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. The Bucs squandered the chance to take an early lead in the NFC South after Sunday losses by Atlanta and Carolina, losing to San Francisco, 31-17. Once again, the Bucs were their own worst enemy, losing the turnover battle four to two, with quarterback Jameis Winston accounting for three interceptions, including a pair of pick-sixes.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Winston And The Same Ol’ Bucs
We’ve seen this before haven’t we? The Bucs find ways to beat themselves – over and over again. That’s why Tampa Bay endured back-to-back 5-11 seasons because of self-inflicted wounds with too many penalties and too many turnovers. It’s a new year with a new coach and yet it’s the same result. It’s the same ol’ Bucs, and it’s frustrating. This team finds ways to beat itself in new ways – different ways, maddening ways.
“I don’t think there is any doubt about it,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “That’s what we talked about it at the half even and before the game. Right now; that was the message. When we stop beating ourselves, we’ll be pretty good.”
Like Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston not throwing one pick-six, but two. That’s new. Winston, who has yet to shed his label of being a walking turnover, has never thrown two pick-sixes in a game before until Sunday. By the way, the difference in Tampa Bay’s 31-17 loss to San Francisco in the 2019 season opener was 14 points – as in Winston’s 14 points he gave to the 49ers.
We’ve seen this from Winston before – the poor decision-making. That’s been a negative trait that he’s been unable to shake his entire career, and that’s ultimately what’s negated a lot of the good stuff he’s done and kept the Bucs from winning enough games to make it to the playoffs. When it comes to the Bucs beating themselves Winston is the star of the show. Tampa Bay is one of the best teams in the league at beating itself and Winston is a Pro Bowl-caliber self-destructor, and he is approaching Hall of Fame status as a turnover machine.
Winston was erratic with his passing and never got into any kind of rhythm until the second half. Winston started the game completing 4-of-9 for 28 yards in the first quarter, and was 8-of-16 for 72 yards and an interception by halftime. Winston’s first interception wasn’t necessarily his fault as it ricocheted off the hands of O.J. Howard.
But his second pick, which came in the third quarter, was a pass that was thrown behind running back Peyton Barber near the sidelines and returned 31 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Richard Sherman, who had a bead on the misfired throw. It was a bad match-up from the start and Winston should have never looked Barber’s way.
Winston also had two near-miss interceptions in the game, with the first coming in the first quarter when his errant throw was right to former Bucs middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, who just simply dropped it. Winston almost threw another pick-six as his pass on fourth-and-goal at the San Francisco 2-yard line was almost intercepted by defensive back Tarvarius Moore. Had Moore hauled in that pass in stride it could have been a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown that could have put the game away.
Winston wound up with three interceptions against the 49ers, and he fumbled a snap and fumbled when hit on a sack – yet the Bucs recovered those two loose balls. Arians has a reputation for being “the quarterback whisperer” and he’s only worked with Winston for one game, but so far we haven’t seen any progress.
And unless Arians can successfully whisper to Winston in a hurry, “Throwing to Barber on a hook route against Sherman is a bad idea” and “Just wildly throwing the ball in the vicinity of a running back who is covered up on a screen pass and it gets pick-sixed is a bad idea,” then Winston will join the ranks of Vinny Testaverde, Trent Dilfer and Josh Freeman as former first-round quarterback drafted by the Bucs that didn’t get a second contract in Tampa Bay.
For most of the game Winston looked like Testaverde or Dilfer or Freeman, unfortunately, and we know how their stories ended in Tampa Bay. Speaking of Testaverde, Winston passed him for the Bucs’ all-time passing yards on Sunday on his final throw of the game. That gave Winston 14,821 yards and puts him just ahead of Testaverde’s previous record of 14,820 yards.
But in a loss as bad as the Bucs suffered on Sunday, who cares?
STATEMENT 2: Rough Day For Bucs’ Tight Ends
As poorly as he played, Winston wasn’t the only culprit in the Bucs’ most recent self-destruction. Howard contributed to Winston’s first interception and then fumbled inside the San Francisco red zone in the first half. Not only that, he allowed a sack and only had four catches for 32 yards. Not a sterling start to what many believe could be a Pro Bowl year for Howard.
The day was just as rough for Bucs tight end Cameron Brate, but not because he did anything wrong. Brate had not one touchdown – but two TDs – wiped out due to penalties on Tampa Bay’s first drive in the second quarter – both holding calls by right tackle Demar Dotson. Brate scored on a tight end screen to the right flank and a really bad, phantom holding call on Dotson took that score away. A few plays later, a scrambling Winston threw the ball up in the back of the end zone and Brate came down with it, just getting his toes down in bounds – only to have that dramatic catch get nullified by Dotson’s second holding call.
“It’s just turnovers, man, and penalties,” Dotson said. “We had too many turnovers and we had too many penalties, and that messed us up. And we got into the red zone and didn’t come up with touchdowns. That hurt too – we had it right there on the 2-yard line and we should’ve got seven but we walked away with nothing. Things like that – we’ve got to come away with touchdowns and we didn’t. We did a bad job of beating ourselves and we’ve got to go back and stop that. If we do a better job of not beating ourselves, then we can beat somebody else.”
To make matters worse for the Bucs’ tight end room, Howard’s fumble came at the San Francisco 8-yard line on third-and-19 following Dotson’s second holding penalty. The Bucs finished the game with eight penalties for 87 yards.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Were There Any Bright Spots For The Bucs?
Yes there were a few. I’ve written about Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III in two SR’s Fab 5 columns this summer, the most recent of which was this past Friday. The reason why Hargreaves was written about so much is because he’s a new man in Todd Bowles’ defensive scheme, which features aggressive, press-man coverage – the type of defense VH3 thrived in at Florida.
That was on display in the second quarter when Hargreaves stepped in front of a 49ers receiver and picked off Jimmy Garoppolo, returning the interception 15 yards for a touchdown to give Tampa Bay a 7-3 lead. That interception was the second of Hargreaves’ four-year career and it couldn’t have come at a better time as he is in a big contract year. The team picked up Hargreaves’ fifth-year option next year worth upwards of $9 million, but it’s not guaranteed unless he plays well.
“It definitely feels good to play,” Hargreaves said. “I played okay today, but the goal is to win, so it doesn’t matter how well I play personally. It’s about the team and we’ve got another game Thursday and we’re going to be ready to go.”
Hargreaves only gave up one catch on Sunday and played very well in pass coverage. It’s so far, so good for Hargreaves’ start to the 2019 season.
The other bright spot was the running of second-year running back Ronald Jones II, who had a career-high 75 yards rushing on 13 carries (5.8 avg.), in addition to one catch for 18 yards. On Sunday against San Francisco, Jones eclipsed last year’s rushing total of 48 yards on 23 carries, so he’s off to a good start. A lot of Jones’ runs came right up the middle and center Ryan Jensen had a really good game run blocking as Tampa Bay rushed for 121 yards while averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
“I thought he had a lot of energy and he was hitting it,” Arians said of Jones. “That’s something we can really build off of. I was really happy with the running game.”
Bucs nose tackle Vita Vea was only credited with three tackles against the 49ers but I think he was shorted at least three or four more assists. Vea, along with defensive linemen Will Gholston and Ndamukong Suh, who each had four tackles, was very active upfront in helping hold the 49ers to under 100 yards and just 3.1 yards per carry.
QUESTION 2: What’s Up With The Bucs’ Special Teams?
New Bucs punter Bradley Pinion did not have a great preseason punting the ball, and it went from bad to worse in the 2019 regular season opener against San Francisco, his former team. Pinion’s first official punt in red and pewter was a disaster, as it was deflected by the 49ers and traveled just three yards. Special teams captain Dare Ogunbowale was overwhelmed as a blocker and allowed the deflection to occur. Pinion had two punts and averaged 21 yards with his other punt traveling 39 yards.
Tampa Bay’s special teams also didn’t fare well in the return game. Bobo Wilson’s first punt return went for no gain as he was hit and tackled immediately. Tampa Bay’s kick return wasn’t any better.
T.J. Logan’s first kick return was just 18 yards out to the 18-yard line. The Bucs’ return game struggled mightily in the preseason, so this isn’t much of a surprise – even with a new returner. It’s not just the returner – it’s the other 10 guys blocking for him and Tampa Bay’s personnel or its blocking scheme that is really suspect. Logan averaged 20 yards per kick return on three run backs with a long of just 21 yards.
At what point in time does Arians just tell his returner to not bring the ball out of the end zone and just start at the 25?
The lone bright spot on special teams was the kicker in Tampa Bay for a change. How about that? Rookie Matt Gay made both of his extra point attempts and connected on his first NFL field goal, a 31-yarder in the fourth quarter.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Bucs’ O-Line Will Get Eaten Alive By The Panthers
Tampa Bay’s offensive line has always struggled against Carolina’s pass rush. Two years ago, the Bucs surrendered nine sacks in two meetings against the Panthers, including six at Carolina. Last year, Carolina sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick three times at home and dropped Winston four times in Tampa Bay.
The Bucs offensive line struggled in the preseason game against the Browns, giving up five sacks in a half. Against San Francisco, Tampa Bay allowed Winston to be sacked three times, and coming off a short week where the 0-1 Panthers will be waiting on Thursday night, I sense Carolina getting to Winston at least five times.
The Panthers only had one sack in Sunday’s 30-27 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams, and that came from cornerback James Bradberry. Carolina’s vaunted defensive front didn’t get any sacks and will be on the prowl on Thursday night when Tampa Bay comes to town. Defensive end Mario Addison has been Donovan Smith’s personal tormentor with 5.5 sacks in the last four meetings. Look for him and rookie Brian Burns, the Panthers’ first-round draft pick, to have a big night, in addition to defensive tackle Gerald McCoy going up against right guard Alex Cappa and getting some revenge on the Buccaneers with a sack or two.
PREDICTION 2: Tampa Bay’s Pass Rush Will Continue To Struggle
While I expect the Panthers’ pass rush to get revved up, I wish I could say the same about the Bucs’ efforts to get to the quarterback, but Sunday’s game against the 49ers was a little disheartening. Tampa Bay had one sack from outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett and one QB hit from Barrett – and that was it.
No sacks or pressures from outside linebacker Carl Nassib and no sacks or pressures from a blitzing Lavonte David. Neither Vea nor Suh got close to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, either.
The Bucs have had some success getting to Cam Newton in the past, so it’s not out of the question that Tampa Bay can record some sacks on Thursday night. Barrett might get another one, and David might get home on a blitz against Newton, as he’s done in the past. I just didn’t see too many promising signs on Sunday that a sudden sack attack from the Bucs will be coming in Carolina.