1) This was an ugly way to stop a miserable three-game slide, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take it.
Against a reeling Los Angeles Rams team coming off their Super Bowl high, the Bucs struggled through 9/10ths of the entire game before waking up in a hurry-up offensive mode to score the one TD they'll make all game to eke out a 16-13 win. And yes, it was ugly all the way.
1a) For all the promises from the head coach Bowles and offensive coordinator Leftwich to upgrade their playcalls and open up an offense that has stumbled all season long, this game opened with the same old tried and failed schemes of running Fournette up the middle and tossing short screens to receivers who can't get 5 yards downfield. The Bucs could move the ball from time to time, but rarely into the Red Zone, and forced to walk away with field goals instead of much-needed TDs.
1b) The defense did what it could, pressuring Rams QB Stafford often enough, but the secondary kept failing to contain the Rams number one weapon Cooper Kupp, who burned the safeties for an open TD reception for 70 yards early in the game to put the Bucs down 7-3.
1c) If the Bucs won, it's because the Rams were in terrible shape themselves, missing key OL talent and a softer-than-expected defensive backfield that the Bucs barely exploited enough times. The Rams lost this more than the Bucs won.
1d) For now, a win is a win and in this crazy season, it may be enough to spark the team to perform better down the second half of the season to retain control of a soft NFC South division. But there are no guarantees. This is not a 12-5 team, people. We're not going on any win streaks soon. These Bucs have to prove themselves every week now.
2) Player of the Game: DT Vita Vea may not be much lately on stopping the run - he's missing the help from the DEs and LBs to contain the runners - but he's stepped up a bit in the pass-rush and becoming the sack machine we haven't seen since Gerald McCoy's best years (I may yet compare to Warren Sapp if Vea keeps this up). Vea ended up with two sacks and two tackles for loss, at this pace he could end up with double-digit sacks.
2a) Tom Brady still is underperforming a bit - you can see he's struggling at times to sync with his receivers - but he reached a number of milestones this game including a career 100,000 yards throwing the ball, a league record that should stand forever (until someone else plays 22 years like he has). This game, Brady was the only offense we could rely on. If he can find receivers in scoring chances more often, the whole team will benefit.
2b) Cade Otton has been stepping up as a solid TE replacement to the retired Gronk, and made his big leagues marquee moment with two key catches on the final drive especially the game-winning TD catch from a quick out route at the goal line. The game announcers got to calling him "Baby Gronk," but with the win and the TD today, he's grown up to Teen Gronk. I'd been screaming the last three-four games that Brady needs to find him more often in Red Zone situations: today's win proved that. Also, his first professional TD was from TOM FREAKING BRADY. He better have kept that ball to show off to future grandkids.
2c) In a game as sloppy as today's, there weren't a lot of other standout performers, so we're going to have to bring up rookie punter Jake Camarda. Given he had to punt six times, he made the most of it with some booming kicks today, including an impressive 74-yarder that helped pin the Rams back. The good news is he didn't punt as often as the Rams punter Dixon, who had to punt away 9 times, meaning the Rams had a rougher go of moving the ball. Like I said, the Rams lost this game more than the Bucs won it.
2d) It's rare to nominate an opposing player, but goddamn did LB Bobby Wagner show up today for the Rams. Especially an incredible - and was that even legal? - leap over the long snapper to block a long field goal try by the Bucs that kept us 7-3 halfway through the Second Quarter. If we had made that kick along with the others, Bucs would have been 9-7 going into the half.
3) Statistics of the Game: Offensive Imbalance for the Bucs. 58 passing attempts today, with 20 rushing attempts. It's not that the Bucs didn't want to run the ball. Hell, Leftwich clearly wants to run the ball as much as he can, in a vain attempt to "balance" the offense. Problem is, Leftwich's run plays are UP THE GODDAMN MIDDLE, bad enough that the Rams defense could put safeties in the box and stop us nearly every time. We end up throwing it 58 times this game because the running game couldn't get established at all on its own terms.
We are better off throwing it more often early in games, especially on first down situations, and THEN let the running game set its groove once we get a couple TDs punched in. But Leftwich will double down on forcing run plays even when it's obvious the opposing defense is seeing those calls coming a mile away.
3a) First Downs. Bucs achieved 18 first downs over the Rams 9. LA simply couldn't do much on offense except the occasional big play. The Bucs did better controlling the ball, the clock, and the yards (330 over the Rams 260). Where it gets bad for the Bucs is that only ONE first down came on a running play for the Bucs. We are clearly not controlling the line of scrimmage, are we.
3b) Turnovers. It's a good thing that the Bucs offense didn't force any turnovers this game... but it's a bad thing our Bucs defense didn't force any turnovers this game. This is, what, the fourth game this season of zero turnovers either way?
This is supposed to be a ball-hawk defense, forcing INTs or fumbles. We did cause two fumbles but the Rams were able to recover. Those lack of turnovers offensively means our offense has good control, but we're not risking bigger plays for bigger gains. Our low TD count this season shows how the lack of risk is hurting us.
3c) PENALTIES WILL BE THE DEATH OF US. Bucs did get flagged seven times, but oddly enough the Rams did not gain any first downs from them. Most of our penalties were drive-killers for US, which does not help our wobbly offense in the first place...
3d) Red Zone performance: The good news was that the Rams were worse than us inside the 20. They went zero-for-2 today, underscoring how they lost this game. But the Bucs barely did any better, going 1-for-3 today including some painful third-and-short playcalls of RUNS UP THE MIDDLE that went obviously nowhere. The TD came from the last-minute hurry-up offensive mode with Brady making the easy short throw to a TE running to the corner pylon. THAT's what we need to see more of in Red Zone situations, coach. /fume
4) With today's win, the Bucs crawl up to a 4-5 record, the halfway mark of the season under .500 alas. But the Atlanta Falcons lost today, sending them to the same 4-5 record putting the Bucs atop the South division due to tiebreaker (we beat them head-to-head). But it's not pretty, is it? Bucs need to figure out how to eke things out to at least 9 wins this season to clinch the division. Wild Card is not in the cards for us. What looked like a 13-win team in August isn't there anymore. And we dare not expect any prolonged winning streaks until we get more scoring consistency out of this offense.
5) In other NFL news, the only other fanbase more disappointed than the Bucs fanbase has to be the Packers. Green Bay lost today, badly, stuck with a five-game losing streak (!) with Aaron Rodgers playing the worst QB junk he's ever put on the field. From what I've spotted on social media, there are open calls for benching him. He's missing receivers, forcing bad INTs, the works. If any aging QB needs to retire, Aaron does more than Tom Brady.
5a) If I overlooked the Rams fanbase, it's because honestly L.A.'s still not their fanbase. They're all talking Lakers this time of year anywho.
5c) The entire AFC East is over .500 right now, even the Patriots are winning. This isn't fair.
5d) If the Dolphins can improve their offensive line so that Tua can avoid more concussions, we might see Miami Dolphins reach a Super Bowl again in our lifetimes.
5e) Mathematically speaking, it'll be highly improbable the Philadelphia Eagles will go undefeated all season, but they're 8-0 right now and clearly the best NFC team.
5f) Who the hell knew Geno Smith was this good a QB, ever? Seattle effing lucked out switching him in and managing that offense better than expected.
5g) Right now, the NFC's best teams are Eagles, Vikings, Seahawks, Cowboys and a surprisingly good Giants team. We'll be hearing a lot of complaining if a sub-.500 team like the Bucs make the playoffs and a winning Giants team miss a wild card spot.
6) In professional college football news: For one week, the Tennessee Vols were at the top of the world, having beat 'Bama and a few other good teams to rank Number One in the BCS standings. Then they went into Georgia who was Number Three... and the Vols found out they were pretenders to the true Number One team. Dawgs are brutal this year. Again.
6a) Speaking of 'Bama. BWHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHHHAHAHAHAHAA! THEY LOST! TWO LOSSES THIS SEASON. The way the BCS system works, no 2-loss team will get in, especially with so many undefeated and one-loss teams still out there. SUCK IT TIDE. SUCK IT FOREVER.
Their suffering makes it easier for my family, with War Eagle and Gator ties. We're not happy Georgia is now the dominant SEC team, but it's better than dealing with 'Bama arrogance. SUCK IT, SABAN! BWHAHAHAHAHAHA!
6b) The South Florida Bulls couldn't even keep up with a bad Temple team this weekend, failing to score any points in the Fourth Quarter and collapsing 54-28. The coach is toast, three years in, and with decent transfer players filling the roster, and the Bulls have gotten worse. I am just getting word tonight that HC Scott is fired, definitely toast now.
WHO THE HELL CAN SAVE THIS BULLS TEAM?
6c) CLEMSON LOST? (checks notes) TO NOTRE DAME?!?! BY THREE TDS?!?!?!?! DAMMIT TIGERS YOU HAD ONE JOB. Gods. Now the punditry will be insufferable about Notre Dame again.
6d) TCU is 9-0 and out of the BCS consideration? Whadda they gotta do, sacrifice a goat? They're TEXAS CHRISTIANS, THEY DON'T DO THAT SORT OF THING.
7) In professional baseball news: The World Series ended this weekend, with Houston Astros overcoming a tough Phillies team to win another title. Compared to their last win, tainted by cheating scandal, this Astros victory will be more sweet than bitter, especially because beloved manager Dusty Baker wins his first championship ring as a coach (he won one as a player for the 1981 Dodgers). Kudos to Baker, who can retire at 73 with his head high, heading back to the Hall of Fame for a repeat invitation if he could.
7a) If I win this week's 1.9 billion Powerball lotto, I will spend money on buying control of the Rays franchise and start work on getting that Ybor ballpark built.
8) In professional hockey news: DAMMIT TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING KEEP WINNING GAMES WE NEED MORE BOAT PARADES.
The Bolts can score pretty well, but our defense is terrible and our top-caliber goalie Vasilevskiy is slipping a lot. Three long postseasons have taken a toll. SAVE VASILEVSKIY.
9) In professional basketball news, has anyone considered relocation the Orlando Magic to Tampa and renaming that team after the Busch Gardens mascot? Hmm, prolly not.
10) Next up: Bucs have a home game... IN MUNICH GERMANY!!! It's against the Seattle Seahawks... WITH LEAGUE MVP GENO SMITH!!!! Ach du lieber Gott!
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