I’m going to say it. Week twelve went so bad so fast that I’m actually going to bring something up that I try not to. No matter how hard I’ve tried, it seems like this team refuses to let me avoid it already. Say goodbye to the playoffs. Welcome to the Factory of Sadness and say hello to the E-Word… evaluation. Lovie Smith would give me a very stern look if I said such a thing, but my optimism has been murdered by our offensive line and nothing else on the team can bring it back to life. I understand that as a coach, he won’t do that until the numbers say the playoffs are absolutely an impossibility. I think that’s sad, because the NFC South is so bad that such statistical certainty probably won’t come until the last one or two weeks of the season.
Before this season, I remember distinctly walking into a local place to eat. My best friend (a staunch Cowboys fan who actually knows more about the Bucs than he wants to because of my articles) asked me sincerely how I think we’d do. He’d seen what I’d been saying about the preseason and heard plenty of talk from me. Sincerely, I told him point blank, “If the offensive line holds, we’re a ten or eleven win playoff team.” I wasn’t blowing smoke. I believed that with every fiber of my being, and I know I wasn’t the only one.
Don’t get distracted by my condition, let’s look at the clause that I started with. “If the offensive line holds.” That’s an enormous if. I believed in this team partially because of preseason faith in Evan Dietrich-Smith, Anthony Collins, Patrick Omameh, and even hope for the promise of Kadeem Edwards and Kevin Pamphile. Even with the man I thought would be the saving grace, Logan Mankins, this offensive line has looked startlingly bad. I’ve been excessively critical of Doug Martin, but no one can run behind this line. No running back is good enough to break through every defensive lineman with zero momentum and keep going.
The road game in Chicago had the chance to be a new beginning or the nail in the flimsy playoff coffin we’re trying to escape from. No matter how much we try and squirm as the rest of the nails go in, there’s no getting out. I’m done playing optimist, there’s no way this Bucs team makes the playoffs. The only teams left on our schedule that Sunday’s performance might beat are New Orleans and Carolina, but that’d only be if they shoot themselves in the foot before the game begins. Even the trainwreck of the NFC South can beat Tampa bay right now, and that’s clear by Tampa’s 0-4 division record.
The fact that this defense, without the tackling machine that is Lavonte David, held Matt Forte to a measly 89 rushing yards is downright impressive. Chicago has their flaws, but shutting out a team in the first half without one of your stars is an accomplishment. Mason Foster led the team in tackles and stepped up big time to lead the defensive front. The story of this game is “one of these things is not like the other.” Jay Cutler only had 130 yards passing, got sacked three times, and only threw a single touchdown.
Let’s look at the other quarterback on display. Despite the fact that he got sacked five times and might as well have been using a free elbow as his pass protection, Josh McCown threw for 341 yards and completed nearly as many passes as Jay Cutler even attempted. However, Josh McCown threw two interceptions while Jay Cutler didn’t throw a single one. It wasn’t for a lack of trying either. There were chances, but amidst a mostly good defensive performance, those chances were missed.
On offense, the same story happened. Mike Evans didn’t have his best day, as he led the team in targets but only managed to catch three of them. Some of this was his fault and some wasn’t, but it didn’t happen either way. Despite a focus on Evans, Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy quietly had a pair of 100+ yard receiving games that amounted to nothing in the end. Key offensive blunders, some McCown’s fault and some not, gave the Bears plenty of short field and allowed Matt Forte to walk right in for two rushing touchdowns.
This team can’t make the playoffs. That’s all there is to it. If they can’t handle regular season football, they can’t handle playoff football. There’s no magic switch that flips if they stumble their way into a playoff game. I still want the Buccaneers to win because I like seeing them win, but I’m done talking about the Christmas miracle that has been slipping away one boneheaded botched block at a time. It’s evaluation time, and the grades aren’t passing. It’s a Bucs life, but right now it’s a Bah Humbuc life. Fire the cannons just to keep them warm in the winter. It’s a long time till draft day.