games (all of them losses) they have given up at least 21 points in a row at some point in the opening stanza of all of them.
You can lament poor and or inexperienced personnel all you want, but you equally have to blame Dufner / Smith and the other defensive assistants for not being able to make adjustments, as the first half is going on.
Luckily, the Bucs have an explosive enough offense, especially behind QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, that they got back in the games with the Falcons (with Jameis Winston), the Bengals and Sunday in Carolina.”Fitzmagic” registered four TD passes Sunday to pull Tampa Bay withing 35-28 in the fourth quarter.
However, all three outcomes still ended up as losses, where the story was all too familiar:
Too big a defensive meltdown, digging too big of a deficit for the rest of the day.
And, if Koetter and staff don’t figure it out and put a stop to it starting this week with Washington, the Buccaneers won’t be playing relevant games down the stretch of the season.
Bucs moving up in our latest power rankings
With conference championships now over, all focus will shift to bowl games in college. Florida Atlantic was the lone state team playing for a title last week, defeating the UAB Blazers in blowout fashion. In the NFL, the Bucs made it three straight victories.
The Dolphins almost made it two in a row before the late-game drama. The Jacksonville Jaguars offense fell flat at home in a blowout defeat. That all leads into how our top 5 looks heading into this weekend:
Florida Gators- The Gators stay on top despite not participating in the SEC title game. They may not have played a game, but they still got a win by being selected to the Orange Bowl. Dan Mullen is now two for two in his Gators career in gaining entry into the “New Years Six.” Two seasons of a row with a big bowl win can only help the gators getting back to where they want to be, and that is competing for championships.
Florida Atlantic- The Owls were able to win the C-USA championship destroying UAB 49-6. This was the second title in three years for the Owls, and their great success under Lane Kiffin. All good things come to an end in this day and age in college football for non-power five schools. And so, Kiffin is now on his way to “the Grove” and will be the head coach of Ole Miss. The Owls reward is to play host to SMU in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- The Bucs are riding a hot streak right now. They are now on a three-game winning streak. The offense continues to put up big numbers behind QB Jameis Winston. Winston, who threw for a career hight 456 yards Sunday, has the second-most yards and touchdowns, but leads the league in INTs by a large margin.
The defense has been playing very well during this winning streak. Next, the Bucs will go on the road to face a struggling Detroit Lions team.
UCF Knights- The Knights had a rare off week during the AAC Title game. They had won the previous two and Saturday the Memphis Tigers won this one, avoiding the Knights. UCF, however, still won 9 games and will look to make it 10 in the bowl game. They will head an hour south to play Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa.
Many wanted the Knights to draw an in-state team like FSU or Miami; instead, it will be Marshall. It is important for UCF to end the year strong with a decisive victory.
Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins didn’t win this past weekend over the New York Jets. They did, though, show a lot in this contest. For a team that looked down and out the whole first half of the season, they have completely turned it around.
If it wasn’t for a late review on pass interference, the Dolphins likely would have won their fourth game in their last six. Head coach Brian Flores was livid after the game, and that heart and passion has put his name in the running for coach of the year.
No, he won’t win the award, but what he and this team have done has been impressive with the lack of talent on the roster.
Bucs QB Winston in limbo with injured thumb
The Bucs are very much concerned and waiting to see the status of quarterback Jameis Winston injured thumb suffered in Sunday’s wild victory over the Colts.
And they have to be prepared to be without their starting quarterback this weekend in Detroit.
First, credit to Pewterreport.com which was at teammate Mike Evans’ charity bowling event Monday evening, and where the fifth year quarterback participated bowling left-handed with a brace seen on his right hand and thumb:
#Bucs QB Jameis Winston bowling at his teammate @MikeEvans13_ charity bowling event tonight in Tampa to raise money for Mike’s foundation. Winston was wearing a brace on his right hand, and bowled his left. pic.twitter.com/fsIAXIc9fc
— PewterReport (@PewterReport) December 10, 2019
Winston injured the thumb at some point late in the second quarter of the 38 – 35 victory over Indianapolis. Coach Bruce Arians relayed after the game that Winston came out for the second half warm up and couldn’t grip the ball, when he was trying to get ready for the third quarter.
He went inside for an x-ray and backup quarterback Ryan Griffin ran the team for the first series of the second half. Winston returned and threw for over 200 yards in the second half including the game-winning touchdown to Breshad Perriman in the final five minutes of the game.
After the game Arians revealed that Winston had what he described as “a slight, slight crack in the thumb” that showed up on the X-ray.
On Monday afternoon at his regular news conference, the Buccaneers coach said that it would be day by day evaluation, that Winston had swelling on the thumb and would be getting a second opinion from a specialist:
"We’re going to come, we’re going to work. We’re going to try to win four in a row, five in a row and then six in a row.”
➡️: HC Bruce Arians pic.twitter.com/XrdtIA2yQQ
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 9, 2019
The injury comes at a time of great debate about whether Winston will be kept on for the Buccaneers beyond this season.? He’s currently playing on the 5th year option of his rookie contract for $20 million.
As we wrote last week, Arians made it clear that the evaluation will begin after the season as to whether Winston will be back for 2020 and long-term.
The former number one overall pick is still leading the NFL in interceptions this season with 23, but he is also second in the NFL in touchdown passes and yardage. And, the Bucs have responded with three straight wins late in the year to keep their NFC wild-card hopes barely alive.
Tampa Bay had hoped use veteran Blaine Gabbert, if something happened to Winston, but Gabbert was hurt in the preseason with a separated left shoulder, placed on injured reserve and will not be able to be activated down the stretch of the season.
So that means if Winston cannot play, Griffin, a six year veteran who has played well in the last two preseasons, will be expected to get his first start Sunday.