It’s one of those losses where it’s hard to conjure the proper verbiage to describe it.
It feels like all of your emotions are being pureed into a smooth paste of pure dread, and then you’re forced to swallow it all over again with both hands hogtied behind your back — no pinched noses today, friends. You could feel angry, embarrassed, devastated, hysterical...all valid in their own ways.
But ultimately, we all learned the truth that the 2023 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going nowhere fast, and that conclusion was just galvanized in very painful fashion. The defense once again got skewered, as has so often been the case over the last month or so, and it came in the form of Houston Texans rookie phenom C.J. Stroud carving them like an early Thanksgiving Day turkey.
Allowing 30 completions for 470 yards and 5 touchdowns is unacceptable by any measure, but that’s especially true against a rookie QB with modest weaponry and a patchwork offensive line. And it’s even more egregious to play the softest coverage possible and allow a game-winning, 75-yard TD drive in 40 seconds.
Sunday as a whole served as the most flaring example yet of a Bucs team that can’t get on the same page; its offensive and defensive units have really just taken turns getting pantsed in front of tens of thousands of people from week to week — a few times simultaneously. Beyond execution of actual plays, there have been serious issues with penalties, communication, game management, and adaptation.
I could go on and on about this team’s failings that have gradually accumulated since the bye week, but let’s briefly highlight some positives as we collectively cling to any vestiges of hope scattered among the cutting room floor that is Tampa’s four-game losing skid.
Offensive Top Performer: RB Rachaad White
Sunday was one of the Bucs’ better all-around offensive performances, that can’t be denied. They actually scored touchdowns, and they generated some success on the ground. White is finally being utilized as the two-way weapon in space that he’s shown glimmers of, as he totaled 24 touches for 119 yards (73 rushing, 46 receiving) and two touchdowns — a career high.
He probably would’ve done even better if this coaching staff could even slightly shake its mind-numbingly stubborn approach to running into the teeth of a hungry defense that’s fully expecting run plays in obvious situations. White played well, and the playcalling is starting to gel with his ability, but I’m not sure if we’ll ever see him achieve his full potential because of leadership’s antiquated philosophical approach.
Baker Mayfield rebounded from rough back-to-back weeks and played much better. Completing 21-of-30 passes for 265 yards and two scores, including a go-ahead strike with 46 seconds left, along with no turnovers deserves praise. Baker was not the reason this team lost.
Cade Otton tallied his best game of the season as the coaching staff also realizes that he’s far more effective as a pass catcher than a run blocker. Six catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns was another much-needed step in the right direction.
Defensive Top Performer: No One
There will be no remote praise or sayings like “Well, at least there was [insert player here]”. This unit completely failed at every level. Terrible coaching did not help them, I respect that, but ultimately someone needs to step up and make something happen to stymie the bleeding.
Going out there and getting continually lashed by a player with 7 career starts coming in is unforgivable. More than half of this defense is made up of some high-priced, well-regarded dudes with serious accolades.
Not one of these multi-millionaires can break up a pass or create a pressure or sack? At this point, these guys (both coaches and players) will either get woken up and actually get their house in order in the next few weeks, or they’re just going to concede the situation.
We’ll find out soon enough.
Special Teams Top Performer: K Chase McLaughlin
McLaughlin is officially an elite kicker for the Bucs, and that’d be nicer to see if the team could actually win a damn game.
Three-for-three on field goals, including a long of 55 yards, and four made extra points played a big role in the contest, though he’ll be overshadowed by the kick made by a player who isn’t even a kicker (shoutout to Bucs legend Dare Ogunbowale).
Again, it’s worth reminding that McLaughlin is 15-of-17 this year on field goals, and his only two misses were blocks. He might remain the team’s most consistent points-getter all year long.