The Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed to lose the final game of the season to secure the first overall pick. And that's basically what they set out to do.
Not that anyone will admit it. Lovie Smith certainly wouldn't. None of the players would. And I'm sure they all wanted to win -- after all, they lead 20-7 at half time and looked like they were going to win the game. Right up until Marques Colston scored the go-ahead touchdown. The Bucs could easily have won this game, right up until the moment they lost it.
But at that point, they'd already started pulling their starters. In fact, they did so from the very start of the game. Lavonte David barely played at all. Mike Evans missed the entire second half because, as he said afterwards, he was "gassed". We saw backups like Keith Tandy, Kevin Pamphile, C.J. Wilson and even Garrett Gilkey get a large number of snaps, especially in the second half.
And Lovie Smith had said that they'd try to get some young players some playing time, to give them an opportunity and evaluate them. Which is how he characterized it after the game, too.
"Those guys you saw in the first half, the game plan was for them to be in there. In the second half, we wanted to look at more football players. I don’t think that’s out of the realm of possibility to look at some other guys. We’re not going to the playoffs, we have a comfortable lead and we’re going to run the football. Defensively, we played about all our guys except for Lavonte David a little bit. The guys we had out there fought right up until the end and they made some good plays to win there at the end."
It makes some sense, though. With the playoffs out of reach, evaluating young players to see where you need to make changes is important. And if that simultaneously helps you get a better draft pick, well, who's going to complain?
Perhaps the fans in the stadium will, though. And those at home. Or at least some of them. While our pre-game poll suggested that most fans actually wanted the Bucs to lose, I know plenty of fans come to these games to watch their Bucs win. And that hasn't happened once this year -- the Buccaneers lost every single one of their home games, and that's pretty hard to swallow.
Still, is evaluating your players and sitting some of your better starters really losing on purpose? No. But it's certainly not trying very hard to win, either.