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 fell to 7-4 on the year with another prime time loss, this time to the Los Angeles Rams, which improved to 7-3 on the year after beating the Bucs, 27-24. Jared Goff outperformed Tom Brady, who threw a costly interception on Tampa Bay’s final drive to seal the loss to L.A.

2 BIG STATEMENTS

STATEMENT 1: Bucs Still Aren’t Ready For Prime Time

The Bucs signed quarterback Tom Brady for big games like Monday night’s game against the visiting Los Angeles Rams. Brady was the best big-game quarterback of all-time during his two decades in New England, but he hasn’t been able to bring that level of past success down to Tampa Bay at age 43. Brady has played in 75 prime time games in his 21-year NFL career, and now has a record of 51-24 in those games, including a 1-3 mark with the Bucs this season after a 27-24 loss at home to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football.

BRADY IN 2020 AFTERNOON GAMES
RECORD: 6-1
179-of-266 passing (67.3 percent) for 1,998 yards
7.5 yards per attempt
20 passing TDs / 4 INTs / 3 rushing TDs
108.3 passer rating

BRADY IN 2020 PRIME TIME GAMES
RECORD: 1-3
101-of-167 passing (60.5 percent) for 957 yards
5.7 yards per attempt
5 passing TDs / 5 INTs / 0 rushing TDs
73.9 QB rating

Unfortunately, the numbers tell the tale. Brady has been sensational in day games, but rather pedestrian in night games like he was on Monday night, completing 26-of-48 passes (54.6 percent) for 216 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. And Brady hasn’t received much help from his teammates, either.

Bucs WR Mike Evans

Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: USA Today

In four prime time games this year the Bucs have failed to have a 100-yard receiver in any of those contests, and Tampa Bay has had just one 100-yard rushing performance (Ronald Jones II’s 106 yards at Chicago). Brady has been sacked nine times in four prime time games, but only six times in seven daytime games.

For whatever reason, Brady’s downfield accuracy has taken a nose dive since the Bucs’ 45-20 win at Las Vegas. He was 1-of-9 on deep passes in which the ball traveled 15 yards or more on Monday night,, and both of his interceptions came on deep balls.

“We’ll study it,” Brady said. “Again, we’ve had some chances – definitely. The receivers are doing a great job and I’ve got to get them the ball. Got to figure out how to do that.”

On defense, the Bucs have recorded just five interceptions, including two against the Rams, in four prime time games, and produced only seven sacks, averaging less than two sacks per game at night. Tampa Bay failed to get to L.A. quarterback Jared Goff on Monday night, as he got rid of the ball quickly with a short, rhythmic passing game that carved up Todd Bowles’ soft zone defense and beat the Bucs when Bowles deployed man coverage.

Dating back to last year, Tampa Bay is just 2-3 in prime time games under head coach Bruce Arians, and Arians put an extra emphasis on practicing at night at Raymond James Stadium last week to help the team prepare for playing in prime time after a 38-3 beatdown at the hands of the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football three weeks ago. While the Bucs played better on Monday night, it wasn’t good enough, as Brady’s second interception came on a poor read in that he didn’t see safety Jordan Fuller for a second time and threw a costly interception that sealed the Rams’ win with 1:49 left in regulation.

“I thought [offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich] called a good ballgame,” Arians said. “We just have to execute better. When guys are open, we have to hit them and we can’t misread coverage. We have to protect a little bit better when we do have guys deep and let [Brady] hit that guy instead of having that pressure that cost us an interception. As a collective, everybody has got to play better.”

Bucs QB Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today

It was the second time that Brady blew a potential game-winning drive at the end of a prime time game, the other occurring in Chicago in a 20-19 loss in which he appeared to forget it was fourth down on Thursday Night Football. In both instances, Brady was looking downfield for a well-covered Cameron Brate. In Monday night’s loss, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich had deployed Brate, who is certainly not fleet of foot, on a vertical route, which was a curious play call at best.

“Just a bad read,” Brady said. “Cam was running up a seam and at the last second I saw the safety coming over and just popped it over Cam’s head. Just a bad read, a bad throw, decision – everything. Can’t happen.”

Brady is having a fine individual season with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions with 2,955 yards and a 64.7 percent completion percentage. At this time last year, Jameis Winston had 22 touchdowns and 20 interceptions through 11 games by comparison.

But the Bucs didn’t lure Brady to Tampa Bay to just win afternoon games. After all, that’s when most NFL postseason games are played, including the Super Bowl, and the 7-4 Bucs have had playoff aspirations since training camp. Tampa Bay signed Brady to help the team fare better in prime time and the league awarded the team a franchise-high five prime time games because of Brady’s superstar status, but that hasn’t happened.

Thankfully for the Bucs, they are hosting the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday for a 4:25 p.m. start, and the rest of the team’s are scheduled for afternoon kickoffs at 1:00 p.m. with the exception of the Detroit game in late December, which could get flexed to Saturday.

STATEMENT 2: Bucs Makeshift O-Line Performed Well vs. Rams

Tampa Bay’s offensive line didn’t play as well it did in last week’s 46-23 win at Carolina where the Bucs rushed for over 200 yards and Brady was only sacked once, but it did a formidable job against Rams All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Los Angeles’ dangerous front four. Donald came into the game with a league-high 32 pressures and nine sacks and the makeshift interior that once again featured Ryan Jensen at left guard in place of Ali Marpet, who missed this third straight game with a concussion, and A.Q. Shipley at center did a great job against the six-time Pro Bowler, keeping Donald off the stat sheet entirely without a tackle, a sack or a QB pressure.

While Donald got his first win over Brady, he has yet to sack him. Tampa Bay left tackle Donovan Smith, who played through an ankle sprain he suffered on the game’s first play, gave up the team’s only sack, which was to edge rusher Samson Ebukam. The Bucs hope Marpet can return for Sunday’s game against 9-1 Kansas City, but after participating fully in practice on Thursday, Marpet suffered a setback with concussion symptoms and missed Friday’s practice and was ruled out on Sunday – a full day before the game on Monday night.

2 PROBING QUESTIONS

QUESTION 1: How Bad Did This Loss Hurt The Bucs’ Playoff Chances?

Not much, really. Why? Because the Vikings and Lions – two other teams in playoff contention at 4-6 – lost on Sunday, while the 5-5 Bears and the 4-6 49ers each had a bye week. None of those four teams gained ground on the 7-4 Buccaneers, who currently have a two-win lead over the Bears, and a three-win lead over the others.

After the loss on Monday night, head coach Bruce Arians noted the team’s margin for error was slim the rest of the season.

“Very slim,” Arians said. “This was a big one and the next one’s even bigger, so I think each and every one is going to be huge the whole rest of the way.”

The loss on Monday night caused the Bucs to slide down to the No. 6 seed, which is the second wild card team ahead of the 6-4 Cardinals, while the 7-3 Rams moved all the way up from the sixth seed to the No. 2 spot in the NFC playoff picture as the current NFC West lead. Los Angeles has the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over 7-3 Seattle, which is the current No. 5 seed.

Bucs QB Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Getty Images

Given how top-heavy the NFC is this year, the Bucs would probably make the playoffs at 10-6, which would mean they could afford to go 3-2 down the stretch and still get in as the No. 7 seed for the final playoff spot. Yet going 4-1 over the last five games would allow the Bucs to finish 11-5 on the season, and that’s essentially a guaranteed playoff spot in the NFC this year unless 5-5 Chicago, which has a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Tampa Bay, wins out, which is unlikely with two games against Green Bay on the schedule.

If the playoffs started today, the No. 3 Packers would host the No. 6 Buccaneers in a rematch from earlier this season when Tampa Bay trounced Green Bay, 38-10. In the new seven-team playoff format in 2020, only the No. 1 seed – in this case 8-2 New Orleans – would get a bye week.

Click here for a look at the entire NFC playoff picture.

QUESTION 2: Do The Bucs Have A Playoff-Caliber Defense?

Sort of. The Bucs defense looks good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to stay around very long in the postseason if it keeps playing the way it has over the last few weeks. Tampa Bay’s defense failed to sack Rams quarterback Jared Goff, although it did pick him off twice. Yet Goff, who completed 84 percent of his passes in the first half, finished with 376 yards passing and three touchdowns and helped both Cooper Kupp (11 catches, 145 yards) and Robert Woods (12 catches for 130 yards, one touchdown) go over the century mark against the Bucs defense.

Rams WR Cooper Kupp and Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr.

Rams WR Cooper Kupp and Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: USA Today

Bucs outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett was invisible most of the night, collecting just four tackles in the run game, while outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, who leads Tampa Bay with 7.5 sacks, played better than Barrett with six tackles and a key interception in the third quarter, but he too failed to get to Goff.

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles blitzed Goff a fair amount, but didn’t play press-man on the back end and often resorted to playing soft zone coverage, which made it easy for Goff to find open receivers and move the chains as the Rams amassed 413 yards of offense and scored 27 points. Sure, the league’s No. 1 ranked rushing defense held Los Angeles to just 37 yards on 20 carries (1.9 avg.), but who cares when the Rams’ game plan was for Goff to throw underneath and let his receivers pick up yards after the catch?

Cornerback Jamel Dean, who appeared to suffer a concussion in the third quarter, should have played press-man coverage on Van Jefferson’s 7-yard touchdown catch on a slant in the second quarter. Dean should have lined up with inside leverage to take away the slant and jammed Jefferson at the line, re-routing him outside where he could have used the sideline in the end zone as an extra defender and forced Goff to make a more difficult pass on a back shoulder throw or a fade.

Bowles’ penchant for playing zone coverage and not having his cornerbacks jam at the line of scrimmage is a recipe for disaster in the playoffs against great quarterbacks. That, combined with a fading Tampa Bay pass rush that has generated just seven sacks in the last four games is becoming a real problem.

Rams QB Jared Goff

Rams QB Jared Goff – Photo by: USA Today

“When he held on to it to throw it further down the field, we did a really good job,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “But, that offense is designed to get it out quick and they did a good job. They hit us on that screen pass right before the half – [those were] big, big points.”

With 19 seconds left before halftime and the score tied at 14-14, Bowles brought a blitz on first-and-10 from the Rams’ 45-yard line. Goff hit Woods with a screen pass and eluded a host of Tampa Bay defenders for a 35-yard gain down to the Bucs’ 20-yard line. Goff spiked the ball with one second left and former Bucs kicker Matt Gay hit a 38-yard field goal to give the Rams a 17-14 lead at halftime. That was a huge play, as after Monday night’s win L.A. head coach Sean McVay is now 32-0 when the Rams lead at halftime.

2 BOLD PREDICTIONS

PREDICTION 1: Brady Overtakes Brees As NFL’s Top TD Passer – For Good

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady overtook New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees on the all-time passing touchdown list on Monday Night Football. Brady tied Brees with his 565th career touchdown when he hit Mike Evans for a 9-yard score in the first half and then surpassed Brees with a 13-yard TD to Chris Godwin for No. 566. Evans and Godwin both made exceptional plays to get the ball in the end zone.

Bucs WR Chris Godwin and QB Tom Brady

Bucs WR Chris Godwin and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Brees, who has 11 broken ribs and is on injured reserve, which means he’s out at least three weeks, is likely out for the rest of the regular season, although he and the Saints hope he can return by mid-December. Brees, who turns 42 in January, signed a one-year deal with the Saints and will likely retire in the offseason, as his arm strength has diminished and New Orleans’ salary cap situation is a grim mess in 2021. If Brees is indeed done, the all-time passing touchdown record is Brady’s to keep.

Brees still has the lead over Brady in the all-time yardage list with 79,612 yards compared to Brady’s 77,526 yards. If Brady averages 250 yards per game through the rest of the year (1,250 yards) and Brees doesn’t return in the regular season, he’ll cut Brees’ lead to 836 yards and would pass him early in the 2021 season if Brees retires.

PREDICTION 2: Bucs Will Draft A Pass-Catching RB In 2021

Tampa Bay spent a third-round pick on running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn in April, but don’t be surprised to see the team draft another running back – a pass-catching running back – in 2021. Leonard Fournette had three drops on Monday night, while Ronald Jones II had a drop on a screen pass. The drop was Jones’ fifth of the year, according to Pro Football Focus, and Fournette’s three drops on Monday night gave him eight for the year.

Mississippi State RB Kylin Hill

Mississippi State RB Kylin Hill – Photo by: USA Today

It’s doubtful that Fournette will return in 2021, and LeSean McCoy, who will be 33 next year, definitely won’t be back. The Bucs likely won’t draft a running back in the first round, which is where two really good pass-catchers like Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Alabama’s Najee Harris will be drafted. There are a couple of mid-round running backs that can catch the ball like North Carolina’s duo of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, in addition to Memphis’ Kenneth Gainwell and Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill. Carter and Hill are seniors, while Williams is a junior and Gainwell is a redshirt sophomore.

With Tom Brady favoring the running backs in the passing game dating back to his days in New England, it’s a crime that the Bucs do not have a reliable pass-catching back to catch checkdown passes and get positive yardage. That will change next April.