TAMPA – Running Doug Martin didn’t waste any time rewarding the Buccaneers for their patience on Thursday night.
On his first touch of the season, after missing three games while he served out his suspension for a 2016 PED violation, Martin gained 8 yards. It wasn’t until fatigue hit him late in the game that he slowed down.
“At the beginning I felt real good,’’ Martin said. “Towards the end there, though, down the line, I could tell I’d been out for four weeks. But that’s something I’ll work on with the few extra days off we have coming.’’
That’s not the only thing Martin says he needs to work on. After he let a couple of perhaps too-high-to catch throws slip through his hands he said he needs to work on his pass catching too.
Beyond that, though, Martin and the Bucs were all pleased with the two-time Pro Bowlers return to the lineup as he proved to be one of the true highlights in the Bucs disappointing 19-14 loss to the Patriots.
Before he started feeling the effects of his long layoff, Martin caught one pass for 8 yards and ran 13 times for 74 (5.7) and a touchdown, that coming on this 1-yard dive over the line at the end of a drive that was virtually all Martin.
— NFL (@NFL) October 6, 2017
Martin churned out 48 of his yards during that early second-quarter series, one that first appeared to end with Martin’s 11-yard run through the defense on a first-and-10 play from the New England 11.
“Yeah, I thought I got it the first time, but I wasn’t sure,’’ said Martin, who was ruled down at the 1 after video replays showed his knee hit the ground before the ball crossed the plane of the goal line.
“But just in case, I went over the second time. The linemen did a good job today and we are going to keep getting better. We have a good break and I’m going to use that time to work on my hands and everything that I need to work on.’’
The only thing Martin really needs to work on is staying in the lineup. As it was all through training camp and the preseason, Martin is simply at a different level than all the other Bucs backs.
Shoot, he’s at a level that’s different than all but a few backs across the league. He’ll never be a home-run hitter but his blend of quickness and power is truly rare and he proved that again Thursday.
“Doug looked good. He definitely gave us a lift,’’ Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. “He looked fast. Doug, you can tell, he’s explosive. He’s going to help us.’’
Bucs will turn back, once more, to QB James Winston to start
The Buccaneers version of “musical chairs” at quarterback continued Monday, and they will now turn back to Jameis Winston for this week’s game with the 49ers. It’s a move that was not unexpected, as Winston relieved starter Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second half of Tampa Bay’s 38 – 35 win over the Giants Sunday and excelled.
Winston lead four touchdown drives to rally the Bucs from being down by 17 points and get them within three points of New York in the fourth quarter and have a chance to win the game. This after Fitzpatrick had thrown three interceptions over the course of the first three quarters of the game.
The Bucs still seem to be unsteady about what to do with the quarterback situation. And, this included coach Dirk Koetter telling the media after the game Sunday that he would have a decision on Monday, but then during his press conference he told the media that he had notyet met with the quarterbacks and therefore would not be reviewing a decision.
This made it more awkward, as the reporters wanted to ask about why he would be making another switch or why he would be sticking with the veteran Fitzpatrick. A short time later Winston and Fitzpatrick were apparently informed and word leaked out that Tampa Bay will be going back to the former number one overall pick from 2015.
This is the third quarterback change at the Buccaneers have made since their fifth game this season. That’s when they went to Winston for the first time, since his three game suspension had ended to begin the season. Quarterback Tampa Bay’s loss in Atlanta and played fairly well, although he did have two interceptions in the game. The next two weeks were struggles where Winston had three turnovers in the Bucs overtime win over the Browns and then threw three more interceptions before being benched for the fourth quarter of their eventual lost the Bangles.
Fitzpatrick relieve Winston in that game and rallied the team from an 18-point deficit to get the game tied and he was named the starter for the Buccaneers eigth game against Carolina. However, over the course of the next three games, all losses, Fitzpatrick had 8 turnovers. And as the losing continued, Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes are all but extinguished now with a five-game losing streak and their record standing at 3 – 7.
The decision to go back to Winston is not necessarily a permanent one either, as the last few weeks have bourne out. This is primarily because, the Buccaneers would be on the hook for the fifth year option of Winston’s rookie contract should he be injured down the stretch and unable to pass an March physical. If that is the case, they would then owe him $20 million guaranteed for 2019.
Now, it’s looking more and more likely that the Bucs will make a change at head coach with Koetter, and may also fire GM Jason Licht if the losing continues this season. This would mean that a new regime’ would have the decision to make about whether to keep Winston and about what kind of deal to give him for 2019 in the future if they want to keep him?
One more variable in this scenario is reserve quarterback Ryan Griffin, who played well in the preseason, and the Bucs want to eventually take a look at in regular season games, especially if they are eliminated from playoff contention. It may very well be in the coming weeks, the Griffin gets the opportunity to start for the Buccaneers in this sorted QB scenario.
For now, and the Bucs have demonstrated that “for now” means only a game or two, and Winston is back as the starter.
For how long?
That is the real question
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.
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