It’s time for Scott Reynolds’ 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game.
The Bucs lost two games in a row in embarrassing fashion, falling at Washington to a 2-6 team by the score of 29-19. Tampa Bay stumbles to 6-3 on the season, and once again untimely penalties, not enough plays on defense and not enough points on offense were the culprit.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Bucs Are Not A Super Bowl Contender Right Now
The Bucs are a playoff team. Make no mistake. They’ll make it to the postseason even after a 6-3 start.
But this Bucs team is not a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
No way. Not how Tampa Bay has played in its last two games, both losses on the road. Certainly not the way this team played in a disgustingly disappointing, 29-19 loss at Washington on Sunday.
This was ridiculous. This was a terrible loss by Tampa Bay.
Bucs NT Vita Vea – Photo by: USA Today
This ranks up there with last year’s 20-19 loss at Chicago in Week 5 on Thursday Night Football. Similar script, too. Only 19 points on offense in both games. Self-inflicted wounds with ill-timed turnovers and penalties in both games.
Nose tackle Vita Vea gets hurt and carted off the field in the fourth quarter in both games. Uncanny similarities.
The difference was that the Bucs rallied to win the Super Bowl last year after Week 5. Not sure that happens this year after Week 10.
“This display was very reminiscent of the last one (loss in the last game at New Orleans),” said head coach Bruce Arians. “It’s baffling to me after the week of practice I watched these guys have that we could play that poorly. We played with enough passion and energy for about eight or nine minutes to win games in this league. We have to show up on Sundays. We’re doing a hell of a job Monday through Friday, but we’re not showing up on Sundays.”
The Washington Football Team, which was 2-6 at kickoff on Sunday, is a bad football team. Ron Rivera’s bunch will likely finish with five or six wins – tops. And it beat the Bucs quite soundly coming out of the bye week, which is incredibly alarming.
After going 9-2 on the road last year, including a 6-2 mark in the regular season, Tampa Bay is now 2-3 on the road this year. While the Bucs were 8-5 coming out of the bye last year, there is more cause for alarm right now with a 6-3 record with this year’s team.
Why? Because the Bucs continue to be their own worst enemy, losing the turnover battle 2-1 with a pair of first quarter interceptions by Tom Brady – although only one was his fault.
Brady’s fourth pass of the game was a perfect strike to rookie Jaelon Darden, who couldn’t haul it in and it wound up being intercepted by Washington cornerback William Jackson III. Brady’s next interception came on the following drive when he overthrew Mike Evans.
“It had nothing to do with the receivers – it was him,” said an agitated Arians, somehow blaming Brady for the both picks.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and HC Bruce Arians – Photo by: USA Today
The Bucs committed six penalties for 43 yards at Washington, which on the surface wasn’t as bad as some of the double-digit penalty affairs this team has had this year. But it was the timeliness of the penalties that made them drive-killers on offense and drive-extenders on defense.
“Penalties and didn’t make enough plays,” said Bucs receiver Mike Evans. “That’s a recipe for disaster.”
Yet after Tampa Bay trailed 16-6 at halftime and rallied to trim the score to 23-19 after Evans’ 40-yard touchdown catch, the Bucs defense gave up the longest scoring drive in the NFL this season. Washington drove 80 yards down the field on 19 plays, chewing up 10:26 and putting the game out of reach with a 1-yard touchdown run by Antonio Gibson.
“That was very disappointing for us because we pride ourselves on defense,” Arians said. “We’ve lost too many games giving up too many leads in the fourth quarter,”
Evans didn’t put the loss on that soul-crushing drive, which left virtually no time for Tampa Bay’s offense to mount a comeback. It would have been futile anyways, trailing by 10 points.
“That drive doesn’t define the game,” Evans said. “We lost the game well before that with the penalties and tipped balls and stuff like that. We just lost the game earlier than that last drive.
“It’s extremely frustrating. I know we’re a better team than them and we didn’t get the job done. That’s why you play on Sunday. You’ve got to go out there and give it your best. Because that’s an NFL team and they’re a solid team and they got the job done tonight.”
Legendary Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp told me over the summer that the one thing that plagued the franchise’s first Super Bowl team during the 7-9 season in 2003 was that the hunter became the hunted after winning the championship. And that Tampa Bay wasn’t ready for getting every opponent’s best shot on a weekly basis.
This Bucs team wasn’t ready for Washington’s best shot. Sunday was Washington’s Super Bowl. Taylor Heinicke and the Football Team beat Brady, knocked off the defending Super Bowl champs and avenged last year’s playoff loss at home.
Bucs LB Lavonte David and WFT RB Antonio Gibson – Photo by: USA Today
“Bad football,” Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said. “We had the opportunity to get off the field and we didn’t. We talk a lot of stuff, but by the way we played, we didn’t play like it. That was a moment to put our stamp on the game and we didn’t. We let them keep the ball and continue the drive. Terrible drive for us.”
“I hate to say it, but they beat us. They beat us. You got to give them their props. Came out, threw the ball and made their plays. We made no plays.”
Does this Bucs team look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender? No. This Bucs team can’t get out of its way with penalties and mistakes, can’t make enough plays on defense to stop opponents and can’t score enough points to win on the road.
This Bucs team has got to change everything from energy and effort to execution. Hopefully this is a needed wake-up call for Tampa Bay and we don’t see this Bucs team ever again.
It will be interesting to see exactly what Bucs team this squad becomes by Week 18. It’s got to get better in a whole lot of areas for any talk of defending Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl title to be legitimate.
STATEMENT 2: Here’s How The Bucs Coaches Solve The Penalty Problem
If I’m Bruce Arians, here is how I fix the Bucs’ penalty problem right now. The next player who commits a stupid penalty, which is a pre-snap penalty like false start, illegal formation, offside or neutral zone infraction, gets to sit on the bench for a couple of series or perhaps a quarter.
As I wrote about in last week’s SR’s Fab 5 column, there are two kinds of penalties – effort penalties like holding and pass interference that happen in the heat of battle, and idiot penalties like pre-snap and post-snap fouls. Tampa Bay has mastered the art of the idiotic penalties this season.
Look no further than tight end O.J. Howard, who was flagged for a false start on the game’s first play. That wasn’t a rookie out there making an idiot penalty. That was Howard, who is is a fifth-year player, committing his second false start of the year. If I’m Arians I would have benched him on the spot.
The same goes for defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston, who were each flagged for a neutral zone infraction. Both penalties occurred on critical third downs on the same Washington field goal drive in the second quarter. That’s ridiculous, and the second such offense for each player this year.
Gholston is 30 and is in his ninth season. Suh is 34 and in his 12th year in the league. They should definitely know better than to listen to the cadence rather than watching the ball. Especially on third down!
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh and WFT QB Taylor Heinicke – Photo by: USA Today
Watch. The. Ball.
That’s something they’ve been taught since Pop Warner football.
It’s time to sit ’em down for two series or a quarter and make an example out of them.
Something has to be done to drive the point home to the players to stop with the stupid, self-inflicted wounds.
You don’t think the Bucs coaches have addressed penalties? They do it all the time throughout the week. It’s been a point of emphasis since Tampa Bay committed 11 penalties for 106 yards in Week 1.
But what is the deterrent to a millionaire player who commits the drive-killing penalty on offense or drive-extending flag on defense?
Nothing. What, they get yelled on the sidelines for a play? These guys certainly get the same game check every week no matter how many penalties they commit on Sunday. Entrenched starters aren’t going to lose their starting jobs if they are superior to their backups, either.
So the only real punishment aside from some fleeting embarrassment after a false or offside is to bench them in-game. Take away what they love to do if it is costing the team.
Hey, if Ronald Jones II can fumble in Week 1 and get held accountable by never seeing the field again against the Cowboys, then Arians can hold his other players accountable and bench them, too. Consistently undisciplined players don’t deserve to play.
“Energy and passion are very fixable,” Arians said. “The penalties – they’ve got to get corrected sooner or later. First play of the game we’re shifting and we jump offsides. They didn’t even run a play and we jump offsides. That’s just stupidity. It has to go away if we’re going to go anywhere. It has nothing to do with ability. It’s all about execution and being a smart football team. We’re a very dumb football team. And that’s a reflection of the coaches.”
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Where Were Barrett and Pierre-Paul On Sunday?
Nowhere to be found. It was an embarrassing performance by both starting outside linebackers – Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul – who were held to a combined one tackle and zero sacks. Barrett is averaging $17 million per year on his new contract extension, while Pierre-Paul is making $12.5 million in 2021. The Bucs didn’t get their return on their nearly $30 million combined investment at Washington, as both players were virtually invisible.
Bucs OLBs Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett and WFT QB Taylor Heinicke – Photo by: USA Today
Barrett played 55 snaps (75 percent) while Pierre-Paul was in for 58 plays (79 percent) despite playing with a torn rotator cuff. Pierre-Paul and Barrett got owned by right tackle Cornelius Lucas and left tackle Charles Leno, Jr., a former Pro Bowler in 2018, who was cut by the Bears in the offseason.
What’s worse is that backup Anthony Nelson was more of a factor at Washington with four tackles and a sack in just 17 snaps (23 percent). Even rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka had a sack in his 19 snaps (26 percent). Tryon-Shoyinka, who now has three sacks to JPP’s 2.5, needs to play more in place of the injured Pierre-Paul. It’s criminal that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles doesn’t recognize that midway through the season.
QUESTION 2: Where Were The Deep Shots By Brady, Bucs Offense?
Nowhere to be found. If my memory serves me correctly, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady only fired two passes more than 20 yards down the field on Sunday. The first one was a 29-yard pass to rookie receiver Jaelon Darden in the second quarter. The other one was a 40-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans in the fourth quarter when the Bucs’ top receiver finally saw single man coverage rather than the double coverage he’d seen all day.
The problem was that Brady wasn’t hanging in the pocket as long as head coach Bruce Arians wanted him to in his vertical-based offense. Instead, Brady, who passed for a season-low 220 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, was quick to dump the ball off to Leonard Fournette, who was targeted a team-high nine times. He finished with eight catches for 45 yards (5.6 avg.).
Bucs QB Tom Brady and HC Bruce Arians – Photo by: USA Today
“Tom was just getting it out of his hands,” Arians said. “There were a couple of times I thought he could have held on [to the ball] a little bit longer. Versus some coverage, just take your checkdown and get to the next play.”
Washington played lots of 2-high safeties on Sunday, rallying to the ball and tackling well to limit yards after the catch. Shockingly offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and the Bucs appeared to have left their middle-field-open plays back in Tampa.
Brady wasn’t sacked on Sunday, but was hit a few times by defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, who whipped left guard Ali Marpet more than once. The veteran quarterback seemed frustrated that his receivers weren’t getting open and wasn’t going to wait to see if they could separate. So the result was short, dump-off passes that often left the Bucs short of the sticks and forced to punt.
Despite having the worst pass defense in the league, Evans was taken away with safety help over the top, and was only targeted three times on Sunday. Chris Godwin was playing on a gimpy foot and didn’t do much other than catch wide receiver screens. He finished with seven catches for 57 yards (8.1 avg.).
Tyler Johnson and tight ends O.J. Howard and Cam Brate struggled to get open against Washington’s zone defense. Darden let his first catch attempt go off his hands for a first quarter interception.
“We didn’t get enough out of anybody,” Arians said.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Bucs Will Finish Worse Than 13-4
I predicted a 13-4 record for Tampa Bay this season, which was the worst prediction on the entire Pewter Report staff. Some Bucs fans even scolded me on Twitter for forecasting such an awful record for the Super Bowl champs. Imagine getting ridiculed for predicting 13 wins, which would be the most wins in the regular season in franchise history! Yet here the Bucs stand at 6-3, coming off two bad, back-to-back losses with eight games left in the 2021 campaign.
This Bucs team plays awful on the road, evidenced by its 2-3 road record with narrow, early-season wins over New England and Philadelphia. It’s hard to see Tampa Bay winning at Indianapolis (5-5), Carolina (5-5) or even Atlanta (4-5) playing like its playing right now. Not to mention the fact that the Bucs have to contend with the Saints and Bills at home.
I think the Bucs could wind up 12-6 instead of 13-4 this year. After Sunday’s loss at Washington it feels like Tampa Bay has at least two more losses coming down the stretch unless it gets better in a lot of areas in a hurry.
PREDICTION 2: Bucs Will Struggle At Home vs. Giants
The Bucs are undefeated at home, right? Tampa Bay is averaging 40.5 points per game at home, right? The Giants are a chump, 3-6 team, right? None of that will matter next Monday night when Tampa Bay hosts New York.
Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: USA Today
For whatever reason, this Bucs team struggles in prime time this year. There were narrow, two-point wins at home against Dallas in the Thursday night season opener, and at New England on Sunday night. There was also a close win at Philadelphia on Thursday night.
Keep in mind that Giants quarterback Daniel Jones got a win at Tampa Bay in his first NFL start in 2019, a 32-31 upset at Raymond James Stadium. And that it took an end zone pass break-up from Antoine Winfield, Jr. to beat the Giants in New York last year on Monday Night Football, 25-23. The Bucs will win at home this year, but it won’t be a blowout. They won’t score 40, either.