The Buccaneers opened up the preseason on Thursday night, rallying to defeat the Dolphins 26-24 on a late 26-yard Chandler Catanzaro field goal. Here are a few observations:
Victories in the preseason don’t usually mean much but I believe the situation is a bit different for this year’s Bucs. After missing the playoffs for the 10th straight season last year and recording their seventh losing season in the last nine, this team desperately needs to develop a culture of winning, and this was a step in the right direction.
After controlling the game throughout, the Bucs gave up the lead late, but third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin led them downfield to set up the game-winning field goal.
What a nice start for the Bucs defense. They didn’t generate much of a pass rush, especially during their initial series against quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but Gerald McCoy had a sack of David Fales during the second; they recorded three stops in their first three series (two in the red zone) and allowed just three points.
It’s all about results and early on in this one, the Bucs defense delivered.
What a disappointing finish for the Bucs defense. The Bucs D did a lot of good things in this one, stopping the Dolphins on each of their first 10 third downs and holding them to field goals or field-goal attempts on several trips inside the red zone.
It was a shame to see the unit give up the lead late and was far too reminiscent of what often happened to this team a year ago.
As expected, Ryan Fitzpatrick played the entire first quarter, which amounted to two full series. Looking extremely sharp throughout, he moved the ball and the team well. He completed six of eight passes for 55 yards, scrambled twice for 11 yards and made quick, smart decisions across the board.
Had a couple more of his very catchable passes (especially on a third down toss to rookie RB Ronald Jones) been caught, his outing would have been even better.
As good as Fitzpatrick was, Jameis Winston was even better. Taking over and playing the entire second quarter, Winston completed 11 of 13 passes for 102 yards, and despite taking a sack when his line broke down finished with a 99.4 passer rating.
Winston was playing with and against backups, but he looked a lot like he did late last year when he completed 123 of 183 passes for 1,584 yards, nine touchdowns, five interceptions and had a passer rating of 99.1 across his last five games.
RB Peyton Barber has been one of the most impressive players in training camp this year and he carried that over to the game-day field on Thursday, running four times for 21 yards and a touchdown while catching a pair of passes, albeit for minus-1 yard.
The Bucs have long thought that Barber has the ability to be a feature back and he did nothing to dispel that theory during his first official game as the new leader of the Bucs backfield.
Here we go again. K Chandler Catanzaro, whom the Bucs signed to a three-year, $9.75 million contract during the offseason, missed his first PAT in a Bucs uniform and later missed a 53-yard field goal attempt that would have all but sealed a Bucs victory.
Sure, he bounced back and redeemed himself by kicking the game-winning field goal, but you really have to wonder if Matt Bryant put a curse on this team all those years ago when the Bucs let him leave and join the Falcons.
It’s early of course but you also have to wonder if it’s going to be another agonizing season for the Bucs kickers.
Rookie running back Ronald Jones had a pretty rough debut. He dropped a pass and while he did score a touchdown on a 2-yard run, he only gained 9 yards on eight carries. Jones has had a lackluster training camp so far and he failed to break out of his funk against the Dolphins.
There’s still plenty of time for Jones to find his groove but if this trend continues, the Bucs will eventually bag their original idea of using a committee of backs and give the bulk of the ground work to Barber.
Opponents are still picking on CB Ryan Smith in the passing game and rightfully so. Smith was awful last year, one of the weakest members of what was easily the worst defenses in the league.
He didn’t look any better on Thursday. He picked off the final Hail Mary pass of the game but before that he surrendered a number of catches in coverage and was flagged for a DPI on a series that resulted in a Dolphins score. If Smith keeps playing like this, he won’t just lose a backup job, he’ll lose a roster spot.
Vernon Hargreaves left the game early with a groin strain. He didn’t seem too upset about it so it may not be that bad. He better hope that’s the case because he’s fighting for his starter’s job this preseason and rookies Carlton Davis and MJ Stewart were among the Bucs best players on Thursday.
Davis had five tackles and Stewart played tight coverage all throughout.
Embarrassing Monday night for NFL with roughing passer calls
As the old cliche’ goes, “too much of a good thing can be bad.” And unfortunately, with the NFL having safety in mind first in trying to protect quarterbacks, the emphasis and enforcement of “roughing-the-passer” has gone overboard.
And we mean overboard.
Like horiffic look on Monday Night Football between the Buccaneers and Steelers, overboard.
The Steelers won an important game for both teams 30-27, but there’s way too much conversation about the QB hits coming out of this game.
There were five personal foul calls by referee Pete Morelli and his crew against pass-rushers on a quarterback last night. In fairness, on the occasion that Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was scrambling in the first quarter and Steelers linebacker James Bostic clearly left his feet and hit him in the head (above), as he was attempting to slide down, it was correct.
That was a legitimate call that the NFL is emphasizing and trying to erase.
However, the argument can be made that on three of the other four calls of roughing either Fitzpatrick or Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the officials, and Morelli specifically, overreacted and made a call that should have been let go.
We at F.F.I. understand the point of emphasis that referees are being instructed to stop defenders from wrapping up a quarterback and driving him into the ground. More on a specific call about that in a second.
First, at the beginning of the second quarter and with the Steelers backed up near their own end zone, Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy did exactly what players are being instructed to do. He let up and did not tackle Roethlisberger to the ground, avoiding landing on him after he threw the football.
And yet, Morelli threw his flag anyway.
On the play the Steelers had completed the pass to Juju Smith- Schuster for 43 yards, but still, it was an example of a call that did not meet the criteria and emphasis and should not have been made.
Later in the second quarter, Bucs defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was flagged for a hitting Big Ben in the head while Roethlisberger was in the pocket. However, it was clear both live and on the replay that Pierre-Paul made very little contact with his arm and Roethlisberger flopped to the ground.
Again, it should have been let go.
Now, with six minutes remaining in the first half, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw an incomplete pass and Steelers defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt textbook grabbed him around the waist and drove him into the ground landing on him. This is the example that is exactly what the NFL wants called and Morelli got that one right.
However, by and large the calls were bad on this specific point of emphasis.
It’s obvious after the controversy involving the Packers Clay Matthews hit on the Redskins quarterback Alex Smith Sunday, where he drove him to the ground in the pocket on a sack, that the NFL is in “full spin mode” on making that call and doing it consistently.
Further, players are trying to adjust, not just McCoy last night, but also Dolphins defensive end William Hayes who was trying to keep from wrapping up Derek Carr Sunday and ended up tearing his ACL because of it.
The bottom line is in a stand-alone Monday Night Football national television game, it was not a good look for the NFL to repeatedly see flags on the field for roughing the quarterback that weren’t really roughing.
Take for example, this tweet on Tuesday morning from ESPN’s Booger McFarland who called the game from field level Monday night:
Dear NFL. When the people you made the rule to protect start saying the rule is a joke it may be time to change the rule for roughing the passer. Rodgers and Big Ben both said they don’t like the rule.
— Booger (@ESPNBooger) September 25, 2018
He’s right. The NFL and its ongoing evaluation has to reign in how and when roughing-the-passer is going to be called.
Otherwise, the officiating continues to be one of the main story lines, and no one pays to see the officials.
Steelers hung on as Fitzpatrick rally came up short
That old “FitzMagic” still has the NFL in it spell.
That old FitzMagic that Ryan Fitzpatrick weaves so well.
He was at it again on Monday. Just when it seemed as if that old FitzMagic had run its course, Fitzpatrick nearly pulled a victory out of the jaws of defeat, rallying the Bucs to within a field goal of their third triumph in as many weeks.
It didn’t happen. The Bucs wound up losing Monday, 30-27, in part because Fitzpatrick struggled through most of the first half, throwing three picks during that span, including one that was returned for a touchdown. But, look at the overall body of work.
For the third time in as many weeks, Fitzpatrick threw for more than 400 yards (411 to be exact). And that’s an all time NFL record for three consecutive games.
He fell just short of throwing four touchdown passes for a third straight week, but the three he did throw for were one of the big reasons the Bucs remained alive on this game until the very end.
Once again, and even on a night when he wasn’t at his best, Ryan Fitzpatrick was the Bucs best player. And therein lies the problem with the Bucs. Right now, Tampa Bay is a one-dimensional football team and that dimension is Fitzpatrick.
Sure, he’s getting plenty of help from his receiving corps, which is easily the best in the league. But he’s getting little or no help from anyone else on this team.
The Bucs ran for 63 yards on Monday. Their defense took the ball away just once. While surrendering 416 total yards. Their kicker didn’t miss a field goal or a PAT but that was a first for this year.
That the Bucs will go into Chicago next week tied with two other teams for first place in the NFC South thanks to Ryan Fitzpatrick. If they hope to stay there, they’re going to need contributions from other sources. And fast.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has carried this team this far. There’s nothing to suggest he can’t carry them a but farther. But for the Bucs to go as far as they believe they’re capable of, they’re going to need someone or something else to shoulder some of the load.
Gamenight- Bucs look to continue rolling in battle with Steelers
Who: Buccaneers (2-0) vs. Steelers (0-1-1)
When: Monday Night 8:15 p.m.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Spread: Steelers by 1 (Courtesy VegasInsider.com)
It’s a massive early season game for both the Bucs and the Steelers for different reasons. Tampa Bay is trying to be 3-0 for the first time since 2005, while Pittsburgh doesn’t want to drop to 0-2-1 already on the young season.
Here’s what to watch:
Will “Fitzmagic” continue?
Through two weeks, there’s no better story involving a journeyman player than the Buccaneers QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’s won the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in back to back weeks, which is the first time in Tampa Bay franchise history that anyone has done that. Fitzpatrick has also become the first QB in league history to have 400 or more passing yards and four or more passing TDs in the first two games of the season.
Will it continue tonight against a Steelers defense that was butchered at home a week ago by the Chiefs and QB Patrick Mahomes? Mahomes threw six touchdown passes in a K.C. rout in the Steel City.
Clearly, the Bucs weapons, WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson plus tight end O.J. Howard are on fire, too. So, the stage is set for the 14 year vet to play another good, if not great game, now will he?
Steelers in disarray
There is no doubt that Pittsburgh has talent, but they currently are a mess. As we documented already, All Pro RB Le’Veon Bell is a holdout, refusing to sign his “Franchise Player” tender offer for the second straight year. You couple that with back to back poor performances on the field in a tie at Cleveland and then, the bad loss last week, and the Steelers are reeling.
And it didn’t help to see coach Mike Tomlin call the entire defense around him on the sideline in the first half last week to scream at them about they way they were playing. Then, you had star WR Antonio Brown visibly upset during discussions on the sideline with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner last Sunday, too.
Can the Steelers rally around Roethlisberger? Or will they continue to flounder?
Finally, will Bucs defense rise in Monday Night Spotlight
So much has been made of Fitzpatrick’s success, but the Buccaneers defense also has come up large, when needed. This would include last week in the home opening win over the Eagles. LB Kwon Alexander had a sack fumble, and the Buccaneers defensive line not only stuffed the run but pressured, harassed and knocked down/sacked Nick Foles repeatedly.
Players like Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy (above), Jason Pierre-Paul, LaVonte David, and Brent Grimes (who’s expected to play despite groin injury) are chomping at the bit to win a game like this with the country watching.
The Bucs haven’t been dominant, but rather opportunistic with stops and turnovers (three so far in two games), and that must continue tonight, if Tampa Bay wants to remain unbeaten.
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