Tennessee Titans 42, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14: Rapid Reaction


Despite all the hype, and all of the hope shown by anyone who has worn red and pewter over the past few months, Lovie Smith’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers just did not show up today against the Tennessee Titans. That resulted in the Bucs getting blown out at home to start the 2015 season, losing 42-14.

In a lopsided loss like this one, there are many things that went wrong for our boys in red and pewter. Here are the four key takeaways from today’s defeat.

1. Let’s not throw Jameis Winston to the curb just yet.

Despite a sterling NFL regular season debut by fellow rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, Winston was still the right pick to lead the Bucs into the future. Even though it didn’t seem like it at times Sunday, Winston made strides as the day progressed.

On the day, Winston was 16 of 33 for 210 yards, posting a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2/2. He made some boneheaded plays (see the pick six on his first-ever NFL throw). He was sacked four times. He had to run for his life a few times (more on that later).

But, as the game progressed, he learned to trust more in the players around him. His rapport with his fellow skill players grew stronger as time passed. He looked more comfortable in offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s plan of attack. Time only helped him improve.

I can understand blaming this loss all on Jameis if he threw four interceptions and made twice the amount of mistakes he did today. But the blame needs to be spread all around. Be sure of that.

2. What offensive line? Because it didn’t look like we had one today.

When your quarterback gets sacked four times on the day, and is running for his life on at least half of his dropbacks, that’s a big problem. Unfortunately, for the Bucs, it was one that was expected.

The one thing that wasn’t expected was the fact that the rookies played better than the line’s veterans. Other than a couple of miscues, left tackle Donovan Smith and right guard Ali Marpet largely held their own against the Titans’ 3-4 front. It was the veterans: left guard Logan Mankins, center Evan Smith and right tackle Gosder Cherilus, that held the line’s overall effort back.

Mankins routinely gave up pressure from the A gap and had a holding penalty. Smith often looked lost and bewildered as defensive linemen blew by him with ease. And Cherilus? Let’s just say I cannot wait for the day when Demar Dotson is ready to come back. The right tackle was routinely abused all afternoon, and had three penalties called against him; two on illegal formation infractions. How do you forget to line up? Utterly ridiculous.

Offensively, penalties were a killer, as they had nine as a unit. It made a 42-14 score even worse due to so many missed opportunities.

3. Maybe Lovie shouldn’t call the defensive plays after all.

When a rookie quarterback carves your defense up for a perfect passer rating and four touchdown passes, maybe you should try to change things up a bit. The first priority for head coach Lovie Smith? Return defensive play calling duties to defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. After all, Smith has an entire football team to worry about, especially after the debacle of that opening day performance.

From the second Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright sliced through the heart of the Bucs’ defense for that 52 yard touchdown catch on the game’s fifth play, you just had the sense that it was gonna be a long day for the Bucs defense. Well, it was.

Pass rushing? Non-existent. Rush defense? Apparently Bishop Sankey is one of the NFL’s best running backs. Coverage by the secondary? Never heard of it. Alterraun Verner? Might as well have worn his old Titans uniform for all the help he gave them, especially on two pass interference calls. Gerald McCoy can’t do it all by himself, guys. A little help would be nice.

Well, that and a scheme that can at the very least stop a rookie quarterback. So, your own rookie quarterback would at least have a shot at winning at home.

4. Despite everything, the offensive skills players came to play.

The play of running back Doug Martin, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins were the lone bright spots of today’s loss.

Martin, who continues to show even more resemblance to his 2012 Pro Bowl form with each passing week, ran for 52 yards on 11 carries. He averaged almost five yards a carry. When he actually had an opportunity to run the ball, he was able to take pressure off of Winston. Unfortunately, those chances were few and far between, once the team was down 35-7 to start the second half. Hopefully we will see more of the Muscle Hamster as the season progresses.

For all the fuss about top wideout Mike Evans missing the opener with a hamstring injury (not that it would have made much of a difference), Jackson and Seferian-Jenkins bailed Winston out a lot today. Jackson, the erstwhile veteran, had four catches for 51 yards, though he should have had at least one more due to a probable touchdown catch in the back of the end zone late in the fourth quarter (as to why Lovie didn’t challenge that call is beyond any of us).

Meanwhile, the man they call ASJ, the second-year tight end, continued to show off his growing rapport with Winston, catching five balls for 110 yards and two touchdowns. His 41-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty, shedding a couple of would-be tacklers en route to high-stepping into the end zone.

With the possible return of Evans next week, the Bucs’ offense should be even more potent. As long as Winston has time, he can deliver. Let’s just see if he can get that next week against the Saints.

Quick Hits: Safety Major Wright (hip) and linebacker Danny Lansanah (ankle) left the game following their injuries…Winston had a great block on a 14-yard run by Doug Martin in the second quarter. That’s right you heard me: a great BLOCK….Linebacker Kwon Alexander continued his ascension, tying the team lead in tackles with five and almost picking off Mariota in the first quarter.