There are plenty of reasons that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t made the playoffs since 2007. There are several small factors that feed into a big one: the team just can’t figure out one-possession games.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem primed for more success in 2018 than they had in 2017. The Jameis Winston suspension and brutal schedule aside, this team is set up to improve this year. Both sides of the trenches were addressed in the last few months with the additions of Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Vita Vea, Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein. Ronald Jones II was drafted in the second round to lead the backfield for the foreseeable future. Carlton Davis, M.J. Stewart and Jordan Whitehead were drafted to build depth in the secondary.
The roster looks much better than it did in January. But if the Bucs are going to find themselves competing for a playoff spot this winter, they need to turn the tide in one-possession games. Tampa Bay last made the playoffs in 2007. Since the start of 2008, the team has lost 94 games. 52 of those losses have been by one possession. You read it right. Fifty-two. 52. By contrast, the Bucs have just 34 one-possession victories in that span. That’s not great. Something, anything, has to be done to turn that around.
Those close losses do show that Tampa Bay, talent-wise, isn’t far from being a good team. In most years, this franchise has fielded teams that were, at the very least, competitive. I wrote earlier this offseason that the Bucs were not as bad as their 2017 record would indicate. Of the eleven losses from last year, seven were by seven points or less. With the additions this offseason, it’s not hard to see the Bucs turning that around this year and winning some of those close games. Maybe they’re even capable of winning enough of them to earn a playoff spot.
More from The Pewter Plank
- Devin White posts cryptic message to Lavonte David on Twitter
- ESPN predicts surprising outcome to Devin White trade saga
- Updated Buccaneers depth chart after signing two players from rookie minicamp
- Todd Bowles sends clear message about Baker Mayfield’s role with Bucs
- The Athletic is wrong about Bucs one ‘must-watch’ game in 2023
But here’s the thing. As much as I believe the aforementioned points, there’s another side to all of this: the Buccaneers are absolutely awful at the little things. There are small things that happen throughout the course of a football game that can be hugely magnified if the game turns out to be a close one. Talent hasn’t been a problem for Tampa Bay lately. More often than not, it’s the little things.
Poor clock management, uninspired play-calling, overly-conservative defensive schemes late in the game and wasting possessions at the end of the first half are all things that Bucs fans have seen all too often in the last ten seasons. The common theme with these? They fall on the coaching staff. That is surely part of the reason that this organization is on its fourth head coach since Jon Gruden was fired after the 2008 season. If those issues continue to come up in 2018, head coach No. 5 will be down in Tampa soon enough.
Of course, it’s not all coaching. Offensively, the Bucs hurt themselves constantly with turnovers. Winston himself has well-documented issues with taking care of the ball. He needs to get those under control if he wants the organization to have any sort of faith in him moving forward, especially considering the off-field chaos that is currently unfolding. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bucs aren’t forcing enough turnovers. Even when they are, they tend to rely on the takeaways too heavily. It seems like it’s every year that the unit is struggling on third downs. Not getting off the field when given the chance can obviously cause damage at the time, but it can also come back and bite when the defense is facing fatigue late in the game when it needs one more stop.
The kicking game is another problem that gets downright exposed in close games. How many games has Tampa Bay thrown away in recent years due to the kicking struggles of Kyle Brindza, Roberto Aguayo or Nick Folk? A missed extra point here and a manageable field goal sent wide left there can make a major difference in the outcome of a game.
What’s maddening, honestly, is that all of this seems so simple. Even when reading all of this, it seems so obvious, right? Yet the Buccaneers just aren’t good enough at executing the small things. They haven’t been for quite some time now. And yes, I know they aren’t really simple. Nothing in the NFL is easy, of course. But these are things that good football teams usually don’t have to worry about. If the Bucs want to consider themselves a contender, they need to execute the smaller things. Trying to get by on talent clearly isn’t enough.
How different would things be if Tampa Bay didn’t have these issues? In 2008, the Bucs finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. That year, they lost five games by one possession. In 2010, not even a 10-6 record could get them in the playoffs. Four of their six losses that year were by one score. Most recently, in 2016, they narrowly missed the postseason again. They finished 9-7, with four losses by seven points or less.
Dirk Koetter and his staff are facing a do-or-die season in 2018. If Tampa Bay falters again, they’re gone. But if this Bucs team improves in close games, they could be looking at an extended stay in Tampa.
We’re a month away from training camp, Bucs fans. Times might seem tough right now, but soon enough, the excitement will begin to build for another year of Buccaneer football. If you have anything to say about this article or anything Bucs, you can find me on Twitter @BaileyJAdams22.