The Curse of Matt Bryant lives, that’s all, Folks. Once again, Buc fans are asking what the Folk is going on with their team’s kicking game as kicker Nick Folk missed three field goals in a 19-14 loss to the defending Super Bowl Champions, the New England Patriots.
Pieces of Eight
1) Nick, it’s time to get the Folk out of here (okay, yes, one too many Folk puns, but I got to get them in while I can). Once upon a time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL – Matt Bryant. Bryant nailed 83% of his field goal attempts and 98% of his extra points. He was a big moment kicker, winning several games for Tampa Bay and even drilling a 62 yarder to win a game once. For some crazy reason, that wasn’t enough for the Buccaneers. It was a time when the Bucs were looking to cut payroll wherever they could after blowing Jon Gruden out of town. Bryant was making pretty good money but nothing extravagant. In the 2009 pre-season, he had suffered a slight hamstring injury and new Bucs GM Mark Dominik had a pet project, a kicker he fancied named Mike Nugent.
Despite the fact Nugent struggled with three missed field goals in the Pre-season, Tampa Bay chose him over Bryant. The Atlanta Falcons wasted no time in signing Bryant and is still there, 9 years later. Through his Pro Bowl career with the Falcons, he’s successfully made 88% of his field goal tries, 99% of his extra points. At 42 years old, he’s perfect on the season, including a long of 53 yards.
Meanwhile, Nugent flamed out spectacularly, going 1 for 3 in attempts and being released after four games. Barth would just make 73% of his kicks on the season for an absolute failure of a year for the Bucs. Barth would stick around for another few years and be consistent but again a Bucs GM decided that a younger kicker was a better option, with Jason Licht blowing out Barth for Patrick Murray.
Murray actually had a decent rookie year and then in August of 2015 suffered a knee injury. It sent the Bucs scrambling. Jason Licht traded for Kyle Brindza, who failed miserably lasting four games making only 50% of his kicks. Back came Connor Barth, who did a credible job making 82% of his kicks, including a long of 53.
Yet Licht was determined he’d never have to worry about the kicker position again and saw the most accurate kicker in college football history sitting there. Rather than wait until the later rounds like most GM’s in the league would do, Licht went after his guy, Roberto Aguayo, in the second round and cut Barth for the second time.
We all know what’s happened from there. To think had Mark Dominik not fallen in love with Mike Nugent, likely none of this would have happened. Bryant, at the ripe old age of 42, would be right there with the Bucs (as he is today with their division rivals), and you wouldn’t think twice of Mr. Automatic drilling the kick.
Of course, Bryant’s glad it worked out the other way. He’s been to the playoffs multiple times and even kicked in the Super Bowl.
2) Sure, you can blame Nick Folk for this loss. He missed three field goals, 9 points, in a game the Bucs lost by 5. He nearly blew the Giants game, too. He’s gotta go. Yet, there were plenty of other culprits on the night – including your head coach Dirk Koetter. It was as if Dirk didn’t look at the Patriots game film until halftime. How was Bill Belichick able to befuddle the Bucs’ Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator in just three days? By just deciding to play a little more zone than man and simplify the defense? The Bucs showed no imagination in their play calling and seemed to ignore everything that every other team that has faced the Patriots this season had success with.
When the Bucs finally started using motion, bunch looks and double moves, suddenly they began to move the football. It shouldn’t have taken three quarters to figure that out, folks.
3) Another culprit in this disappointment is your quarterback, Jameis Winston. For someone that didn’t watch the game, just looked at those stats and said, “Hmm, he didn’t play too badly,” this is a prime example of how the statistics lie. Winston was off his mark for 3 quarters. The Bucs didn’t convert a third down until the final frame. He missed wide open receivers, including Desean Jackson, overthrew guys, was nearly picked off a couple times, lacked touch – frankly it was one of the worst performances we’ve seen of number three – until the fourth quarter. Then Good Jameis arrived and did what we expected him to do the entire ballgame, carve up the Patriots like Thanksgiving turkey.
You like stats? Before the fourth quarter, Winston was 13-for-25 for just 109 yards and no touchdowns (per the Times’ Greg Auman). His offense managed 7 points and 180 yards. In the final quarter, Winston was 13-of-21 for 223 yds and a touchdown. There should have been two more. He missed Desean Jackson deep behind the Patriots secondary and had a touchdown run called back on a holding call that eventually resulted in Folk’s miss of a 31-yard field goal.
This is not to say Jameis Winston isn’t a heck of a quarterback. He is. It’s his inconsistency and streaky nature that’s killing his team right now. When Winston is on, he’s nigh unstoppable. The problem is, he’s rarely been able to sustain that for four quarters.
For the first time in his NFL career, he’s thrown for 300 yards in three consecutive games. The Bucs are 1-2 in those games.
4) The sad part of all this is the performance of the Bucs defense. Playing without three Pro Bowl caliber players in Kwon Alexander, Lavonte David, and TJ Ward, the Bucs forced two turnovers (including Brady’s first interception of the season), sacked the future Hall of Famer three times and held the league’s leading offense to just 19 points. Yes, New England churned up yardage but the undermanned Bucs’ bend-but-don’t-break style forced Brady and company to keep settling for field goals instead of touchdowns and kept Tampa Bay in the game.
It should have been enough for the victory.
5) On that note, how about the play of the two rookies, Justin Evans and Kendall Beckwith? Oft-criticized because the Bucs didn’t select a running back like Dalvin Cook or Kareem Hunt, Evans played huge for the defense, showing his athleticism in a circus interception of Brady. He almost had a second one and overall seemed to do a credible job in coverage (although the Bucs did adjust to playing a lot more zone to help protect him). Beckwith was all over the football field, delivering an eye-popping 14 tackles. Maybe Jason Licht knows what he’s doing after all. Except at kicker, of course.
6) Doug Martin returned on Thursday Night and man, wasn’t it a sight to see? Perhaps it’s the fresh legs, but he played every bit like the Dougernaut who terrorized defenses in his Pro Bowl 2015 season. Had he had a full week of practice and been ready to carry more of a load, Martin would have likely gone over the century mark. If he can sustain it, this is big time news for the Bucs, folks. Martin will give the Bucs offense the balance it needs, a threat in the backfield and more opportunities for Mike Evans, Cam Brate and of course, Desean Jackson.
7) Speaking of Jackson, yes, Winston missed him yet again. But in the fourth quarter, Winston finally hit D-Jax in stride and man, the results were something spectacular. Jackson ripped through the Patriots secondary and was a step away from going the distance, instead settling for the biggest play of the game on offense, 41 yards. Winston would hit Jackson for two more big ones, 29 and 24 yards and Desean would finish with 5 receptions for 106 yards.
You knew Bill Belichick would find a way to eliminate Mike Evans from the Bucs gameplan, so it was crucial for Winston and Jackson to get on track. For three quarters, it was more of the same. But in the fourth quarter, it looked like at last, this combo is starting to click. Can they sustain it? They’ll need to if the Bucs hope to be a potent offense.
8) Where is the hell is OJ Howard? The Bucs thought they got a Godsend in Howard, a projected top ten pick when he fell to them at the end of the first round. Howard had one target in the game and has had 9 through four games. The Bucs other TE Cam Brate, by comparison, had 9 targets in the game against the Patriots. Howard has been a solid blocker in the running game (although he did commit two big penalties last night) but aside from his wide-open touchdown last week against the Giants, has yet to really make an impact in the Bucs arsenal.
It could be a situation of there is only one ball and too many weapons, he might be getting lost in the shuffle. Still, it has to be a little troubling for Bucs GM Jason Licht that Tampa Bay’s number one draft pick isn’t even the best tight end on the team right now.
DLT’s Tweet of the Week
Yes, I live tweet every game @jcdelatorre and no, I don’t believe the gif has Nick Folk in it. The kick would’ve gone wide left.
— JC De La Torre (@jcdelatorre) October 6, 2017
The Bucs get a few extra days to lick their wounds and find a kicker before heading to Arizona to begin a stretch of four of the next six games on the road.