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. With its second loss in as many weeks, Tampa Bay falls to 5-9 after a defeat in Baltimore at the hands of the Ravens, 20-12. The Bucs are now guaranteed to have a losing season for a second straight year as Dirk Koetter’s chances of remaining the head coach got even slimmer.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Ravens Ground And Pound Bucs Defense
The Bucs’ much-maligned ground game came to life in rainy, cold Baltimore as Tampa Bay tried to out-Raven the Ravens in Sunday’s 20-12 loss. Baltimore came into Sunday’s game with one of the league’s most potent ground games and did lead in rushing at the half, 75-68. But for one half, the Bucs’ running game showed up as Peyton Barber had all 68 of those yards and Tampa Bay’s lone first half touchdown.
But the tables would turn in the second half as the Ravens committed to the run and grounded and pounded the Bucs defense into submission with 167 yards rushing over the final two quarters and owning a 14-minute advantage in time of possession.
After a 17-yard pass to tight end Mark Andrews in the third quarter, Lamar Jackson had runs of 14 and 22 yards to lead Baltimore on a touchdown drive that was capped off by a Gus Edwards 10-yard run as the Ravens returned to their ground assault. The Ravens used Jackson’s legs to pick up several third downs, especially in the second half, as Baltimore won the battle on third down converting 9-of-16 (56 percent). The Ravens defense stifled the Bucs offense, holding the Bucs to a 30 percent conversion rate (3-of-10) on third downs.
Tampa Bay’s injury-depleted defense has really struggled stopping the run on the road this year, and that continued on Sunday. The Bucs surrendered 138 yards rushing in a loss at Cincinnati, allowed 163 yards rushing in a loss at New York and gave up 179 yards rushing in a defeat at Carolina. Baltimore came into the game ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing with 134.2 yards per game and plowed through the Bucs defense for a season-high 242 yards, led by Edwards, who rushed for 104 yards and one touchdown, and Jackson, who had 95 yards on 18 carries. Jackson also completed 14-of-23 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown.
“It’s been the same story the last two weeks,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “Offense – I think we were 0-for-3 on third down in the second half and couldn’t sustain. Our defense has to be on the field too long, and our defense – with our depletion at linebacker it’s just tough to hold up against a team that can run the football like that.”
Bucs linebacker Lavonte David was one of the few standouts on defense, recording a team-high 12 tackles with two sacks and a fumble recovery.
“Lavonte was fantastic today,” Koetter said. “His double-digit tackles, two sacks and calling the defense. Lavonte was fantastic.”
Also stepping up for the Bucs defense was Riley Bullough, who started in place of Adarius Taylor, who stayed in Tampa for the expected birth of his child. Bullough finished with a career-high eight tackles, and defensive tackle Vita Vea, the team’s first-round pick, had a career-high nine stops and was second on the team in tackles.
“I thought next to Lavonte, he was probably the guy that just stood out for me watching the game on the sideline,” Koetter said. “Vita has really come on these last few games and shown what he’s capable of.”
In the end, it just wasn’t enough as the Ravens become the first team with five straight 190-yard plus rushing games in a season since the 1976 Steelers.
Ravens vs. Bengals: 53 attempts, 267 yards
Ravens vs. Raiders: 43 attempts, 242 yards
Ravens at Falcons: 49 attempts, 207 yards
Ravens at Chiefs: 40 attempts, 194 yards
Ravens vs. Buccaneers: 49 attempts, 242 yards
The 242 rushing yards the Bucs allowed were the most since Tampa Bay gave up 251 yards to Atlanta in the 2011 season finale.
STATEMENT 2: Missed Opportunities Haunt Bucs
The Bucs had several opportunities to score points, deny the Ravens points, and win the game, but Baltimore made the critical plays when it counted, especially in the second half, and Tampa Bay didn’t.
Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin dropped a potential touchdown on Tampa Bay’s first offensive possession as a perfect pass from Winston bounced off his hands. Bullough, who was starting in place of Adarius Taylor, who was at home awaiting the birth of his child, dropped an interception in the first quarter.
“I’m sure the weather had something to do with it,” Koetter said. “We don’t usually have drops on balls. Jameis [Winston] was on the money there. We had three drops – three on offense and a dropped interception right off the bat. You’ve got to be able to catch it.”
David, the team’s resident ball magnet, did have a critical fumble recovery on a fumbled snap-QB exchange near the end of the first quarter. The fumble recovery was the 13th of David’s career, which was one more than Ronde Barber for tops in team history. David’s fumble recovery led to Tampa Bay’s first half touchdown.
Two more interception opportunities were missed in the second quarter when a Jackson pass hit safety Andrew Adams in the back and Brent Grimes couldn’t bring in an errant pass. Those missed opportunities were costly as they occurred on Baltimore’s touchdown drive which covered 73 yards on 16 plays that consumed 8:10 off the clock.
The Bucs had a chance to hold the Ravens without points on their final drive of the first half with Tampa Bay leading 9-7. But Lamar Jackson slipped out of a sack attempt by Jason Pierre-Paul and got rid of the ball before David was able to record his second sack of the game. Baltimore didn’t have any timeouts and wouldn’t have been able to get the field goal team on the field in time if Jackson had taken the sack. Instead, Justin Tucker’s 24-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 10-9 lead.
After Baltimore took a 17-9 lead to start the second half, the Bucs were forced to punt on their first possession of the third quarter, but Baltimore muffed the punt and Tampa Bay recovered at the Ravens’ 14-yard line. After a questionable offensive pass interference penalty on Mike Evans, who topped 100 yards receiving for the seventh time this season, the Bucs missed an opportunity to either tie or pull within one and had to settle for Cairo Santos’ second field goal, as the Ravens’ lead was cut to 17-12.
“We knew we needed to get at least 21 points today and we just didn’t do it,” Koetter said. “We had chances to do it, and we didn’t. I thought it was a tough call on the P.I. (offensive pass interference) that they gave Mike down there. We did have a chance to overcome it. We had our chances. We can only look at the things we weren’t able to do. We got down there enough times, but you have to get it into the end zone.”
The Ravens would add a field goal in the fourth quarter, and the Bucs missed on a fourth-and-4 pass attempt from Winston to Chris Godwin at the Ravens’ 33. Baltimore would maintain possession of the ball and run the final 7:08 off the clock to beat Tampa Bay.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Did The Bucs Just Play Against Their Next Head Coach?
There has been some speculation that Baltimore may be considering a head coaching change this offseason, as John Harbaugh’s record coming into Sunday’s game was 7-6, but improves to 8-6 with a 20-12 win over Tampa Bay. Harbaugh, who was hired in 2008 after being Philadelphia’s special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach, owns a 102-70 record (.593) during the regular season, in addition to a 10-5 record in the postseason (.667).
Harbaugh took the Ravens to five straight playoff appearances when he started in Baltimore, including winning Super Bowl XLVII against his brother, Jim Harbaugh, and the San Francisco 49ers in 2012. But there is talk in Baltimore that the Ravens need to make the playoffs in order for Harbaugh to stay in 2019.
Harbaugh’s Record In Baltimore
2008 – 11-5 – 2nd in AFC North – 2-1 in the postseason
2009 – 9-7 – 2nd in AFC North – 1-1 in the postseason
2010 – 12-4 – 2nd in AFC North – 1-1 in the postseason
2011 – 12-4 – 1st in AFC North – 1-1 in the postseason
2012 – 10-6 – 1st in AFC North – 4-0 in the postseason – Super Bowl champs
2013 – 8-8 – 3rd in AFC North
2014 – 10-6 – 3rd in AFC North – 1-1 in the postseason
2015 – 5-11 – 3rd in AFC North
2016 – 8-8 – 2nd in AFC North
2017 – 9-7 – 2nd in AFC North
2018 – 7-6 – 2nd in AFC North
After an 8-8 record the following season, the Ravens made the playoffs in 2014 with a 10-6 record and went 1-1 in the postseason, losing to New England in the AFC Divisional Playoff game. But the Ravens haven’t made the postseason in the last three years, although they have a shot at making the playoffs this year at 8-6 with two games left in the season.
If Harbaugh were to get fired – or perhaps even traded in the offseason – there would be multiple suitors lined up for his services. The energetic Harbaugh is a winner that has made six trips to the postseason out of his 11 seasons at the helm in Baltimore. Tampa Bay, which will likely fire Koetter at the end of the season, would certainly be one of those teams interested.
QUESTION 2: What’s Up With The Bucs Offense?
Tampa Bay’s offense was one of the most prolific to start the 2018 season and maintained a high-scoring pace – 27.7 points per game – through the first seven games of the year. Yet over the last six games, the Bucs offense has only averaged 21.8 points per game with three games in which Tampa Bay has scored 24 points or less.
Week 10: 3 vs. Washington Week 11: 35 at New York Week 12: 27 vs. San Francisco Week 13: 24 vs. Carolina Week 14: 14 vs. New Orleans
The Bucs offense continued to sputter in Baltimore on Sunday against a stout Ravens defense that held Tampa Bay to just 12 first downs and 241 yards – the Bucs’ lowest output of the year in a game that was played in cold, rainy conditions. The Bucs were only able to convert 30 percent (3-of-10) of their third downs against the Ravens, and ran only 47 plays to Baltimore’s 74 plays.
“We had opportunities, but we just didn’t execute on those opportunities,” Winston said when talking about two drives inside the Ravens’ 10-yard line that ended in field goals rather than touchdowns. “They have a good defense, so credit goes to them, but we just have to execute on third downs. And when our defense gives us good field position we have to score touchdowns. I know I played a big factor in that. It’s just momentum. They had the ball for the majority of the second half. I think we only had like four possessions and we have to take advantage of those possessions.”
The Bucs were shutout in the second half of last week’s 28-14 loss to New Orleans after building a 14-3 lead at halftime. Tampa Bay’s offense couldn’t get going again this week in Baltimore as the Bucs score just three points in the second half on Sunday.
Winston completed just 13-of-25 passes for 157 yards with one interception. Nearly half of his passing yards came on one play, a 64-yard pass to Evans in the first half that set up a field goal.
“That was a scramble play – that was an awesome play by Jameis,” Koetter said. “Jameis got into a scramble situation and to throw it down the field that far and be that accurate … in the first half I don’t think you could’ve asked Jameis to throw the ball any more accurately than he did.”
Barber ran for 68 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but only had 17 yards in the second half. The fact that Koetter is an offensive-minded head coach and his offense is stalling down the stretch won’t help his chances of keeping his job in 2019.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Koetter Will Get Fired
With Jason La Canfora’s pre-game report on CBS Sports that the Buccaneers were starting their search for possible head coaching candidates to potentially replace Koetter, coupled with Sunday’s loss at Baltimore, it’s beginning to look more and more like Koetter will indeed be fired after the 2018 season. The Bucs’ record is now 5-9 and the team is guaranteed of having its second losing season in a row under Koetter, and the seventh losing season in the team’s past eight years. The shame of it is that Koetter’s 2018 Bucs have been the most talented of the three teams he’s put together in Tampa Bay.
“We have enough talent,” Koetter said. “There is more than one factor that goes into losing football games. Everybody in the NFL has talented teams. We’re not lacking for talent.”
The only way Koetter can possibly buy one more year is to win the next two games against the NFC East-leading Cowboys in Dallas, and then at home against the Atlanta Falcons to end the season. At 7-9, the Bucs would have a two-win improvement over last year’s 5-11 record, but it would still be a disappointing season in Tampa Bay, especially after a hot 2-0 start was squandered.
“Everybody in there is a pro and we are all paid to do a job,” Koetter said after the game as he sounded resigned to his fate. “You’ve got to finish it out.”
PREDICTION 2: Tampa Bay Will Finish With A Top 10 Draft Pick
The Bucs’ loss in Baltimore sends Tampa Bay to a 5-9 record and increases the team’s chances of picking inside the Top 10 for a second consecutive year and the third time in the last four years. Tampa Bay currently has the No. 9 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft if the season were to end today.
The Bucs will travel to Dallas to play the NFC East-leading Cowboys, who are 8-6, and then host the 5-9 Atlanta Falcons in the 2018 season finale. Tampa Bay is one of five teams that have a 5-9 record, including Atlanta, which currently picks sixth, Detroit, which picks seventh, the New York Giants, which picks eighth, and Buffalo, which picks 10th.
The guess here is that Tampa Bay will beat Atlanta, but lose next week at Dallas to finish 6-10 and pick either ninth or 10th in the 2019 NFL Draft.