The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost an ugly game to the Houston Texans today, a game they certainly could have won. The Bucs squandered opportunity after opportunity throughout the game, and then allowed the Texans to put it away without much of a fight in the fourth quarter.
Lovie Smith said it after the game: all the things losing teams do, the Bucs did today. Just like they did against the Tennessee Titans in week one. The Bucs have the talent to be better than this, but they just aren't. It's something they're going to have to get fixed really, really quickly.
Here are the main takeaways for today's game.
Jameis Winston to Mike Evans will be huge, eventually
Jameis Winston's statistics looked bad, as he completed just 17 of 36 passes for 261 yards, one touchdown and one interception -- but he played better than his stats. Winston had several big throws go unrewarded because his receivers couldn't hold on to the ball or get both feet in, though those were far from routine plays. There were also several drops on shorter throws, and he missed a few. In all, though, he played well enough for the team to win and his performance was encouraging.
One thing we can say now: Winston to Mike Evans is going to be big. Despite several drops and having two balls knocked out of his hands, Evans finished the game with seven catches for 101 yards -- and that could have been much bigger. This was Evans' first game fully healthy this season after missing most of the preseason, so a few adjustment issues may be expected -- but this is going to be big.
Tim Jennings replacing Alterraun Verner did not work
The Bucs decided to start Tim Jennings over Alterraun Verner after giving Jennings a lot of play in last week's game. That....did not quite work. Jennings gave up an early touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins, was badly beaten on what would have been a huge Nate Washington catch had the receiver not lost the ball in the air, and was called for defensive holding.
Making matters worse, they also decided that Mike Jenkins was better suited to fill in for Johnthan Banks after he suffered a knee injury. Predictably, Jenkins got beat over and over again, especially on quick slants. Alterraun Verner got in the game late when Jennings and Jenkins both seemed to leave the game with injuries ever other play, and he played well -- though he did get one pass interference penalty called against him. What Verner did to earn the coaching staff's ire is a mystery right now.
What happened to the run defense?
The one thing that went consistently well for the Bucs last year was the run defense, and they've been fairly solid this year as well. But today, they just couldn't stop Alfred Blue -- especially late in the game, when they really, really needed to find a way to get the ball back to the offense. The run fits were all over the place, and the defensive ends not named William Gholston struggled to set the edge. It was a terrible performance, and it likely lost the Bucs the game, with Blue puttingup 139 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries.
Running game, where'd you go?
20 carries for just 57 yards, with Charles Sims putting up 1.8 yards per carry and Doug Martin 3.3. The Bucs couldn't get any movement against J.J. Watt and company and seemed to largely abandon the running game in the second half. The Bucs were productive when they ran the ball in the first two games, but didn't really stick with it. In this game, they weren't productive and didn't stick with it. So I guess that's a form of consistency.
Penalties, penalties, penalties
Ten penalties for 84 yards today, and 28 for 254 yards on the season. That's unacceptable. Not all penalties are created equal and many of these are simply the result of the Bucs getting beat, but this needs to get fixed.
What the Brindza?
Kyle Brindza missed a whopping four kicks today, which is pretty surprising. He was perfect on kickoffs, and hit a 58-yarder early in the game, but then just collapsed. I wouldn't be surprised if the Bucs brought in some kickers for tryouts this week -- though Lovie Smith said that he'll "come back next week" in his post-game press conference.
Pass-blocking held up well
0 sacks. That's how many the Bucs gave up, which is a pretty solid performance given the fact that they were facing J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Donovan Smith was much-improved, even as Watt lined up across from him repeatedly -- he only really got beat on one play, by Clowney. The Bucs gave the line a lot of help, which was smart, but the line was not why the team lost -- or at least, their pass-blocking wasn't.
Then again, the pass rush was absent
The Bucs got only one sack on the game and rarely touched Ryan Mallett, though that was in part a result of the very quick passing game the Texans established: Mallett got just 9.5 yards per completion and had exactly one pass over 20 yards. Still, the Bucs need more out of their pass rush if they want to be able to stop a passing game -- and it could have been worse if Nate Washington hadn't lost the ball on a deep pass where he was wide open.