Another week has come and gone with the team once again failing to live up to expectations. Some might say they're playing exactly how experts predicted this offseason, but the way the Bucs started the season suggested they might be better than everyone thought.
The last three games have done serious damage to that idea.
Tampa Bay has now lost three straight games after starting the season 3-1. Since their bye week, the Bucs have scored fewer than 20 points on offense, the run game continues to struggle, and fans are questioning whether Baker Mayfield is the long term solution at quarterback.
It's a complete 180 from where things were after a fantastic 26-9 win over the Saints right before the bye.
One weekly source of frustration has been the play of safety Ryan Neal. He joined the Bucs this offseason touted as a potential free agent sleeper, but he's worn out his welcome among fans over the last three games.
In each game Neal has seemingly found himself on the wrong end of a big play that flips the game. He was covering Jameson Williams when he scored a touchdown in Week 6, last week he appeared to mess up coverage on Kyle Pitts which allowed a game-winning field to get setup, and on Thursday Dalton Kincaid scored a go-head touchdown before halftime with Neal chasing behind.
Last week the idea was broached that the Bucs might need to make a change at safety, perhaps putting Dee Delaney next to Antoine Winfield Jr instead. Todd Bowles was directly asked this question while speaking to the media on Friday and he did not sound happy about needing to address the situation.
Todd Bowles defends Ryan Neal after tough game against Bills
Usually reserved and laid back, Bowles appeared close to snapping when he sternly shut down the idea that Ryan Neal needs to be replaced after another poor performance.
On Friday, Bowles was asked about the Dalton Kincaid touchdown scored before halftime, which appeared to have been blown coverage by Neal. He had just answered a question about Baker Mayfield in his usual tone, but his demeanor instantly changed when the question about replacing Neal was raised.
"I think if you knew what the coverage was supposed to be, you wouldn't be blaming Ryan," Bowles said. When asked to elaborate, Bowles sternly tossed the question aside. "We talk about everything in the meetings, we handled it."
He ended the exchange with noticeably emphasized 'yup' when he was thanked for answering the question.
To be fair, Bowles isn't expected to be in a jolly mood after the team dropped its third straight game -- another winnable game at that. It sounded like he was calling Neal out without naming him last week when asked about the busted coverage on Pitts, saying that it was 'going to be addressed'.
His answer this week was pretty similar, expect he was taking the position of defending Neal which implies he's upset with someone else's blown coverage. Bowles standing up for Neal is admirable, even if it's not going to make many fans happy. Most of the secondary has been playing together for years, whiilie Neal was dropped in as a starter after signing in free agency.
Neal only has seven games of experience with the Bucs secondary, which might be why there are some communication issues. Either way, there seems to be tension building in the Bucs locker room, but none of it is directed toward the places fans think.