It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. Following a 27-24 loss to Kansas City, Tampa Bay has now lost back-to-back games for the first time this season and slides to 7-5 on the season. The Bucs went down early, 17-0, to the defending Super Bowl champions, and came up short in the second half as Patrick Mahomes threw for 462 yards and three touchdowns, including 13 passes for 269 yards and three TDs to Tyreek Hill.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
STATEMENT 1. Another Slow Start Dooms Bucs In Loss To Chiefs
Kansas City jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter en route to a 27-24 win over Tampa Bay, and that early hole was simply too big for the Bucs to dig out of against Patrick Mahomes and the now 10-1 Chiefs. Tampa Bay has trailed in the first quarter of all of the last five games. The Bucs have been outscored 52-7 in the first quarter of the last four games, and 59-10 in the first quarter of the last five games, dating back to the team’s narrow Monday night win against the New York Giants.
Against lesser teams like the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay has rallied to win. But against much better competition like New Orleans, the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City – all of whom appear bound for the playoffs – the Bucs haven’t been able to overcome slow starts to emerge victorious. After 12 straight weeks of football, Tampa Bay’s bye week is coming at an ideal time where the coaches can huddle together without having to game plan for an opponent and study what’s gone wrong in the first quarter and come up with some answers for the final month of the season.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Against the Chiefs it was a familiar refrain, as offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich’s questionable play-calling continued as the team only mustered one first down on the first four offensive possessions. By the time the Bucs got on the scoreboard they were cutting into a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.
“Third-down conversions,” said Bucs head coach Bruce Arians when asked what the problem has been in the first quarter. “Most of them have been seven [yards] or less, where we’ve been pretty good all season. Early in the game for whatever reason, we’re not making the plays. We’re not getting open, we’re not protecting – just not making enough plays.”
Leftwich’s continued calls for high-risk vertical throws in third-and-short situations is befuddling, in addition to Tampa Bay having to settle for a field goal instead of getting a touchdown from the Kansas City 4-yard line after a 48-yard catch-and-run by Rob Gronkowski on the team’s first drive of the second half, trailing 20-10.
The loss of those four potential points, plus two Tom Brady interceptions in the second half that came as Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo brought pressure to rattle him, stymied two promising Bucs drives into Kansas City territory.
Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles refused to double-cover All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who had eight catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Bowles made some adjustments in the second half, such as putting cornerback Ross Cockrell on Hill instead of Carlton Davis III, who was absolutely torched in the first half, but it was already too late as the Chiefs built an early 17-point lead. Hill didn’t do as much damage in the second half, but still managed to catch another touchdown in one-on-one coverage against Davis III, who just didn’t have the speed to match up with the Chiefs’ speedster.
Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“He had him man-to-man,” said Arians. “We tried to get a safety to him if we could – you’ve got [Travis] Kelce on the other side, too, so there’s a lot of weapons. When we did play man-to-man, Patrick found him and they made some really good plays.”
Just because Davis is the Bucs’ best cover cornerback doesn’t mean that he was the best match-up for Hill. Jamel Dean, the team’s fastest cornerback, would have been a better option, but he missed Sunday’s game due to a concussion. In the end Cockrell, who is shiftier and a bit quicker, proved to be better at hanging with Hill in the second half.
Head coach Bruce Arians failed to manage the clock properly at the end of the first half by using timeouts, and by the time Tampa Bay’s defense held Kansas City to a field goal, the Bucs had just 11 seconds left in the second quarter. Instead of making use of the final possession of the first half, Brady kneeled to end the half and Arians took three timeouts with him into the locker room at halftime.
Arians could have started using his timeouts after Travis Kelce’s 8-yard gain set the Chiefs up with second-and-2 at the Tampa Bay 13-yard line with 59 seconds left, but the head coach disagreed.
“No, because they had the ball on first down and I wasn’t giving Mahomes any more time,” Arians said. “The last thing I wanted to do was let him have it one more time and we had the ball first in the second half, so no, there was never a thought of taking timeouts with him with the ball in the two-minute drill.”
But Mahomes and the Chiefs scored a field goal anyway, so what was Arians’ point? Kansas City didn’t kick a field goal due to time on the clock. The Chiefs were forced to kick a field goal because it was fourth-and-10 from the 11-yard line.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Had Arians used those timeouts within the last minute of the first half the Bucs might have had 40 seconds left to try some deep shots and get into Ryan Succop’s field goal range before halftime to try to make it a 20-13 game. In a game decided by three points, that wasted possession right before halftime might have been critical had Arians left the offense with more time on the clock rather than timeouts in his pocket.
On Sunday the Bucs lost the turnover margin, 2-0; lost the battle on third down (50 percent vs. 33 percent); and lost time of possession, 36:47 to 23:13. But they also got out-coached early by Andy Reid, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Spagnuolo, too.
STATEMENT 2. Bucs Can’t Beat Playoff-Caliber Teams
Tampa Bay is a good team that should finish with 10 or 11 wins this season, in addition to a long-awaited playoff berth. But it hasn’t shown it’s a great team. When it comes to beating playoff-caliber teams, the Bucs are now just 1-4 this season – not counting a 45-20 win at Las Vegas. The 6-5 Raiders are currently in ninth place in the AFC playoff picture and currently a game out of the postseason.
Bucs LB Kevin Minter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs have just one quality win this year, a 38-10 come-from-behind victory against 8-3 Green Bay, which is the currently NFC North division leader. Tampa Bay was swept by New Orleans, and suffered three-point losses against the 7-4 Los Angeles Rams and the 10-1 Kansas City Chiefs. The Saints lead the NFC South, the Chiefs lead the AFC West and the Rams currently have the No. 5 wild card seed.
After the bye week, Tampa Bay finishes the season against three teams that are still mathematically in the playoff hunt – 5-6 Minnesota, 4-7 Detroit and 4-7 Atlanta twice. So the Bucs won’t get the chance to beat another heavyweight team until the postseason – provided they win enough games to qualify.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Were There Any Positives In The Loss To K.C.?
Yes. While Bucs fans will lament over the fact that their team has suffered back-to-back three-point losses and three straight home defeats dating back to the Sunday night loss against the Saints, there were some bright spots in Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Chiefs. The biggest positive was that this team did not give up after trailing 17-0 early in the first quarter.
This didn’t turn out to be a 38-3 drubbing like the loss to New Orleans was a few weeks ago. Tampa Bay made it a three-point game and came close to making it really interesting, but its defense couldn’t stop Patrick Mahomes from converting three critical first downs on the final drive – two with scrambles and one with a clutch throw to Tyreek Hill.
Bucs Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs also got great individual efforts from tight end Rob Gronkowski, who finished with his first 100-yard game in Tampa Bay with six catches for 106 yards, and running back Ronald Jones II, who had limited touches in the running game due to the team falling behind early. Gronkowski now has 29 100-yard games in the regular season during his career, trailing just Tony Gonzalez (31) for the most ever by a tight end. Including the postseason, Gronkowski now has 33 100-yard games, which is the most in NFL history for a tight end.
Meanwhile, Jones finished the game with 66 yards on nine carries (7.3 avg.), and had a 34-yard run and a 37-yard receiving touchdown on a swing pass from Tom Brady.
Wide receiver Chris Godwin had 97 yards on eight catches, including a spectacular, diving catch on a 44-yard bomb from Brady to convert a third-and-15 in the third quarter. Mike Evans struggled to haul in a few passes from Brady, but did score two key touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a 31-yard TD on fourth down to finish with 50 yards on three catches.
Evans now has 11 scoring receptions this season and needs just two more TDs to surpass his single-season touchdown record of 12 that he set in 2014 and tied in 2016. Brady threw three touchdowns against Kansas City, widening his lead in career passing TDs over New Orleans’ Drew Brees, 569-565. With four games left in the regular season, Brady has now thrown 28 touchdowns on the year, which is the second-most in franchise history behind Jameis Winston’s 33 from last year.
QUESTION 2: Why Did It Take So Long To Flip Barrett And JPP?
Who knows? It’s something that I have questioned and advocated for quite some time. For the vast majority of the season the Bucs have been rushing outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul from the right side and Shaquil Barrett from the left side. While Pierre-Paul had a good start to the season with a team-leading 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions entering the Kansas City game, Barrett had not come close to living up to last year’s Pro Bowl season, notching just five sacks and one forced fumble.
Barrett recorded 13 of his league-leading 19.5 sacks rushing from the right side against left tackles in 2019, while Pierre-Paul got most of his 8.5 sacks from the left side going against right tackles. I’ve been critical of the Bucs not reverting to last year’s game plan and playing Barrett more on the right side where he had far more success.
Bucs Shaquil Barrett – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles finally flipped them this week and Barrett had two QB hits in the game, numerous pressures, and a timely sack-fumble in the red zone in the second quarter that prevented a Chiefs score when Kansas City led 17-0. Defensive end Will Gholston recovered the loose ball and that keyed the Bucs’ first scoring drive, which was capped off with a 37-yard touchdown catch-and-run from running back Ronald Jones II to cut Kansas City’s lead to 17-7.
Pierre-Paul applied plenty of pressure, with a QB hit and a sack in the fourth quarter, but also picked up a questionable roughing the passer call that negated an interception by Sean Murphy-Bunting a few plays later. I’d like to see Bowles continue to deploy Barrett on the right side and Pierre-Paul on the left down the stretch.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: The 7-5 Bucs Will Still Make The Playoffs
Nothing changes for the Bucs’ playoff picture with this loss to the Chiefs, and that was the best part of Sunday for Tampa Bay despite it’s 27-24 loss to Kansas City. New England did Tampa Bay a big favor on Sunday afternoon by beating now 6-5 Arizona, giving the Bucs a half-game lead over the Cardinals in the playoff race. Tampa Bay still occupies the sixth playoff seed, which is the No. 2 wild card spot.
San Francisco is now 5-6 after a 23-20 upset against Los Angeles, which drops the Rams to 7-4 on the year. The Rams own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bucs, but didn’t gain any ground due to their loss.
On Sunday night, Green Bay beat Chicago, which also has a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Tampa Bay from a Week 5 win on Thursday Night Football. The Bears were 5-1 after beating the Bucs, but have lost five straight games and are now at 5-6 and are tied with the Vikings and 49ers on the outside looking in right now with a month left in the season.
A 3-1 finish down the stretch would give the Bucs a 10-6 record and assure them of a playoff berth. Heck, with how the NFC has struggled this year, Tampa Bay could split its remaining games and still earn a wild card playoff spot with a 9-7 record.
PREDICTION 2: Bucs Should Use The Bye Week For Two Things
After 12 weeks of consecutive football games, the Bucs finally get their long-awaited bye week. It’s the latest bye week in Tampa Bay history, and the final bye week of the 2020 NFL season. After watching film on Monday, the Bucs will have six days off from Tuesday, December 1 through Monday, December 7 to heal up and rest up.
Tampa Bay’s coaching staff won’t take that much time off as it plans to meet, and should do some self-scouting and identify some of the team’s own tendencies that its opponents have caught on to. This should result in better, less predictable game plans as the Bucs enter a very important four-game stretch in December that will decide the team’s playoff fate. But head coach Bruce Arians didn’t indicate that would happen.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians – Photo by: USA Today
“We evaluate each week, so it’s not really anything to go back and look at because we already have all the self-scout – I call it [that], some people call it analytics,” Arians said. “We’ve already got that repped all the way through the season. I think we’re getting better each and every week.”
Sorry, this team could use some more self-scouting, especially with what’s gone wrong in the first quarter over the last month in which Tampa Bay has gone 1-3. The Bucs will get more time to scout an improving 5-6 Minnesota Vikings squad, which is the team’s next opponent on December 13 at Raymond James Stadium. The key for the players and coaches will be to stay COVID-free during the time off.
“First and foremost, get healthy and beat the virus,” Arians said. “Every team that has come back from the bye has had a virus problem. We can’t finish our season with eight, nine or 10 guys staying home. Every game is a big game – 11-5 will do it. One at a time, but the first thing is to get healthy and beat the virus.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.