We knew this was a step up in weight class for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, didn't we Bucs fans? The Arizona Cardinals are one of the best teams in the NFC and have been for a couple years now. They were coming off a humilating defeat at home and their coach, Bruce Arians, called out several of their players during the week.
Meanwhile, the Bucs, led by their 22 year old starting quarterback, were being told they had arrived. National media was asking the quarterback for interviews, pundits were picking the Bucs as a rising time to watch - a team that could make that "Carolina jump" from mediocre also-ran to top contender.
This was the game the Bucs were going to be weighed and measured. Unfortunately, they were found wanting. Furthermore, the Cardinals took that measuring stick and beat the Bucs with it.
In the end, the Bucs learned a valuable lesson. Know your role, as the Rock used to say. They aren't an upper eschlon team. In fact, they have a long, long way to go get there.
But take heart, Bucs fans. There aren't many teams in this league on the level of the Arizona Cardinals, a team that very well should be playing for the Super Bowl in January.
1) I love Dirk Koetter. I think he's the best coach the Bucs have had since Chucky. Yet, like so many fans (as well as the announcer Charles Davis), I had to wonder what the hell the coach was thinking leaving Jameis in the game in the fourth quarter down by 33.
"You can criticize me all you want," Koetter told reporters, "He stayed in the game. You can get mad as you want. He stayed in. Write what you're going to write."
Okay coach, here's what I'm going to write - it was an idiotic move by you. You risk your franchise quarterback for what? Because he doesn't want to come out of the game? Who the hell is running this team? You or Jameis? The Cardinals were teeing off, completely ignoring the run and getting after Jameis. He took a ton of hits he simply did not need to be taking. Had he gotten seriously injured or knocked out for the season - it would have been pretty close to a firable offense.
Coach, your first and primary job is to win games. The second is to protect Jameis from Jameis. You failed on both this week. Be smarter, please.
2) Jameis giveth and Jameis taketh away. It's thrilling the Bucs have a Favre-ian level quarterback. He makes some plays that simply make you go wow. Then there's days like yesterday. Jameis wants so badly to will this team to being a championship caliber football team that many times he's his own worst enemy.
Sunday was one of those days. I think Jameis knew that to have any chance at beating Arizona, he was going to have to make some big time plays. Unfortunately, in doing so, he took chances and this week, the Cardinals made him pay.
The first interception was just a great play by Patrick Peterson, who boxed out Mike Evans and made a terrific play on the ball. The second one was a terrible throw by Jameis and an awful route run by Vincent Jackson (who is really off to a slow start this season). The fumble was just one of those goofy NFL plays that can happen. The third (the pick six that ended any thoughts of a comeback), you could blame on the receiver for tipping it up into the air but frankly, there were way too many red jerseys over there, Winston should have never thrown the football to that spot in the field.
Of course, the fourth and final pick was a heave into the endzone as time expired. It didn't hurt anything but Winston's stat line in a game he had no business still being in (see diatribe 1).
Bottom line is its impossible for the Bucs to win games when Winston plays like this...and there's going to be more of these games coming, I'm afraid to say. It's just life with a young quarterback.
Let me tell you this though, we will get many more Atlanta Jameis games than Arizona Jameis games with this quarterback. These games suck, but its your quarterback trying to do too much. He'll learn.
3) We knew the defense under Mike Smith would be a work-in-progress. Through two weeks, its been downright abysmal. Tampa Bay is 21st in total defense (yds against) and even more alarmingly, 28th in scoring defense giving up an average of 32 points a game. They have yet to force a turnover - a staple in the Mike Smith defense.
Carson Palmer had his way with the Bucs' defense, throwing for 308 yards and 3 touchdowns. There were busted coverages, just terrible plays in the secondary by Brent Grimes and Chris Conte that led to scores. Kwon Alexander, who I lauded last week, had a horrible game on Sunday. Not only was he not making the big plays he performed last week, he hurt the Bucs with some terrible tackling that led to big plays by Arizona.
Lavonte David, for the first time in his NFL career, got goose egged. How does your best linebacker on the team and one of the top in the league get nada? Zippo. Zilch. Not a tackle. Not an assist. Not a pass breakup. Nothing. In fact, if he didn't record two QB hits, you wouldn't have known he played.
That's unacceptable. You would think quarterbacks would be picking on the rookies, like Vernon Hargreaves, but its the veterans letting down the Bucs defense right now.
4) I'm not one to join the "Vincent Jackson is washed up" brigade. Has Jackson gotten off to a slow start this season? Sure. Is he not the player he once was? Definitely. Vincent is still better than any other receiver on this roster not named Mike Evans. Perhaps that says all you need to know about the Bucs receiving core.
Adam Humphries is a nice little receiver, but he's no V-Jax. Cecil Shorts has some playmaking ability, but he's injury prone and certainly no Vincent. Russell Shepard can make a play here or there, but he's pretty much a special teams guy.
When it comes to the Bucs receiving core, its Evans and Jackson.
5) Doug Martin is hurt again. It remains to be seen how long (if any) Martin's hamstring injury will keep him out. Hopefully it is just a minor pull of the hammy and not something nasty that will plague him the rest of the season. We should know more later today.
Martin was already off to a slow start this season, averaging 3.4 yards a carry on the season. Charles Sims hasn't been much better, averaging just 2.5. In fact, the only explosive plays out of the running game came from newcomer Jacquizz "Quizzy" Rodgers who fired off a 24 yard explosive in his first carry.
If the Bucs can't get a solid running game together, this offense will struggle. If Martin is out, Sims will need to take on a role he's never had before. Some players, like Kansas City's Spencer Ware, take the opportunity and make the most of it. Hopefully Sims is ready to do just that.
Most believe he's a complimentary back, not a number one. Here's his chance to prove to everyone he can be THE guy.
6) The Cards not only beat up the Bucs on the scoreboard, but physically as well. In addition to Martin, the Bucs lost Luke Stocker early to an ankle injury. Late in the first quarter, Gerald McCoy was clutching his back in obvious pain (although McCoy didn't appear to miss any time). Robert Ayers, the Bucs best pass rusher this season, was seen in a walking boot after the game (usually a sign he'll be out a couple weeks at least). Receiver Cecil Shorts appears to pop a hammy as he made a big reception in the 2nd half.
After getting out of Atlanta with only one significant injury, the Bucs end this two game road trip a bit banged up.
7) The Bucs turnover ratio is unsustainable if they have any hopes of being a playoff team in 2016. -6 isn't just bad, its the worst in the league. The Bucs are one of three teams in the NFL yet to force a takeaway and they lead the league in giveaways. By comparison, the Cardinals are now a +7 in this category. Want to know the true difference between Arizona and Tampa Bay? Its right there, folks. Good teams force turnovers and protect the ball. Bad/Mediocre teams turn it over and can't take it away.
If the Bucs want to become a playoff contender, that's the stat that must improve. Jameis can't throw games away and the defense has to start making some impact plays.
The scariest thing for the defense? They haven't even been that close to recording a turnover. Brent Grimes could have had an interception in the end zone yesterday but couldn't hold on. His team, down 24-7, desperately needed that pick.
8) The Bucs offense continues it's feast-or-famine inconsistency. That's the thing that was maddening for the Bucs last year. Tampa Bay would roll up a lot of yards and points one week and then spit the bed the next. Such is life with a 22 year old quarterback, as his inconsistency goes, so goes the offense's inconsistency. Until the Bucs' offense can be deadly week-in and week-out, they will not get to that next level.
9) And of course Roberto Aguayo missed a makable field goal. It was that kinda of day for the Bucs. Just add another thing to worry about for Bucs fans.
10) Okay, so now I go into my counseling session. Buc fans were way too high after Tampa Bay beat the Falcons last week. This week was the reality check we all needed. I had a feeling the Bucs would not win in the desert, but I certainly did not forsee the butt-kicking the Cards delivered to our boys in Pewter.
The bottom line, though, is the mission was accomplished. The Bucs had to come out of these very tough first two games at 1-1. With five of the next seven games at home, Tampa Bay is very much in the mix. Further, the Bucs are still tied for first in the NFC South and technically, in first place, thanks to that division victory. Now, some will scoff and say that's fool's gold - a temporary situation that will likely be rectified in a few weeks, but I don't think so.
The Bucs got served some humble pie on Sunday by a superior football team desperate for a victory. The more the Cards rubbed Tampa Bay's faces in the dirt, the more I became convinced this team will be okay. The Bucs of old would have simply given up. This team didn't. They kept fighting (and in the case of their quarterback, that was quite literal). They kept getting back up, only to get knocked back down again. Then back up. Knocked down again. Back up. They refused to quit and I found that encouraging.
It took last year's butt-whooping by the Panthers to get Jameis to settle down and be the quarterback the Bucs needed him to be the rest of the season. Thankfully, that lesson came early in 2016, with a lot of time to make hay.
The Bucs are finally at home, facing a Rams team coming off a huge upset win over the Seattle Seahawks in their return to L.A. This Rams team has beaten the Bucs each of the last four seasons. Yet, they're also a team coming in averaging 4.5 points a game on offense. This isn't the Cardinals. This is a team the Bucs can and should beat at home. It's a big difference coming from L.A. than St. Louis. Its a much longer trip and the Rams are coming off the high of highs in beating their division rival. It's an awful lot like the Bucs heading into the desert.
With the Super Bowl participants in the next couple weeks, the Bucs really must win this game against L.A. If they do, they'll be fine, no matter what happens in the two weeks that follow before the bye.
What I'm saying is - don't get too down on your Buccaneers, fans. This team wasn't as good as it looked in Atlanta and it certainly wasn't as bad as it looked in Arizona. We'll be okay.
JC's Tweet of the Game:
I live tweet the games, follow me at @jcdelatorre to see all the good...and bad of gameday. Please note, I do tend to use naughty language on gameday, parental guidance is strongly suggested.