"Faceplanted". Sander made the perfect analogy to what occurred yesterday. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were relevant in week 14, playing a December game with playoff implications against a team they were favored to beat.
After last week's victory over Atlanta, many expected the Bucs to roll into this game playing their best football. Only, we all forgot, this is a young football team with a rookie QB and just learning how to win.
They learned how to handle being the underdog. They haven't learned how to deal with prosperity. When everyone is talking about you, giving you high-five's and kudos.
Veteran football teams play their best ball in December. They see an inferior opponent and crush them (see Carolina and Seattle's performances this week). Not-quite-ready-for-primetime teams throw their helmets on to the field and expect their opponent to tremble. Unfortunately for the Bucs, the Saints didn't tremble, they laughed.
After all, these are the Bucs. A team they've beaten 3 straight times at Raymond James Stadium. A team that well better, is still the little step brother of the rest of the NFC South. The Saints felt this was a winnable game and the Bucs obliged.
You simply can't sleepwalk through the first half and expect to beat Drew Brees.
- The Bucs defense has had issues on third down all season. Tampa Bay plays superb first and second down defense but get to the money down, when great defenses hunt, the Bucs defense shows all of its weaknesses. It was never more evident than Sunday against the Saints.
New Orleans played their best defense by using their offense to sustain long clock draining drives. Backup running back Tim Hightower ran for 3.0 yards a carry but New Orleans kept pounding the running back, he finished with 28 carries for 85 yards.
As the Saints would sputter on the early downs, Drew Brees was a surgeon on 3rd down. New Orleans converted a amazing 71% on third down conversions (12-of-17) and some of their biggest plays of the game came on 3rd and very long.
The Bucs struggles on 3rd down was really due to their lack of being able to sustain any pass rush. Drew Brees had way too much time to stand back there and find his receiver. Jude Adjei-Barimah had one of his worst days as a starter, struggling to cover a little known wide receiver named Willie Snead. Snead dominated the match up and many of his catches secured first downs for the Saints.
Even when it looked like the Bucs would get off the field with a sack or incomplete pass, the defense would commit a penalty extending the drive (this included the Saints final scoring drive that essentially put the game away).
This was really the story of the ballgame. New Orleans ran 36 more plays and held the ball nearly 15 minutes in time of possession longer. The Bucs defense couldn't make that play to get itself off the field and get the ball back for their offense.
- Not that the offense would do much with it. For one of the rare times this season, the offense looked like a confused, discombobulated mess. It was an awful flashback back to uncoordinated days of Marcus Arroyo. You knew the Saints were vulnerable in the deep secondary. Did the Bucs attack there? Maybe twice, it resulted in an overthrow (although Jameis claims Charles Sims was held) and a dropped pass.
The Bucs tried to pound the football and dink-and-dunk New Orleans, who kept bringing the blitz at the rookie QB. Jameis played a very Mike Glennon-like ballgame, rushing passes to his checkdown.
The Bucs weren't very good on third down either, finishing 4-of-11 for a team that in the past nine games led the league in 3rd down conversions (credit veteran fishwrapper Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune for the stat).
They seemed out of sync, with busted plays, screwed up routes, missed blocks, penalties, drops and bad reads by the quarterback. In a game we expected Jameis to have his best day, he had one of his worst.
The Bucs fell behind so quicky they couldn't keep to the running game, which was effective (Doug Martin averaged 7 yards a carry).
Coming into this game, the one thing we weren't worried about was the offense putting points on the board. We should have been. They managed to give the Saints their best day as a defense, surrendering just 17 points.
Tampa Bay's inability to get off the field on defense and do anything with it on offense left them playing behind the eightball most of the contest.
- The thing is, we've seen this before, multiple times. There were a few of our commentors who even saw it coming but were shouted down by myself and others who we drinking the Jameis kool-aid. This Bucs team has improved by leaps and bounds over the disaster we saw last season. They are better on offense and defense (at least statistically), Jameis gives us hope for the future. But its the future, not the present.
The present tells us the Bucs are a team capable of losing to the Saints. We know this because they lost to the Giants, the Redskins, the Titans, the Colts and the Texans. The Colts team that befuddled the Bucs just got a 50-burger dropped on them by Jacksonville - JACKSONVILLE. The Titans have managed two other wins other than the Bucs this season and already fired their coach. The Giants can't buy a win right now.
The Saints came in riding a 4 game losing streak. The Bucs are perfectly capable of losing to these teams because they're young, dumb and lack talent in key areas.
The Bucs beat themselves with penalties, coverage break downs and dropped passes. They allow bad teams to stay with them when they have to tools to blow their doors off.
You can say its coaching but I don't believe that. The Bucs do things that Lovie Smith coached teams haven't done. They're undisciplined and arrogant. How else can you explain Mike Evans antics in the fourth quarter?
There's an old adage for December football, get a bad team down early and they start making "business decisions". Keep them in it, they start to believe they can win and then you have your hands full.
Had the Bucs gotten the Saints down quickly, there's little doubt in my mind it would have been an easy game for Tampa Bay. But Sean Payton and the Saints came in with a great gameplan, exercised it perfectly, took control and the Bucs didn't wake up until the game was too far gone.
- In my Crazy Insane NFC Playoff Scenarios we talked that the Bucs could sustain a loss and still make a run at the playoffs.
Yes, I know.
The thing that really hurts is you've taken that 7th loss and you still have Carolina on your schedule. What's worse, you need either Minnesota or Seattle to completely collapse down the stretch.
Most importantly you have to win out. As inconsistent of a team the Bucs are, its difficult to see that happening. In fact, I'm finding it hard to believe the Bucs have the mental fortitude to recover from this bad performance, go on the road in a short week and beat an undermanned Rams team.
Carolina can rest Cam and all of their 22 starters and still have enough to beat the Bucs. There's that much separation right now. A Bucs team that was overconfident coming into Sunday is now stripped of that confidence wondering what's left to play for.
Lovie Smith will need to do his best coaching job ever to get these guys to believe the final three games matter and they do. 9-7 is still achievable for the Bucs. Unlikely, but an achievable goal. It doesn't seem like that big of a deal if the playoffs aren't in the offing, but winning seasons for this franchise are important, especially after 2-14 last year. Consider the Oakland Raiders are still fighting for their first winning season in 14 years.
You also don't want to go out like this. A whimper, after such a promising start to this season. 6-10 would be a big disappointment after a 6-6 start. The Bucs have only lost consecutive games once this season and haven't lost three in a row all year. That's a good thing. They need to keep that.
I'd like to see the Bucs finish at least 8-8. No, not playoff worthy but sustained progress. Lets hope they can get it together for St. Louis on Thursday.
There will be a DLT's Crazy Insane NFC Playoff scenarios this week since mathematically the Bucs are still alive. It might be the last one of the year if the Bucs lose to the Rams.