The Tampa Bay Buccaneers stunned the NFC South Division Champions New Orleans Saints 31-24 to ring in the New Year with a victory. Will it carry over to next season?
Pieces of Eight
1) I know some fans are upset the Bucs won this game, costing the team a top 4 draft pick. Frankly, this franchise needed this win desperately. It was another close game, the formula was the same for the last four losses with the offense turning the football over, special teams making crucial mistakes and the defense surrendering a fourth-quarter lead. It had happened so many times I think we were all stunned when it ended with Jameis’ unbelievable touchdown pass to Chris Godwin. Jameis needed this. Koetter needed this. The Bucs needed to know they could win these games when everything seemed to be going against them.
Not only that, it was against a team playing for the NFC South division title. The Saints weren’t resting. Weren’t looking past the Bucs. The desperately needed this game and the Bucs stole their candy. Luckily for the Saints, Cam and the Panthers blew it in Atlanta allowing New Orleans to back into the division title.
These type of things don’t necessarily carry over next year. There will be a lot of turnover in players and perhaps the coaching staff. A good percentage of the roster won’t remember what happened in this last game and it will be quickly forgotten by the rest of the league in the fervor of the playoffs.
But for Jameis, he desperately needed this. It gave him some confidence going into the off-season. He didn’t have to deal with a 10 game personal losing streak as a starter. He needed to deliver in a clutch moment, just to show he could still do it.
2) Despite the fantastic ending, it was a disturbing game for Winston. Since returning from injury, Jameis has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Yes, he had a bit of a fumbling issue, but a lot of that is on the offensive line getting him blasted from behind. This week though, Winston reverted back to WTF Jameis. He again refused to give up on plays, put the ball repeatedly in jeopardy and was picked off three times. It could have been five or six.
Until Jameis gets these type of performances out of his game, the Bucs will never be a consistent winner with him as the quarterback. He’s 45 starts in now and has 51 career turnovers. In his career, he has had just 16 games where Winston didn’t turn the ball over. He tied his career high (6 games) this season but surprisingly went 2-4 in those games. Overall, in games where Jameis doesn’t turn it over, he is 8-8 (.500). In games he turned it over at least once, he’s 10-19 (.344).
Nobody wants Jameis to be Mike Glennon (Captain Checkdown), but you do want him to become a smarter quarterback. One that understands the game situation and protects the football. Interceptions like the one in the third quarter with the Bucs in field goal range and blowing an opportunity to take the lead – that can’t happen.
3) With all of that said, Winston did have his best season as a Buccaneers quarterback. His interception percentage was the lowest (best) of his career (2.5%). It still ranked him 20th in the league but his interception percentage was better than playoff quarterbacks Cam Newton and Marcus Mariota and tied with two other playoff QBs Ben Roethlisberger, Blake Bortles as well as two former playoff QBs Derek Carr and Aaron Rodgers.
While his touchdowns and yardage was down, he had the most 300 yd passing games of his career (6). Coming into this season, he had five total in his career. Winston also had career highs in yards per pass attempt (7.9), completion percentage (63.8) and QB Rating (92.2).
Despite a rough outing yesterday, Winston’s trajectory after the injury is upward and I think his play over the last two months of the season is one of the reasons Dirk Koetter is staying in Tampa Bay.
4) Jon Gruden appears to be returning to coaching this year – but in Oakland, not in Tampa Bay. Many Bucs fans are upset about the decision to stick with Koetter and not bring Gruden back to Tampa Bay, but in the end, I think this is the best decision for the franchise. Yes, this was a terribly disappointing season. Yes, there need to be some changes to the staff and especially the roster. But unlike Greg Schiano and Raheem Morris, this team never quit on Koetter and fought playoff teams to the wire every single week down the stretch. They didn’t win enough of them and some of Koetter’s decisions were part of that, but they fought and never quit.
I think that spoke volumes to the Glazers. Jameis’ improvement down the stretch I think helped as well. I know some fans want their scalp for this failed season – but there was a reason we believed this team was on the cusp. Dirk Koetter didn’t suddenly go from “The Godfather” to a blithering idiot in one season. It was a wild year with the Hard Knocks distraction, Hurricane Irma, the rash of injuries (including to the quarterback), all the crazy ways the Bucs managed to lose games this season. It was as if this team was cursed.
If the team believes in him, he’s been a winner for this franchise and with a few tweaks (and another good draft) the Bucs might just fulfill some of those expectations – why throw that all away for a coach that hasn’t been in the fire for the last decade?
Yes, Gruden would have been interesting and fun – but the game has changed significantly for the last decade and this is a coach who refused to use the shotgun until his final season. A coach that has never prepared a team in today’s environment (fewer practices and limits on padded practices).
This is not to bash Jon. Just last week I talked about how exciting it would be for him to return and I stand by that. But there were serious questions about Gruden that can only be answered by him getting back into the fray and did you want your franchise to be tied to him for a decade? Reportedly, he wanted $10 million dollars a year for 10 years – guaranteed. There are even rumors he wanted a piece of ownership. Folks, basically, you’re making him unfireable. What if he pulled a Lovie and goes 2-14? Or worse, is what he was after the Super Bowl, a coach with a losing record?
You couldn’t fire him. You’re married to him, for better or worse, until 2028. As much as I love Chucky and everything he brought to this franchise – I wouldn’t have been comfortable with the Bucs surrendering to him like that. The Glazers weren’t either. A six-year deal I could understand. 10 years? No way.
It will be interesting to see if Gruden indeed gets that deal in Oakland, I find it hard to believe they will.
5) I’m going to say it right here. I think this team is better with Chris Godwin starting instead of Desean Jackson. Yes, we were all excited about D-Jax and the possibility of big plays he could provide. Sometimes though, the pieces just don’t fit and I think Jackson stuck out like a sore thumb. Even worse, I think Jameis felt the pressure to get Jackson the football from both the player and the fanbase and he took chances trying to get the football and neglected his star weapon in Mike Evans.
Every opportunity Godwin has had to play, he’s been sensational. He is fearless, fights for the football and runs precise routes. I’m not sure Desean Jackson has delivered those qualities this season. He has enough speed to deliver the explosives the Bucs hope Jackson would provide and Jameis seems to click with him. He also seems to be a team player, not a guy whining about not getting the football like Jackson has all season.
Jackson can’t be cut this off-season, as it would result in $7.5 million dollars in dead cap space. Yet if I’m the Bucs, I find a way to get Godwin on the field more often, decreasing D-Jax opportunities and adding Godwin more and more to the mix.
6) We have to accept Dirk Koetter may not fire Mike Smith. I think it would be a terrible mistake for Dirk if he keeps the status quo on defense. It appears the coaching staff has slowly come to the realization that the Bucs’ defensive strengths are in their linebacking core and the personnel might be more suited to run a 3-4 defense. Further, as Pewter Report pointed out, it would be easier for the Bucs to find the finishing pieces for a 3-4 defense than trying to find the edge rushers they need to be a top 4-3 club.
Mike Smith has been a 4-3 coach his entire career. I don’t think he’s the right guy to implement the defense needs to get better quickly.
Regardless of what happens, Tampa Bay needs to able to get some pass rushers, be it at 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 edge rusher. That’s the only way this defense will be fixed.
7) On offense, the Bucs need a new left tackle. I’m sorry, Donovan Smith isn’t a left tackle in the league. It’s painfully obvious and Jameis needs to have his blindside protected. They need to replace Sweezy and Pamphile at guard (or perhaps move Marpet back to guard and sign a veteran center). They need also need to add a running back. Doug Martin is done. Jacquizz Rodgers is a nice complimentary player but he’s not a starter. Peyton Barber has an Earnest Graham type feel to him, he can churn out good 60-70 yards a game but he’s not a game breaker and he’s a little to loose with the football. The Bucs need a game breaker running back. The good news is this draft is filled with talented young backs. If the Bucs can compliment Jameis with a running game, Tampa Bay’s offense will take the next step.
8) Even though Koetter and his staff are not leaving, this will be a crucial off-season for the Buccaneers. Eight of the twelve playoff teams weren’t in the playoffs last season. It’s time for the Bucs to join the Bills and end their decade-long playoff drought. Koetter and Licht will be firmly on the hot seat for 2018 – they need to win and win a lot. 9-7 won’t get it done. 11 wins are the mark for 2018. Playoffs. Failure isn’t an option for these guys.
It can be done. The Saints had three consecutive losing seasons before turning it around this year with one good draft and some smart free agency decisions. Jacksonville, coming off a 4-12 season, ended a 9-year playoff drought with some key additions to through the draft and free agency. The Bills ended an 18-year drought. The Panthers were 6-10 last year.
The Bucs can do it, too. They just need to make some important and crucial choices in this off-season.
I wish you and your families a very prosperous and Happy New Year. See you next season!
DLT’s Emotional Bucs vs Saints II Tweet of the Week
Still can’t believe it happened. https://t.co/Sr9sOWKSMP
— JC De La New Year 💥💥✨ (@jcdelatorre) January 1, 2018