Watching a young team grow up can be mighty frustrating huh, Buc Fans? Just when you think the corner is turned and this team's about to take off - FLOP. Just as the national media was taking notice of our dirty little secret down here in Tampa - CLUNK. It felt like everything gained the last few weeks was lost in one shoddy played ballgame in Indianapolis.
The good news? Its all still there for the Bucs - The chase for the playoffs - The continuing rapid improvement of a team no one thought much of at the beginning of the season. The bad news? Its a lot harder now.
- The Bucs weren't eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday. They didn't even take a conference loss. No, what the Bucs lost yesterday was control of their fate. Had the Bucs run the table, Tampa Bay wouldn't have to worry about tie-breakers. They owned the tie-breaker with Seattle (conference record), would've swept the Falcons owning the head-to-head tie-breaker and everyone else would have been a game back.
Now, the Bucs need help. They need Seattle to lose one of their final 5. They need either the Washington Franchise or The Giants to fade away and perhaps most importantly they need to win some ballgames - especially next week. The loss has made the Falcons game a must win for any playoff hopes.
- As much as I've lauded the offensive line this season, yesterday was a horrific performance. I don't know if Dononvan Smith suddenly hit the rookie wall on Sunday or if this was something that has been coming for the inconsistent young rookie left tackle but he had his worst game as a Pro on Sunday. Smith got his QB brutalized, surrendering a sack, a QB hit and 5 hurries on the day. He wasn't alone though, as Joe Hawley and Evan Smith both struggled as well against a very pedestrian Colts pass rush (only 14 sacks on the season coming into the game).
The result was Jameis hurrying throws and maybe for the first time in his young NFL career feeling the rush before it actually got there. He still put up decent numbers, 20 of 36 for 245 yds and a beautiful look-off the safety TD laser to Brate the Great.
The running game still churned out 132 yds. But five sacks and 12 QB hits is unacceptable.
- I don't understand what the Bucs were doing on defense Sunday. The past few games, Tampa Bay has been effective in playing man-to-man with Jude Adjei-Barimah and Sterling Moore and bringing a variety of blitz packages. The few times they did it on Sunday, they forced the 40-year old wonder Matt Hasselbeck into quicker decisions that resulted in positive results.
Instead, Tampa Bay decided to use some confounding zone scheme (confounding for the Bucs, not the Colts) and it resulted in some shoddy pass defense that reminded us of the bad Bucs D of earlier in the season.
The odd thing is - it wasn't even Tampa Two. I honestly don't know what the hell it was. In T2 or even basic Cover 2, the middle linebacker darts back to cover the deep middle, the other two get their lower middle, the corner passes off the outside receiver to the safety in deep coverage and covers anything coming out of the flat.
On many of the big passing plays, the corners played it like Tampa/Cover 2 - but no one else did. On T.Y. Hilton's touchdown, Moore did as he has been trained to do, passing off the receiver and covering his responsibility, but then Bradley McDougald inexplicably went to the center of the field instead of picking up Hilton and it allowed for a easy touchdown. You could say, "Well, that's just a blown coverage." Only, the exact same thing happened a play earlier on a Donte Moncrief 31 yard reception that got the Colts in striking distance.
Did Moore not know the Bucs were playing something other than Tampa Two? Or did McDougald not play his responsibility? Either way, it was something the Colts feasted on all day.
When the Bucs did finally get aggressive in the fourth quarter, the savvy veteran Hasselbeck identified that Adjei-Barimah could not handle either Hilton or Moncrief one-on-one and abused the young rookie free agent.
Did the Bucs give him safety help? Nope. They just let the kid twist in the wind. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
The Bucs only hope was getting pressure on Hasselbeck and they were able to bring him down 3 times. They also hit him 11 more. Unfortunately, the old gunslinger handled the pressure better than Jameis did.
- Now, I'm not a guy who blames the refs or believe in the "Great Anti-Buccaneer Conspiracy" as some do. I think the officiating in the NFL sucks for both teams, not just Tampa Bay. Yet Walt Coleman's crew had a terrible day. Three crucial misfires went againt the Bucs on Sunday and really changed the course of this football game.
Mind you, these all occurred on the same drive in the fourth quarter with the Bucs trailing 19-12. First - The Bucs stripped the Colts TE Whalen, recovered and returned it to the Colts 23 yard line. Tack on a horse collar personal foul and the Bucs would have been point blank first and goal.
Only there was a defensive holding call on Alterraun Verner that made the calls off-set. No play. No turnover. Folks, I've watched the tape of this play over and over and for the life of me I can't see it. Verner did place his hand on the receiver but in no way grabbed a jersey or impedded his progress.
Second play - The Bucs finally stopped the Colts and Indy had to settle for a field goal. Chris Conte narrowly missed blocking the kick. Only...Conte is called for leaping. Automatic first down at the Tampa Bay 6 yard line. The problem is the rule says says you can't leap, land on player to try and get leverage to block a kick. Conte leaped, but cleared everyone - didn't touch a soul - and it set the Colts point blank range. It can be argued that the Colts would have gotten a first down anyway because Conte roughed the holder but that wasn't called on the field. Bottom line, it shouldn't have been a penalty.
Third and Final play - the Bucs forced a fumble by Ahmad Bradshaw at the 6 yard line. At first look, it appeared Bradshaw was down but on closer examination, only the back of Bradshaw's hand comes in contact with the turf before the ball comes out. According to the former head of officiating Mike Periera, that doesn't constitute being down by contact - it should have been a fumble.
The Colts scored the game sealing touchdown a play later.
- There were other WTF calls during the game but there were also some terrible penalties by Buccaneer veterans that simply shouldn't happen. Bottom line - you can't beat a quality football team on the road committing 12 penalties for 95 yards. Many of the penalties put the Bucs off schedule or outright cost the Bucs points (for and against).
- Speaking of points left on the field. Tampa Bay left 15 points on the field Sunday. They lost 4 points (assuming Barth made the extra point) after a Doug Martin touchdown was called back on an obvious holding penalty on Kevin Pamphile. Barth cost them 4 points with a missed extra point and field goal (although in his defense, the field goal was from 54 yards out). Then there was the dropped pass from Mike Evans that likely would have resulted in a Bucs touchdown or Tampa Bay being in point blank range. You can't win on the road if you screw yourself out of points.
- I think this game showed us the true nature of the Buccaneers. No, I'm not saying this is a bad football team. Not at all. I'm saying this is a young football team still trying to learn how to win in this league. We all would love to see the Bucs seize their opportunity and make a strong push for the playoffs. Perhaps we're asking a bit too much of this team. They need to learn how to handle success just as much as they need to learn how to deal with failure. This was their first taste of success. When ESPN does shots from One Buc Palace, when Fox and NFL Network want to interview you. When you're hearing on all the networks how the Bucs are a contender (and for some even a favorite) for one of the last playoff spots.
They didn't come out with the same fire and intensity we've seen from them in recent weeks and I think it bit them in the backside. This loss might have been a good thing for them. Yes, it hurt them in the standings but it also showed them they haven't arrived yet. If they continue to commit idiotic penalties or blow assignments, yes, they can still get their asses kicked.
The good news is this isn't a conference loss and the Bucs got some help this weekend. It's all still there for Tampa Bay. Beat Atlanta and you're one step closer. Beat Atlanta and get a little more help, the Bucs may be exactly where they hope to be. Just beat Atlanta.
Keep an eye out for my "DLT's Crazy Insane Bucs' Playoff Scenarios" article coming either Tuesday or Wednesday where I break down the NFC playoff picture and tell you who to root for and why for Week 13.