The Buccaneers (4-7) overcame a poor first half on Sunday to make things interesting, but ultimately lost 34-20 to the Falcons (7-4). Here, we have observations and reactions from the loss.
After hanging with the Falcons for a quarter, the Buccaneers fell apart in the second. They faced a 27-6 deficit early in the third quarter, but got within 27-20 before eventually falling 34-20. Let’s get to some reactions.
Observations and Reactions- General
-Heading into Sunday, the hope was that the Bucs would play up to their competition. They did for about 15 minutes before falling back into mediocrity. Then, after making a game out of it, they returned to their true colors and threw everything away.
-For a while, it seemed like the coaching speculation cooled off. That was probably due to Tampa Bay’s two consecutive victories. But after another loss to a division rival, I’m feeling more and more like this staff won’t be around next year. Play-calling by Dirk Koetter didn’t look good today, while the game plan and scheme on defense from Mike Smith just didn’t work. Something is off, considering how much talent the Bucs have on their roster.
-Koetter especially deserves some blame for this one. His mismanagement of a late scoring opportunity took the Bucs out of it. We’ll come back to that later.
-The Bucs got badly banged up in this game. Kevin Pamphile, Ali Marpet and Demar Dotson all missed some time. Josh Robinson, Doug Martin, Clinton McDonald and T.J. Ward left with injuries and did not return.
-Penalties weren’t a factor today, which is always a good thing. Tampa Bay was flagged just two times for fifteen yards.
-The all-white uniform look returned this week and I was not digging it.
Observations and Reactions- Offense
–Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t spectacular on Sunday, but he hadn’t been in the Bucs’ last two wins either. He completed just nine of his eighteen passes in the first half for 71 yards, but finished 27-of-44 for 283 yards. The veteran didn’t throw a touchdown, but also didn’t turn the ball over. He’s been serviceable in Jameis Winston‘s absence. There are just larger issues in play that are preventing the Bucs from going anywhere.
-Tampa Bay’s offense showed great promise on the game’s opening drive. It moved quickly and got down to the red zone before stalling, which is a frustrating trend of this season. The unit then fell into a slump before finding its stride in the second half.
-Doug Martin looked great on the opening drive, rushing for 27 yards on four carries. He finished with 33 yards on seven carries before leaving with a concussion.
–Mike Evans missed out on a touchdown early in the game, failing to come up with what looked like a catchable ball. He made some big plays throughout the day though, catching six passes for 78 yards.
–Peyton Barber ran for two touchdowns, getting carries down by the goal line with Martin out.
-The offense hasn’t really put together a complete performance this season, but it is showing flashes of potential. Going forward, it would be great to see a full 60 minutes from these guys. There’s clearly enough talent to put something together. If only there was something to do about the play-calling…
-Dirk Koetter’s play-calling is atrocious. One glaring example came in the fourth quarter with the Bucs down 27-20. The offense was threatening, but faced third and two at the nineteen. Koetter then proceeded to call two consecutive pass plays. The Bucs needed two yards. Oh, and the second pass was a downfield shot that fell incomplete.
Observations and Reactions- Defense
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-The defense was never going to have an easy time defending a tough Atlanta offense. The biggest issue was containing Julio Jones, who had an outstanding day. He caught twelve passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
-With that being said, it didn’t seem like the Bucs were putting themselves in great position to defend Jones. One of his touchdowns came against Ryan Smith, while another big gain came on a play that saw Kwon Alexander in coverage. Alexander is a stud, but he isn’t going to have an easy time covering an elite receiver in what looked like a one-on-one situation.
-Speaking of Kwon, he did what he always does. He balled out in Atlanta once again, racking up eight tackles (eight solo), with one for a loss. The LSU product was all over the field as usual.
-Another LSU product, rookie Kendell Beckwith, came through at a crucial time for the Bucs. He forced a red zone fumble in the fourth quarter that was recovered by Brent Grimes. The turnover gave Tampa Bay a chance to tie the game late, but ultimately went to waste.
-The Bucs struggled to get any sort of pass rush, which is probably the eighth or ninth time we’ve been able to say that about a game this year.
-With that in mind, Tampa Bay needs to call more blitzes. The defensive line doesn’t get much of a push, but when blitzes were called for Alexander and Lavonte David, Matt Ryan was forced to just get rid of the ball before taking a sack. If we see more of that, it might make up for some of the struggles from the guys up front.
–Justin Evans is emerging as a solid player. He made some great plays early and finished with eight tackles (seven solo), but did give up a few big gains to Jones. As a rookie, he will struggle at times. But it’s clear that the Texas A&M product can play in this league.
Observations and Reactions- Special Teams
-The Bucs need to hold on to Patrick Murray for as long as he continues to be reliable. He was perfect on Sunday, connecting on field goals from 36 and 27 while also making both of his extra point attempts.
–Bryan Anger averaged 53.3 yards per punt on three kicks. His long went for 59 yards, but didn’t have one downed inside the 20.
–Jacquizz Rodgers has gotten some looks as the kick returner lately, and it seems to be a good idea. He broke off two solid returns on Sunday, going for 43 total yards. If I’m the one calling the shots, I continue turning to him for returns.
It almost feels fitting, really, that a poor play call at a crucial time is what killed the Buccaneers’ hopes on Sunday. For all of the hype surrounding Dirk Koetter when he received his promotion to head coach, he’s losing tons of support by the week. This was supposed to be the year that Tampa Bay took the offense to the next level, but it hasn’t happened. Sure, Jameis Winston is hurt, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is perfectly capable. In recent weeks, it has felt more like play-calling than talent that is holding the Bucs back. With just five games to go, how many wins does Koetter need to save his job? That’s a real conversation worth having at this point in the season.
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Going forward, Tampa Bay will likely just look at what they have for next year. It doesn’t feel worth it to rush Winston back from his shoulder injury. Hopefully management is smart enough to realize that it’s best for him to fully heal. Because at 4-7, the Bucs would need five straight wins to even sniff the possibility of making the playoffs. Even then, 9-7 likely won’t do the trick. There are holes that will be filled this offseason, especially on the defensive line and in the secondary. But with no playoff hopes left to play for, fans should just hope that the team shows some fight throughout the rest of the year. If these guys look even a little bit like they’re quitting, you can bet that Koetter is gone the day after the season ends.
The Buccaneers head to Green Bay next Sunday (Dec. 3) to take on the Packers (5-5*). Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.