Turnovers. Penalties. Bad defense. A terrible kicking game.
Stop me if you’ve heard all of this before. I know I sure have.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the 2018 season with their second 5-11 season in as many years. It’s the seventh time they’ve finished with double-digit losses since 2009.
But it’s not the losses that hurt, it’s how they’ve lost that can irk even the most die-hard fans. Here lately, it’s been a constant string of the same issues - the ones that I mentioned at the beginning of this piece.
The preseason couldn’t have been worse for the Bucs. It all started when the news came out that quarterback Jameis Winston would be suspended for the first three games of the season. He was accused of groping a female Uber driver and the NFL’s investigation determined that there was enough on Winston to suspend him.
#Bucs QB Jameis Winston has been suspended 3 games, I’m told.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 28, 2018
The suspension brought forth a surprising amount of debate as to whether or not the Bucs should just cut ties with Winston considering his past and the fact that his on-field play hasn’t lived up to his draft selection.
Fortunately, the Bucs had a legitimate backup quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick. Little did Tampa Bay know, Fitzpatrick would take a lot of heat off the organization.
It’s amazing to look back on the year and think that at one time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the talk of the league - and in a good way.
A week after an enormous 48-40 win over the New Orleans Saints, Fitzpatrick donned a pair of aviators while wearing Desean Jackson’s gold chain and shirt as he spoke to reporters about “staying humble” after the Bucs took down the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles.
Meanwhile... This is Ryan Fitzpatrick at the postgame press conference after beating the #Eagles... lol. pic.twitter.com/y2aEuz2Lf6— Rob Hodge (@RobHodge) September 16, 2018
I had friends that I haven’t spoken with in years text me about him and what the Bucs had just accomplished. For once, Tampa Bay was in the headlines for good reasons as opposed to the typical ones.
Fitzpatrick was quickly nicknamed “Fitzmagic” and the Bucs were off and running. Talk began to surface about what the Bucs would do when Winston returned from suspension. Would they start Winston or keep Fitzpatrick as the starter?
Tampa Bay was 2-0 on the season. Many experts and prognosticators had them at 0-3 on the season and some had them winning just two games for the entirety of 2018.
They boasted the top offense in the league and the defense played pretty well against the Eagles. Things were looking up in the early stages of the year.
But a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football and a 48-10 embarrassment in Chicago exposed the Bucs and all of their flaws.
Mitch Trubisky to a wiiiiiiide open Trey Burton for six! pic.twitter.com/mhwYjvcxqq— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) September 30, 2018
Fitzpatrick was benched at halftime in Chicago and the answer to who would be the starter was clear.
That was the beginning of the end. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith was fired after another terrible defensive performance in a loss to Atlanta. The Bucs didn’t win again until they had to rely on a 59-yard prayer from Chandler Catanzaro to beat the Cleveland Browns. They shouldn’t have won the game. Mistakes and dysfunction at the coaching positions nearly cost the Bucs a win and should’ve easily been their fourth straight loss of the season.
Still, at this point, Tampa Bay was 3-3. With a very winnable stretch of schedule coming up, a trip to the postseason was not an afterthought.
That ended quickly though after Winston capped his turnover-filled comeback with a four-interception performance in Cincinnati. Just like Fitzpatrick’s benching in Chicago, Winston was benched in favor of Fitzpatrick. He nearly led the Bucs on a comeback, but the Bengals made a last-second field goal to win the game.
He's back!— FlurrySports (@FlurrySports) October 28, 2018
Ryan Fitzpatrick goes deep to Mike Evans for the 72-yard TOUCHDOWN #FitzMagic pic.twitter.com/b1LwG6Y1SM
Head coach Dirk Koetter then decided to make Fitzpatrick the starter for an indefinite period of time. The quarterback carousel was officially underway.
But Fitzpatrick couldn’t save the Bucs this time around. After completing 70% of his passes for 1,330 yards, 11 TDs and 4 INTs in his first three starts, he mustered up a 65% completion rate while throwing for 817 yards, 4 TDs and 7 INTs in his next three starts.
The highlight - or lowlight - was a 500-yard offensive performance against the Washington Redskins that saw the Bucs produce just three points. To put it in context, the Los Angeles Rams didn’t even have 500 yards of offense when they scored 54 points against the Kansas City Chiefs earlier in the year.
Fitzpatrick found his way back to the bench after throwing three interceptions against the Giants. It was deja-vu as Winston came on and almost led the Bucs on a comeback against the Giants, but ultimately fell short.
There were multiple instances throughout this time period where Koetter himself admitted that he didn’t have the answers to fix this team. He looked out-of-sorts, overwhelmed, and there were rumors that he had lost the locker room as well.
Despite all the nonsense, the Bucs were able to get their first win in a month after playing a complete game against the visiting San Francisco 49ers. Then they upset the Carolina Panthers in a 24-17 victory.
Andrew Adams picked off Cam Newton three times and the Bucs forced Newton to throw four total picks on the day. It was the team’s first winning streak since Week 2 and even though they were 5-7, there was still room for Tampa Bay in the playoff discussion.
Andrew Adams is a greedy man. pic.twitter.com/rcuLguoAlR— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 2, 2018
It looked like this team had possibly turned a corner at halftime of the rematch with the New Orleans Saints. Tampa Bay was up 14-0 and had played a very sound defensive half.
Then Saints’ backup quarterback Taysom Hill decided to put all postseason hopes on ice. He crashed through Bryan Anger’s punt protection and blocked his punt, setting up New Orleans’ first touchdown drive. The Saints would go on to win the game 28-14, officially ending Tampa Bay’s hopes for a postseason berth.
Taysom Hill shows Tampa Bay why you should #NeverPunt!@TeamGleason | #NOvsTB pic.twitter.com/PJAz4nhbgf— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 9, 2018
The Ravens then came in and ran for over 200 yards, two huge turnovers doomed Tampa Bay in Dallas, and the Falcons completed a season sweep in Week 17.
Instead of finishing the season with a good win over a division opponent a la the 2017 season, the Bucs ended 2018 on a three-game losing streak.
Dirk Koetter was let go after the loss to Atlanta. It was reported earlier on Sunday that Winston would indeed be back for the 2019 season. Monday, it was reported that Jason Licht will stay on as general manager.
The writing was on the wall for this team heading into 2018. Another losing season wouldn’t be accepted. Koetter didn’t have what it took to win in the NFL and he lost his job because of it.
So, the dawn of a new day starts in Tampa Bay. While there will still be plenty of familiar faces around in 2019, there will be a new atmosphere - and hopefully a new culture, as well.
I wish I had more positive things to write about this season, I really do. Maybe 2019 will change that.