For the third consecutive week, the Bucs had every opportunity to “eat a W” but fell short, this time on Monday Night Football against the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons.
Pieces of Eight
1) I don’t know why, but I had a sneaky suspicion before this ballgame that the Bucs would compete hard. Of course, we’ve seen plenty nationally televised games against the Falcons get embarrassingly ugly, but this football team is still fighting for their coach and even with injuries depleting their ranks, the disparity in talent isn’t as great as some would have you believe. What this Bucs team lacks is confidence in themselves and the ability to avoid the costly mistake that dooms them to the ranks of “close but no cigar”.
If there’s one thing the Bucs are good at, it’s inventing ways to lose close games. The offense makes that one mistake or the defense allows that one third-down conversion too many, or fails to secure the badly needed turnover at the right time.
It’s the story of the season. Tampa Bay is 2-6 in one score ballgames. In at least four of those losses, Winston and company put the Bucs ahead or tied the game only to see the defense falter in the waning minutes or in overtime.
2) If there were any doubts about Jameis Winston’s ability and career trajectory, he answered them on the national stage. Winston has been one of Tampa Bay fans targets for the failure of the 2017 season and Jameis both on and off the field has had a bit of a rough year. Still, if you look at the numbers, Jameis is better than he has ever been. His touchdown to interception ratio has improved, his completion percentage is the best of his career, his yards per game is a career high (excluding the games he only played a half). His touchdowns and overall yardage is down this season but missing three games and two halves of other games will bring your numbers down. Before being injured, he was on track for career highs in both touchdowns and yardage.
The one thing that has eluded him is the win column, where he’s 2-9 as the starter this season. If Monday Night didn’t illustrate that Jameis can do everything he can to put the Bucs in position to win but ultimately it’s a team game, nothing will.
3) It was a great trip down memory lane seeing Jon Gruden getting inducted into the Ring of Honor. While Chucky certainly had his share of detractors, he was a great coach for the Bucs and I think it says a lot that a lot of the guys who allegedly had a beef with him were on hand to see his name added to the honored at Raymond James Stadium. I don’t know if Gruden will coach again, but I do know that if it does happen, Tampa Bay is really where he’d like to do it.
It seems the climate is right for it. The fans seem to have forgiven him for some lackluster years and the dismantling of a Super Bowl championship team (although truth be told, some of that is indeed on the Glazers and Rich McKay’s cap management). You have to wonder if perhaps Gruden is the swift kick in the ass this team needs to take the next step and become a playoff regular.
It may be the euphoria of the Ring of Honor ceremony still buzzing in my brain but I think at this point I’m of the opinion that if the Glazers move on from Dirk Koetter, it should only be for Jon Gruden. If Gruden isn’t coming back, keep Dirk, build for another season and see if they can learn from their mistakes of this past year.
Now, that doesn’t mean I think everyone should return intact for 2018. The defensive coaching staff needs an overhaul and Koetter should seriously consider handing over the play calling duties to his offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
4) While coaching has definitely been suspect, especially on the defensive side of the ball, I think Jameis Winston is absolutely correct when he lays the blame for this season’s failure at the feet of the players. I think the Bucs got big britches. They thought they had arrived. They were the off-season champions, the talk of the league. They were the team to beat in the division. While the Bucs were busy patting themselves on the back, someone forgot to tell the Panthers, Falcons, and Saints they weren’t invited to the party.
The Bucs were expected to be the team coming out of the NFC South to make the postseason. Now it looks like they may be the only team in the division not to make it there. Not only that, a year after going a respectable 4-2 in division play, the Bucs face the real possibility of going 0-6 in the division for the first time since their 2-14 season of 2014.
Whether it’s Koetter, Gruden or someone else roaming the sidelines in 2018, we can only hope that the Buccaneer players learned a valuable lesson and put in the work this off-season to take the next step.
5) So GM Jason Licht did have his option picked up for the 2018 season before this season began, increasing his odds of remaining with the Bucs through next season. It doesn’t guarantee it though. If the Glazers decide to clean house yet again, paying Licht for one year isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Licht’s folks have been working the media putting out little nuggets like “Most NFL executives feel the issue isn’t personnel but coaching,” trying to absolve the GM of his abysmal record.
Like most GMs, Licht has had his hits and his misses. I think he understands where he’s failed the Buccaneers. It’s not for the lack of trying. He’s used premium picks on both the offensive and defensive lines, not to mention free agency dollars. It just hasn’t worked out. I’d like to see him get one more shot to fix the issue, be it working with his third head coach in Jon Gruden or teaming with Koetter one more season.
6) Fans will moan the missed kick at the end of the Falcons game as a “here we go again” moment but frankly, that was no gimme for any kicker in the NFL, even Matt Bryant. Of course, Bryant continues to illustrate the colossal mistake of letting him walk. (Editor’s Note: JC is ignoring the injury issue like many who look back on this move.) While Tampa Bay has repeatedly struggled in the kicking game, Bryant continues to be one the league’s very best.
Patrick Murray actually has been very solid for Tampa Bay since returning. He’s stabilized a struggling position and hopefully has earned the right to continue to kick for the Bucs in the future. We definitely don’t want to see him kicking for a division rival a decade from now.
7) Doug Martin’s career with the Buccaneers is over. Period. End of story. Not because he was suspended for the Monday Night game for breaking a team rule but because he’s no longer worth the money the Bucs are paying him. You have to wonder if the Bucs will walk back from Chris “Swaggy” Baker as well, whose reputation of being a lazy player seemed to be a self-fulling prophecy. I think some of the veteran elements added to the team broke some of that team chemistry the Bucs tried so hard to build during the 2016 season. When their talent didn’t match their impact in the locker room, it was obvious that the Bucs didn’t choose wisely this past off-season. Thankful, smart contract construction gets them out of mistakes quickly.
At least they can fall back on a rookie class that really contributed well this season.
We know the Bucs will be back in the market for veterans again, especially if Gruden takes over, the key I think is to not necessarily chase the big names but the guys who love football and can complement your stars. Look at a guy like Adrian Clayborn in Atlanta. With the Bucs, he was an average player but he always had a high motor and played his butt off. His hard work has paid off this season with his 9.5 sacks this season.
He would lead the Bucs by 4 sacks this year.
8) The M*A*S*H unit known as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be making their trip to Carolina to face the Panthers. Another chance to hurt a division rivals hopes, for Jameis to continue to prove himself and for Dirk Koetter to state his case for remaining in charge of the team. Make no mistake, these next two weeks could shape the future of the franchise.
DLT’s Emotional Tweet of the Week – Bucs vs. Falcons II
— JChristmas☃️ De La Torre 🎄 (@jcdelatorre) December 19, 2017