Sunday’s 28-13 loss to the Rams was full of missed opportunities by the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay had plenty of chances to get in the game but managed to find any way not to. It boiled down to turnovers yet again, with Freeman throwing another four interceptions. But the turnovers on downs were just as costly, with two coming within the Rams ten-yard line.
There were a couple players that played well but had costly bad plays that kept them off the most impressive list. Mike Williams, who had a 61-yard touchdown pass on a great run after the catch, also slipped on multiple routes, one of which resulted in a pick-six. Lavonte David lead the team in tackles yet again, including one tackle-for-loss and a pass deflected, but it was David who bit on a play-action fake, resulting in a wide-open Lance Kendricks who ran 80 yards for a touchdown.
Below is a list of players who played impressively and players who will need to improve against the Falcons if the Bucs hope to avoid finishing the season on a six-game losing streak.
CB Danny Gorrer
The Bucs defensive backs were very impressive on Sunday, allowing quarterback Sam Bradford to throw for just 196 yards, at least 80 of which were the result of poor linebacker play. Gorrer, who has been victimized in the past two weeks, was much improved in coverage and was in perfect position when he snagged Tampa Bay’s only interception in the first quarter. Gorrer also recorded two tackles and a pass deflected.
CB Leonard Johnson
Johnson has been very poor in pass coverage since getting off to a strong start mid-season but had something to prove on Sunday. Johnson had one pass deflection, one tackle for loss and forced a fumble with a big hit on Danny Amendola. He did, however, fumble it back to the Rams instead of just falling on the ball. Johnson was trying to do too much for his team and it was costly, but he played well enough that he still deserves to be on this list. Johnson did leave the game for a short period of time but returned and continued to play well in coverage.
WR Vincent Jackson
While Jackson wasn’t the Tampa Bay’s leading receiver this week, he still managed to catch seven passes for 108 yards even though he was being double-teamed for much of the game. Jackson is 89 yards away from breaking Mark Carrier's team record for receiving in a season (1,422) set back in 1989.
Honorable Mentions: CB Anthony Gaitor, LB Lavonte David, WR Mike Williams, K Connor Barth
QB Josh Freeman
Freeman had another poor game with four interceptions. He did manage to move the ball well, throwing for 372 yards but failed to put the ball in the endzone when his team needed it most. His four interceptions didn’t come in the redzone like last week, but they gave the Rams a short field making it hard for the Bucs defense to get stops. The Rams got 21 points off of Freeman’s miscues, including a Janoris Jenkins pick-six.
Freeman’s first pick was mainly the result of Williams slipping on a route, but it was a ball that shouldn’t have been thrown in the first place. Freeman’s second interception was solely on him – he forced the ball into quadruple coverage instead of seeing the wide-open receiver on the opposite side of the field. The main issue Freeman has had this season is locking in on receivers and forcing it, instead of going through the progressions.
Freeman’s third interception was the result of good coverage by the Rams defender, as well as a bad decision by Freeman. Mike Williams, Freeman’s intended target, didn’t seem like he put very much effort into preventing the interception, either. On Freeman’s last interception, which came in the final minutes of the game, a tipped pass that fell right into the defender’s arm.
Surprisingly enough, even with Freeman’s four turnovers the Bucs still had plenty of opportunities to get back in the game but played horribly in the redzone. Freeman had a couple poor throws in that area of the field, but the play calling deserves the blame.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan
Sullivan has had his fair share of questionable calls this season, some of which were extremely costly. This only continued on Sunday when his unimaginative play calling failed to get the Bucs into the endzone from within the ten-yard line twice.
The first costly decision was on a third-and-one play at the Rams five-yard line. Instead of calling a quarterback sneak or a play-action fake, Freeman took the snap out of the shotgun formation with a three receiver set. It was extremely obvious that it would be a passing play and it was doomed before the ball was even snapped. On the ensuing fourth-and-one play, the Rams knew that Tampa Bay would sneak it. It would have been a perfect opportunity for a play-action fake, catching the Rams off guard. Instead, Sullivan called exactly what the Rams knew was coming, and the struggling offensive line failed to get enough push for the QB sneak.
The Bucs were able to make it to the St. Louis seven-yard line later in the fourth quarter with another chance to get back in the game. Tampa Bay had four chances to get it in the endzone, but failed yet again. The first three plays were shots to the endzone, as opposed to trying to get yards to make fourth down more manageable. Instead, the Bucs faced fourth-and-seven and failed to convert again.
OT Demar Dotson
Dotson had another poor game, giving up at least two sacks and missed blocks on a regular basis. It is becoming more and more of a necessity for the Bucs to get a new right tackle in free agency or the draft in the offseason with Dotson unraveling. If Jeremy Trueblood hadn’t been injured a few weeks back, it’s hard to believe that Dotson would still be in the starting lineup.
OT Donald Penn
Penn, who should be the best linemen in the Tampa Bay’s lineup, has played progressively worse over the past month. Penn gave up at least one sack, while missing several blocks in the running game. Penn’s game has clearly been affected by the loss of Pro Bowl guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks. Penn was having a good season until Nicks went to IR, and instead of stepping up like a veteran should, has done just the opposite.
A lot of the blame for the Bucs five-game losing streak falls on Freeman and the secondary. But when an offensive line plays as poorly as the Tampa Bay’s line has, success is hard to come by. The run game is virtually non-existent, and Freeman has been under considerable duress over the past month. The reason Tampa Bay’s offense was so successful earlier in the season was largely due to the success of the run game, which opened up the pass game for Freeman.
Dishonorable Mentions: LG Jamon Meredith, PR/KR Roscoe Parish, DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, DT Gerald McCoy