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Buccaneers vs. Cowboys: Tampa Bay’s three winners, four losers

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Tennessee Titans v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost a close game to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, falling just short in a 26-20 loss. The game was close, yet the Bucs had a pretty ugly game, especially on offense. So let’s dig into the losers and winners to come out of the team’s first loss in six weeks.

Losers

QB Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston has had a pretty good sophomore season, but he did not have his best game against the Dallas Cowboys completing just 17 of 35 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns, Winston turned over the ball a whopping four times (three interceptions, one fumble), and fumbled the ball a second time — though at least that one was recovered. And it should be noted that two of those interceptions came on desperation throws, and the third when he got his elbow hit. Still, those were far from the only interceptable throws.

Outside of two excellent third quarter drives, both resulting in touchdowns, Winston couldn’t get much done against the Dallas defense. In part that was because of an offensive line that struggled all day, but he was also inaccurate, skittish and hesitant. He outright missed far too many throws, and didn’t react well to pressure. In all, a poor day for a quarterback who’s played much better football this season.

T Gosder Cherilus

Speaking of mitigating factors for Winston’s performance, there’s right tackle Gosder Cherilus, filling in for Demar Dotson. Now Cherilus wasn’t the best tackle around last year, and certainly struggled last week, but this was of a whole new level. He almost single-handedly destroyed the Bucs offense in the fourth quarter. Even when he got help, he got beat. It was absurd to watch, and a horrible performance. Dotson needs to get healthy quickly, or the Bucs will have to find a way to replace Cherilus.

Actually, the entire offensive line

While Cherilus was a special kind of awful, the Bucs’ entire offensive line struggled. Both in pass protection, with Joe Hawley and Ali Marpet having particularly disappointing games, and in the running game, where the line as a whole was a disaster.

Doug Martin managed just 42 yards on 16 carries, and Charles Sims four yards on three carries. That consistently led to second- and third-and-long situations, and the aforementioned pass protection issues. In other words: everything was bad. Except for two drives in the third quarter.

Defensive coordinator Mike Smith

The Cowboys offense had struggled in recent weeks, while the Bucs defense had been dominated. No more: the team allowed more points than it had in months, and really couldn’t stop the Cowboys all game long.

Moreover, it seemed that Smith didn’t really have an answer when it turned out the Bucs could not pressure Dak Prescott with four pass-rushers. Just three sacks and one forced fumble were the result, with no interceptions and a grand total of one turnover. That kind of performance will not win you many games, and shows a potential long-term issue: pass protection neutralizes this defense.

Winners

LB Kwon Alexander

I’m generally not one for tackle totals, but Kwon Alexander’s 21 total tackles are pretty eye-popping. Though 10 of those were tackle assists, and last night’s charter may just have been very generous with those, 11 solo tackles are pretty good, too.

More importantly, though, he also had a few splash plays. He had two tackles for loss and forced the team’s lone turnover by plowing his shoulder into Jason Witten’s chest, jarring loose a ball in the fourth quarter. Alexander had a pretty good all-around game.

TE Cameron Brate

Five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. Brate was a reliable target, and even a somewhat explosive one. He did disappear a little late in the game, but then so did the offense as a whole, so it’s hard to fault him too much. Brate’s really turning into a very valuable part of the offense.

S Keith Tandy

Tandy was flying around the field and making a number of big tackles, but he didn’t make any splash plays, in contrast with his play over the last two weeks. What did happen, though, is that he not only started, but played almost the entire game over Chris Conte, even though the latter was healthy.

It’s not clear that that was actually the right decision, given the team’s overall lackluster defensive performance, but it’s certainly a win for him that he was starting a full game with Conte moslty on the bench.