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 lost its much-anticipated 2020 season opener at New Orleans, 34-23, with the Saints showing why they are the three-time defending NFC South champions. Even with Tom Brady, the Bucs still found ways to beat themselves, losing the turnover battle 3-0, including two interceptions from Tampa Bay’s new quarterback.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Even With Brady, Bucs Still Beat Themselves
Good football teams don’t beat themselves. Tampa Bay has yet to become a good football team.
The Bucs, who have been quite a bad football for the better part of the last dozen years, could teach a masterclass on how a team can beat itself. They’ve mastered that art over the last decade with turnovers and penalties – leading the NFL in both categories last year. Even with six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady at the helm – this Bucs team continues to be its own worst enemy at the start of the 2020 season.
The Bucs had nine penalties for 103 yards, and lost the turnover battle to the Saints, 3-0, and that showed up in a big way in Tampa Bay’s 34-23 loss at New Orleans. Brady was signed by the Bucs to have fewer turnovers than Jameis Winston, who is now the Saints’ third-string quarterback, but Brady threw two costly interceptions, including a pick-six that cornerback Janoris Jenkins returned 36 yards to give New Orleans a commanding 24-7 lead in the third quarter.
“Very disappointing,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “I would never have thought with the we practiced for the last two weeks – would have never thought I’d see us have that many penalties, turnovers and just basic mental errors that really cost this one when we got back in the game with the coverage.”
Throw in the fact that the Bucs saw Ryan Succop’s first field goal attempt get blocked when right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle Tristan Wirfs got overwhelmed, and safety Mike Edwards made a costly gaffe by attempting to field a pooched onside kick attempt by New Orleans in the fourth quarter. Edwards collided with return specialist Jaydon Mickens and the Saints recovered the kick and wound up scoring a field goal to increase their lead to 34-17 with 8:05 remaining.
“I didn’t see any of that coming,” Arians said. “We practiced all that stuff. We had poor protection up the middle on the long field goal [and they] had good timing and [Ryan Succop] hit it good, we just got beat inside. Then, you never go backwards for a football. You learn that shit in high school. Mike Edwards decided to go backwards for a ball. It’s another thing you practice and you never anticipate guys doing it in the heat of the battle.”
Brady started off the game hot, scoring a 2-yard touchdown on a QB sneak to give the Bucs an early 7-0 lead, but cooled off and finished with 239 yards on 23-of-36 passing (63.8 percent) with touchdown passes to tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Mike Evans, along with two bad interceptions. Chris Godwin (six catches, 79 yards) and Scotty Miller (five catches, 73 yards) led the way for Tampa Bay’s passing game, while Ronald Jones II rushed for just 66 yards on 17 carries (3.9 avg.).
Tampa Bay’s offense didn’t get much from its newcomers, as running back Leonard Fournette was held to five yards on five carries, and had one catch for 14 yards, while LeSean McCoy had one catch for two yards. Tight end Rob Gronkowski had two catches for 11 yards.
Brady was hard on himself and his performance after the game.
“Obviously, they made more plays than we did and I just made some bad, terrible turnovers and it’s hard to win turning the ball over like that,” Brady said. “I obviously have to do a lot better job.
“They were bad throws. When it comes down to it they were just bad throws – can’t do it.”
Arians didn’t pull any punches when it came to Brady’s miscues.
“One was a miscommunication between he and Mike,” Arians said. “He thought Mike was going down the middle – it was a different coverage – Mike read it right. He should have been across his face, but Tom overthrew it. The other one was a screen pass with an outlet called. He threw the outlet and it was a pick-six. Bad decision.”
Yet Brady and the Bucs battled back in the third quarter to draw to with seven points, 24-17, until cornerback Jamel Dean lost his focus in coverage and allowed tight end Jared Cook to haul in a 46-yard catch down to the Tampa Bay 15-yard line. Four plays later, Drew Brees threw his second touchdown pass of the game, a 5-yard strike to Emanuel Sanders, to put the Saints in control, 31-17.
“I thought our second-half defense was outstanding other than the one busted coverage when we let Cook catch the ball down the sideline,” Arians said of the Bucs defense, which held the Saints to 271 yards of total offense. “Other than that, I thought it was really, really [good] in the second half.”
But the Bucs haven’t learned how to play consistently well for all four quarters, and they haven’t learned how to stop beating themselves – much to Arians’ chagrin.
“There’s no doubt,” Arians said. “It’s my job to make that stop. I thought we had it fixed. Obviously, I didn’t do a very good job of getting it fixed.
“The Saints didn’t do some of the things we did to ourselves, so we have to play better.”
STATEMENT 2. Bucs DTs Are No-Shows In New Orleans
The Bucs are paying defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh $8 million this year, and the team has a first-round draft pick invested in nose tackle Vita Vea, but neither high profile defender did anything to impress in Tampa Bay’s 34-23 loss at New Orleans in Week 1. Suh and Vea were virtually invisible, as each had one assisted tackle and committed a neutral zone infraction to start of the 2020 season. Vea’s was egregious, as it came on a key fourth-and-2 situation at the Tampa Bay 47-yard line that gave the Saints a cheap first down late in the second quarter.
New Orleans wasn’t likely to run a play on fourth-and-2, and was hoping to cause Tampa Bay to jump offside. Vea proved to be the willing accomplice, and the Saints marched down to connect on a field goal right before halftime to increase their lead to 17-7. Nose tackles, especially those in a 3-4 defense that are lined up directly over the center, should watch the ball and never jump offside.
“That’s the most disappointing thing – the way we played, the mental errors and the penalties,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “We practice fourth-and-short [and] never jump offside 100 times. Actually, guys were telling each other, ‘Don’t jump offsides,’ and we jump offsides. That’s unexplainable to me. We’ve got a lot of things to correct.”
Part of the job of Tampa Bay’s defensive tackles is to free up the Bucs’ inside linebackers to make tackles, so neither Vea nor Suh will ever really light up the stats sheet. And it should be noted that both Lavonte David and Devin White each had 11 tackles.
Yet Suh and Vea are capable of playing far better and making at least some impact plays, and neither did that on Sunday in New Orleans. Meanwhile, defensive end Will Gholston was way more impactful, finishing with seven tackles and two tackles for loss.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Is LT Smith Going To Play This Bad All Season?
Left tackle Donovan Smith had a pretty good training camp and reported to camp this summer in very good shape. But that didn’t matter on Sunday in New Orleans as Smith had an absolutely awful second quarter, allowing penetration by defensive end Cameron Jordan on a Leonard Fournette run that resulted in a loss. He also allowed a sack by Trey Hendrickson on one play, and then almost surrendered another sack as Brady was hit from behind and flagged for intentional grounding. It should be noted that Smith was partially run into by Scotty Miller on the Hendrickson sack, on what was a broken play all-around. Smith also surrendered a sack-fumble in the second half to Carl Granderson.
If the Bucs offense is going to be able to match up with other high-powered offenses like New Orleans, and if the 43-year old Brady is going to stay healthy this season Smith will have to play much, much better. Smith surrendered two of the Bucs’ three sacks in New Orleans, and Brady was hit a total of six times in the game. For a player entering his last season of guaranteed money, Smith will have to play a lot better over the next 15 weeks if the Bucs are going to make a run at the playoffs – and if Smith is going to remain in Tampa Bay beyond 2020.
QUESTION 2: What Does This Loss Mean For The Bucs?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The Saints are coming off back-to-back 13-3 seasons and are the three-time defending NFC South champions for a reason. They’re really good, and still better than the Buccaneers – right now.
Tampa Bay still has another chance at New Orleans, and Carolina and Atlanta also lost in Week 1. There are still 15 games left in the season, and although the Saints have the division lead thanks to their win on opening day, things can change in a hurry. The Bucs are far from a finished product and will get better as the season progresses.
Remember that Tampa Bay lost its season opener to New Orleans at home in Jon Gruden’s first game as head coach in 2002 and still went 12-4, and won the division en route to winning Super Bowl XXXVII.
Winning or losing Week 1 hasn’t been any type of harbinger for the Bucs in recent years. Tampa Bay won its season opener in 2016 and finished 9-7, but failed to make the playoffs in Dirk Koetter’s first season. The Bucs also prevailed in their season openers in the next two years and finished with a pair of 5-11 records.
2016: 31-24 win at Atlanta – 9-7 record
2017: 29-7 win vs. Chicago – 5-11 record
2018: 48-40 win at New Orleans – 5-11 record
2019: 31-17 loss vs. San Francisco – 7-9 record
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Evans Has A Bounce-Back Day At Ray-Jay
Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans was a game-time decision due to a hamstring injury that caused him to miss three practices last week, but was able to fight through it and play the entire game, which was encouraging. Yet Evans was held to just one catch, which was a 2-yard touchdown late in the game that closed the score to 34-23, but he did draw two big pass interference penalties.
“To me he had 100 [receiving] yards,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “You get that many pass interference calls – those are yards. They’re not catches [and] they don’t go in the stats, but he had a 100-yard game easily with just pass interference penalties. He’s going to catch those balls if you they don’t hang all over him. I don’t think Mike was bothered that much. We tried watching him as much as we could.”
Actually, the two pass interference calls were a 22-yarder on cornerback Marshon Lattimore, and a 45-yarder on safety Marcus Williams, and totaled just 67 yards. However, if Lattimore’s 15-yard personal foul for shoving Evans in the back is added it, that pushes the amount of penalty yardage Evans drew to 82 yards.
Evans scored his 49th career touchdown reception, which was the third-most in the league since he was drafted in the first round in 2014. Evans caught the 543rd career touchdown pass for Tom Brady, and became his 79th different touchdown target, which was the most in NFL history.
Look for Evans to have a bounce-back performance against a young Carolina secondary that lost top cover corner James Bradberry in free agency and starts two rookies in safety Jeremy Chinn and cornerback Tony Pride. The Panthers surrendered 239 yards and one touchdown to Las Vegas’ Derek Carr and didn’t record any interceptions in a 34-30 loss in Week 1. Look for Evans to go off for 100 real yards next Sunday.
PREDICTION 2: Bucs Beat The Panthers Next Week
Neither Las Vegas nor Carolina looked great in their Week 1 showdown, which saw the Raiders beat the Panthers in Charlotte, 34-30. The Bucs will rebound from a sloppy effort in New Orleans and record their first win of the season against the Panthers at Raymond James Stadium in the team’s home opener to move to 1-1 on the season and 1-1 in the NFC South.