Football is finally back. After months of waiting and weeks of overanalyzing and anticipation, the real deal is here. That’s right! Football games took place that actually count! Teams are currently winning their divisions while others didn’t do so well. The New England Patriots got stunned by the Miami Dolphins and currently sit alone in last place in their division for the first time since Tom Brady has started in New England. While we had a largely defensive clinic against Carolina, the offenses were on display in Atlanta as Matt Ryan threw for 448 passing yards against New Orleans to the delight of fantasy owners everywhere.
There are a lot of words that can be used to describe the Buccaneers performance against the Carolina Panthers. A few that were expressed on social media and by numerous fans were: disappointing, horrible, pitiful, stupid, and plenty of other less than positive choices. I think the only appropriate description is that they were polarizing. The Buccaneers played with the consistency of someone who has bipolar disorder, only leaving you with faith in their inconsistency. Let’s take a look at a few snapshots of the game in chunks.
The second quarter of the game is perfectly indicative of the problems the offense had. In the second quarter alone, the Buccaneers got two separate drives to attempt to make something of. Of those two drives, they managed a grand total of zero first downs. In the 15 minutes of the second quarter, the Bucs only had the ball on offense for two minutes and 44 seconds. The Panthers had possession of the ball for roughly 82% of the second quarter.
In a postgame locker room interview, a reporter stated McCoy looked tired at the half and asked how time of possession affected the defense. McCoy admitted how tired they were and replied, “If we’re on the field, we’ve got to get off the field.” That just didn’t happen. As McCoy pointed out, the Panthers converted multiple third downs. They had chances. As much as I’d like to say their third down conversion rate only shows issues in our defense, it’s impressive how often they held them back to force that third down.
Against a different defense, the score differential could’ve been much worse. Greg Olsen looked a lot like a conservative Jimmy Graham, as our passing defense just couldn’t contain him when it needed to. Carolina opened the second quarter in the early part of what ended as a nine minute long 15 play 69-yard drive that ended in a Greg Olsen touchdown. Carolina ran 40 plays in their 12 minutes of second quarter possession and managed 151 yards of offense, but the Buccaneers defense only let them manage 10 points in that quarter.
The team may have seemed completely inept, but it wasn’t all bad. It also became clear in the fourth quarter that the Bucs offense could actually do something. Despite injuries, including one of unknown severity to brand spanking new guard Logan Mankins, an offensive line that then consisted of the newly acquired Garrett Gilkey at left guard actually held as the offense started to catch fire.
With roughly nine and a half minutes left in the game, the Buccaneers defense held strong and forced the Panthers to attempt a 48-yard field goal. For what felt like the first time in the game, luck was on our side as it ended with a miss. This gave the Bucs the ball at their own 38 yard line while down 17-0. Josh McCown immediately went to work with a quick succession of completed passes to Brandon Myers, Mike Evans, and Vincent Jackson. Then, in a moment even more shocking than Jorvorski Lane’s sudden 54 yard run in the first quarter, Chris Owusu actually caught a pass. It just so happens, that catch was also a touchdown.
With one successful drive, things started to look less bleak. The Panthers got the ball back, and the defense immediately delivered. Carolina managed to bleed the clock a little, but was forced to punt. That punt came down on the six yard line, but Solomon Patton delivered and returned it 33 yards to Tampa’s own 39 yard line. Again with favorable field position, Josh McCown and the offense started chugging once again. Just over two minutes later, Josh McCown delivered his second touchdown pass, this time to Bobby Rainey, to make the game well within reach at 17-14.
The Buccaneers defense knew they needed to hold the Panthers and force a punt as quickly as possible. As Gerald McCoy said, “we’ve got to get off the field.” With the aid of the two minute warning and well placed timeouts, the Buccaneers defense was off the field only thirty seconds of possession later. Josh McCown and the boys were back, but that’s when the turnover monster reared its ugly head to seal our fate. On a run to the outside, Luke Keuchly reached Bobby Rainey and punched the ball right out of his arms. The fumble was recovered by Carolina.
I want to be clear about something. I understand that, in the moment, that’s hard to face. I was as frustrated as anyone when that fumble happened, but one play does not a bad player make. Anyone remember last year? A mistake late in season opener by Lavonte David directly led to a Buccaneers loss to Geno Smith’s ill-equipped New York Jets. David was trying to make a play, and he screwed up. That doesn’t change David’s status as an elite player. Bobby Rainey is a more than capable offensive weapon, but he made a mistake that allowed Keuchly to force a fumble.
That fumble was just the final mistake in the game. Other moments that I’m sure players wish had gone differently were a near-interception by Dashon Goldson, an early interception by Josh McCown, a mess of a fumble recovery rolling into another interception by Josh McCown, and loads of missed tackles and allowed third down conversions by the defense. This game was riddled with mistakes. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were better than this, and they showed it in key moments. It was a very tough loss to swallow, especially with the nearly complete fourth quarter comeback. However, it’s only one loss.
I’ve heard all sorts of overreaction in response to this. Twitter was littered with cries to put in Mike Glennon and there were even comments wishing we had Chip Kelly instead of Lovie Smith. Let’s be clear, they didn’t play like Lovie’s Bucs. I’m sure they got a soft-spoken verbal beating by Lovie littered with the word “disappointing.”
It was disappointing, but not because the Buccaneers are bad. It was disappointing because they’re better than this. The Bucs are now 0-1, but there’s fifteen games left to be played. This isn’t over by a long shot, and there are plenty more cannons to be fired. Let’s dust ourselves off as fans, take a deep breath, and move on to week two. It’s a Bucs life for us.