1) Who killed Facebook today?
1a) In the meantime I wanna see about embedding this Mina Kimes tweet:
NOW WE FIND OUT WHO THE REFS WERE IN THE BAG FOR THE WHOLE TIME— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) October 4, 2021
Playing into the long-standing league-wide suspicion that for the last 20-plus years that the referees were on the Patriots payroll either for Belichick or Brady, and now with them on different teams it was finally time to see who had the pull. Because during the gameday thread, a lot of my fellow Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans were convinced the refs were cheating in favor of the New England Patriots all night long. An over-ruled fumble recovery? Donovan Smith flagged for Hands To the Face when his hands were nowhere near the defender's facemask? A ton of penalties that... actually went against the Patriots? Let's be honest, "The Refs Were Blind/Rigged" is a call as old as the original Greek Olympics...
1b) That said, WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED LAST NIGHT?
Instead of it being a projected blowout (by the Bucs faithful) over a rebuilding Pats team with a rookie QB Mac Jones, the game ended up a close nail-biter resolved by field goal kicks and a last-minute long try by the Pats that dinged off the goalpost.
1c) You could blame (yes I am going there) the close win on a number of factors. It was bad weather, near-constant rain all night, with odd wind conditions that may have made the passing game suspect (except the Pats had no such problems for most of the night). It was an emotional night for Brady, coming back to his old stadium before his former fans, and he may have stressed out a bit (this is TOM FREAKING BRADY with ice for blood, people). Brady was missing his favorite target Gronk tonight, especially in the Red Zone (this is likely). And anyway, it's not like Brady or the Bucs made a ton of mistakes like they've done the first three games, they played mostly solid football all the way through...
1d) There were also good things that happened last night, above all a great defensive front seven that literally shut down any rushing offense the Patriots could muster (-1 team total rushing!). A pass rush attack that finally showed up with 4 sacks and a ton of QB pressures, especially two for rookie Joe Tyron-Shoyinka ably stepping in for missing veteran JPP. A solid passing game with all three primary receivers making big plays (once Brady calmed down after throwing too high the First Quarter or so). A return of defensive turnovers that kept the Patriots from a serious upset. A return of the Bucs' rushing attack with Leonard "Playoff Lenny" Fournette becoming the primary back and breaking free for drive-saving first downs when we needed them.
1e) But we can't overlook the ongoing - and now growing - problems this Tampa Bay Bucs team have. We still made a rookie QB look like a seasoned veteran last night. Our performance in the Red Zone was shockingly bad. The early signs of a high-scoring offense have disappeared the last two weeks with little sign it's coming back. We're now facing more injuries for a defensive unit that was already short on talent.
1f) In short: Yay, the Bucs are 3-1 and well-positioned to win the season. But Oh Gods, this is not going to be easy even against the bad teams.
2) Player of the Game: You know the Bucs are struggling when the guy who mattered most all night long is your kicker. But Ryan Succop got the Bucs four much-needed FGs (albeit shanking a 36-yarder early on) and ended up kicking the game-winner.
2a) Fournette getting not only 91 rushing yards but also 47 receiving for 138 all-purpose yards. If there was any justice in the world, he'd have gotten a TD for the team to earn the POTW nod.
2b) Mentioned earlier, but Joe Tyron-Shoyinka getting his first two sacks of his career is a hopeful sign he's getting used to the pro level and he's going to be the serious threat to make our blitzing defense more dangerous.
2c) Antoine Winfield Jr had a decent game with a key interception and nearly leading the team in tackles. Granted he wasn't consistent (letting a Pats TD go by him), but he was one of the main players in our secondary. That injury concussion looks like he's not available for next week, and God help us if he's out longer than that.
2d) Lavonte David doesn't have much other than leading the team in tackles, but he made key plays including a blocked pass attempt late in the game that mattered. He's the heart of the team, as much as Brady is the leader, and David deserves more recognition than just the mere numbers.
3) Statistics of the Week: Mentioned it earlier but needs emphasis here. The Bucs' Red Zone Offense was miserable this weekend, going 1-for-4 with one of those visits being a missed field goal, meaning not a lot of points. When Rob Gronkowski was healthy, the Bucs had too many weapons to cover in the Red Zone and Brady could throw TDs at will. Absent Gronk, and without the other TEs like Brate or Howard failing to step up as serious short-yardage threats, the Bucs are now extremely limited with defenses safely double-teaming the receivers like Evans, Godwin, and Brown to where Brady threw passes out of the end zone to avoid turnovers. Sigh.
3a) PENALTIES WILL KILL US EVERY TIME. Granted, a number of penalties seem like bad judgment calls by bad referees, but good teams avoid getting caught in those situations. Given that the Pats got knocked with 8 penalties over the Bucs 7, this isn't as big a thing, but still it's the issue I will go to my grave screaming about.
3b) Patriots rushing: Eight carries. Negative 1 yard total. Only ONE player - WR Nelson Algholor - had positive (4) rushing yards. Then again, given how the Bucs' passing defense is porous, why would any team run against us in the first place...?
3c) Turnovers. Bucs thankfully avoided those mistakes, while the Pats coughed up a fumble and an INT (there should have been a second fumble, DAMN THE REFS). This is arguably the best reason why the Bucs eked out a win.
4) With four game under the belt so to speak, how are things shaping up for the Bucs this 2021 season?
4a) Compared to other similarly aging QBs like Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady looks good enough to play another five seasons. In terms of passing attacks, the Bucs can still generate yards, make first downs, and get within Red Zones to score. It's just with that loss of Gronk that our ability TO ACTUALLY SCORE seems to have gone away.
4b) The Bucs' rushing attack finally showed up, given how Fournette became the primary back (on-field 81 percent of all snaps) and proved his worth getting yards and first downs. He also looks better as a passing target than last season, meaning we might finally have some consistency where we had none the first three games.
4c) Injuries are already taking a serious toll. Last season the Bucs missed a lot of early serious dings to key players, only losing Vita Vea by the halfway mark - around the time the Bucs hit a rough patch and were sitting at 7-5 before our Bye - and so were in better position to make a postseason run than other teams whose injuries (Carolina for example) knocked them out of contention.
What's making this worse this season is that our major injuries are hitting a secondary - Cornerbacks and Safeties - that was already short on talent going into this year. Already lost Sean Murphy-Bunting and maybe without Jamal Dean for another couple weeks, and now looking at the likely loss of Carlton Davis II (our best starter, given how often he gets penalized that's not saying much) and Winfield for at least two-three more weeks.
Signing Richard Sherman as a last-minute fill-in last week was one thing - and with luck another week of team practice will get him back in shape - but now we might need to sign two more CBs or Safeties to keep us going. And there's no sign of quality talent out there to keep us winning.
5) In other professional NFL news: Considering how last week the Los Angeles Rams looked like Super Bowl contenders beating the Bucs, this week the Arizona Cardinals looked like Super Bowl contenders literally flattening the Rams. QB Kyler Murray is this year's Mahomes - a crazy-ass slinger making wizard plays - and the Cards defense is legitimately good enough to get them to the postseason.
The NFC West is scary good right now even with the 49ers dinged up.
5a) The Jacksonville Jaguars almost beat Cincinnati, and while "almost" counts for nothing in the wins column, this was a near-upset suggesting the Jags are not the weakest link of the NFL right now.
5b) That might be the Houston Texans. Refusing to play Deshaun Watson and relying on a rookie QB who SHOULDN'T be starting this early in his career (Mills is a long-term prospect, even I saw that in the draft previews), Houston doesn't look like they can win a game for the rest of the season.
Going back to the Jags though. They are currently on a 19-game losing streak, I think currently tied for second-worst streak and 7 games away from tying the infamous 1976-77 Bucs. Can anyone look at the next seven weeks for the Jags to see if they're poised for similar infamy...?
5c) Okay, WHO TOLD THE NEW YORK JETS AND NEW YORK GIANTS TO WIN THIS WEEKEND? Crazy fact, America: This is the first time both teams won the same weekend since 2017 (?), and this is the first time ever both teams won the same weekend in overtime.
5d) I might be wrong about the worst team being the Texans. Pittsburgh looked so terrible against the Packers that their media is openly calling for Big Ben (clearly unable to throw further than 10 yards down-field) to retire. It's gonna be sad up that way for awhile.
5e) Carolina Panthers looked great their first three weeks but a better-than-expected Cowboys team beat them this week. This says more about Dallas - finally showing signs of a good defense and a return of the running attack with Ezekiel Elliott - being a serious contender to win the NFC East outright.
5f) That said, the LEGENDARY Taylor Heinicke led the Washington No Names over a struggling Falcons team that just can't maintain a lead (and thus a win).
5g) The New Orleans Saints played well against the Giants but fell to them in overtime. Some of that has to do with a Saints defense that's not as good as expected... and with a passing game in Jameis Winston that can't be trusted to air it out (throwing only 26 times for 235 yards). It may not all be on Winston - Taysom Hill is turning out to be a one-trick pony - but that lack of trust is going to burn New Orleans as this season goes on.
5h) As the season stands, the Bucs look like they are at the top of the dogpile alongside a good Panthers squad, with New Orleans struggling out of the pile and Atlanta buried at the bottom. A winning season is still very much likely - better than how we were in 2003 post-Super Bowl - but none of them are going to be easy pickings.
6) In professional college football news: SUCK IT NOTRE DAME.
6a) DAMMIT OLE MISS YOU HAD ONE J... ehh, screw them and Lane Kiffin, I'm glad they lost to 'Bama.
6b) Dan Mullen at Florida is in serious trouble. Losing to Alabama is acceptable... but losing to KENTUCKY is grounds for mis-season firings. AND HE'S DONE THIS TWICE. Not even Ron Zook was this bad.
Speaking of Kentucky, they are 5-0 overall and 3-0 in SEC standings. They finally got into the AP polls and could... ah who am I kidding? They gotta play Georgia, right?
6c) DAMMIT WHO TOLD FLORIDA STATE THEY COULD WIN A GAME?
6d) Cincinnati (college team) being highly-ranked and unbeaten puts them in the driver's seat to break into the playoff setup come December. They don't play any serious American conference teams until SMU in November.
6e) As for the South Florida Bulls... well... things can't get any worse. We could be getting to that part of the schedule where we face equally bad AAC teams to where we can eke out a win... but they can do the same to us. What the hell happened...?
7) In professional baseball news: YOUR AL EAST WINNING TAMPA BAY RAYS REACHED 100 WINS IN A SEASON! They clinched AL home field advantage and will face a best-of-5 matchup against either Boston or New York. This is looking like a decent postseason where the Rays can make another World Series run.
7b) None of the AL teams are slouches and can be serious threats to the Rays' hopes. Houston and Chicago White Sox are well-coached teams, facing either of them in a best-of-seven past the wild card will be a challenge.
7c) And the Rays did all of this with one of the lowest payrolls, almost no stars, almost no dominant starting pitcher, no dominant hitter, decent role players across the board and good rookie talent that do deserve ROY considerations. This is a TEAM more than a loose packaging of super-talent, and that may yet help the Rays win it all this year.
8) In professional hockey news: Preseason is underway and DAMMIT TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING YOU HAVE ONE JOB: KEEP THE CUP!
9) In professional sports media news: ESPN quietly let Katie Nolan's contract expire (or quietly fired her) which to me is a damn shame. Hired as a social media sports commentator, Nolan was charismatic and snarky, a great guest fit on the talking head shows like Around the Horn, and she along with Pablo Torre and the liminal Mina Kimes made excellent replacements for the Highly Questionable show (when LeBatard got fired early this year). This is a huge mistake by the sports network: Nolan and Kimes in particular played off each other brilliantly, and they could have hosted their own late afternoon talk show. The ratings may say one thing, but ESPN are losing the snarky edge that helped build the network from the late 90s onward.
10) Next up: Bucs return home to face a dinged-up Miami Dolphins team, in what may be the sloppiest match-up between these two Florida teams since 2000. Break out the vintage Erric Rhett jerseys for this one (long story, but it involves me attending preseason games when I worked in Broward County)!