1) So that was the big night.
Sunday Nighter, national stage, at home. Packing the Ray Jay with fans, Red Shirts required to show our team's colors to the world. This was it. Game against our hated rivals the New Orleans Saints. All the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to do was win this and clinch the NFC South division. Saints were coming in with a backup QB, a dinged-up offensive line, an inability to score points at will. All the Bucs had to do - behind Tom FREAKING Brady and a great one-two WR tandem in Evans and Godwin with Gronk and Fournette as options - was score 3-4 TDs and keep Taysom Hill and RB Alvin Kamara botted up for 60 minutes of game time.
That's all they had to do.
Just that one job.
1a) By the end of the night, a packed football stadium was silent save for the boos of heartbroken Bucs fans and jeering Saints fans who bussed in down I-10. By the end of the night, both our starting receivers and primary running back were out with injury. The Bucs had fallen scoreless at home - their first home loss all season - to a Saints team that scored only three field goals all night. A TD and a field goal could have won it. Could have...
1b) Bucs were red, all right. We were redshirtted like Star Trek extras, for God's sake.
1c) Instead of clinching a division just like the Packers clinched the North, the Bucs are now clinging to a narrow and precarious spot, barely ahead of everybody else for the Two Seed if the Bucs can just win one more game. If the Bucs can't - and we've all been Bucs fans long enough to know THIS COULD HAPPEN (see 2008) - we're looking at the possibility of New Orleans overtaking us if they win out in a tiebreaker and breaking the spirits of a community that was just one night away from glorious purpose...
1d) I had hoped my status as a JINX was over since the narrow win last weekend, but no as I started watching the game and Brady opened the first drive with a near-interception - thank GOD the cornerback dropped the pass - I suddenly realized I was still a jinx and turned the TV off. Subsequent check-ins on ESPN to see the score - and seeing the report that both Evans and Godwin were out with injuries - terrified me into ignoring the rest of the game and praying things would get better after I went to bed.
Nope. I woke up to the 9-0 score and groaned.
That is it, kids. I am not watching another goddamn game or listen to it on the radio or follow it on the Intertubes. Don't tell me what the hell happens until AFTER the Super Bowl, okay?!
2) So WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?
I mentioned this earlier on my Wish List fanpost: It wasn't the Saints offense we had to worry about it was the Saints DEFENSE. In the last 4-5 years, ever since New Orleans fixed a leaky pass defense, the Bucs have just been unable to dominate that team in the regular season. They've repeatedly given Jameis Winston - and now Tom Brady - fits with INTs, sacks, pressure, and bad offensive efforts. That the Bucs won the postseason matchup had more to do with Drew Brees finally falling apart - 3 INTs of his own - and losing the matchup in that Fourth Quarter. You gotta remember, the Saints were WINNING that game by halftime...
2a) Mixed into this was the Bucs offense - based on what I'm seeing with the Play-by-Play reports - relying too much on the passing game, especially deep throws in situations where going for the bloody First Down made more sense. Above all, the opening quarter of play had the Bucs failing to run the ball at all: Ronald Jones made the first run play at the start of the Second. I've been screaming about an unbalanced offense for most of the season, and this is partly the result of that.
2b) Over-reliance on the pass meant over-reliance on the receivers, which came back to bite us on the ass when those receivers got injured. We lost Mike Evans early, and then lost Chris Godwin, both for the rest of the game (the news got worse today, more on that later). By the Second Half we lost Leonard Fournette, who was relied upon as an option screen guy when Brady couldn't find anybody else open, and with Jones not counted on to be that we lost another dimension to the offense.
2c) None of the other receivers could step up. Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson were both disappointments. Johnson in particular wasn't fast enough to get downfield for big gains. The heartbreaker was the Tight Ends, especially Rob Gronkowski. Usually the most reliable catcher for Brady, Gronk failed last night getting only two catches out of ELEVEN targets. The Bucs could not get Gronk open and Gronk could not hold onto what came his way. Cameron Brate wasn't any better, and OJ Howard is officially a bust in the passing game (is he even blocking when he's out there?).
2d) And we lost to a Saints team whose head coach was out with a positive COVID test. /headdesk
2e) This game might not be the worst loss in Buccaneers history - and oh GODS we've had plenty - but this is going to be the one that stings the most. This was one we COULD have won, with a team that has actual talent and poised for a postseason.
3) Where the hell do the Bucs go from here?
The next matchup is AT Carolina, and while the Panthers are not in any good shape they're still a rivalry team and they can smell the blood in the water against us.
3a) It does not help that the Bucs are now legitimately wounded. The medicals are back in and Chris Godwin is out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL. One of the best WR tandems in the game just fell apart. Evans' hamstring makes him week-to-week, and rushing him out there this quickly might not be a great idea. The Bucs ARE getting Antonio Brown back from suspension, but he's both rusty and coping with off-field distractions. Perriman might be back from COVID quarantine but there's no guarantee on that either. Johnson may not make for a decent No.2, and Scotty Miller's status as a deep threat is hampered if the Bucs' passing game won't give him time to run open.
3b) I'm not even sure what Fournette's situation is, but Ronald Jones ought to step up as a decent run attack (just not a decent screen receiver).
4) Statistics of the game: Points. The Bucs failed to score any. This was the first shutout since... 2012 under Schiano, also a loss to these Saints. DAMN THOSE SAINTS.
4a) Bucs actually held the Saints to 61 rushing yards, which contributed to their inability to maintain their own offensive drives. The Saints still got into field goal often enough, damn them.
4b) Turnovers: Bucs coughed it up twice (almost three times for all I know), while the Saints did a better job holding onto the ball.
5a) The number of terrifying head injuries - to TE Donny Parham of the Chargers, of QB Teddy Bridgewater for the Broncos - ought to scare the league into working faster on improving the body armor and head/neck gear of the players. Gods, for a minute there Parham's seizure on the field looked like he was DYING...
5b) If the NFL is playing games this Tuesday it's because nearly every team is getting hit hard with a new wave of COVID infections - even with vaccinations, it's serious - and the league better damn well put their teams into lockdown again and avoid public contact from here on out. This Omicron variant is too infectous.
6) In professional basketball news, you'll notice a lot of games getting suspended due to COVID as well.
7) In professional hockey news, the NHL has issued a no-travel ban for games between Canada and the US. Half the games are getting suspended and their entire schedule looks to be at risk.
8) In professional binge watching news, the final episode of Hawkeye will definitely involve the KINGPIN and with any luck a Daredevil sighting is in order.
9) In professional Christmas news, It's also SATURNALIA, EVERYBODY, SO DRINK YOUR ROMAN MULLED WINE BEECHES. IO SATURNALIA!!!
10) Next up: The Bucs travel wounded to Carolina to face the Panthers and hope to eke out a win to clinch the NFC South for real. God, please, please please please.
I won't watch. Not jinxing them again.