This may sound bizarre, but Thursday night’s 31-14 whipping at the hands of the New England Patriots couldn’t have been better for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs enter the 2011 season high on themselves after a 10-6 year despite being the NFL’s youngest team in 2010. It’s possible, even likely, that the Buccaneers have read some of their own press clippings, had let themselves get caught up in the overwhelmingly positive hype that is emanating from the Bay area.
Reality came calling Thursday night. Facing off against one of the NFL’s elite, the Buccaneers’ first team was whipped, abused and embarrassed, falling behind 21-0 quickly in the first several possessions, heading into the tunnel down 28-0 after the Patriots tacked on another touchdown with their first team against the Bucs second-string.
There were few bright spots for the Buccaneers. The offensive line looked porous, allowing two sacks of Josh Freeman and providing almost no protection on most passing plays. The Bucs found no success on offense, mustering just 17 yards with their first team before Josh Johnson lead a meager attempt at points late in the second quarter, culminating in a missed Connor Barth field goal attempt.
Defensively, the Bucs first team was split by the Patriots with relative ease. Tom Brady had little difficulty connecting with his receivers and Danny Woodhead seemed to rip off yardage in large chunks. Gerald McCoy did have a nice evening, but there was very little else to get excited about on defense outside of an Elbert Mack interception return and a few performances here and there.
I’ll have a much more thorough analysis tomorrow after I can re-watch the game and pour over it a little bit more, but for now the message you can take from this is that the Bucs are not yet where they want to be. Don’t take some drastic conclusion from this, it’s only the preseason. But it was also good that this young Buccaneer team see that there’s a big difference between planning to be elite and actually accomplishing it. The Buccaneers are on a good trajectory as a team, they have plenty of young talent and great coaching, but there’s still a long way to go. The team ate some humble pie tonight. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Bucs have seen the top of the proverbial mountain, they got knocked on their butt in the preseason. They should have a much better idea of what it takes going forward.