1) Okay, so NOW can we talk about Bruno???
1a) One thing we Buccaneers fans need to understand is that the one-and-done nature of the NFL playoffs leads to a lot of heartbreak. Tampa Bay has rarely been consistent enough to deal with the annual stress of good teams whacking at each other like Immortals with katanas with the endgame being THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE.
Winning the wild card round was one thing: Bucs were playing an Eagles team that was pretty much "Happy To Be Here." The divisional round is a scarier monster: We were facing a Los Angeles Rams team that had a passing offense that could beat us deep and a defense that could pressure Tom Brady all day.
And of course, the Rams beat us with exactly that combo.
1b) The frustrating problems with the game related to the problems the Bucs had all season long: slow, painful opening first quarters with little scoring; blitz plays that produced not enough sacks and gave too many good QBs the opportunities to throw quick darts; the lack of urgency until mid-Third Quarters when we were down (these were not problems in the Eagles playoff game, I grant you that).
1c) Making things worse this time was the terrible passing offense for much of the game. QB Brady just seemed out of sync with receivers who kept dropping throws. The worst culprit was his best teammate, Gronkowski. Targeted eleven times but only FOUR catches. That all led to stalled drives, no points, all the while the Rams were able to rack up 20 points by halftime where the Bucs had only 3.
1d) If there was ANY saving grace, it's that Tom Brady has a reputation for miracle comebacks. This is a QB who was down 28-3 against the Falcons in a Super Bowl and in less than a quarter of play tied up the game 31-all to secure overtime and a final scoring drive to win. The Bucs were down often this season, and many times - Jets game in particular - Brady rallied the Bucs to a final score and those wins.
Just not today. Getting the Bucs tied up 27-all to the Rams is one thing, but the Bucs allowed Rams QB Matt Stafford to find his best WR Cooper Kupp (arguably the league MVP at this point) in near-open coverage as the Bucs called an ill-advised blitz. That pass got the Rams in field goal range and former Bucs kicker Matt Gay made it hurt for the 30-27 upset.
1e) WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?! Sigh. Too many injuries to our best players. Some players aging out to where retirement should be their next move. Too many times relying on luck.
1f) We didn't miss Antonio Brown, by the by. The Bucs missed Tristan Wirfs and Chris Godwin today.
2) So this is it. End of a season.
Sorrow, yes, but let us count the good things that went Tampa Bay's way.
2a) Tampa Bay won the NFC South division for the first time since 2007, getting over that particular hump.
2b) A number of Bucs players - especially along our offensive line - were recognized with Pro Bowl and All-Pro designations this season. This is one of the most talented lineups we've had since the Dungy era.
2c) While we may be losing some of our aging or expensive veterans, there is a core set of young players drafted over the past 5 years - Wirfs, Winfield, Godwin, Marpet, Vea, White - that can help keep this franchise at the top of the NFC.
2d) Some of the veterans - Evans, Brady, Lavonte David, Gronk, Fournette, Jensen - with some skill left in their bones can arguably stick around for at least one more year to get us back to a postseason visit in 2022-23.
3) Things that are not going to happen:
3a) Bucs are not going to make a back-to-back Super Bowl. We're with the "one-termers" that dot the NFL landscape for now.
3b) Bucs are not going to get the whole band back together. Whereas the Bucs re-signed everyone from the Super Bowl team to return another year, that's not going to happen again. They don't have the allure of going back-to-back to draw them back. This year's Free Agency cycle (with the cap going up) should be wide open, with enough money to entice enough veteran starters to take their chances elsewhere (even with a bad team like the Jets or Texans).
3c) Bucs are unlikely to be major players in that upcoming Free Agency market. Being tight against the cap from last year, unless the front office can talk more players into extending out their contracts to spread out the cap hits, there's little we can do to fill any upcoming roster gaps until the draft.
4) Statistics of the Game: Incomplete Passes. Brady had 30 catches... on 54 throws. That may be around 55 percent completion rate, but before the final two drives the completion percentage was at 45 percent. Mike Evans had 16 THROWS his way but only 8 catches... Gronk only 4 out of 11... just think of all those blown drives, those missed touchdowns...
4a) Third down efficiency: for the Bucs it was 3 for 14. /headdesk
You do not win games without sustained offensive drives. This... was terrible.
4b) PENALTIES WILL BE THE DEATH OF US. Bucs got flagged 4 times, Rams got flagged 4 times, but what the hell were these penalties?!
Unsportsmanlike Conduct? On BRADY?! Did you see the play? Von Miller leading with HIS helmet to smack Brady in the facemask just after the throw. 99 times out of 100, that's a Roughing the Passer, that could have been a targeting penalty on Miller. Instead no flag, so Brady argues his case and the head ref FLAGS HIM for the "unsportsmanlike".
I call "Refball" shenanigans on that.
4c) Turnovers: Rams fumbled it away 4 times during the game, and the Bucs only coughed up two (1 INT, 1 fumble). And yet even with the Bucs scoring two touchdowns off the Rams' turnovers, they STILL couldn't win the game. Usually, winning the turnover battle wins the game. Not this time.
4d) Total yards: Rams racked up 428 yards over the Bucs 359. Basically, the Bucs couldn't stop the Rams O. Cooper Kupp had 183 yards (!) on 9 catches for a 20 YPC. That's first downs all day long, boys. Our pass defense wasn't stopping a thing.
5) So what happens from here for the Bucs?
Rebuilding for next year has to consider where the worst problems were for the team: a drop in sacks in spite of all the blitzing, questionable secondary depth (STILL) considering all the injuries that roster spot endured, likely losses of offensive talent (WR Godwin is going to be one of THE most coveted Free Agents entering the off-season even coming off the ACL, possible loss of Ronald Jones or Fournette at RB).
There will be some coaching changes, depending on if the coordinators like OC Byron Leftwich are still appealing to the open coaching vacancies (it's unlikely DC Todd Bowles is under consideration now considering the faults in his blitz-style schemes). The good news, Bucs will be defending their division title for the first time in decades: Bad news is, we may be in a weaker position to do so.
6) In other NFL news: WAS THIS THE CRAZIEST DIVISIONAL WEEKEND OF ALL TIME?!?!?!
Bengals upset the AFC No.1 Seed Tennessee Titans on a last-second field goal. The 49ers upset NFC No.1 Seed Green Bay Packers IN A SNOWSTORM AT THE FROZEN TUNDRA OF LAMBEAU FIELD ON A LAST SECOND FIELD GOAL!
(also, the Rams beat the Bucs on a last-second field goal, which sucks)
6a) If there is any consolation to this divisional round madness, it's that the arrogant Packers are toast BWHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
QB Aaron Rodgers, fresh off ANOTHER controversial anti-vaxxing public statement, played one of his least spirited games AT HOME against a San Francisco 49ers team that was better motivated to play and win.
After all the years of sympathetic chatter of how such an All-Pro, MVP-level QB like Rodgers has only ONE Super Bowl visit to his resume, considering just how often the Packers ARE in the postseason and just how often RODGERS isn't playing so great, maybe the problem was HIM all along.
6a) This is going to be a dramatic off-season for Green Bay, far worse than last year's (!). Rodgers is not a free agent but is on one last year, a prime moment where the team could trade him elsewhere to clear his cap hit. Other key players ARE free agents, like WR Davante Adams. The Packers are far tighter against the cap than the Bucs, to the point where they may have to cut players or refuse to re-sign veterans up for RFA or UFA status. The possibility of Green Bay sliding from the dominant spot at the NFC North is likely for 2022...
6b) Also, WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED IN THAT BILLS-CHIEFS GAME?!?!?! WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?!?!
6c) If we're looking at potential Super Bowl matchups now, it's Bengals-49ers, Bengals-Rams, Chiefs-49ers, Chiefs-Rams.
The most enticing matchup would be Chiefs-Rams as the last best teams in either conference, with QB Stafford looking for redemption with a Rams team that traded away half of everything to build this one for a Super Bowl run. Bengals-Niners has the history (two previous meetings, all Niners, so the Kitties will look for revenge).
For me? Bucs are out. I don't care anymore.
7) In professional hockey news: OKAY LIGHTNING IT'S ALL ON YOU NOW. WIN THE BACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK FOR THE STANLEY CUP!!!
8) In professional baseball news, the Major League powers shot down Stu's ill-advised "time-share" partial relocation of the Tampa Bay Rays to play the early games in Tampa and then the second half of the regular season in Montreal.
NOBODY other than Sternberg himself seemed to like the plan (disregard the local businesses hollowly cheering it on, they were looking for breadcrumbs in selling their civic loyalty out like that). Rays fans - YES WE EXIST - were offended by Stu's blatant attempt to leave the market, Montreal fans were offended they were getting a part-time team.
8a) What this means is that Sternberg has to negotiate first with the Tampa areas for a new ballpark location, either dealing with Tampa to relocate to a sensible spot in Ybor City (at the I-4 / 275 intersection) to help develop the nightlife and residential area, or stay in downtown St. Pete as part of a citywide renovation to develop more housing and business zones (not as likely as it's still too far from the population-density zones of North Pinellas/Pasco/Tampa).
Now that the Bucs season has ended, and with baseball stuck in a lockout over owners/players negotiations for a new CBA, this would be a good time for Tampa to set up a foundation of construction money and pitch the deal: the state government in Tallahassee could FINALLY help because a lot of federal money is pouring in that could free up other funds that could go towards the Rays park.
8b) In the meantime, don't expect the lockout to end soon. Too much money and control is at stake here. We're better off waiting for the Justice Department to intervene with an antitrust lawsuit on the owners...
9) In binge watching news: CAN WE FINALLY TALK ABOUT BRUNO?!?!
10) Next up: Watching 1/3 of the Bucs team leave via free agency, probably.
/openly cries his heart out