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DLT's Diatribes - A Ways to Go for the Bucs

The Bucs teased us a bit this year, but as the loss to the Rams shows, they're still far away.

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We were afraid this would happen. Coming off a heart ripping loss to a divisional rival, banged up heading on the road on a short week against a team that was motivated to put on a show for what may be their last game in their home city, Tampa Bay looked like a team ready to be beat and the Rams obliged.

- For seven straight quarters, the Bucs have played their worst ball since the season opener. It was hard to watch, really. Case Keenum, who this season had not thrown for more than 126 yards in a game, torched the Bucs secondary for two touchdowns in the first half.

Before Jameis Winston had time to get his energy out and get his passes on target, his ballclub was down 21-3 to a Rams team that had scored 31 points total in its last three games combined.

It's one thing to allow Drew Brees to carve you up into swiss cheese, but Case Keenum?

It really just illustrates what we all know. The Bucs are better but they're not good. Not yet. There's work to be done on defense this off-season. After focusing on offense the last couple drafts, I'm all in on a defensive draft. GM Jason Licht and the scouting department have shown they can draft some pretty solid players on the offensive side of the ball. Their one defensive pick in the last two years was Kwon Alexander - whose pretty darned good.

The time for using undrafted free agents and Bears rejects is over. Get some help for Lovie's defense. I want to see an edge rusher, a ballhawking safety and a corner that can cover someone...anyone.

Its tough to count on rookies, look how they struggled why Kwon tried to figure it all out early on, but let's face it - talented rookies making stupid mistakes but getting better is a helluva lot better than limited talent veterans who simply don't have the skills to compete on a play-to-play basis.

- That's not to say the Bucs should neglect the offense in the off-season. I don't know if Doug Martin will be back. I don't know if Tampa Bay feels Vincent Jackson is going to be worth his huge contract. I know the Bucs need someone who will catch the gorram ball. When undrafted free agent Adam Humphries has the most sure hands on the team, something's wrong.

The Bucs need another playmaker on offense. They don't need a number one receiver - they have that in Mike Evans - but they do need a solid number two. When Jackson is healthy he can be that but V-Jax is getting older and starting to break down.

They'll be some free agent wide outs out there and maybe some guys later round guys the Bucs can grab. Either way, Jameis needs some guys he can depend on.

- That's not to say Mr. Winston wasn't at fault for last night's debacle. Jameis struggled to handle the Rams rush (and chippy play), losing his cool in the first half and feeling ghosts (force ghosts? Sorry - still buzzing from seeing the Force Awakens - which is brilliant, by the way), was inaccurate and really just not playing good football.

The second half he settled down and put up some of the best numbers of his career in the comeback attempt.  Congratulations to him for capturing the Bucs rookie record for touchdown passes in a season.

- I gotta say though, down 28-6, the Bucs could have easily packed it in as "it's just not our night". We've seen them do it countless times over the last few years - but Jameis Winston wouldn't allow it. From screaming at Russell Sheppard to complete his damned route to reaming the kickoff unit for allowing a 102 yard return right after the Bucs made it a two score game - Jameis refused to quit and his team fed off that.

Its a shame one bad decision cost his team two timeouts. The interception was perhaps his worst decision in months, but even then, he kept driving the Bucs down the field and they still made a game of it.

If you hadn't watched the game and saw the score 31-23, the Bucs outgained St. Louis 509 to 319, Gurley was held to just 48 yards and 2.3 a carry, and Jameis lit it up for 363 yards and 2 touchdowns, you would have thought this was one hell of a competitive football game.

Sadly it wasn't. The Bucs were never really in this game until the waning moments of the fourth quarter. That's the disappointing part. The two second half turnovers really derailed the comeback effort and the special teams gaffes and more idiotic penalties certainly didn't help matters.

Some will write off Jameis' comeback effort as the Rams playing soft coverage but I call b.s. on that. The Rams certainly didn't want Jameis to go 98 yards in 4 plays taking 1:44 off the clock. They didn't want him going 81 yards in 1:31. Soft coverage is supposed to make you work the clock and take a long time to get your scores, shortening the game.

Jameis refused to let his team quit and he almost pulled off one heck of a comeback.

- Gerald McCoy is a good football player, one of the best at his position and the Bucs are lucky to have him. For some Bucs fans, the problem with McCoy is while he's very good - he's not the impact player Warren Sapp was. Now, some will argue that Sapp's impact was due to the supporting cast of Simeon Rice, Anthony McFarland and Brad Culpepper and if McCoy had those types of players on this defense he'd be just as good as the Hall of Famer. I don't see it. I don't see the dog in McCoy to be dominant.

Aaron Donald shows you what want an elite 3-tech can do. He destroys the running game and punishes the quarterback. He has to be accounted for every single play. McCoy is injured so it might be an unfair comparison right now. He also doesn't benefit from Robert Quinn and Chris Long on his defensive line. Yet, Donald didn't have either player with him last night and he made a pretty decent Bucs offensive line look like Oneil Cousins was playing.

This is what the Bucs fans expected from the 3rd overall pick of the 2010 draft and why they give him so much crap. Not everyone can be Warren Sapp. Aaron Donald maybe the closest thing we've seen in some time.

McCoy may never be that level of a player but he's definitely one of the best in the league. Bucs fans just need to accept that.

- I think the defense has fallen apart because of the absence of Kwon Alexander. While the rookie certainly made plenty of mistakes in coverage, over pursued and did some dumb things out there, he was also a playmaker and the heart of the Bucs defense. The defense hasn't had the same dog in their fight since he began serving his suspension.

I knew the Bucs were relying heavily on his athletic skill, but I had no idea that they fed off his passion and leadership skills.  That's really an indictment on the existing leaders on the team, isn't it? On both sides of the ball, rookies took command roles. It means the Bucs really didn't have leaders before this season.

- I know this color rush nonsense is just the NFL trying to cash in on jersey sales but its really ridiculous is it not? I just wish the Bucs didn't have to play ketchup the entire game.

- So the Bucs have clinched another non-winning season with their 8th loss of the year. The playoff drought is extended another year. Yet, for maybe the first time in a long time, it feels that we have hope, doesn't it Bucs fans? There's a reason to believe that with Jameis Winston at quarterback, this team will not be missing the playoffs for much longer.

I had high hopes for Jameis this season, some maybe even unrealistic for typical rookie quarterbacks. He's met them in every way. Along the way he's made this team believe in itself. Believe they can be good and they can win games. Believe in him.

Now, of couse there's only so much belief can do for you. You still need guys who can cover Kenny Britt or tackle Tavon Austin in the open field. You need guys who can catch the football in the endzone.

There's still work to be done to bring this team to contend for the playoffs. For the first time in a long time - maybe since 2010, there's reason to believe they can do it.

I'm hoping the extra few days of rest will do the team good and they'll put together a good, winning effort for their coach Lovie Smith against his old team, the Chicago Bears.

7-9 feels better to me than 6-10. I don't want to see this promising season end with four straight losses. I think it would undo some of the positive momentum the Bucs have begun to develop.

- One last thought, for the fans of the Rams, I really hope they stay in St. Louis. I despise relocation. I remember back when the Bucs were fighting to get Raymond James Stadium here - they were dark, dark times. Baltimore and Los Angeles were coming after our Buccaneers and it didn't look like the referrendum to build the new stadium had a chance in hell of passing.

I found myself trying on Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars shirts. It just felt wrong. Ugly. Disgusting. I surely wasn't going to support the Baltimore Buccaneers or whatever they would become.

Thankfully, it narrowly passed, the Bucs were saved, they won the Super Bowl a few years later and Buc fever went crazy. I hope for St. Louis fans, a similar result will be found. Best of luck to you folks.