In week one, the Buccaneers lost a close matchup to the grossly underestimated Carolina Panthers. On top of that, Derek Anderson looked more like a precision passer than suddenly inserted backup. In week two, the Buccaneers lost an even closer matchup to the grossly underestimated St. Louis Rams. On top of that, Austin Davis looked more like a precision passer than a suddenly inserted backup. Sound familiar? The way things ended this week may feel like deja vu, but they’re less alike than they look.
In Pulp Fiction, Vincent Vega (played by John Travolta) says that the funniest things about Europe as compared to the United States are “the little differences.” Vega says, “I mean, they got the same shit over there that we got here, but it’s just there it’s a little different.” Believe it or not, this game against the Rams was the Buccaneers’ Royale with Cheese.
In response to a tweet by @PcolaBucsFan, I mentioned that the grueling ending of the game reminded me of last year. Considering how that season went (I won’t even bother reminding you of the record), that’s a pretty scary moment to have. The first two games of the Buccaneers season in 2013 ended in last minute game-winning field goals by their opponents.
Amidst the loss, Josh McCown proved that his season-opening performance was not going to become the standard. Yes, McCown did throw one interception. This early mistake was tough, but not game-breaking. As Lovie said of it after the game, there was still a lot more football to be played at that point. While last week’s two interceptions were panicked, ill-advised tosses, this looked more like a misread moment. Even Andrew Luck, the heir apparent to Peyton Manning, had a red zone interception this week. That doesn’t mean he needs to be replaced.
McCown was impressive for the rest of the game. He may not have put up record-breaking numbers, but he made good throws consistently. McCown had 16 completions on 21 attempts, averaging right about 11 yards per completion. McCown spread the ball around with completions to Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, Bobby Rainey, Brandon Myers, Robert Herron, and of course he had to have one to Jorvorskie Lane.
Meanwhile, Bobby Rainey absolutely exploded onto the scene in the same way he did last season. With Doug Martin out, Rainey rushed for 144 yards and averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Mike James did get a few chances; most failed. James’ seven yards on six attempts was as pitiful as Doug Martin’s numbers against the Panthers. Rainey’s ability to extend runs, remain elusive, and dart around players never ceases to amaze me.
All of this success was helped enormously by what actually resembled an offensive line for the first time this year. Led by Logan Mankins (thank goodness), the offensive line held a talented Rams defensive front to only one sack. Play after play, I watched the offensive line create a picture perfect pocket for Josh McCown to step into for his passes. This was not the sad, sluggish offense that played the Panthers in week one, but they did fail to capitalize on some scoring opportunities.
Special teams errors, such as the blocked field goal and blocked punt, directly affected the outcome of the game. The defense did respectably, all things considered. The Buccaneers were already dealing with what seemed like a frustrating amount of injuries, but in this game Gerald McCoy suffered a broken left hand and Mason Foster left during the second half due to a shoulder injury. Hand that to a defense that’s already missing Adrian Clayborn and Michael Johnson due to injury, and it’s impressive they held things together the way they did.
Despite already known depth issues, the defense did well against the run. Pass protection was lacking, but tackling after the catch was mostly well executed. There was even one comically forced fumble that the defense capitalized on and recovered. It’s not the three or more that’s been spoken of, but it’s a start. With all of these little issues, Lovie Smith and company’s almost scared coaching decisions sealed the team’s fate on a few different occasions. With no injuries and no mistakes, his plan might’ve worked. Sometimes you have to take chances, but Lovie refused to against the Rams and it cost them.
An 0-2 start may be frighteningly reminiscent of last year, but this is definitely a new team and a new season. Yes, Lovie Smith did tell us they wanted to win right out of the gate. Lovie did tell us they did not see this as a rebuilding year. Personally, these games don’t change that. Lovie knew it might get tough early like this, despite what he said. I’d rather a coach go into the season with the mindset of immediate success than one of expected failure.
The Rams were better than they’d been given credit for, and Austin Davis proved he was a capable passer while playing our largely second string defensive front. It’ll be interesting to see how the matchup against the Atlanta Falcons plays out. It could get ugly if our defense can’t protect against the pass, but our offense might absolutely explode against a less elite Falcons defense.
This was a hard fought loss, and an equally hard to handle one for the fans. It’s come and gone though, and Atlanta is on the horizon. Remember, 0-2 can still become 11-5. There’s plenty more cannons to be fired! Look for the little differences, because those are the differences that are going to start winning us games.