You know, I harken back to that classic Denny Green post game rant, the one where he says "The Bears were who we thought they were," but that's not the line I'm thinking of. "We let off the hook!" is the one.
Once again the Bucs faced an opponent who so badly wanted to be beaten and once again the Bucs failed to close the deal in spectacular fashion.
Did we learn anything from another heartbreaking Sunday?
1. I've gotta admit as a life long fan and longtime blogger/columnist of your beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers I've seen the Bucs lose just about every way imaginable. This - this was a new one. 12 men on the field? Seriously guys? 12 men on the field? And the crazy part of it is Bill Levy's penalty happy crew actually missed it. They missed it and Marvin Lewis made a shrewd move by challenging the call. Thanks to the new Jim Schwartz rule, it could still be reviewed and sure enough, our lovable bumbling bunch of pewter and red clad buffoons had 12 guys on the field.
You can't make this stuff up.
2. Of course, this football game was lost by the Buccaneers long before 12 men on the field. Sure, that play pretty much ended their effort but lets face it - that was the SECOND time they had gotten it into Patrick Murray field goal range only to penalize themselves out of it. The first time was Bobby Rainey's 29 yard reception to the 36 and then Cincinnati's Wallace Gilberry jumping offsides to set it at the 31...only to see the Bucs' center Garret Gilkey hold on the next play, sending Tampa Bay out of field goal range the first time.
Think of the squandered opportunities this team had on Sunday:
- Following an interception by Johnthan Banks on the first play of the game, the Bucs offense gets the ball on the Cincinatti 14 yard line. What do they do? They lose five yards and settle for a field goal thanks to penalties.
- After the Bengals took the lead with a touchdown, for some inexplicable reason they go for an onside kick, recovered by the Bucs at the 31. Then the first play from scrimmage, a Bengals defender jumps across the line of scrimmage and then for good measure belts Josh McCown. Unsportsmanlike conduct, move the ball to the 16. Do the Bucs charge back into the lead? Of course not. Illegal block in the back by O'Neil Cousins moves it back to the 31. Tampa Bay works it back down with a couple nice passes to Charles Sims, then Garret Gilkey double clutches a snap. Another minus five yards back to the 22. McCown gets sacked the next play. Drive over, settle for a field goal.
And we're not even talking about penalties like the illegal formation call on O'Neil Cousins that wiped out a 28 yard run by Doug Martin.
On the day the Buccaneers ended up with 13 penalties for 94 yards, most of them on offense (and those were just the ones Cincinnati accepted).
You can't say the refs were picking on the Bucs either, they flagged Cincinnati 10 times.
3. Garrett Gilkey had a game for the ages. Four flags and then those horrible rolling snaps back to McCown (the one in the final drive you could actually hear McCown scream an obscenity at the snap), his missed blocks. It's hard to imagine a worse performance by a center than the one Mr. Gilkey delivered to us on Sunday. Look, I'm sure he's a good kid who tries hard and he didn't want to be this bad. It's the fault of the offensive line coach George Warhop, acting OC Marcus Arroyo and ultimately coach Lovie Smith for allowing a player this bad to be on the football field.
4. On December 29th, Marcus Arroyo should be sent packing. Look, it's admirable that Arroyo stepped up in weight class when Jeff Tedford abandoned the Buccaneers and filled in as the Bucs' play caller on offense but in the last two weeks, his play calling has been downright atrocious. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson are your two best weapons on offense. They can swing a safety to Evans side to take him out, but then they leave Jackson in one-on-one coverage which he can still dominate. Yet out of 55 offensive plays you target your two best players 13 times?
It got to the point where in spite of himself, McCown started throwing to Evans in triple coverage. While the short passing game was working to Charles Sims and Bobby Rainey, you still got to get the ball to your best weapons.
Then in the second half, after Doug Martin had ran all over them, the Bengals were determined not let Tampa Bay run the football in the second half. Did the Bucs adjust? Nope.
Pound Doug for no gain. Pound Sims for no gain or a loss. Try a jump pass to Evans. That was the extent of the Bucs offense in the second half.
You saw a true NFL Offensive coordinator in Cincinatti's Hue Jackson as he got his team's stagnant offense in gear with reverses, mis-direction and even a wide receiver screen and pass. Even against the stingy Bucs defense, he found ways to get the ball to his playmakers.
5. Once again, the Bucs wasted an outstanding defensive performance. Tampa Bay's ever improving defense limited the Bengals to just 288 yards of total offense. Jeremy Hill, who led the NFL in rushing yards in November was limited to 40 yards on 13 carried (3.1 average). Superstar wideout A.J. Green, who led the NFL in receiving yardage in road games had 4 receptions for 57 yards (and the game winning touchdown).
The Bucs forced 3 interceptions by hot-and-cold QB Andy Dalton, sacked him twice and hit him 4 other times. The Bucs also finished with 7 tackles for loss and of course held the Bengals to just 14 points.
All this despite once again playing without all-world linebacker Lavonte David. It looks to me like these guys are finally starting to get it on defense. Over the past six games, Tampa Bay has surrendered just 299.6 yds per game of total offense and 17.3 points per game. In that same time frame, they've forced 9 turnovers and sacked opposing quarterbacks 17 times.
6. Jacquies Smith got his first start with the Bucs, a well deserved honor. Smith would finish with no tackles or sacks and just one QB hit, but his presence was felt as he forced Andy Dalton to rush some passes and funnelled the Cincinatti QB in to Gerald McCoy and Akeem Spence. Smith may actually be the edge rusher they hoped to get in Michael Johnson.
7. It was indeed nice to see Doug Martin flash a little bit in the first half. The 28 yard scamper that got called back was vintage Martin and for perhaps the first time this season, he seemed to see the holes and make a few people miss. In the second half, Cincinatti took away the run so we were back to 1 yard Doug. Still, seeing Martin show some of the old form was encouraging.
8. Its no grand observation to say that a lot of the reason the Buccaneers are 2-10 this year is because of its offensive line play. From Anthony Collins holds and lookout blocks, to the false starts, illegal blocks in the back and missed blocks by others, I don't think I've ever seen an offensive line this poor in Tampa Bay. Some want to blame Josh McCown or Mike Glennon for their poor play at the quarterback position this year but the offense's complete failure rests on the big uglies upfront. They can't open holes for the running game without committing a penalty. They can't protect the quarterback without a foul.
The strange thing is the people that are struggling have been good in this league (well, not O'Neil Cousins or Garrett Gilkey, they were terrible in Cleveland they're terrible here). Collins was a decent tackle and solid guard in Cincinnati. Logan Mankins was Logan freaking Mankins. Demar Dotson was a rock at right tackle last season. Evan Dietrich-Smith was considered the best center available in free agency and a potential Pro Bowl caliber player.
So to me, when you look at an entire unit regress, the only thing you can really point to is the guy coaching them up and that is George Warhop. Browns fans can correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember any "Great Wall of Cleveland" stories coming out of Ohio.
Warhop may be an another offensive coach who should get his walking papers.
9. McCown was bad on Sunday but as we mentioned, he had little time to throw. Even though Cincinatti was credited with just one sack and 4 hits, McCown's pocket collapsed on him and forced him to scramble far too many times. He wasn't blameless, though. There was one time McCown ran right into the waiting arms of Wallace Gilberry (but Gilberry grabbed his facemask on the way down nullifying the sack). McCown certainly seemed erratic as the rush effected him.
McCown is an average QB who gets below average when it all breaks down. Even Tom Brady wouldn't succeed behind this line. Bottom line, the Bucs are going to need to go free agent shopping again or draft themselves out of this dismal mess.
Tampa Bay should be in line to solve their QB issue if things continue to progress as we expect, but once that's taken care of the line of scrimmage on offense and defense should be the focus.
10. I think we can put the Bucs post season hopes finally to bed. With the Bucs loss and both New Orleans and Atlanta getting surprising victories the Bucs are done. Finished. Finito. It's all about 2015 going forward. Of course, we all know its been that way since the end of October but I think even Lovie is finally willing to accept that the Bucs were never truly in contention.
To be in contention for a division title, you can't be among the league's worst in giveaways and penalties. You can't lose games by killing yourself and blowing leads. No, that's what 2-10 teams do. They are what we thought they were.
BONUS: Mike Evans choke slam of Terrance Newman. Love it.