Heading into their Week 5 bye, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of the more pleasant surprises in the NFL as they sat at 3-1 and resided in first place in the NFC South. Upon returning from that bye, things have not gone according to plan.
A pair of dismal home losses to the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons have cast a big shadow over what was presumed to be a surprise playoff contender in Tampa.
The 20-6 defeat to the Lions was the first failure as it was their biggest baromoeter of the season going against one of the best teams in the NFC. The offense looked lethargic and out of sync coming out of the bye, which is counterintuitive to what you would expect from an NFL team.
The defense, for their part, kept things close but simply could not get off the field on third downs. That in partnership with the Bucs being unable to sustain drives and it made for frustrating viewing.
That loss could have been written off as forgivable because of the Lions standing in the league right now. Following that up with another dud at home against a division rival? Unacceptable.
The 16-13 final score was just a cruel way to drive home the reality check for Bucs fans. The defense needed to make a few miraculous touchdown-saving plays to keep things close. In the end, it would still prove to be futile.
The Buccaneers had the football deep in Falcons territory late on following a big Chris Godwin catch and run. The momentum was on their side. Down 13-10 they were looking to punch in a touchdown to force Desmond Ridder to lead a late winning drive.
Instead, Baker Mayfield threw into a double coverage and was brutally intercepted as a result. It was a massive gut punch and halted all the positive work Tampa had built up.
While they would again be able to secure a field goal following a medium length drive, that fizzled out as a result of a sack.
The defense then could not stop the Atlanta ground game before Kyle Pitts made a tough grab to set up the eventual game winning kick. This loss though probably falls on the offense once again.
Can Buccaneers turn the season around before it's too late?
In the first four games of the season, offensive coordinator Dave Canales had a healthy balance in his play calling and he was allowing Baker to get out of the pocket and make plays. That has since gone away over the last two weeks.
Yes, Mayfield missed some throws that could have been huge boosts in both the Detroit and Atlanta games. However, the lack of a consistent run game has not helped things either.
Canales is stubborn in that he understands the offense needs some semblance of a threat on the ground to succeed, but his inability to adjust his running scheme might hurt going forward.
The offensive line is not getting the push needed and as a result Rachaad White or whoever is taking handoffs is fighting uphill from the snap. The offense was not exactly electric in their 3-1 start, but they were clutch.
Baker and Co. were making plays when it mattered most such as third downs. The offense has seemingly lost this mojo in the big moments and it has been a series of frustrating missed opportunities.
The defense has played well enough during this brief rough patch, but they can still do more. Finishing drives though has proven difficult.
If they can't take the football away, they've shown they can't be trusted to build a wall and get the opponent off the field on third down.
Projecting outwards, the offense needs to be able to connect on the big play chances they have created. That will go a long way to ease the pressure of having to sustain long drives. The defense must get more consistent at rushing the quarterback and continue taking the football away. This unit is at its best when they are flying around being ball-hawks.
At 3-3, the Bucs have looked exactly like what their record shows. Some nice outings in combination with stinkers.
Hopefully going forward, it's the former that we become accustomed to. The NFC South is still there for the taking. Tampa just needs to grab it with both hands.