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. Tampa Bay came out flat and spotted Arizona a 31-0 lead in the third quarter before its second half rally fell short in a 38-33 loss. The Bucs have now lost back-to-back games, and are 2-3 on the year, which puts them in last place in the NFC South division.
TWO BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Bucs Ambushed In Arizona
It’s one thing to have your team totally unprepared to play against an Arizona team with a losing record in your second ever game as a head coach if you’re Dirk Koetter. The result, of course, was a 40-7 debacle in the desert. But to have that happen twice – and after 20 games as a head coach – is eye-opening, and not in a good way. The Bucs looked totally unprepared and were outplayed and outcoached in a 38-33 ambush at Arizona on Sunday.
The Bucs had 10 days to prepare for the Cardinals. Ten. And the result was trailing 24-0 at halftime, while watching Carson Palmer complete 13-of-13 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns and Adrian Peterson rush for 85 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Meanwhile, the Bucs offense gained 25 yards rushing and 113 yards passing between Jameis Winston, who left early with a shoulder injury, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
At one point in the third quarter the Bucs trailed 31-0 before making a furious comeback only to lose by five points. Koetter’s ill-advised decision to forego a field goal attempt on fourth-and-goal right before halftime and try nothing but two-point conversions on the first three touchdowns were costly as the Bucs lost by five points.
For a good part of the game the Bucs offense is totally offensive and the defense is absolutely indefensible. Koetter’s best decision of the day was throwing in the towel and sidelining Jameis Winston after he hurt his shoulder and not risking him to further injury.
STATEMENT 2: Bucs Should Have Signed Peterson
I wasn’t among those clamoring for Tampa Bay to sign running back Adrian Peterson in the offseason – even after Peterson was practically begging to become a Buccaneer. So this is not an “I told you so” moment for me. But I would be derelict in my duties not to point out that Peterson was signed by Tampa Bay’s NFC South rival, New Orleans, to a reasonable, two-year, $7 million contract. Don’t think the Bucs could have gotten him for that – or less?
Even knowing that Doug Martin was going to miss the first three games of the 2017 season with a suspension, the idea of signing Peterson was shunned by the front office for some reason. Yes, he was 32 years old and coming off some knee injuries. But the Bucs had plenty of salary cap room and wasn’t he worth a gamble given his ability and experience? Wouldn’t Peterson been a better starter than Jacquizz Rodgers in Tampa Bay’s first three games?
After toiling away on New Orleans’ bench, getting minimal carries behind Mark Ingram and minimal catches behind rookie Alvin Kamara, the Cardinals acquired Peterson to help their ailing ground game, which has been without David Johnson since he injured his wrist in the season opener. All Peterson did was gash the Bucs for 134 yards and two touchdowns in his Arizona debut.
Peterson proved he was better than Martin on Sunday, gaining 81 more yards and scoring one more touchdown on 12 more carries. Peterson’s opening drive where he rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown on his first five carries set the tone for the game en route to helping the Cardinals jump out to a 31-0 lead in the third quarter.
It’s impossible to know what type of impact Peterson would have had in Tampa Bay and if he would have replicated Sunday’s type of performance in any of the Bucs’ first five games. But wouldn’t the depth chart of Peterson, Martin and Rodgers and look better than Martin, Rodger and Charles Sims?
TWO PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Why Didn’t Koetter Go For The Field Goal And Extra Points?
The short answer is, “I don’t know.” On one hand, Koetter’s bold move to try to get a touchdown before halftime and cut into Arizona’s 24-0 lead could be viewed as commendable. But on the other hand, any comeback starts with points, especially the first points, and you can’t pass up the chance for points when you can get them. He should have gone for the field goal to give the Bucs some kind of positive heading into halftime.
The extra points are a different matter. Yes, the Bucs were down 31-0 when Tampa Bay’s touchdown appeared on the scoreboard. But Koetter should have waited until later in the fourth quarter to try to go for two just to see how many touchdowns the Bucs could have scored. As it turns out, the Bucs scored four touchdowns in the fourth, but only converted one of three two-point conversions, which cost them two points.
Throw in the missed opportunity to kick a field goal and three plus two equals five, which is how many points Tampa Bay lost by. When you go for two points and don’t get it, you end up chasing points, and that’s what Koetter did for the last 23 minutes of the game, unfortunately.
QUESTION 2: How Long Will Winston Be Out For?
We’re not sure. Not only did the Bucs lose their second straight game to fall to 2-3 on the season after a 38-33 loss to the Cardinals, Tampa Bay might have lost its starting quarterback for a while. Winston’s right shoulder was driven into the ground by linebacker Chandler Jones in the first half and while he returned to action for two series, the pain became more intense and his arm stiffened up.
“If you can’t go, you can’t go,” Koetter said. “Jameis said he couldn’t go. I’m not exactly sure what the conversation was on the medical side. I’m not sure of that. But Jameis said he couldn’t go, so we put Fitz in.”
After the loss, Winston said he didn’t think he would miss next week’s game at Buffalo.
“I’ve had to come out before but I don’t think I’ve missed a game,” Winston said. “I don’t think I’m going to miss a game, either.
“I fell on my shoulder. I’ve had that injury before. If I would have fallen on my other shoulder it would have been fine, but the throwing shoulder is kind of tough.”
I remember speaking with middle linebacker Kwon Alexander after the Bears game in Week 2 and him telling me he would be back at practice and would definitely play the next week at Minnesota. Four weeks later and Alexander has yet to come off the inactive list. The bottom line is that players can’t be trusted to diagnose their injuries and reveal an accurate timetable to return.
TWO BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Hargreaves Will Get Benched At Some Point
I don’t know if it will happen this week or a few weeks from now, but if his play doesn’t turn around quickly I’m guessing the Tampa Bay coaches to bench starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. He needs to be benched. Hargreaves is giving up way too much cushion on the outside in coverage, first reported by PewterReport.com’s Trevor Sikkema and then confirmed last week by defensive coordinator Mike Smith.
Hargreaves is playing too soft and too poorly right now, and hasn’t shown much progress since his rookie season. After losing John Brown in coverage on a flea-flicker in the first half, Hargreaves lost outside contain and then made a poor attempt to tackle Peterson on a big 17-yard into the Bucs’ red zone. That lack of a sense of urgency was costly as quarterback Carson Palmer hit tight end Troy Niklas for a 14-yard touchdown on the next play to give Arizona a 14-0 lead.
There aren’t many great options to replace Hargreaves, who also had a pass interference call in the end zone on Larry Fitzgerald. Second-year cornerback Ryan Smith, who got his first start in Week 3 at Minnesota and struggled, is one option. The other option is moving nickel cornerback Robert McClain outside to replace Hargreaves. It’s a shame that the 11th overall pick in the 2016 draft has looked like nothing more than an average NFL player thus player.
PREDICTION 2: McCoy Is Going To Have A Big Day
Sorry, I don’t mean Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who collected his second sack of the season in Arizona. I meant Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy, who leads the Bills’ top-ranked rushing attack (164.4 yards per game). McCoy has rushed for 279 yards and caught 27 passes for 189 yards but has yet to find the end zone through the air or the ground. That changes on Sunday when Tampa Bay comes to town.
Why do I think that the Bills’ top offensive weapon in their limited arsenal will come up big against the Bucs? Because defensive coordinator Mike Smith and his players knew that the two biggest weapons the Cardinals had were 32-year old running back Adrian Peterson and 34-year old wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and couldn’t stop either one on Sunday.
Peterson rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay in his first start in Arizona, while Fitzgerald caught 10 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. Tampa Bay’s defense isn’t close to what it was last year and has surrendered 494 yards to the Vikings, 379 yards to the Giants, 402 yards to the Patriots 402, and 432 yards to the Cardinals in the last month. The Bucs are 1-3 in that span.
Can McCoy and the Bills put up 400 yards and beat the Bucs next Sunday? Well, Tampa Bay is 0-3 when giving up 400 yards this year, which is no surprise as most teams are. I’d pencil McCoy in for 150 all-purpose yards and his first touchdown of the season against Tampa Bay the way the defense is playing.