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DLT’s Doubloons – Bucs vs Cardinals

This wasn’t the effort we were expecting. This isn’t the team we were expecting. After another embarrassing loss in the desert, you have to wonder about this Bucs team.  Years ago, Sapp and company, learning what it was like to be a contender, were called paper champions. On paper, the Buccaneers should be one of the top teams in the NFL. Yet here they are, underachieving to a 2-3 record.

Pieces of Eight

1) TJ Ward told Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, “We’re on a West Coast trip, we came a day early. Sometimes, we’ve got a young team. Guys think they’re on vacation.”

How the hell does this happen? Especially after their last trip to the desert, where they got blasted in similar fashion 40-7? Where do these younger players get off thinking they can head out to Arizona like its a vacation and then put that kind of effort on tape? It was an embarrassment to the coach, their veterans, and the entire Tampa Bay organization.

Coming into this game, the Arizona Cardinals had 4th worst scoring offense in the NFL. They hadn’t scored over 23 points in any game this season and in their last two games, had 25 points combined. They put 24 points on the board in the first five drives of the game.

Adrian Peterson hadn’t rushed for over 67 yards in a game since December of 2015. He had over 70 by the end of their second drive of the game.

Coach Koetter told reporters, “I obviously did a horrible job of getting these guys ready to play because that was the worst first half of football I’ve ever seen in my life.”

He’s taking the heat for them, but frankly, it’s on the players not being ready to play football. The Cardinals wanted to win on Sunday. The Bucs wanted to be on vacation. That’s why this team hasn’t been to the playoffs in a decade.

2) Ronde Barber struggled mightily early in his career before becoming the fantastic Buc legend he eventually became. That’s why I’ve never been one to quickly pull the ripcord on a young CB but Vernon Hargreaves…man you are making it extremely difficult. Hargreaves was terrible again in Arizona, as he has been most of this season and pretty much the majority of last season. At some point, the Bucs aren’t going to be able to keep playing him.

3) Many Bucs fans want to crown Ryan Fitzpatrick for leading the furious Bucs 4th quarter comeback. They point to Fitz’s deep ball success to Mike Evans as a reason to replace Jameis. They conveniently forget that Fitz’s interception on the 3rd play of the 3rd quarter set up Arizona at the Tampa Bay 33 and allowed the Cards to take a 31-0 lead. Then, down 31-20 and backed up in his own end zone, Fitz threw a Trent Dilfer special that was picked off at the Bucs’ one-yard line. A play later, Tampa Bay was back down by 18.

So yes, Fitzpatrick led the Bucs on a hell of a comeback bid – but don’t get it twisted. Jameis Winston, if healthy, is the quarterback of this team, not some aging journeyman who’s on his seventh team. Any suggestion otherwise makes me question your football intelligence. Sorry.

4) While Mike Smith was victimized by the lackadaisical approach of his team, I’m disturbed by the performance of this defense this season. We were all thrilled when Smith returned and didn’t take a coaching gig elsewhere. At the end of 2016, the defense seemed to have their stuff together and was ready to dominate in 2017. After a dominant performance against the Bears, we all thought they arrived.

They’ve been terrible ever since – particularly on the road, where they’ve surrendered an eye-popping 36 points a game. There were communication breakdowns – something that should never happen for a team in the second year of the defense, players playing out of their gaps and even more damning, it looked the Bucs defensive coaches didn’t look at a single frame of film on the Cardinals.

Arizona didn’t do anything special. They ran their offense and ran over the Bucs defense. It took Mike Smith two and half quarters to figure out the Bucs can’t play zone against this team. By then, the Cardinals had already built a 31-0 lead.

I am starting to wonder if Smith’s return was actually a good thing for the Bucs. So far, it hasn’t been.

5)   Koetter is taking a lot of heat for chasing points at the end of the first half and the rest of the ball game. Folks, you’re down 24-0. At the time, I thought they should kick the field goal, just to get that goose egg off the board and get a tiny bit of momentum heading into the 2nd half. But I get what Koetter was thinking. You’re not going to come back by kicking field goals. You need to put touchdowns on the board.

Then down 31-0, when the Bucs started making their comeback, again Koetter chased points by going for two repeatedly. Folks, you’re down 31 frigging points. You want the quickest route back into the ball game. Two touchdowns and two-point conversions and suddenly it’s 31-16. Do it three times in a row and it’s 31-24.

Unfortunately, the Bucs didn’t execute well enough on the two-point tries to get those extra points and draw closer more quickly.

6) Did Hard Knocks get the Bucs high on themselves? I don’t know. What I do know is this team is an underachieving 2-3. This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. This was the year the Bucs were supposed to take that next step to perennial playoff contender. Instead, they look like the same team that still can’t get over the hump, they just have better players not getting it done.

I saw Pewter Report proposing that if Tampa Bay continues to slide and ends up with a disappointing finish, the Bucs may move on from Koetter to Jon Gruden of all people. Look, I love Chucky, he got us a Super Bowl and the Bucs haven’t been back to the playoffs since they dumped him but the Bucs have fired three coaches since Gruden and he hasn’t come back. I don’t know why now would be any different. We all saw what happened in Washington when the Skins pulled Joe Gibbs out of retirement. A big fat nothing.

Frankly, I think you need to stop this revolving door of coaches. Even if this season doesn’t end the way we all hope it does, Koetter is building something here. Maybe there are a couple more pieces, particularly on defense, that still needs to be addressed.

7) Aaron Rodgers possible season-ending injury demonstrated how fragile an NFL season can be. When Jameis went down, I feared the worst. Make no mistake, if Winston is out an extended period of time, the Bucs aren’t going to the playoffs in 2017. They may be able to survive a 2 or 3-week injury. Fitz is good enough to guide the team through that (if the defense gets their collective heads out of their backsides, that is). They can’t have Winston out for a month or 6-8 weeks.

Season over if that happens. Let’s all pray Jameis will be okay.

8) As terrible as everything looked in Arizona, there’s one important thing to remember. The Bucs are in last place in the NFC South, but only down 1 game in the loss column with all of their division games left to play. This is far from over and if the team can get their act together (and Jameis is healthy), they still have it all in front of them.

DLT’s Tweet of the Week

 


Up Next

The Bucs are back on the road to face a scrappy and rested Buffalo Bills squad that has surprised the NFL with a 3-2 start. This team beat Atlanta on the road, so it’s not one to be taken lightly. If Jameis is out, the Bucs will be underdogs and be staring 2-4 in the face.

J.C. De La Torre

J.C. De La Torre

Want to give JC a piece of your mind? E-mail him at JC@whatthebuc.net JC De La Torre is formerly a columnist/blogger for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blog site BucsNation.com where in 2016, he was nominated as best sportswriter in Tampa Bay by Creative Loafing. Previously, he served as a featured columnist for Bleacher Report on Tampa Bay sports, an editor and featured columnist for SB Nation Tampa Bay covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Gators, wrote for NFL.com’s Blog Blitz and contributed to Pewter Report, one of the top magazines on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. JC is also a filmmaker, comic writer and rabid Whovian.

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