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 blew a golden opportunity to take a two-game lead over New Orleans in the NFC South, getting trounced at home in embarrassing fashion on Sunday Night Football, losing 38-3. The Saints raced out to a 31-0 lead at halftime as Sean Payton clearly out-coached Bruce Arians and his staff to sweep the Bucs this year.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
STATEMENT 1. Bucs Out-Coached And Bullied At Home By Saints
The New Orleans Saints came into this NFC South clash on Sunday Night Football as the defending three-time divisional champ, and showed why they will likely win it for a fourth straight year.
The Saints absolutely bullied the Bucs on the way to beating them, 38-3.
It was a beat-down of epic proportions on Sunday Night Football.
It was horrendous, embarrassing and pathetic.
This was an ass-kicking, courtesy of New Orleans.
Saints S Marcus WIlliams – Photo by: USA Today
Tampa Bay was turned into a laughingstock on national TV – again. The NFC South bully came into the Bucs’ own backyard and beat the living snot out of them, taking a convincing 31-0 lead at halftime that put the game away early.
Head coach Bruce Arians didn’t have his team prepared for the second week in a row in a prime time game, and that’s very concerning for a 6-3 squad that still has playoff aspirations.
Why is this team so bad in prime time? It’s baffling, and that’s on Arians.
“It was shocking,” Arians said. “To watch us practice the way we practiced all week and the confidence we had coming in — we have to go back and look in the mirror as coaches, players, everybody, from yesterday to today. Another one where we go three-and-out and give up a touchdown [to start the game]. Second half, I thought we got the turnover and we don’t score a touchdown. I thought that kind of was the end of it right then and there. Give New Orleans credit — they kicked our ass in every phase.”
The fact that the Arians left 43-year old Tom Brady in the game in the fourth quarter to take needless shots down 38-0 was poor coaching. It was just dumb.
“Just to get points on the board,” Arians said. “He’s the quarterback.”
Down 38-0 in the fourth quarter, Brady had no business being in that game.
Saints head coach Sean Payton – Photo by: USA Today
Saints head coach Sean Payton owns Arians, and has now beat him in four straight games by a total margin of 73 points. Payton is 15-5 in his last 20 games against Tampa Bay dating back to 2011, and the Saints have swept the Bucs in five of the last 10 years.
For some reason, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich prioritized unreliable running back Ronald Jones II in the passing game in the first quarter over the likes of Pro Bowl wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, which was criminal. Tampa Bay endured four straight three-and-outs due to his awful play selection, and not getting Evans a single target in the first half until the final two minutes was just negligent.
“Part of it is scheme, part of it is reading out some things that Mike was open on and just finding him,” Arians said of Leftwich. “[Brady] is still learning the offense in some spots, but we’ve got to do a better job.”
When the Bucs offense finally got into the red zone, Tampa Bay had four plays at the New Orleans 1-yard and Leftwich called for two fades and a play-action pass – all of which were incomplete as the offense came away with zero points in embarrassing fashion. Tampa Bay’s play-calling has been suspect in three of the last five games, and the Bucs generated just three points – clearly the Bucs’ lowest point total of the year.
Because it fell behind 21-0 so quickly, Tampa Bay ran just four running plays the entire game, which was an NFL record for a team with the fewest carries. The Bucs had Blaine Gabbert kneel the ball down on the final play, so they technically ended up with five carries.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles should have known that playing physical press-man with the Saints receivers and blitzing Drew Brees is the only recipe for beating New Orleans. Where were the A-gap blitzes? Where was getting in Brees’ face? If Brees has all day to throw and a clean pocket, it’s over.
Saints QB Drew Brees – Photo by: USA Today
And it was over – early in this one, as Bowles didn’t follow the easy script and went with too much zone coverage and not enough blitzes.
“The game plan today was to try to play more zone and get our front four home,” Arians said.
Awful game plan.
Brees threw for four touchdowns and Tampa Bay couldn’t win any 1-on-1 match-ups in pass rush against the New Orleans offensive line without blitzing. Brees was only sacked once, and fumbled, but that turnover didn’t lead to any points.
Sunday night was such a blowout that the Saints inserted former Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston in at QB in the fourth quarter. After the game, Winston interrupted Brees’ live interview on NBC to “eat a W” with his mouth and fingers. It was an embarrassing and childish moment for Winston, but one he was entitled to after the Saints bullied the Bucs in his former home for the past five years.
The Saints are clearly in the Bucs’ heads. They know they are the bully and have no fear against Tampa Bay. They expect to win – and usually do.
New Orleans certainly did on Sunday night.
STATEMENT 2. Brees Outplayed Brady In Dominating Fashion
Not only did the Bucs get out-coached on Sunday night, they got out-played by the Saints, especially at the quarterback position. By halftime, Drew Brees was 18-of-23 for 189 yards and three touchdowns and had reclaimed the all-time touchdown lead from Tom Brady. Brees would finish the game 26-of-32 for 222 yards and four touchdowns.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and Saints QB Drew Brees – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Tom Brady was horrible for Tampa Bay, starting the game 2-of-7 for nine yards and going three-and-out on the team’s first four possessions. He finished the first half completing just 11-of-22 passes for 96 yards with two interceptions.
Brady was signed by the Bucs for one reason – to win big games like Sunday night’s divisional clash. And he failed. Brady was poor from the start and finished the game completing 22-of-38 passes for 209 yards with three interceptions, no touchdowns and was sacked three times.
New Orleans took an early lead in the first quarter behind a 14-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith and a 7-yard TD strike to tight end Adam Trautman. It didn’t help that the Bucs offense had three consecutive three-and-outs in the first quarter and another one to start the second quarter. Brees added another touchdown to Emanuel Sanders in the second quarter and then found tight end Josh Hill in the end zone for a 3-yard scoring toss before exiting the game.
In his illustrious 21-year NFL career Brady had never lost a game by 35 points prior to Sunday night. He’d never played as poorly as he did in prime time, either, and he certainly wasn’t alone in that arena as this was a “total team collapse,” as outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett put it.
Bucs LT Donovan Smith and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“We need to perform better at every time,” Brady said. “One o’clock, four o’clock, eight o’clock, Monday night. Sunday night – it doesn’t matter. They’re going to schedule the game and we’re going to go out there and play. I don’t really don’t think it’s anything magical that’s happening. As players, we’ve got to prepare harder. We’ve got to execute better. There are no excuses for what it is. It’s a poor performance by a team that’s got a lot ahead of it. Hopefully, we can learn from it and come back to work this week with a lot more urgency, execute a lot better, and try to go out and beat a good football team.”
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Why Are The Bucs Getting Off To Such Slow Starts?
Who knows? The Bucs owned the first quarter in the first five games of the season, outscoring their opponents, 38-14. But over the last four games, including Tampa Bay’s debacle on Sunday Night Football, the Bucs’ first quarter scoring has just vanished.
Tampa Bay has been outscored 24-10 over the last month in the first quarter, yet the team has rallied to win those games against Green Bay, Las Vegas and the New York Giants. That certainly wasn’t the case on Sunday night as the Bucs fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter against the Saints.
Perhaps more importantly, the Bucs offense has struggled to produce points in prime time, putting up just 19 points in a one-point loss at Chicago on Thursday night, scoring 25 points in a narrow, two-point victory at New York on Monday night, and only scoring a field goal against New Orleans on Sunday night.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians – Photo by: USA Today
“That’s one of the things we have to look at because that’s what we just addressed in the locker room,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “We have stunk in those games. We won one of them [and] we should have won [against Chicago], but we didn’t. This one, we just basically handed it to them.”
If the Bucs don’t figure out why they are getting off to such slow starts soon, they’re not going to fare well against the likes of other high-scoring teams like the Panthers, Rams and Chiefs in the coming weeks. The way Tampa Bay played in the first half falling behind 31-0 at halftime, you would think this whole Bucs team got concussed in practice this week – not just left guard Ali Marpet.
QUESTION 2: Why Did The Bucs Play So Much Zone Coverage?
I have no idea. It defied logic that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ game plan was to actually rush four and drop seven into zone coverage. It was the wrong game plan and horribly executed by Tampa Bay’s defense.
New Orleans’ first touchdown came when either cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting or Jamel Dean blew a coverage assignment and left wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith wide open in the back of the end zone for an easy touchdown. That was an unfortunate sign of things to come.
The Bucs have a collection of good press-man cornerbacks in Carlton Davis III, Murphy-Bunting and Dean, and Bowles asked them to do what they struggled doing last Monday night in New York, which was to play zone coverage. Instead of playing to Tampa Bay’s strength, Bowles played to his young secondary’s weakness.
Bucs Bruce Arians and DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
It’s not that the Bucs are necessarily a bad zone coverage unit, but if a team is going to play zone against Drew Brees its front four has to get home to pressure the passer and come up with some sacks. Like they did in Week 1, the Bucs registered one lone sack, which was by outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who got to Brees – on a blitz, of course.
“Nobody wants to come out and play the way we played, like we literally played horrible,” Barrett said. “Nobody wants to play that way. The only way is up from here, so we’re going to come more focused. We’ve been focused, but we have to do it better than we did the past few weeks so we can come out and get a win and change the outcome.”
This wasn’t about the Bucs losing focus. This was about New Orleans’ offensive line dominating in the trenches and winning its one-on-one match-ups against Tampa Bay’s front four in pass protection – again. The Bucs should have blitzed Brees more than they did and paid for not doing so.
“It’s pretty embarrassing,” Barrett said of the 38-3 defeat. “Since the start of the game, I think we stopped them less than a handful of times this whole game. We couldn’t stop them on defense, and it was nothing new, we just didn’t make the plays we needed to make. Our offense, they couldn’t get it going and it was just a total team collapse, and that’s not what we’re about.”
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: The Bucs Just Lost The NFC South
Crown the Saints. They’ll be division champions in the NFC South for the fourth time in a row after sweeping the Bucs for a second straight season. New Orleans is 6-2 while Tampa Bay falls to 6-3, but the Saints have the head-to-head tiebreaker, in addition to being up a game on the Bucs, and that will ultimately cost Tampa Bay come playoff time.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
The NFL added an additional wild card spot in the playoffs for each conference this year, and the Bucs may have to benefit from that to make the postseason. Tampa Bay has a half-game lead for the playoffs over Arizona (5-3), and a one-game advantage over Chicago (5-4), a team which beat the Bucs just a few weeks ago and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage should it come down to that. The Los Angeles Rams, whom the Bucs play on Monday Night Football in two weeks, are 5-3, and the winner of that game will likely determine playoff seeding in the NFC.
Seattle (6-2) leads in the NFC West, Green Bay (6-2) leads in the NFC Central and Philadelphia (3-4-1) has the current advantage in the NFC East. The Bucs can finish no worse than 10-6 this season in order to potentially make the playoffs, which would mean going at least 4-3 down the stretch.
And that’s no guarantee. Tampa Bay may have to finish 11-5 to avoid missing the postseason like the 10-6 Buccaneers did when they lost a tiebreaker and missed the playoffs in 2010.
PREDICTION 2: Panthers Game Will Be Tough – Real Tough
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Forget the fact that the Buccaneers beat the Panthers, 31-17, in Week 2. Forget the fact that Carolina has a 3-6 record. This Matt Rhule team has lost four straight games, but only by a total of 20 points, and three of those opponents – Chicago, New Orleans and Kansas City have winning records. Tampa Bay can’t afford to take the Panthers lightly or it risks getting upset on the road.
Carolina went to Kansas City and took the Super Bowl-defending Chiefs to the wire before losing 33-31. The Panthers offense tied its season high of 31 points on Sunday in the narrow defeat. This game will be a real challenge for the Bucs, and victory is far from assured next Sunday.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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