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 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.