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Bucs aren’t playing December football and it will cost them in January

There are issues on both sides of the ball and it starts with execution.

Kansas City Chiefs v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bruce Arians is still figuring things out in Week 16 of the 2020 season.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It’s hard for me to get upset during football games these days. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but things don’t get to me like they used to.

A lot of that has to do with being a Bucs fan. The scars heal over time and you eventually learn to compartmentalize the sadness that accompanies most games. Sure, the end result usually sucks, but you don’t have to let it ruin your day or anything like that.

With all that being said: I was pissed off at halftime Sunday. I had the shovel out and I was ready to bury the Bucs. There was no excuse for 60 net yards of total offense, zero points, a 25% third down conversion rate, and five first downs at halftime. There was no excuse for allowing 261 net yards of total offense, 17 points, a 60% third down conversion rate, and 16 first downs in the first 30 minutes of the game. The Bucs also allowed a sub-50% team in the red zone to score two touchdowns in three red zone trips, as well.

And of course, there was the whole playoff scenario thing. The postseason was essentially guaranteed with a win over the Falcons, however, that didn’t look like it was going to happen at halftime. It certainly didn’t look that way when Atlanta answered Tampa Bay’s touchdown to open the second half with one of its own to go up, 24-7, either.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons
The Bucs are never out of it with Tom Brady, but they’ve been stretching the limit lately.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

You don’t want to be down three possessions early in a December matchup. Especially against a division rival that is five games below the .500 mark. But that’s where the Bucs found themselves on Sunday.

It’s also where they’ve found themselves in a lot of games and as of right now, it doesn’t look like the slow starts are going to change anytime soon.

“My comments to the team after the game [were], ‘If we can play 30 minutes like that, why can’t we play 60?’ It’s frustrating,” Bruce Arians told reporters after Sunday’s game. “The first third down, we’re off the field [but] we miss a tackle on a check down to a back and the whole game changes. We get blown up on a screen pass, lose 15 yards on a screen pass that we catch, which kills the first drive. I couldn’t be prouder of our guys. We talked about it at halftime – we got the ball, go make something happen. I was not really happy that they went back, scored and answered it. Then, we were able to score every time we touched it in the second half – I think – until the end and finish it off. The defense came alive, we kind of figured them out and the pass rush started getting home.”

December is when you want to be playing your best football and right now, the Bucs aren’t doing that. It’s all about how they’ve started games. They’ve been one of the worst first quarter teams in the league. Per Pro Football Reference, they average the sixth-fewest yards per play, the second-lowest first down percentage, the 13th-fewest points, and have punted the ball the second-most amount of times in the first quarter.

It doesn’t get any better on defense, either. The Bucs have given up the most first-quarter touchdowns and the second-most points per first quarter in the NFL. They give up the third-most yards per play and have the sixth-fewest sacks while also allowing the eight-highest first down percentage.

It would be one thing if opposing offenses were just playing really well and coming up with great game plans to thwart the Bucs, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Especially when you listen to what Arians said about the secondary’s performance on Sunday.

“No, I don’t think it was communication at all,” he said when asked if the secondary’s struggles were due to poor communication. “It was just poor play. You know when you have help and you know when you don’t. You’ve got to play the proper technique. It’s one think if you’re supposed to be dropping and you rush – that’s a problem. Especially if they throw a ball in the flat where you’re supposed to be dropping to. It wasn’t communication, it was just poor play.”

That tells you all you need to know, right there. The Bucs aren’t executing. In December.

That’s not good.

It’s one thing to fall into a 17-0 hole against the Falcons, but it’s completely different to fall behind like that to a good team. It doesn’t matter how well they played in the second half against Atlanta. The Bucs have been there (cough, cough, Chiefs and Saints). They know that can’t happen in January.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons
Antonio Brown came up big for the Bucs in Week 15.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

“You can win against teams that aren’t going to make the playoffs right now, but I don’t think we will win too many playoff games spotting a team 17 points,” Cameron Brate told reporters postgame. “It’s going to be something we’re going to have to figure out.”

Time is running out. The Bucs better get it figured out quick because their first playoff trip since 2007 will be short and sweet if they don’t.