If you experienced a sense of déjà vu while watching the Buccaneers take on the Panthers on Sunday, you’re probably not alone. A growing majority of Bucs games have followed a pattern repeated Sunday and it’s not a good one.
Just as they did against the Steelers, Falcons and Bengals, the Bucs fell behind early against the Panthers, caught fire in the second half and made a game of it, then lost.
In this case, it was a 42-28 loss. The good news is the Bucs clearly have the ability to come back from almost any deficit, no matter how big. The bad news is they can’t completely overcome those large deficits.
As a result, the Bucs now stand at 3-5, which means they’ll have to stage a second-half rally much like those that they stage during their games to get back into the playoff race.
Their capable of doing it, but the problem now is that the Bucs are at a point where even a late rally probably won’t be enough to keep them from posting yet another losing season. So, let’s break this one down.
Ryan Fitzpatrick had a very Jameis Winston-like game Sunday. He completed 24 of 43 passes for 243 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions and was fortunate a couple more of his throws didn’t wind up as picks.
The question that has to be asked now is, does he really give the Bucs the best chance to win?
Like Winston, Fitzpatrick has moments of brilliance, but he also has moments where he just looks ordinary. Given where they stand and what they’ve invested, it might be best for the organization to go back to Winston, if only because they need to be absolutely sure he’s not the answer before they give up on him.
Another reason it might not be a bad idea to go back to Winston is because, it really doesn’t matter who starts at quarterback now. Granted, turnovers have killed this team and Winston has turned the ball over more than Fitzpatrick has.
But if the defense can’t figure out a way to keep spotting opponents double-digit leads, the Bucs are always going to be chasing the score and there’s no way they’re going to win consistently doing that.
Back in the day, there was a coaching adage that said never try a two-point conversion after a touchdown until you absolutely have to. That adage has pretty much been done away, what with all the trouble kickers are having these days, but the same still holds true for fake punts.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter nevertheless ignored that rule Sunday and it cost him. The Bucs were down 28-7 when Koetter called for a fake punt from his own 26. The fake didn’t work and the Panthers took advantage, turning the mistake into a touchdown that gave them a 35-7 lead.
It’s only fair to explain that Koetter’s thinking on the fake punt was that at that point in the game, the Bucs needed to steal a possession. It’s usually the job of the defense to steal a possession or two, but the Bucs defense failed yet again on Sunday to take the ball away.
It’s pretty hard for a quarterback to play perfect football, but that’s the position the Bucs quarterbacks have been put in by their defense. If they’re not perfect, the Bucs lose.
It was only a couple weeks ago that the Bucs actually led the league in fewest missed tackles. That’s not the case anymore, not after this outing. Their inability to take the ball away aside, the Bucs biggest issue Sunday was their failure to tackle.
A Christian McCaffrey run of 35 yards in the second quarter was a great example. McCaffrey could have been stopped three times along that jaunt, including once for no gain. He wasn’t, though, and despite a series of Panthers mistakes that followed, his run down to the Bucs 1 set the stage for a critical Panthers score.
And while we’re hammering the defense, I don’t want to hear any noise about how great a job their doing a good job of making second-half adjustments. Good teams make adjustment in the second quarter.
If not sooner. The Bucs seeming inability to adjust prior to halftime has cost them at least three games this year, including Sunday’s.
The Bucs have an offense that can score almost at will.
In order for that offense to matter, though, it needs a defense that can keep the game close early as well as late.
It’s not just the defense that’s making life hard on the Bucs quarterbacks. Their running game isn’t helping them much either. If you take away the five runs for 23 yards that Fitzpatrick had, the Bucs ran 16 times for 59 yards (3.6 per carry), with 18 of those coming on a Peyton Barber run and 15 more coming on a Jacquizz Rodgers run.
It’s usually up to the defense to make an offense one-dimensional but the Bucs have managed to do that all by themselves.
I wonder how wide receiver DeSean Jackson feels about this switch back to Ryan Fitzpatrick now. He wasn’t even targeted in this game until 1:53 was left in the first half, and he wound up catching just two of the four passes thrown his way for 32 yards and no scores.
This isn’t like it is in hockey where there is a post-game selection of the three biggest stars of the game, but if there were, Bucs slot receiver Adam Humphries would be my pick for No. 1 star. Humphries caught all eight of the passes thrown to him for 82 yards and a touchdown and even ran the ball once for 7 yards. Humphries often gets lost in the shuffle of weapons the Bucs have at wide receiver and tight end but he’s as reliable and potent a pass catcher as the Bucs have.
I’m starting to wonder if the Bucs might be better off using cornerback Ryan Smith at safety. Smith can’t cover worth a darn, but he’s one of the better tacklers on the team. That’s one reasons he plays gunner on the punt team. This regime may not be around to try it but given his skill set, it might be worth giving Smith a shot at playing box safety and have him run downhill a little bit.
Bucs WR Mike Evans still not practicing
The Bucs were back on the practice field Wednesday morning getting ready for their third preseason game on Friday night with the Cleveland Browns at Raymond James Stadium. However, once again, they are without their top receiver, Mike Evans, who remains sidelined with an injury.
Buccaneers beat reporter for The Athletic, Greg Auman, tweeted that Evans was not out on the practice field during the portion that is open to the media:
Mike Evans not practicing today means Mike Evans isn't playing Friday, and he's not playing next week, which means he'll finish the preseason without a catch. He's as known a commodity as the Bucs have on their roster though.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 21, 2019
Evans pulled up during a drill in Sunday’s practice and head coach Bruce Arians made mention of the injury on Monday:
“Mike tweaked yesterday…it’s nothing serious,” Arians told the media.
It is reportedly a leg injury to Evans’ quadriceps that is hampering him.
The Bucs are not required to talk about injuries, much less the severity of them, at this stage. And, it’s not believed that there will be any further updates on Evans this week.
However, it’s easy to conclude the Tampa Bay will not risk playing him in the third preseason game and is Auman tweeted, the starters never play in the fourth preseason game which will be next Thursday in Dallas.
So clearly, Tampa Bay is resting and rehabbing Evans for the season opener with the 49ers.
Evans, a Pro Bowl wide receiver from a year ago, is the top target of QB Jameis Winston. A year ago he caught for a career high 1,524 yards and also career high 17.7 avg with 8 TDs.
Evans had 86 receptions, which were the second most of his five year career, in 2018, and he’s one of three receivers in NFL history to have 1,000+ receiving yards in each of his first five seasons. Hall of Famer, Randy Moss and A.J. Green are the other two.
Evans previously dealt with a hamstring injury in the 2015 preseason and missed the season opener with Tennessee but returned the following week. However, he’s been very durable since then, playing in 47 of the 48 games the last three years, having missed only a 2017 game while suspended for his role in a fight against the Saints.
This info comes on Evans’ birthday, as he turns just 26 today.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones back at Tuesday practice
Bucs fans can exhale on the knee injury for running back Ronald Jones, at least for now.
Jones was seen at the portion of practice open to the media Tuesday afternoon with his left knee heavily wrapped but, most importantly, participating in drills in full pads.
Ronald Jones back at practice today with his knee heavily taped but moving pretty good. Certainly not 100. %Mike Evans still out but it’s not a serious. pic.twitter.com/RHDR80qfqn
— FanStreamSports JP (@FanStreamJP) August 20, 2019
Jones had not practiced the last two days of Bucs training camp with what was described as a swollen knee suffered after playing in Friday night’s preseason game with the Dolphins.
As we wrote yesterday, coach Bruce Arians provided a brief update after practice into Jones’ situation,
“Ronald’s knee swelled up a little bit and just trying to take it day to day with him.”
Traditionally, the third preseason game is the final time, where starters for the regular season play significantly. The Bucs are set to host the Cleveland Browns Friday night at Raymond James Stadium.
When asked about Jones’ chances to play or whether the team would play it safe, Arians briefly said:
“We’ll see how it is. We still got a few more days. I think Ronald’s gonna be ok.”
Jones appeared to have suffered some kind of left knee hyper-extension returning the opening kickoff on a rain-slicked turf against the Friday night. That’s what can be seen this photo on social media from Tampa Bay sports reporter Kevin O’Donnell showing Jones knee clearly in an awkward spot when he planted:
Wondering why #Bucs runningback Ronald Jones knee is sore? This is the opening kickoff Friday night against the Dolphins. Rojo didn’t practice yesterday. Looks like a hyperextension to me. pic.twitter.com/mVmW86E96x
— Kevin ODonnell Fox13 (@ODonnellFox13) August 19, 2019
Jones did carry the ball twice for 7 yards later in the first quarter of the game before being shut down for the night.
Jones has been one of the standouts of the Bucs offseason and training camp with glowing updates repeatedly from Arians about his progress and his chances of seeing significant playing time. He missed three games with a hamstring injury in a disappointing rookie year.
However, he is expected to challenge incumbent starter from last year Peyton Barber for playing time/carries, once the regular season gets underway in two weeks.
Another obvious point, if his knee was sprained or worse, the Bucs would not have had on the field in full uniform trying to run and cut, even at a reduced speed. So, that’s also a positive.
For now, we await Arians’ and the teams plans for using Jones, or not, against the Browns later today and tomorrow.