1) I was at the Palm Harbor Selmon's this afternoon - as I can no longer afford attending ANY sports game in person, my indulgences have been reduced to sports bars, but I'm not complaining as the food is damn good, the tv screens within line-of-sight, and hey we had a celebrity at the restaurant today with Big Nasty (the guy with the KISS makeup and rhino helmet) in attendance - and man lemme tell you, I was laughing with pure joy after the Wright INT TD return. I haven't felt like that watching a Bucs game in ages: I can barely recall the last time I did.
So of course losing this nail-biter in the last minute is a huge heartbreak. So having taken more than an hour to digest both the food (no dinner for me tonight kids) and the loss, lemme just say this first: it's better to have a good loss than a bad win.
A good loss means a lot of things. It means that yes you lost but your team was good enough to keep the game competitive. It means you can see where the gaps and miscues are without the feeling of helplessness you'd get in a bad lopsided loss (like what we suffered last season during the 10 game losing streak). It means you can hope the coaches can see where the problems are far better than buying into a poorly-won game where the team would buy into bad illusion and false pride. I'm just saying if the Bucs had won with all the miscues we had this game, I'd be more worried the team would be going into the next 2 games a little bit blinded by ill-earned "success".
2) The biggest problem the Bucs have is that our offense can't sustain drives. Part of it is the woes we have sticking to a solid running game (where the hell was Blount?). Part of it is Freeman holding on too long to the ball and failing to make proper decisions a second faster. Part of it seems to be Freeman looking for the deep pass and failing to consider the need for making First Downs to keep drives alive.
I was screaming for most of the game for Free to look to his Tight End. I was screaming for Dallas Clark's number to get called more often. It was a relief to finally see Clark getting looks and receptions during the late scoring drive, because what he did was secure us a fresh set of downs and move the ball towards the end zone. If the Bucs' offense had worked on getting First Downs during key drives in the Third Quarter, we would have gotten more than just one field goal out of that quarter and dug a deeper hole for New York to escape. Instead, we stalled, gave the Giants more opportunities to get back into the game... and we lost.
3) Player of the Game: for the Bucs, each player worth mentioning had some great plays but then some lousy plays to diminish how they fared overall. But I have to think CB Eric Wright, a somewhat maligned free agency acquisition, gave the Bucs the Play of the Day with that incredible INT for a touchdown return late in the First Half. A huge dagger putting that score on the board and giving the Bucs a 24-13 halftime lead. Pity Wright got knocked out of the game. At that point, our poor CB depth quickly became a major problem against Manning...
3a) Eli Manning may have thrown 3 bad INTs that killed his own team in the First Half, but here's the thing with solid NFL QBs: he knows how to make adjustments at halftime and he knows how to keep his cool. Which is why he kept picking apart the Bucs' passing defense for 510 passing yards (have the Bucs ever given up so many passing yards before?) and got his team back into the game with two 4th Quarter TD passes. This is who we want Freeman to be: the Second Half Eli who uses his quick decision making, quick release, and total trust of his WRs to keep drives going and score points.
3b) Vincent Jackson with 5 receptions, 128 yards and a nice TD reception.
3c) Mike Williams with 3 receptions and a huge 4th Quarter TD that tied the game.
3d) Whoever was making the defensive play calls for the Bucs the five times the Giants got inside the Red Zone: the first four times the Bucs forced New York to settle for FGs. The fifth was where the Bucs gave up the TD in order to get the ball back with under 30 seconds on the clock to try for a tying TD and overtime...
3e) Overall, the play of the top rookie draftees - Barron, Martin, David - were pretty good. Barron made a few knockdowns, Martin had that nice run reverse scamper for his TD of the day, and David was calling decent defensive adjustments and make a handful of decent tackles-for-loss against the run. Problem was using Martin too often in obvious run plays where a power back (Where the hell was Blount?) would have been better, Barron disappeared enough times to leave our corners dangerously isolated against receivers who kept burning them alive, and David was injured at one point which seemed to be the exact same time our defense started to fall apart...
3f) Punter Michael Koenen WHO IS STILL A GOD AMONG MEN especially with planting three out of six punts inside the Giants' 20.
4) Goats of the game: whoever it was who kept insisting on obvious run plays on Second Downs where Martin got stuffed for yard losses, and on the Third-And-Short plays where the lack of a power back (WHERE THE HELL WAS BLOUNT?) left Martin planted five yards behind the line of scrimmage.
4a) whoever it was who kept insisting Freeman throw deep and have no offense schemes drawn up for our passing game to get 10 yards and First Downs to keep drives alive. Guys, at some point we're gonna need to trust our Tight Ends to catch the ball...!
4b) Aliq Talib. He may have had one or two decent plays, but almost the whole game Eli was picking on him like a school yard bully picks on a fat introverted kid who lacks social skills. Not that I'm projecting or anything... but I digress. Whatever quality Talib may have had once as a corner who could handle single-cover duties is long gone. QBs are not afraid of him right now, and unless we make adjusts to our passing D to send a safety over to help more often, he's gonna have a long bad year... and the Bucs are gonna feel it bad. Apparently, we DID need to draft CB in the First Round last April after all...
4c) Whoever decided on calling more blitzes rather than keeping 6-7 guys in the secondary to double-cover New York's receivers. Yes, our defensive front wasn't getting a lot of pressure on Eli for 99 percent of the game. But that has to do with two things: Eli's got quick release, and he's throwing in shotgun formations with decent O-line protection. We were better off using massive pass coverage to force Eli to hold the ball longer than he usually does and throw him off-rhythm that way. The blitzes were picked up all the time, and it left our corners in single coverage and suffering all day long. We got our INTs when our LBs and Safeties dropped back into passing lanes, playing off of Eli's need to quickly throw the ball before he processes just how thick the coverage is.
5) Statistics of the Game: Two-for-Ten on Third Down conversions for the Bucs. This always says so much. It meant the Bucs didn't sustain offensive drives. It meant the Bucs had trouble with both the running game in third-and-shorts as well as the passing game in third-and-longs. It meant our defense, already under a lot of pressure against a solid Giants offense, was getting tired and suffering on the field.
5a) Add to that the total number of First Downs. Bucs had 14 all day: Giants had 31, well over twice as many. Guess which team didn't score as much as they needed to?
5b) Giants total offense: 604 yards. Bucs total offense: 307 yards. A team COULD win against such stats (usually by profiting off major turnovers just like Eli was giving us in the First Half), but combined with the poor conversion rate and poor First Down totals, it just doesn't happen.
6) Where the hell was LeGarette Blount? I'm getting the vibe - it's pretty obvious now, ain't it? - that the coaches have soured on Blount for some reason. Coaches, GET OVER IT. Whatever case you might have against Blount, now's the time to tell us fans because there were a good number of us at Selmon's today openly screaming to see Blount's number called. Unless you coaches have like got solid evidence that Blount is sleeping with your mothers, GET OVER IT AND PUT HIM IN THERE WHEN WE NEED A F-CKING POWERBACK RUNNING THE DAMN BALL!
6a) Times thrown to Vincent Jackson: ten. Number of catches: five. Not shabby. But TE Dallas Clark was thrown to: five. Number of catches: four. You coaches might want to recognize the fact that Clark has good hands, can get open, and CAN RECEIVE THE BALL MID-FIELD TO SECURE FIRST DOWNS FOR US. Please look into it.
7) In other NFL news, I really think New Orleans are not going to have a good year.
7a) Cardinals beating New England IN FOXBORO? Sure and all, it was a close game and Arizona only won it because the Patriots' kicker hooked the last-second FG try, but c'mon, we're talking ARIZONA! BEATING NEW ENGLAND! I think the Hoodie's deal with Mephisto is starting to run dry...
7b) Jacksonville moving to
Los Angeles uh London: Any Day Now if they keep up losing like this.
7b) The Buffalo Bills are not as bad as we thought they were.
7c) The Eagles are worse than their 2-0 current records says.
7d) The Texans may be as good as all the prognosticators picking them for a Super Bowl trip say they are.
8) In college football news: Rutgers does not miss Coach Schiano one bit.
8a) South Florida does miss having a coach, period.
8b) And it's not that Southern Cal's players are overrated, it's just that their HC Lane "Back-Stabber" Kiffin sure is. I'm no fan of Tennessee, but I STILL feel for them after the way Kiffin wrecked their football program and fled at the first drop of a fat wallet. Schadenfreude, USC, you'll be suffering for it until you boot Lane out the door...
8c) I really hate it when Notre Dame is honestly playing well and winning.
9) In other baseball news: Stick a fork in the Rays. I can't see them making another run for the playoffs like they did last season. I simply can't see Oakland, Baltimore AND Anaheim (YOU ARE NOT LOS ANGELES, ANGELS!) collapsing all at the same time to let the Rays into either Wild Card spot, nor do I see the Yankees and Orioles collapsing to let Tampa back into the division lead. None of those teams are NOT Boston of 2011: a rickety, ego-laden house of cards team that collapsed on itself for good reason.
Still, isn't it pretty to feel good about how well the Rays are as a team, compared to when they were routinely at the bottom of the division AND the league? Just can't make the playoffs every year, gotta accept that...
9a) At least the Marlins aren't going anywhere in that fancy new stadium of theirs BWHAHAHAHAHA.
10) Next up: Bucs travel to Dallas to face the 1-1 Cowboys (Dallas is losing TO SEATTLE?! at the moment with less than 2 minutes left, so yeah I'm tempting fate here). Here's hoping the Bucs swing by and pick up Blount on the way so they can GET HIM RUNNING IN POWER PLAY SITUATIONS DAMMIT.
Now where's the damn Polling option...?