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. On Sunday, Tampa Bay had to battle the Saints – and the refs – in New Orleans and came out on the losing end, 31-24. Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans and the NFL’s leading sacker, Shaquil Barrett, were no-shows and Tampa Bay’s defense couldn’t stop Teddy Bridgewater and Michael Thomas, as the Bucs fell to 2-3 while the Saints improved to 3-1.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Refs Screw Bucs In Loss To Saints
It’s one thing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to have to beat the New Orleans Saints on the road in a pivotal NFC South game. It’s another thing for the Bucs to have to beat the referees, too.
On Sunday, the refs – with some horrible calls – and the Saints ganged up to beat the Bucs.
In the first half, the officials blew an obvious recovery by tight end Antony Auclair on a fumble on a Saints punt return. The officials said there was not a clear recovery, but replays showed that Auclair was not only the first player to pounce on the loose ball, but also the one to emerge from the pile with it. Bruce Arians challenged the play, but the call on the field stood, which upset the Bucs head coach.
“Didn’t it? That looked pretty good, didn’t it?” Arians said of Auclair’s fumble recovery. “[The ref said] it was a non-clear recovery. Baffling.
“They blew the call. It’s that simple. It was a clear recovery on a fumble. Luckily, we get a ball that bounced and get an interception and score off it, but he came running out of the pile with it – and they knew it before they went to replay. It’s all coming from New York.”
Later in the first half, Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis hit Saints tight end Jared Cook in the helmet and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected from the game. Fox sideline reporter Lara Okmin reported after halftime that “an irate Arians” told her that the ejection of cornerback Carlton Davis was “the stupidest call I’ve ever seen.”
That was a big blow because Davis is regarded as the Bucs’ best cover cornerback, and Tampa Bay’s secondary was struggling against the pass once again, especially cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. It looked like there was obvious pass interference on Michael Thomas early in the second half. Thomas clearly pushed off and recorded a 42-yard catch. Hargreaves even threw his arms up in disbelief as Thomas used the push off to gain separation.
“If that’s not [offensive pass interference], I don’t know what the hell is – a two-hand shove that knocked the guy backwards,” Arians said. “[The ref] said they were hand-fighting. Yeah, they were hand-fighting, but that doesn’t knock a guy backwards.”
Two plays later, Ted Ginn, Jr. caught a 33-yard touchdown pass to put the Saints up 24-10. Arians challenged that call and was incensed.
So was I, as I tweeted out the following on the @PewterReport Twitter account.
YOUR REFS SUCK, @NFL.
— PewterReport (@PewterReport) October 6, 2019
And when the refs do suck, it’s the media’s job to call them and the NFL out for it. It’s one thing for officials to miss a call during the action. It’s another thing for the refs to blow the call twice after an instant replay review.
The decision not to use replay to call OPI on Michael Thomas reconfirms that @NFLOfficiating is not applying the standard the way it said it would before the season.
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) October 6, 2019
Later in the third quarter, the refs called a very rare defensive holding call on nose tackle Vita Vea, and then two plays later missed a very obvious holding call on tight end Josh Hill, who held Carl Nassib and prevented him from getting a sack.
The refs weren’t the only reason why the Bucs lost. Tampa Bay’s offense was pathetic, especially the offensive line, which gave up six sacks and only generated 252 yards of total offense. The Bucs’ pass rush was virtually nonexistent and Tampa Bay’s secondary got shredded for a third straight week.
But the Saints getting some blatantly biased calls from the refs certainly didn’t help.
STATEMENT 2: Bridgewater, Thomas Torch Bucs’ Young Secondary
Once again, Thomas had his way with Tampa Bay’s young defensive backs. The Bucs secondary, which is full of young first-and second-year players, has been torched all season, especially the last two games as Daniel Jones and Jared Goff combined for 853 yards and four touchdown passes.
Teddy Bridgewater had struggled throwing the ball while filling in for the injured Drew Brees, but found the Bucs’ secondary to be quite the tonic. Bridgewater completed 26-of-34 passes for 314 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
Not only did he do a good job of avoiding sacks by scrambling, Bridgewater made plays downfield, hitting three different Saints with touchdown passes. The fact that the Bucs lost Davis, their top cover corner, prior to halftime didn’t help.
“I’ve always loved Teddy,” Arians said. “He’s a good, solid player. He should be a starter in the league.”
Thomas was Bridgewater’s primary target on Sunday, and responded in usual fashion. Thomas had 11 catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns, often winning his one-on-one match-ups with Hargreaves to thrash the Bucs secondary.
“It was both man and zone, and we just did a poor, poor job of covering him,” Arians said. “He’s a big, physical guy, and we know he’s going to push off. You just have to get more physical than him.”
In his post-game press conference, Arians called out the play of the Bucs’ secondary.
“We weren’t [physical enough] today,” Arians said. “We have been at times, but we still are too soft. We’re too soft, and I don’t know any other way to put it. When we’re in press-man, we have some guys that are getting after it, and we have some guys that are just soft.”
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Where Was Evans?
Bucs Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans was a no-show in New Orleans. The last time Evans was held without a catch it came in New Orleans on September 20, 2015 against star cornerback Marcus Lattimore. Since that day Evans had a streak of 51 consecutive games with at least one catch.
That was until Sunday when Lattimore blanketed Evans and shut him out.
“It was a poor job on our part,” Arians said. “We moved him around – not enough. They were rolling to him and doing things that we’ve seen, but we should’ve gotten a ball to him at the end. Twice he was open and we got sacked. We have to do a better job of moving him around.”
Not helping matters was the fact that Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston was under siege all day as the Saints defensive front whipped the Bucs offensive line. Winston, who completed 15-of-27 passes for 204 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, didn’t play well and was sacked six times, including four times in the second half. Half of Winston’s sacks came on first down, which set up second-and-long situations.
“Our inability to get off the field and our inability to stay on the field,” Arians said, when asked what the reasons were for Tampa Bay’s loss. “With better pass protection, we can get into more manageable third downs. For us, offensively, [we need] to get into more manageable third downs. Defensively, we just have to make plays and we didn’t make them.”
While Evans was shut down, Chris Godwin had a solid performance with seven catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns. However, Godwin had just one catch in the first half – a 26-yard score – and most of his production came in the second half when the Bucs were trying to play catch up.
QUESTION 2: What Happened To Tampa Bay’s Pass Rush?
It didn’t make it to New Orleans. Bucs outside linebacker Shaq Barrett started off the first quarter of the 2019 season with an NFL-record nine sacks to lead the league. Barrett had notched at least one sack in each of the first four games, but on Sunday he was a non-factor for the first time this year.
Saints offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk held Barrett – and the rest of the Bucs – sackless against Bridgewater.
“We were close a couple of times and we let him get out,” Arians said.
Bridgewater was able to get back to the line of scrimmage or gain a yard several times, eluding Carl Nassib, Anthony Nelson, Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh, who all came close to sack opportunities. Bridgewater had five carries for seven yards in the game.
The Bucs play Carolina next week in London, and Barrett did have a three-sack game against the Panthers – although that was against Cam Newton. Carolina’s backup quarterback, Kyle Allen, has been filing in for Newton since Week 3 and was sacked three times on Sunday by Jacksonville.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: The Bucs Lost The NFC South Today
Tampa Bay fell to 2-3 on the season after a 31-24 loss in New Orleans and is now 1-1 in the NFC South, while the Saints improved to 4-1 and 1-0 in the division. In order for the Bucs to make the playoffs they’ll have to catch up to New Orleans, and that means next week’s game is a must-win against 3-2 Carolina next Sunday in London.
The Bucs are now two games back from the Saints and Bridgewater improves to 3-0 as a starter while Brees is out. There are still 11 games left in the season, but Tampa Bay has yet to show it can win back-to-back games. Until that happens, it’s unreasonable to think that the Bucs can win the division. Make the playoffs as a wild card? Perhaps. But the NFC South still appears to be the Saints to lose right now.
PREDICTION 2: Wells Will Replace Dotson At RT
The Bucs replaced starting right tackle Demar Dotson in the fourth quarter with reserve Josh Wells, and that move could become permanent as Dotson pulled a hamstring against the Saints. Wells, a fifth-year veteran, was signed on September 9 after the team cut backup Caleb Benenoch.
Dotson, who has been battling a calf injury the last two weeks, is in his final year in Tampa Bay and turns 34 next week. The Bucs have to move on from Dotson at some time, and this could be Wells’ chance to re-emerge as a starting tackle in the league. The 6-foot-6, 306-pound Wells has nine starts in 34 games in four seasons with Jacksonville. Dotson likely won’t be able to start next Sunday in London against Carolina, so Wells should get his first opportunity with the starters in Tampa Bay.