We're going to be wide open...RIGHT THERE...and there's nothing you can do about it. - Al Messerschmidt
The Bucs fall to 6-5 in a heartbreaking 24-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. What did we learn for the Bucs' defeat?
We learned a lot about the Bucs on Sunday and here's a few of them -
1. There is one big difference between the Buccaneers and the Falcons and that is Atlanta knows how to win close games. The Falcons have amassed a 10-1 record largely by pulling out the nail biters, amassing a 7-1 record in games decided by a single score. Tampa Bay on the other hand is now 2-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Until the Buccaneers learn how to win these close games, they will not reach Atlanta's level.
2. While the Bucs secondary is definitely sub par - I don't think it's the main issue for the Bucs' defense. Despite spending multiple high draft picks on the defensive line - the Buccaneers still cannot pressure the quarterback with their front four. Granted, the pass rush took a hit when the Bucs lost Adrian Clayborn for the season - but let's face it - Clayborn wasn't doing a Reggie White impression while he was in there.
Seeing the 49ers completely brutalize Drew Brees and the Saints made it clear - the Bucs simply are not getting enough pressure. Sure, they get there now and then but there is no consistency in the rush.
It's why the Bucs try to blitz so much - unfortunately against guys like Brees and Matt Ryan, they've seen just about every blitz you can throw at them, recognize it and adjust. This leaves Leonard Johnson one-on-one with Julio Jones, a matchup the Bucs will lose consistently.
3. The hard reality is there's no magic elixir to fix the Bucs' pass defense this season. It is what it is. You can run exclusively zone and not blitz, then die a slow death with Ryan picking you apart because you can't get there with the front four (see Saints game). You can go for the gusto and blitz but if you fail to get there (as the Bucs consistently have this season) you are relying on your inexperienced secondary to do things they simply cannot do (see Giants game).
Either option is bad news. The Bucs played a lot of zone in the first half - the result was Atlanta pounding the rock and running the Bucs out of their zone. Not only that, it limited the Bucs' high powered offense to just three drives (17 plays) in the first half.
The Bucs tried to play man and the lack of pressure allowed Ryan to pick apart the secondary. Then the Bucs tried to blitz and disaster struck. When facing upper echelon quarterbacks, the Bucs are just going to have to limit their opportunities by playing ball control and running the football well.
4. With what we just talked about in number three - the Falcons proved you can take away Doug Martin if you truly want to. Atlanta did a brilliant job hiding their coverages and didn't give away their intent pre-snap most of the time. In the first half, Freeman adjusted too slowly, not taking the shots down the field afford for when the safety or linebackers crept up.
You saw a lot more play action and down the field action in the second half but for the first time in awhile, Freeman wasn't accurate on the deep passes. It left a lot of missed opportunities on the field.
5. Adding to the offensive struggles were perhaps the worst performance by the offensive line of the season. No holes for Doug Martin and Freeman got hit more in this ball game than he has all season (sacked twice). So far Tampa Bay's makeshift offensive line has done a good job at both but this was one week where the Bucs lost the battle at the line of scrimmage.
6. Concerns were voiced about Martin hitting the rookie wall after Sunday's game but I honestly don't see that as being valid. Martin had no running lanes what so ever and when he did get a crease, he'd burst out for a decent gain. In addition, Martin made a huge play in the passing game, going for a spectacular 42 yd scamper after taking a pass from Freeman in the flat. Unfortunately, it got called back by two penalties on the offensive line.
Credit where credit is due - Atlanta decided to take Martin out of the game and succeeded. It was up to Freeman and the receiving core to make them pay.
7. We got so used to seeing Buccaneer Red Zone opportunities turn into touchdowns, it was a bit of a surprise to see the Bucs fail to cash in from 1st and goal at the three. Freeman had an opportunity in that sequence to hit a wide open receiver in the end zone and missed. In another sequence, Vincent Jackson had gotten behind the Falcons secondary and Freeman underthrew the ball (nearly seeing it get intercepted by Asante Samuel). Those points came back to haunt the Bucs.
8. With that said, the Bucs still managed to put 23 points on the board. Bottom line, in this league 23 points should be enough to win. Unfortunately, with the Bucs defense its not enough.
9. You have to wonder a bit about the decision not to take a timeout after Michael Turner was stopped at the Bucs 38 yard line with 2:34 to go. Sure, the Falcons eventually converted a first down and that enabled them to run down the clock even further - but if my math is correct the Bucs would have bought themselves at least another 10 seconds - giving them 18 seconds to work with instead of 8. That would have given Tampa Bay at least one more throw to get it into field goal range rather than the hail mary at the end of the game.
10. Depending on how you look at it, the Bucs weren't hurt too badly by this loss. Any thoughts of challenging the Falcons for the NFC South crown is by the boards - barring an epic collapse by Atlanta. However, basically on Sunday the Bucs hit the reset button. Every team Tampa Bay is competing against in the wildcard race lost - the two current Wildcard holders Green Bay and Seattle as well as fellow competitors Minnesota, New Orleans and Dallas. The worst thing that happened is that this hung another conference loss on Tampa Bay, making it a little more difficult to take over the tie-breaker from Seattle.
Then again, it was also an opportunity lost. Had the Bucs managed to win on Sunday, they would already have possession of the 6th and final playoff spot - no longer needing help to get there.
Bonus: While the call on Ahmad Black was ticky tack (at best), Tampa Bay still had 7:55 left in the game to take back the lead. You cannot pin this loss on a bad call.