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Opinion: The Bucs will never beat good teams if they don’t stop making stupid mistakes

It’s simple, really.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints
The Bucs have to get this injury thing figured out.
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Raise your hand if you think Sunday’s matchup against the Saints looked familiar.

If you didn’t get a chance to watch the game, I’m referring to the nine penalties for 103 yards and three turnovers committed by the Bucs. The Bucs’ incredible ability to not just give away free yards, but the ball as well, is nearly unmatched in the NFL.

Tampa Bay led the league in penalties last year. At the time of this publication, they are tied for the league lead through Week 1. Overcoming penalties is hard enough, but the Bucs somehow find a way to make overcoming them even harder through the context in which they commit penalties.

There are three perfect examples from yesterday’s game alone.

1. The defensive pass interference call on Jordan Whitehead to set up the Saints’ second touchdown of the game

The Saints came out in a 3x1 set on 3rd and 13 from the Bucs’ 39-yard line. When that happens, your safety is usually responsible for the second or third option on the strong side of the formation, so it was going to be Whitehead vs. either Emmanuel Sanders or Taysom Hill.

It turned out to be Sanders. Whitehead had good coverage on him and also had help over the top in the form of Sean Murphy-Bunting, yet Whitehead grabbed Sanders’ jersey as he went up for the ball. The end result was a 33-yard defensive pass interference call that set up the Saints at the Bucs’ six-yard line. Alvin Kamara ran it in for a touchdown on the next play and gave the Saints a 13-7 lead.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Jordan Whitehead made a crucial mistake on a third down play.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Grabbing Sanders’ jersey was unnecessary and it could have been avoided. Instead, the Bucs gave the Saints 33 yards and a one-way ticket to the end zone.

2. Vita Vea’s encroachment penalty on 4th and 2

There are few things more annoying than encroachment/offside calls and false starts. Those penalties represent lapses in concentration and are usually the fault of the one committing the penalty.

Vea had his own moment on Sunday when he jumped offside during a 4th and 2 from the Bucs’ 47. To his credit, teammate Will Gholston was also fooled, but it was Vea who initiated the pre-snap jump.

This simply can’t happen. You can’t give away stuff for free in the NFL, especially fourth down conversions. Granted, there’s definitely a chance that the Saints convert the 4th down anyway, but at the same time, this was at the start of the two-minute warning. There’s a good chance the Saints could have been bluffing. And if you do end up stopping the Saints, you get the ball at midfield with about 1:50, three timeouts and a chance to cut into the seven-point deficit.

But that didn’t happen. The Saints were given a new set of downs and were able to get three more points on the board and pushed their lead to 17-7 before halftime.

3. Carlton Davis III’s facemask that set up the kick return fumble

Sanders may not have had a huge day in the stats department, but he drew two crucial penalties that helped the Saints win the game.

This time, Sanders caught a pass in the backfield and was able to duck an incoming Davis who looked like he just got shot out of a cannon. Davis overran Sanders and tried to grab whatever he could to bring down the 11th-year receiver.

Unfortunately, the only thing Davis could grab was Sanders’ facemask. It didn’t stop Sanders, either. He was able to get into the endzone and the facemask penalty was applied on the ensuing kickoff.

The Saints kicked off from the 50 instead of the 35 and were able to pin the Bucs’ returners on the sideline. Even though the kick looked to be heading out of bounds, Mike Edwards continued to track the ball and collided with returner Jaydon Mickens. The end result was a fumble recovered by the Saints.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
The Saints have owned Bruce Arians’ Bucs in three straight contests.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The defense came up with a stop, but the poor field position allowed New Orleans to receive a field goal out of the deal.

When you add the turnovers to this equation, it’s a deadly recipe that will do nothing but hold you back. And it’s not like the turnovers were bad luck. Arians pinned both interceptions on Brady after the game.

“One was a miscommunication between he and Mike [Evans],” Arians told reporters via Zoom. “He thought Mike was going down the middle – it was a different coverage – Mike read it right. He should have been across his face, but Tom overthrew it. The other one was a screen pass with an outlet called. He threw the outlet and it was a pick-six. Bad decision.”

Brady didn’t disagree, either. “Yeah, they were bad throws,” he said. “When it comes down to it they were just bad throws – can’t do it.”

I get that every team makes mistakes, but the penalties and turnovers led to 13 points for the Saints. The final score was 34-23. I’m not saying the game is automatically won without these penalties, but you have to think the Bucs stand a way better shot at winning this game without them.

But mark my words: The Bucs will never beat good teams if they keep making these mistakes. Sure, they’ll beat lesser teams like the Browns, Jets, Giants, and others —but they’ll never beat good teams like the Saints.

No preseason and an extremely limited offseason certainly didn’t help, but when you’re at the bottom of the barrel, it’s hard to find the silver lining and a way out. The weird part about all of this is that Arians’ teams committed the 12th-fewest penalties from 2012-2017 and the Bucs committed the 16th-fewest penalties from 2015-2018, so the staggering climb in penalties is hard to pinpoint.

It’s not just about the mistakes, either. These types of mistakes are associated with a lack of discipline and focus. If teams don’t corral that lack of awareness then it will show up in other areas on the field. We saw it with Jamel Dean’s busted coverage on Jared Cook and on the aforementioned fumbled kick return. This type of play will cost you games in the NFL.

And don’t get me wrong, there was a lot to like from Sunday’s game. The Bucs have a foundation to build on, but if they want to start beating other teams, they have to stop beating themselves, first.