As this season descends further into the pit of misery (Dilly! Dilly!), the Bucs once more broke our hearts allowing Cam and the Carolina Panthers to rob victory from the jaws of an ass-kicking. The loss resulted in drama, grumors and so much more.
Pieces of Eight
1) Bucs fans are a funny bunch. They hate their quarterback and their head coach, no matter what level of success they reach. Jon Gruden won a Super Bowl and multiple division titles in Tampa Bay, the only coach in the franchise’s history that can say that. Yet fans are questioning the logic of bringing him back.
Jameis Winston has put together a string of games unlike any other by a quarterback in Bucs history. Yet he’s looked at as “struggling”, a hot head and people actually question this kid’s future with the team.
Dirk Koetter said it best, “No one gives a <expletive> unless you win.”
The Bucs haven’t. That’s how Marcus Mariota, who’s thrown more interceptions than touchdowns this season can be considered “better” than Winston. It’s why Koetter, after leading the Bucs to their first winning season since 2010, is on the chopping block this year.
Frankly, if Bucs fans run Winston out of town and we have to watch him win Super Bowls with other franchises, I’ll never forgive my Bucs fan brethren. We waited too long to have a quarterback like this and if Chucky returns as the winds seem to be blowing, I have no doubt he’ll have this team contending for titles sooner rather than later.
Gruden won with Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese. Imagine what he could do with Jameis Winston?
2) My cohort, Jon Hinkle gives you a brilliant break-down on the possibility of Jon Gruden returning, so I won’t belabor the point here. Do I like the idea of Gruden returning? Absolutely. There will always be a special place in my heart for Chucky and I love having a rock star at Head Coach. I think he’d attract free agents and yes, I do believe he’d win.
Will he bring the Bucs back to the ultimate prize? I don’t know about that. Can he get the Bucs back to the playoffs? Yes. I do believe he can do that. Frankly, I want to see this team return to the playoffs. I want to see them competing for division championships. The only way you can win the Super Bowl is to make the playoffs. The Bucs need to be in that conversation year in and year out. Jon Gruden can do that. Can Dirk Koetter? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t bet on it – and therein lies the issue.
Jon Gruden can get the Bucs back to relevancy. Dirk Koetter might. That’s what the Glazers are weighing right now. I think the decision has been made, no matter what happens on Sunday, because the Glazers have to know if Gruden is in or if he’s out. If he’s not coming, I wouldn’t be surprised for the Glazers to keep Dirk for one more year. Why not? There could be as many as 13 job openings this year – it’s a buyers market. If the Bucs aren’t getting Gruden, why not stick with Koetter and see if he and Licht can recapture the magic in 2018?
The Bucs aren’t getting Josh McDaniels and they’re not getting Jim Harbaugh. Put that out of your mind. The only marquee coach who would even consider this toxic franchise right now is Gruden because he’s a Buccaneer through and through. If it’s not Gruden, it should be Koetter.
3) The Bucs are coming apart a bit at the seams as we sink to the final week of the season. Chris Baker, possibly the worst free-agent signing by the Bucs since Anthony Collins, cost the team a win and had the gall to laugh about it in the locker room. It set off Jameis and Kwon, causing a little scuffle that was heard live over the airwaves on the Buccaneers Radio Network. Unfortunately, it came on the heels of Winston’s meltdown on the sideline where he pushed Bucs Director of Football Operations Shelton Quarles and attempted to get at referee Jerome Boger before suddenly finding his faculties again and avoiding an action that could get him suspended.
So obviously, the national media is making a huge deal out of it. Anti-Jameis rhetoric is at an all-time high. It seems as if the national media was waiting for Winston to fail and are reveling in Jameis’ tough off-the-field 2017. Even the Bucs own beat writers have piled on, with Roy Cummings of Florida Football Insiders penning a “you don’t say” level article on Jameis’ turnovers.
Has Winston turned the ball over too many times? Sure. Has it hurt the Bucs’ chances to win games? Certainly. It’s not the reason they’ve lost games. How many times has Winston delivered a lead in the fourth quarter this season only to see the defense waste it? How many times has he set the Bucs up for a tying or game-winning field goal, only to see a kicker miss it?
These aren’t excuses. They’re facts. Winston is one of the few players on this football team with a burning desire to win. If anything proves that, challenging a fellow player who cares more about his paycheck than victories is a prime example. Winston shouldn’t be criticized for it. He should be applauded.
Winston cares only about one thing. Winning. He doesn’t understand how he can play as well as he has played and his team still fails on the football field. The Bucs need to start winning and soon because you don’t want to see that fire in the quarterback quenched. Next season, Jason Licht or whoever is the GM needs to focus less on talent and more on mentality. I’d take 53 guys of average talent and a deep desire to compete and win over an overpaid lazy player (see Baker, Chris) any day of the week.
As for Winston’s turnovers. Being blindsided from behind isn’t conducive to ball security. Fix the damn offensive line.
4) Most bad teams can look at the schedule and say if a play here or play there went differently, they’d be a winning team. It’s the crap-team mantra. Yet, with the Buccaneers, it’s been more prevalent than any other team in the NFL. Look at these games:
|Opponent||Final Margin of Defeat||Game Notes|
|at Minnesota||-17||The Bucs fell behind quickly 28-3 and never recovered as Casey Keenum carved up the defense for a career-high 369 yds and 3 TDs|
|New England||-5||Bucs led in the second quarter, slipped behind by 9 but had pulled back within 2 points in the fourth quarter. Down by 5 thanks to three missed field goals by Nick Folk, the Bucs had the ball at the Patriots’ 19-yard line but Winston’s pass to OJ Howard as time expired fell incomplete.|
|at Arizona||-5||The Bucs again fell behind 31-0 behind the running of 31-yr old RB Adrian Peterson, who had one of his two 100 yd rushing days this season against the horrid Bucs Defense. The Bucs also lost their QB Jameis Winston but rallied to within 5 points of the Cardinals. Their onside kick bid was unsuccessful and the Bucs finished with a close loss.|
|at Buffalo||-3||Winston, playing hurt, rallied the Bucs from an 11 point deficit and had Tampa Bay up 27-20 with 3:14 left in the game. The Bucs defense proceeded to surrender it in 3 plays (75 yds), then a fumble by Adam Humphries set up the Bills’ game-winning field goal.|
|Carolina||-14||Jameis’ worst game of the season where he might have been playing his most hurt, but Tampa Bay only trailed 10-3 until a Winston interception in the 4th quarter set up Panthers at the Bucs’ 48 yd line. They would go on to salt away the game with a TD to Kelvin Benjamin.|
|at New Orleans||-20||The Bucs lost Winston again at halftime after taking another tough hit on his shoulder. The Bucs were down 16-3 at that point (6 of those points set up by a blocked punt). They would never be competitive in the game, at one point trailing 30-3.|
|at Atlanta||-14||Once again, the Bucs defense had Tampa Bay chasing the entire ball game. The Bucs would pull within a touchdown, only to see the defense give it right back. Tampa Bay trailed 27-6, but rallied with two touchdowns in the second half to pull within 7 points. But the defense couldn’t hold and the Falcons salted away the win with an embarrassing 14-yd TD run by Tevin Coleman.|
|at Green Bay||-6||Winston was back healthy and playing extremely well. He led the Bucs to a 7-3 lead, scoring on the first drive of the game for the first time this season. The defense surrendered the lead, then Winston, hit from behind, fumbled and it was returned for a touchdown putting the Bucs down 17-7. Still, Winston rallied the Bucs, giving Tampa Bay 20-17 lead with a TD pass to Cam Brate with just 6:02 left in the game. Of course, that was way too much time for the Bucs defense, who allowed Green Bay into FG range and set the game up for overtime. Winston would never touch the ball in the extra session, as the Packers won the toss and march downed the field 72 yds for the game-winning score.|
|Detroit||-3||Winston overcame a turnover fest to rally the Bucs to tie the game at 21 with 3:06 left in the game. The defense (stop me if you heard this one before), proceeded to let the Lions go 49 yds in 9 plays to set up the game-winning field goal.|
|Atlanta||-3||Trailing 14-7, the Bucs drove to the Atlanta 9 yd line, where Peyton Barber fumbled, ending a scoring drive. The Bucs fell behind by 10, but Winston rallied them not once, not twice but three times. With 6 seconds left and trailing by 3 points, Winston got the Bucs into field goal range but Patrick Murray missed a 54 yd field goal wide right.|
|At Carolina||-3||Controlling the game most of the way, Tampa Bay built a four-point fourth quarter lead. Murray missed a field goal that would have put the Bucs up by 7 and the Bucs defense surrendered the game-winning touchdown to Carolina with 0:35 left.|
In 9 of the Bucs 11 losses, Tampa Bay actually was in striking distance to win the game in the 4th quarter. What was it Tony Dungy said? Keep it close and win in the fourth. The Bucs would fall behind early, rally and have opportunities to win, only to blow it. If just half of those games went the other way, the Bucs would be 10-5 and be competing for a division title. They didn’t and Koetter is about to be fired while the fanbase is trying to run the quarterback out of town.
The most painful of those losses – Buffalo, Green Bay, Detroit and the second Carolina game, the Bucs had leads or were tied late in the fourth only to see the Bucs defense give up the deciding score. Win those games and you’re at least 8-7. Yes, disappointing. Not quite where you want to be, but it beats the heck out of 4-11.
My point? The Bucs have to improve the talent base, but they’re not as far away as some would have you believe.
5) Are the Bucs Browns of the NFC as Joe Bucs Fan says? With the Los Angeles Rams qualifying for the playoffs, the Bucs have the longest playoff drought in the NFC. This despite having 3 winning seasons during their decade-long sabbatical from January football. No, I don’t see them as the Browns of the NFC. Cleveland fans have no hope, no expectation that their team will end their stay in the pit of misery anytime soon. Bucs fans are furious because this was supposed to be the year. Everyone believed it. Everyone felt it. Then it all went sideways. As I illustrated in the previous point, Tampa Bay isn’t that far away, losing 7 of their 11 games by a touchdown or less. The Browns haven’t won a game this season, are on their way to 0-16 and have a realistic shot at breaking the Bucs’ record of 26 straight losses. Only 5 of their 15 losses were within a touchdown. The Browns are the Mendoza line for bad and the Bucs, even with their awful performances this season, are not even close to being that bad. This team has a franchise quarterback, an elite wide receiver and weapons galore on offense. They have Pro Bowl players at every level on defense that just needs to be molded and put in the right scheme. Could they use an infusion of talent on the line of scrimmage and purge some dead weight like Doug Martin and Chris Baker? Certainly. There’s work to be done. Still, to suggest the Bucs are the Browns of the NFC is laughable. Cleveland’s last winning season was 2007. Their last playoff appearance was in 2002.
The Bucs are not the Browns of the NFC.
6) So what moves would I make to improve the Bucs? Whether Tampa Bay retains Dirk Koetter and Jason Licht or moves on, the coach and GM will have some work ahead of them. First, the Bucs will have $66 million in cap space to work with. That’s before they cut bait with Doug Martin and Chris Baker, which would add $11 million to their coffers. The Bucs have 16 unrestricted free agents per OverTheCap, and of those players, the only one I would worry about bringing back would be Brent Grimes.
However, it seems Grimes is ready to move on from Tampa Bay, so it looks like a big hole will be created in the Bucs secondary.
The Bucs also have to keep in mind that Winston, Mike Evans and Kwon Alexander’s contracts will all be coming up in the near future, so you’ll need to squirrel away at least a good 30/40 million for Winston and company in 2019.
So really, the Bucs will have maybe $30 million to play with in free agency. The Bucs will need to decide if their defense will be transitioning to the 3-4, which talent-wise, seems like a solid idea. To remake the defense for 3-4, you’re going to need some 3-4 pass rushers. Sadly, the pickings are a bit slim at 3-4 OLB and 3-4 DE. If you go to 4-3 DE, Ezekiel Ansah and Demarcus Lawrence would be targets I’d focus on.
Lawrence, the 25-year-old star of the Cowboys has 14.5 sacks on the season and would finally provide that outside rush the Buccaneers have so desperately needed. Of course, Lawrence will command top-dollar, at least $20 million per season. You go Lawrence, you won’t have much left for anyone else. But Lawrence could be that difference maker on defense that makes everything else work. Of course, Lawrence could be franchised or re-signed by the Cowboys and never hit the market but Dallas only has $20 million on the cap so they might not be able to afford to do that.
Ansah is a solid pass rusher but there are motor questions, especially after he receives his payday. After the experience with Chris Baker, the Bucs may shy away from that type of arrangement.
There are some solid options in the secondary including the Dolphins Nate Allen at Safety and the Rams Trumaine Johnson at Corner. On the offensive line, there are some prime tackle options like Nate Solder (Patriots), Greg Robinson (Lions) and Justin Pugh (Giants).
Focus on the offensive and defensive lines in free agency and the draft, maybe add a veteran corner or two to replace Grimes and move Hargreaves back to Nickel and now you’re talking.
7) The most gut-wrenching part of the loss to the Panthers on Sunday is the Bucs had every opportunity to bury Carolina. The Panthers were ripe for the upset, obviously looking past Tampa Bay to this week’s game against Atlanta. Instead of putting the Panthers away, the Bucs settled for field goals in the red zone or made critical errors, like Jameis and Joe Hawley not securing the center-to-quarterback exchange. The Bucs offense has moved between the 20’s all season, as their 11th total offense ranking suggests, but continues to fail in the red zone. Some of that can be on the quarterback, but a lot of that is on the play-caller too. As our friends at Pewter Report mentioned in their latest podcast, it’s legal to run slants or rub plays inside the 10-yard line. For the love of God, you don’t pitch it outside against one of the fastest defenses in the NFL – especially with Doug Martin at running back.
Not to mention, Mike Evans is nigh uncoverable. How many 50-50 balls have we seen the Bucs attempt with him this season? Not enough. There’s a reason why his numbers dropped from 12 TDs in 2016 to just 5 this year.
I think Koetter and Winston both focused on trying to keep Desean Jackson happy and lost a bit of their identity. Even Koetter joked, “Hey, wasn’t life a lot simpler when we just went back and tried to throw it to Mike?” Yeah coach, and guess what? Mike Evans is still on the football team.
8) This game still has some importance for the Buccaneers. Jameis Winston doesn’t want to end his season on a personal 10-game losing streak. It really is unfathomable to believe Tampa Bay’s top pick of 2015 hasn’t been the quarterback for a victory since Week 4. Winston can pass Dan Marino for most touchdown passes under the age of 24. If he throws 2, he’ll get to 20 for the third straight season. He’s already eclipsed the 3,000 yd passing plateau. If he throws for 359 yds he’ll hit 3,500 yds passing for the third straight year.
Mike Evans can become only the 3rd receiver in NFL history to start his career with four straight 1,000 yd receiving seasons if he can nab 54 yds on Sunday. He’d join Randy Moss and AJ Green in that accomplishment.
Of course, the Saints are looking to wrap up the NFC South and what would be better than returning the favor from last season?
DLT’s Bucs vs Panthers Emotional Tweet of the Week
— JChristmas☃️ De La Torre 🎄 (@jcdelatorre) December 24, 2017