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.
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.
Final injury updates for Bucs and Jaguars Sunday games
As the Buccaneers get set to head to New York to play the Giants and the Jaguars are preparing to host the Steelers Sunday, it’s time to take a look at the injuries in those two games. (Reminder the Dolphins have their bye week for this weekend.)
Here’s a look at the latest:
For the Bucs, there Friday injury report has defensive names littered all over it and the news is not good for some of them.
After we were told by a source that Lavonte David was going to try to play Sunday, he apparently was overruled by the training staff and head coach Dirk Koetter, etc, and the Pro Bowl linebacker will be inactive with his sprained knee. Likewise, Vinny Curry will miss another game at defensive end, his fourth in the last five with a sprained ankle.
It’s the same situation with second year safety Justin Evans, who will miss the game with an injured toe suffered in the game with Washington last week. Defensive end Carl Nassib, who’s been a pleasant find off the waiver wire at the beginning of the season, is questionable with a left elbow injury suffered agains the Redskins, although he was able to practice on Friday.
The Bucs also list their receiver Chris Godwin as questionable with an ankle injury, and another important injury is starting center Ryan Jensen, who’s questionable with a hamstring injury. If Jensen is unable to play Sunday, then Ali Marpet, starting at left guard this year, but who played center a lot of 2017, would likely take his place.
The Buccaneers opponents, the Giants, had four players on their injury list this week, but all of them are now slated to play in the game on Sunday.
For the Jaguars match-up, they have two significant injuries to update, starting linebacker Telvin Smith was able to practice this week with his shoulder injury and is listed as questionable, but expected to play against Pittsburgh. There is concern for defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with a triceps injury and he is also listed as questionable. Dareus will likely be a game time decision.
Defensive back A.J. Bouye has been bothered by a calf injury, but he is also expected to play after being able to practice Thursday and Friday and listed as questionable. Coach Doug Marrone also announced that tackle Erik Flowers, who left last week’s game with tendonitis in his knee will start on the makeshift Jaguars line.
As we wrote earlier in the week, Jacksonville placed Center Brandon Linder on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered in last week’s lost Indianapolis.
The Steelers have no significant injuries, despite Ben Roethlisberger and James Conner both being on the injured list,. They will both be playing on Sunday. Connor was a much bigger concern having been in concussion protocol earlier after suffering one in the win last Thursday night over Carolina.
However, he cleared the protocol and was able to fully practice this week.
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