On the ten-year anniversary of the 2002 Super Bowl team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost 23-21 to the 3-9 Philadelphia Eagles in what was a must win game for the Bucs. While they’re still technically "in the hunt", their season is basically over with a record of 6-7.
Below is a list of players who played well in Sunday’s game against the Eagles and players that need to improve if Tampa Bay hopes to avoid a losing record.
DT Gerald McCoy
McCoy had one of, if not the best, games of his career. He tallied five tackles (four solo) adding two sacks, three tackles for loss and three quarterback hits. He had great pressure the entire game and was a huge part of the Bucs strong defense in the first half, taking advantage of Philadelphia's poor pass blocking offensive line. In my Five Keys To Victory article I predicted McCoy to have a big game in front of his mentor Warren Sapp. He did just that, and no one was happier about that than No. 99. While McCoy has been very impressive for most of the year, he hasn’t recorded a sack since his monster game in Week 3 against the Cowboys.
DE Michael Bennett
Bennett also had a very solid game, matching McCoy’s two sacks while also having four tackles for loss and four QB hits. It seemed like Bennett and McCoy were in Nick Foles’ face for most of the game and were very close to having even more sacks. Bennett is making it very difficult for the Bucs organization in terms of a contract extension in the offseason. Bennett has been so hot and cold all season, it seems like he is an elite pass rusher in one game and non-existent in the next. He needs to prove he can be more consistent in the next three games if he hopes to be signed to a big contract by the team this offseason.
WR Vincent Jackson
Jackson led the team with six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 21.8 yard per catch, including a fantastic 40-yarder in the third quarter that lead to a 13-yard touchdown catch. Jackson, who has proven to be one of the greatest free agency signings in the history of the franchise, was consistently getting separation throughout the game and was open often, however Freeman failed to see him on many occasions. When Jackson was able to get the ball in his hands he did an excellent job racking up yards after the catch.
RB Doug Martin
Martin had his fourth career 100-yard rushing day, along with his tenth touchdown of the year. He gained 128 yard on 28 carries, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. What is most impressive about Martin is how he never gives up on plays. There were three or four instances where he was stopped for a short gain but carried the pile for an extra six yards. The Boise State product was unable to produce any big runs in Sunday’s game but still managed to have a good game despite not having many big holes to run through.
LB Lavonte David
While David didn’t have his best game against the Eagles, he still managed nine tackles (seven solo), second only to Ronde Barber. David also got decent pressure on QB Nick Foles, generating his first career sack and two quarterback hits. The Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate has been the most consistent player on Tampa Bay's defense all season, and fans should look forward to watching this young player continue to improve.
Honorable Mentions: DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, FS Ronde Barber, and PR Roscoe Parish
The Entire Secondary
It’s one thing to give up over 300 yards to elite quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan. But when you give up 381 yards, two passing and one rushing touchdown to a rookie who was starting his fourth NFL game it’s just embarrassing. There was not one bright spot in the secondary, because the only consistent defensive back the Bucs have, Ronde Barber, was playing along the line of scrimmage for a lot of the game.
Mark Barron has done nothing to garner the seventh overall pick the Bucs used on him in the draft. While he is only a rookie and will surely improve next year, he was a top-ten pick and hasn’t made any impact plays in weeks. Maybe he would be playing better is he were playing with NFL-caliber cornerbacks instead of undrafted, developing prospects like Leonard Johnson (who gave up the game winning touchdown) and Danny Gorrer (who dropped a game winning interception thrown right to him).
Another disappointing defensive back was E.J. Biggers, who had two solid games prior to the Eagles game. Biggers did manage to break up two passes and tackled well but got beat several times. Anthony Gaitor, who started his first career game, played very well for not having played all season due to injury. It’s tough to be hard on players like these because they clearly shouldn’t be starting on any team in the NFL, but when they’re playing against a rookie QB there are no excuses.
QB Josh Freeman
Freeman had one of his worst games of the season against a terrible Eagles secondary. He didn’t throw any interceptions, but that is mainly because he was so inaccurate for much of the game that the defenders weren’t even close. The Bucs offense is supposed to be the team's strongest unit, but when your quarterback stares receivers down, takes too long to go through his progressions, misses wide open targets and runs into sacks because he is unable to maneuver in the pocket, there isn’t going to be much production.
Freeman did play decent in the second half and maybe could have won the game if it wasn’t for the conservative play calling on third-and-eight late in the game. However if he just played consistent the entire game it wouldn’t have even been close in the second half. How many three-and-outs did the Bucs defense get that were just wasted by the poor play of Josh Freeman?
OT Demar Dotson
Dotson had an impressive start to the season after beating out Jeremy Trueblood for the starting right tackle job. But for the past few weeks he has been the weakest link on the Bucs battered offensive line. He drew two holding calls and missed a number of blocks allowing defenders to pressure Freeman and stop Martin for short gains. His recent poor play definitely makes offensive tackle a major need for Bucs in the offseason next year.
The Buccaneer Coaching Staff
As head coach Greg Schiano said after the game, it was a poorly coached game on the coaching staffs' part. Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan called way too many unnecessary blitzes throughout the contest leaving the team's inexperienced defensive backs on an island. The Bucs front four was getting plenty of pressure throughout the game on their own and there was no reason to dial up so many blitzes, especially when the secondary was already struggling.
Although offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan shouldn’t be blamed for the offensive struggles in the first half (it was just poor execution), he should be blamed for his conservative play calling that cost the Bucs this game.
However, all of the play calls go through the head coach, and Schiano ultimately has the final call on the play. Schiano deserves some of the blame, especially since it was such a special day for Bucs fans and he was unable to get his team fired up enough to win, as the team came out flat.
Dishonorable Mentions: WR Tiquan Underwood, LB Mason Foster, C Ted Larson, and LB Adam Hayward