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 boo birds came out in Tampa Bay after the Bucs offense was inconsistent against Carolina and mustered up just three points in a 17-3 loss at home to Carolina. The Bucs are now 2-5 and what was once a bright, promising season in Tampa Bay is quickly fading to darkness.

TWO BIG STATEMENTS

STATEMENT 1: First Half Scoring Is Dooming The Bucs
I brought up this statistic last week, but it’s become a running narrative, unfortunately, so here it is again. The lack of first-half points from the offense is dooming the Buccaneers.

Bucs’ First Half / Second Half Points

Week 2 vs. Bears – 20 / 3 = 29-7 win (defense scored 6 points)

Week 3 at Vikings – 3 / 14 = 34-17 loss

Week 4 vs. NY Giants – 16 / 9 = 25-23 win

Week 5 vs. New England – 7 / 7 = 19-14 loss

Week 6 at Arizona – 0 / 33 = 38-33 loss

Week 7 at Buffalo – 6 / 21 = 30-27 loss
Week 8 vs. Carolina – 0 / 3 = 17-3 loss

For the second time in three weeks, Tampa Bay’s offense scored zero points in the first half of the game and trailed at halftime. This Sunday, the Bucs trailed the Panthers 10-0 and had just 111 yards of offense at halftime, which was the worst half of offensive production this season. A 41-yard field goal by Pat Murray gave Tampa Bay its first points of the game with 4:49 left in the third quarter.

Tampa Bay is only averaging seven points per game in the first half this season, and has only had two halftime leads, which came in both of the Bucs’ wins this year. Yet the last two games Tampa Bay’s offense came to life in the second half as Jameis Winston and Co. scored 27 points last week in a 30-27 loss to Buffalo and backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick helped fuel the Bucs to 33 second half points in a 38-33 loss at Arizona.

Unfortunately for Tampa Bay that second half rally didn’t come against a stingy Carolina defense on Sunday like most expected. After the game, Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans, who had a couple of dropped passes in addition to catching five passes for 60 yards.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“I honestly don’t know, but I know we’ve got to pick that it up soon or the season is going to be gone. What are we, 2-5 right now? We’ve got more than half the season left, so we’ve got to pick this [expletive] up right away. We’ve got to pick it up soon if we [want to] have a chance to reach our goal.”

Tampa Bay only got inside the Carolina red zone one for one play on Sunday, which came at the Panthers’ 19-yard line with 2:54 remaining in the game. Winston was sacked on the next play back at the 28-yard line.

Having just one play inside an opponents’ red zone is simply inexcusable. The offensive line played its worst game of the season, as did Winston, who completed 21-of-38 passes for 210 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions.

“It was self-inflicted wounds,” Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson said. “We moved the ball a little bit and then we get a holding call. We’d get in field goal range and then another holding or a false start. We just had too many self-inflicted wounds, and that’s a good defense. We just can’t beat ourselves. Our defense played amazing. They played well enough to win a football game, we just beat ourselves – that was most of the problem.”

STATEMENT 2: Young Bucs DBs All Showed Up
If you are looking for a positive in Tampa Bay’s 17-3 loss to Carolina, look no further than the Bucs’ much-maligned secondary. Playing without starting veteran cornerbacks Brent Grimes (shoulder) and Robert McClain (concussion), the Bucs started three second-year players in Vernon Hargreaves III, Ryan Smith and Javien Elliott, who had 29 combined starts between them.

Hargreaves and Smith struggled mightily in Minnesota in Week 3 the last time Tampa Bay started that tandem, but both young cornerbacks showed much improvement on Sunday against the Panthers. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton completed just 18-of-32 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown with one interception. His longest completion of the game was just 25 yards thanks to the play of Hargreaves, Smith and Elliott.

Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

“Vern played great today,” said Tampa Bay safety T.J. Ward. “I saw him have his hand in there a bunch of times today. It was great to see him bounce back from a few tough weeks. I know how that is as a player. Sometimes you get down on yourself and start questioning your own ability. You just have to snap out of it. I tried to let him know, ‘Hey, you can be a great corner in this league. You just have to focus and pay attention to details.’ If you just have that ultimate confidence you will be all right.

“He showed up great and Smitty came in and played great. He had a couple pass break ups and some great tackles. Those two young guys came in when their name was called and answered.”

Hargreaves and Smith each had six tackles and two pass breakups. Smith’s best play was a pass breakup on a deep throw to Curtis Samuel that could have been a touchdown with two minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Kelvin Benjamin was targeted seven times but held to just three catches for 39 yards. He scored a touchdown on rookie safety Justin Evans, but not Hargreaves or Smith. Samuel was limited to just two catches for 15 yards, and Devon Funchess was held to just two catches for 11 yards.

Now can Hargreaves and Smith build off this performance and ascend from here?

TWO PROBING QUESTIONS

QUESTION 1: Is This The Downward Spiral For The 2017 Bucs?
Unfortunately, yes. The Bucs have now lost four straight games after a 2-1 start and sit squarely at 2-5 and three full games back from the Saints, who they face next week in New Orleans. Tampa Bay essentially has to run the table or at least go 7-2 down the stretch to have a shot at the playoffs.

After the game I went to the most honest player in the locker room, Tampa Bay right tackle Demar Dotson, who is also the longest tenured Buccaneer, for his take on this team. For too many years, Dotson has seen a slow start turn into a double-digit losing season.

“We’ve got to start winning,” Dotson said. “That’s the only thing that’s going to change it. I’ve seen a lot of 2-5 seasons go south with guys just starting to give up because they might see New Orleans is 5-2 and Carolina is 5-3 and Atlanta is [4-3]. You start looking like there is no hope and you start giving up on the season. I’ve been here a lot of years and guys fought, but internally, guys had given if. If guys allow that to start happening internally, you’re going to start losing football games. You’re going to go from a 2-5 football team to a 4-12 or 6-10 team and it’s going to be a waste of a talented team. That’s what I’ve seen from years before. They still came to practice and practiced hard, and still looked like they competed, but internally, the guys were already given up and were looking forward to the season being over.”

Bucs RT Demar Dotson - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs RT Demar Dotson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

I asked Dotson if he thinks that happen this year in Tampa Bay.

“It falls on the guy – the individual guy,” Dotson said. “You can’t make a guy do it. It has to come from inside the guy. You have to think positive, keep fighting and keep digging. Let’s go a little harder. A lot of guys say stuff with their mouth, but it doesn’t always show up on the inside. It falls on each individual guy and you have to have a collective group of guys that is willing to fight and dig out of this ditch.”

I asked Dotson if the Bucs have enough fighters in the locker room?

“We’re going to find out,” Dotson said. “In years past you just find out. In three or four games from now, we’ll know what kind of guys we have. If not, this season is over if we don’t have guys that are going to dig ourselves out of this ditch. It’s over.”

Like it or not, Dotson is right. We’ll see what type of character the Bucs players have in their locker room down the stretch.

QUESTION 2: How Did Vegas Get It Right?
Many Bucs fans – and some “supposed Bucs experts” that cover the team for a living (like me) – scoffed at the fact that the oddsmakers in Las Vegas initially put the Bucs’ projected win total at eight. How in the world would Tampa Bay go 8-8 after finishing 9-7 a year ago and adding key pieces like wide receiver DeSean Jackson, defensive tackle Chris Baker and tight end O.J. Howard in the offseason?

Well, as of right now Vegas is looking good – or at least more realistic than PewterReport.com’s prediction of 10-6 for Tampa Bay. Plenty of other media members predicted 10-6 or at least 9-7.

So how did the Vegas oddsmakers get it right? I could spend some time explaining their formula to you, or I could just link this a very well-researched article from Tampa Bay Times’ Tom Bassinger that gets to the bottom of it. Very interesting stuff and well worth your read.

Even though I’m in my 24th year of covering this team I’m still learning new things. I’ll be more cautious in my future predictions surrounding this Buccaneers team. I’m getting tired of fooling myself – and you, the die-hard Bucs fan and PewterReport.com reader – with this team that has continued to underachieve at times over the past decade.

TWO BOLD PREDICTIONS

PREDICTION 1: Bucs’ Losing Streak Continues In New Orleans
After seven games I still can’t figure out what the Bucs’ identity is on offense. Can you? On Sunday it seemed as if Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter was simply grasping at straws with his play-calling as very little seemed to be working. He says he wants to be a run-first, play-action offense, but the Bucs don’t run the ball well enough to truly do that.

Bucs LT Donovan Smith - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

On one series they come out in a three tight-end look, and then the Bucs will go five-wide with an empty backfield on the next series. It just doesn’t seem like Koetter and the offense have bread-and-butter plays – plays that are the Bucs’ “go-to” plays.

Because of that, and the defense’s inability to apply pressure on the quarterback and play well on the road, I can’t see the Bucs winning in New Orleans. Not with the Saints playing so well and leading the division. Tampa Bay will lose its fifth straight game of the season, unfortunately.

PREDICTION 2: The Gruden Chatter Will Start To Heat Up
I’m going to get criticized by some for even bringing up Jon Gruden’s name with the Bucs mired in a 2-5 start to the 2017 season, but the reality is that I’m not the only one in Tampa Bay that is thinking that Gruden could be a viable option to replace Dirk Koetter if the Glazers want to make a change at the end of the year. That idea is totally plausible, so don’t kill the messenger.

I’m not suggesting that will happen, nor am I calling for that to happen right now. All I’m saying is that the chatter will grow on Twitter, on Facebook and on sports radio as the losses pile up in Tampa Bay. I don’t know if the Glazers would consider bringing “Chucky” back for another run with the Bucs, or whether that’s even a good idea. But just like Vols fans have been clamoring for Gruden in Tennessee for years, long-suffering Bucs fans will begin to clamor for the return of the last coach to take their team to the playoffs. It’s only natural for folks to harken back to the good ol’ days of yesteryear – when the Bucs were winners and playoff contenders.

 

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Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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: [email protected]

27 COMMENTS

  1. This Season has spiraled out of Control. It isn’t impossible to end on a decent note, but I think any talk of going to the playoffs is over. We cannot stop anyone, and we now cannot score. Once again there are so many holes on this Team, that a single draft or Free Agent haul will not be enough. We need A defensive line, and we need Corners and We need an Offensive line and a Running back.

  2. Vegas got it right because they look purely at data, the very best beat writers are only right ~55% average is less than 50% mainly because of their personal biases. It’s human nature, but gut instincts don’t fair well when compared with good objective data. Plus the odds makers get paid for their prediction, sports writers get paid to effectively make people feel good with their predictions and explain what happened after the fact.

    As for the death spiral, I don’t know about the team but as fan I’ve seen enough to write this season off. I think the players body language says the same thing. The first step to winning is believing you can win, this team doesn’t believe right now.

    I personally think Chucky would be a huge improvement for the team. No disputing he’s a better coach and play caller. Can he get instant results maybe maybe not. I think a lot of that would hinge of the DC, Smith has to go regardless if we get a new HC or not. We got lucky and the end of last year and outside of that padding Smith has been a complete failure. Their are 31 teams in the NFL with a better defense and I would say DC as well.

    • I don’t believe Gruden is the answer. Other than the Super Bowl; it was a yo-yo Affair after that. You just gave all the reasons before you made that statement which I thought was very valid; that’s why I was confused when you said Gruden would make a difference.

        • Not sure how long you’ve been a Bucs fan, but Gruden and his puppet GM Bruce Allen had some HORRIBLE drafts after the Super Bowl and some dud free acquisitions. Gruden despised grooming young QB’s and preferred building and rebuilding roster via free agency over the college draft……I doubt the Glazers would go back to that again.

          Everyone’s favorite whipping boy these days is Jason Licht for drafting a head case Kicker in Round 2, but I bet they forgot it was Chucky and Bruce Allen that drafted Gaines Adams Round 1 (number 4 overall), Sabby Piscitelli in 2nd round, and WR Dexter Jackson (2nd round). Those wasted picks still haunt us….I say keep Gruden at ESPN/ABC and not give up just yet on our GM and head coach. The bandwagon is thinning out for sure, but I will be watching & cheering for all 16 games. Go Bucs!

          • The horrible drafts were not Gruden’s fault. He didn’t set the terms that Glazer did to give up first and second round draft picks in two successive seasons in order to get Gruden. The pick of Cadillac Williams wasn’t a bad pick – nobody can predict injuries, it’s all the luck of the draw.

            And the bottom line is Gruden gave us the only Super Bowl ring in franchise history, and three division championships, and three playoff trips, and four winning seasons in 7 years. Since then, zero playoffs, and zero division championships, in ten seasons.

            Give us those playoff appearances.

  3. We’ve had 11 out of the last 14 years of misery since the Super Bowl. When will the Buccaneer organization listen to their fans.
    Everything starts with the defensive and offensive line; draft high and often for those positions and everything else will be easier.
    Go Bucs!

  4. The Bucs are an Enigma!

    e·nig·ma
    noun
    a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.
    synonyms: mystery, puzzle, riddle, conundrum, paradox, problem, quandary

    Just when I think the GM has drafted poorly or the coaches can’t call plays or the defense can’t stop the run or the secondary can’t break up a pass or its run fits or poor tackling, some other anomaly pops out of the cake. I am at a loss to exactly put my finger on the problem. I approach each game now wondering where is the devil in the details?

    What is our identity? Offensive juggernaut? Defensive stalwart? I can’t tell from week to week. I am not going to bash my team every week for some different reason – that’s bordering on neurosis. Perhaps I got mislead or I allowed myself to set unrealistic expectations for this season. Either way, this not what I expected. But I’m not giving up – on this matter I’m indefatigable (looked that one up. lol). This is my team, hook or crook we’ll get this sorted out. There has got to be better days ahead! Go Bucs!

    • Macabee, I too feel like we’re on a roller coaster. Since Jay Glazer confirmed Winston has a small tear in his shoulder, I say give it one more game ; if we don’t win put him on IR and bring Griffin off IR. This way Jameis will have a couple extra months to help in his recovery process, especially since it’s his throwing arm.

    • Yes @macabee, I find that too. Each time I think the issue is the offense, they score 30+, then I think it’s the defense and they hold CAR under 20, then I think it’s the kicker, then the coaches, then the fans, then the media, then the stadium, then the weather….

      In reality, the NFL is called the league of parity for a reason…even the Jets are winning games, and the Raiders are losing them. The difference each week is all of the things I listed….and none of them. One key difference is making mistakes…one play at a time…and we make way too many mistakes.

      On Sunday (the big mistakes) I counted:
      1) whatever Justin Evans did on Benjamin’s TD (yuk!). That’s not what he was taught to do – he was there and just ran behind Benjamin to… catch his fall?. Killer TD.
      2) Winston’s fumble. Not what he was taught to do under pressure. Just take the sack.
      3) Sweezy trips over Dotson, whiffing on the blitzer who knocks the ball on Winston’s lame-duck INT. Maybe bad luck, but maybe Sweezy should have been out of there earlier and square to the pass rush.
      4) Winston’s pick right into the hands of Keuchley….Brate didn’t help either – does Gronk let LBs take the ball from him.
      5) dropped passes (Evans had 2). Third down efficiency was atrocious, and that’s drive killing.
      6) Winston’s sack on 3rd down pushing us out of field goal range. Never take a sack in that situation.

      These are the mistakes that the Pats never make. They get beat too, but rarely with a litany of mistakes like we make game in and game out. Each one of those mistakes (apart from 3rd down efficiency, which may well have indirectly resulted in the same) I listed led to a turnover (potential points we didn’t get) and/or points against.

      We simply make too mistakes (I could make a similar list of key mistakes in all of our losses). Why? Why indeed? Why did Evans not go knock the ball down; why did Winston not just eat the sack; why did Sweezy not get to the pass rush? That’s the $64,000 question I suppose. But in the league of parity, it doesn’t take many mistakes to lose the game.

  5. Fair article all around but, for the life of me, I have no idea how we’ve gone from “Gruden looks like he wants to coach again” to “Gruden could be a viable option to replace Dirk Koetter if the Glazers want to make a change”. It just seems too much on the speculation side right now.

  6. I’m glad you plan to be more cautious in your predictions for the Bucs SR. It’s long overdue.

    As for Gruden, I am adamantly against bringing him back for the reasons I gave in the first article released after the game. But hey, what do I know. When have things ever gone the way I say they will when it comes to the Bucs, particularly their players.

  7. Funny you should mention Frost from UCF Scott. Both are sons went there, and we are huge fans. We were so tired of watching the old coaches boring offenses, and now he’s made the games so exciting. We know we’re going to lose him to a better opportunity, I would love it if it were the Bucs. He’s also close to Tony Dungy, who he got to know from his son going to Oregon. That said, I think the Glazers will be looking for a proven NFL winner, and who better then our own Gruden. Others will bring up his past failures here, but I think he could be better then before if he learned from his past mistakes. Some say he’s been out of football to long, but in reality he’s seen more covering the whole NFL, and preparing for his draft coverage then he probably ever has before. Saw a lot of empty seats today, and good seats vacated much sooner then they ever should be. We all knew it was over at the half, and with 9 games to go the season is toast already. This is a bottom line business, keeping Koetter won’t help ticket sales. I believe the Glazers have been laying the ground work for Grudens return in case Koetter failed. The olive branch has already been excepted by Jon,he’s going in the ring of honor, and as soon as December will be given a standing ovation during half time on MNF right here in Ray Jay, in his home town. Who says you can never go home? In Jon’s case, he never really left.

  8. Agree. 9 years watching every team in the NFL. That has to be helpful. I will keep saying it. Derrick Brooks GM. Offensive and Defiensive minds in the top jobs. If it works out it could last 10 to 15 years. The Bears are looking at Gruden. We better get him before they do.

  9. Dirk Koetter is doing what would be expected from him
    Can someone explain why Bucs front office hired a coach who was the last place in the division both years as offence coordinator 2014,2015 for Bucs?
    Why would anyone expect the Bucs to not be in the last place in the division this year!
    Normally teams hire for the head coach a guy who showed how to win playoff games and super bowls as offence coordinator.
    Someone once said it was because he had good relations with 21-year-old rookie QB Jamies.
    Come to think of it Lovie Smith was the defensive coordinator for a Bears team that was winning about half of there games. Maybe Bryan Glazer, has no idea what he is doing! or for some reason likes losing
    Has anyone else thought to ask this question?

  10. Just when we were convinced the offense was clicking, and it was the defense that was holding us back …

    Consistent inconsistency, with the result of winning just 2 games out of the first 7. More road games and 5 more division games, we could easily end with only 4 or 5 wins this season. Our Bucs just aren’t very good.

    The Glazers aren’t going to just shrug and hope for better next season. Changes will be made.

  11. Trade deadline tomorrow. Ya all kill me for saying this but our best trading piece would be Cam Brate. Before you call me crazy, can we really pay him when his contract is up? We spent a 1st rounder on O.J., and it’s clear two T.E.’s can’t put up big numbers every week. It’s also clear that while the Pants were making sure D Jax, and Evans weren’t going to beat them Koetter never made them pay by feeding O.J. some. Every player on the roster besides J.W. should have a going out of business sale sign on them. Yeah, I’d include Mike Evans. He’s going to command a big chunk of cash soon, and right now he appears to be a possession receiver who drops to many 3rd down passes, Godwin can easily fill his roll. The Eagles might be willing to give us something for D. Smith, not because he’s good because they have a need, sent him back to Pennsylvania.

    • Brate or Alexander; hate to lose them, but we need more draft picks and this season is toast. Best I can see at this point is 6 game and worst 4 game win season. I hope the hype is tuned down next season. I understand we went 9-7 with a very weak schedule last season with some luck, but other teams are on to us. We’ve got to build DL and OL up before we address other issues. That usually happens in the Rounds 1 & 2; that’s why we need more draft picks. Go Bucs!

  12. Do not let Licht make another move on behalf of this team. Its time to clean house. This is not just 2 years, this is Raheem Morris, Mark Dominik, Schiano, Lovie Smith, Licht, Koetter. 9 years of failure. This is worse than any stretch I can remember and Ive been going for 40 years. Even worse than the days of the Throwin Samoan and Leeman Bennett through Richard Williamson in 1991 with that “it’s a whole new ballgame” commercial. Then we had no talent now we have players that can’t perform. They just went 9-7. There is no excuse. Do not let Licht touch another thing here. Fire him!!!

  13. Koetter has accomplished less with his personnel than any NFL coach. Season recap: Beat Chicago (3-5, playing their back up QB), eeked out a win against the NYG (1-6), and lost 5 games (some humiliating). Ever wonder why they consistently start games so slow? They arrive underprepared and outmatched (by which I mean poorly coached). They will be lucky to win two more games (if they don’t tank for a premium draft pick). Which begs the question: IF they tanked, how would we even tell the difference from what we have already been suffering through???

  14. I’ve always been a firm beleiver that if you don’t make the playoffs, then you might as well lose to improve your draft position. What good did finishing 9-7 last year do us? We lucked out that OJ fell to us. How many players did we miss out on that would’ve been available in the 2nd round if that pick was higher. How did Raheem’s 10-6 no playoff season do us any good when they crapped out the following season? It’s a different NFL then when Dungy’s 6-10 team finished on a winning streak that carried over. There wasn’t a lot of turnover following the ’96 season going into the playoff ’97 season.