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 blew a chance to separate themselves from the Saints and take a commanding lead in the NFC South, losing 36-27 in New Orleans. Instead of improving to 7-1 and sending the Saints to a 4-3 record, the Bucs are now 6-2 with the Saints hot on their tail at 5-2. The Bucs committed way too many penalties and lost the turnover margin 3-0. They can’t do that and expect to win in New Orleans – especially on Halloween.
STATEMENT 1: Self-Inflicted Wounds Haunt Bucs
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The Superdome once again was a house of horrors for Tampa Bay, as the ghosts of Bucs teams from the past haunted the pewter and red-clad pirates. The Bucs’ performance in a stunning, 36-27 loss to the Saints on Halloween was truly frightening.
Tampa Bay was once again doomed by penalties – racking up 11 for 99 yards. There were several egregiously bad calls by the officials, but the Bucs deserved at least half of them.
Sloppy, undisciplined play by a Bucs defense that jumped offsides twice on critical downs (Anthony Nelson and Shaquil Barrett), blew containment on a timely end around (Jason Pierre-Paul), and just had poor, fundamental play by the goal line (Lavonte David twice), combined with a killer pick-six by Tom Brady allowed the Saints to rally to win with third-string quarterback Trevor Siemian.
Saints DB P.J. Williams – Photo by: USA Today
“Good play by the DB,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said of Brady’s last-minute interception. “He telegraphed it a little bit and the DB made a hell of a play.”
The Bucs aren’t going to beat anybody committing 11 penalties and losing the turnover margin 3-0.
“Penalties,” an incredulous Arians said the game. “We give it to them. They hit a nice reverse and we gave them easy first downs all day.
“They didn’t make any first downs. It was all 15-yard penalties for roughing the quarterback. It was stupid.”
Will Gholston had a costly roughing the passer penalty that negated an end zone interception by Antoine Winfield Jr. The Bucs denied the Saints a touchdown on the drive, but a field goal gave New Orleans a 10-7 lead. Those three points mattered later in the game when Tampa Bay took a 27-26 lead late in the fourth quarter.
Bucs inside linebacker and team captain Devin White committed three personal fouls in the game by himself. He was flagged for a horse collar tackle on Jameis Winston on a play that injured the quarterback. White was then penalized for roughing the passer in the red zone when his hand grazed Siemian’s facemask. Both were questionable calls.
But White’s taunting of running back Mark Ingram was legit – and stupid. White let his emotion get the best of him after making a routine tackle, giving the Saints 15 free yards. Arians called the Bucs’ penalties “selfish” and there was no doubt that he was thinking about White’s 42 yards worth of infractions when he said it.
When asked after the game if White, a Louisiana native, was a little hyped up playing in the Superdome or was it just some bad decisions by the linebacker, a visibly upset Arians said: “It speaks for itself.”
After recording just one penalty for 10 yards last week, the Bucs’ penalty problem rose from the grave once again on Sunday. With 11 penalties for 99 yards, the Bucs are again the second-most penalized team in the league with 59, trailing Philadelphia by one. And Tampa Bay’s 581 penalty yards are now the most in the NFL.
Simply put, Tampa Bay’s Grave Diggers dug their own grave in New Orleans on Halloween.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
Yet despite a defense that recorded just one sack and didn’t create a takeaway while playing against a third-string quarterback, the Bucs still had a chance to win it. Tampa Bay took a 27-26 lead with 5:44 left, but the defense couldn’t stop the Saints. A New Orleans field goal gave the Saints a 29-27 lead and set up Brady for another possible hero moment, as Tampa Bay had one timeout and 1:41 to work with.
After an incomplete pass to Mike Evans on first down, Brady didn’t see lurking safety P.J. Williams and threw the ball right to him as he was trying to hit Chris Godwin downfield.
That was the dagger in the Bucs’ heart and resulted in a pick-six.
“Just threw it to the wrong guy,” Brady said. “I had Mike open. Cost us the game.”
STATEMENT 2: White Needs To Play Better, Lead Better
I’m a Devin White fan. Let’s get that out of the way first.
Not only was Pewter Report the first media outlet to predict that the Bucs would draft him with the fifth overall pick in 2019, we advocated for his selection.
White was a big-time playmaker at LSU. He was a dangerous blitzer, capable in coverage and possessed rare sideline-to-sideline speed. White was a great fit for Todd Bowles’ defense coming out in the draft – and still is.
But let’s be honest. White is not having a great start to the 2021 season.
The problem is that he thinks he is.
Too many missed tackles, too many whiffs on sack attempts on a weekly basis. And too many penalties on Sunday in the Bucs’ 36-27 loss at New Orleans.
Bucs defense – Photo by: USA Today
There is no doubt that White contributed mightily to Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl season last year. After recording 91 tackles, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 2.5 sacks, two defensive touchdowns and one interception as a rookie, White had an even better season last year. His 140 tackles led the Bucs. He had a career-high nine sacks, which were second on the team, in addition to forcing a fumble and recovering one. In the postseason, White had two critical interceptions against the Saints and Chiefs and two key fumble recoveries at New Orleans and at Green Bay.
But a quick look at the stat sheet reveals zero splash plays through eight games this season. Zero sacks. No interceptions. Zero forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries.
The Bucs need White to play better after the bye week, and be the splashy player the team drafted him to be.
Maybe the sudden fame has gotten to White’s head a bit. Maybe the team gave White his own show on Buccaneers.com too soon. Just maybe there’s too much horsin’ around by White this season.
White also needs to be a better leader. While White is a vocal guy, talk is cheap sometimes. Anyone can give a pregame speech. It’s what happens after the ball is kicked off that matters the most.
Tom Brady showed what real leadership looks like after the game.
If I’m Bruce Arians, I call White into my office on Monday morning and I show him White’s own postgame press conference and contrast that with Brady’s.
“The call with Jameis – his momentum – whatever they said I’m going to go back and look at it,” White said, recalling his three personal fouls. “But I thought I had him by his pads or whatever. They said my hand was too high by the nameplate. I’ll take that one, but on the one where I was trying to get the sack – I was just trying to finish the play. Just trying to get him.
“On the sideline, that was all me. I’ll take full responsibility, but me and Mark Ingram were jawing all night – just going back and forth. … At the end of the day it wasn’t anything personal going on with us. We talked at the end of the game and he respects the way I play the game. But I’m just going to keep being me. You know I’m a fiery guy. I’m a guy that likes to talk, but obviously I have to look to the ground when I’m talking to a player. I’ve got to save the penalty from my team. At the end of the day it’s all about the team.”
White was smiling at times during his press conference, and didn’t look upset losing to a bitter divisional rival. While smiling at times, White took responsibility for the taunting call, but said he’s “going to keep being me.”
There was no smile on Brady’s face at all during his press conference, which lasted less than two minutes. Brady was pissed, contrite and accountable. He blamed himself for the loss.
“I have to play better,” Brady said. “Tough loss.”
“Bad throws,” Brady said.
“I just threw it to the wrong guy,” Brady said. “I had Mike open. Cost us the game.”
“I’ve got to not throw interceptions,” Brady said. “That’s the key.”
The key to White turning his season around is to play better.
Less talk, more action.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Was This The Worst Officiated Bucs Game This Year?
Yes, without a doubt. Tampa Bay was flagged 11 times for 99 yards in New Orleans in Sunday’s loss. The Bucs’ 11 infractions were tied for a season high (11 for 106 vs. Dallas in Week 1), but they amassed more penalty yardage (12o) three weeks ago in Philadelphia.
The Bucs deserved most of the penalties in those games earlier in the season, but there were a handful of really questionable calls in the Saints game. Unfortunately, this has been a recurring nightmare, dating back to the 2019 season when the officiating is lopsided in New Orleans’ favor. Remember these doozies?
Inside linebacker Devin White recorded three personal fouls for 42 yards, but only his taunting penalty was egregious. White’s roughing the passer was ridiculous as his hand barely grazed Trevor Siemian’s facemask. On the next play, a helmet-less Will Gholston bumped into Siemian after he threw the ball, negating an end zone interception by Antoine Winfield, Jr.
Saints CB C.J. Gardner-Johnson – Photo by: USA Today
Maybe the ref should have wondered how Gholston lost his helmet and kept that flag in his pocket instead of calling that ticky-tack penalty? Here’s a hint: Gholston’s helmet was ripped off by an illegal use of hands/hands to the face by left tackle Terron Armstead that the refs obviously missed.
While we’re on the subject of missed calls, the refs sure missed Chris Godwin and Tyler Johnson being held by two Saints defenders on Tom Brady’s first interception. C.J. Gardner-Johnson, the DB who was holding Johnson for 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, finally decided to let go and picked off Brady.
But of the course the refs saw Ross Cockrell hold a Saints receiver as Siemian threw an incompletion on third-and-5 on New Orleans’ final scoring drive. That gave the Saints a first down and they kicked the game-winning field goal six plays later.
Tampa Bay must play more disciplined, especially on defense. But the Bucs should only have to play the Saints on Sundays – not the refs, too.
QUESTION 2: Did The Bucs Get Out-Coached By The Saints Again?
No, not really. Tampa Bay’s offense put up 27 points and generated 421 yards against the league’s third-best scoring defense. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich did a remarkable job of play-calling for the most part.
Bucs DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
On defense, Todd Bowles’ biggest fault might have been playing Anthony Nelson 10 snaps and rookie pass rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka only eight. Nelson had a costly offsides penalty and didn’t have the athleticism to set the edge and make a play on Alvin Kamara’s fourth-and-goal touchdown from the Tampa Bay 1-yard line. But Bowles is still playing with a banged up secondary that was missing Carlton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Dee Delaney and Richard Sherman on Sunday.
Bowles didn’t commit one of four personal fouls, nor did he commit defensive holding. He didn’t jump offsides twice, including once on third-and-5. Bowles didn’t miss any tackles or blow any coverages. Nor did he blow contain on a 22-yard end around, or allow Jameis Winston and Trevor Siemian to escape the pocket and combine for 42 yards rushing on six attempts.
While the coaches are ultimately responsible for their players’ performance, this one is on the players. For Tampa Bay’s defense to come away with just one sack and no takeaways against Siemian, who played most of the game, is just ridiculous. The players have to hold themselves accountable for this one.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Bucs Will Still Win The NFC South
While the Saints won Sunday’s battle in New Orleans, 36-27, Tampa Bay will win the war in the division. The Bucs will beat the Saints in the rematch later this year and win the NFC South. The main reason was the loss of Jameis Winston to a season-ending knee injury.
The Saints improved to 5-2 on the year thanks to good coaching and great play by their opportunistic defense. But neither Taysom Hill nor Trevor Siemian is good enough to have the Saints finish the year 8-2. I can see the Tom Brady-led Bucs finishing 13-4 this year, going 7-2 down the stretch. The Saints will need to have a 13-4 record to win the NFC South this year, and that includes sweeping the Bucs again this year. I just don’t see that happening without Winston.
PREDICTION 2: Wouldn’t Be Surprised To See Bucs Go Back To Mickens
Jaelon Darden had a rough game in New Orleans. His lone kick return went for just 17 yards and he averaged 4.7 yards per punt return on three returns. On offense, Darden caught all three passes thrown his way, but for just 11 yards. Darden wasn’t bad on Sunday, but he wasn’t good either.
Bucs KR-PR Jaelon Darden – Photo by: USA Today
He struggled with his footing on a few returns, slipping on the Superdome turf more than once. The Saints coverage units are some of the best in the league, so Sunday’s performance wasn’t entirely Darden’s fault. I just wonder if the Bucs don’t turn to the more reliable Jaydon Mickens after the bye week. Especially after Darden failed to call for a clear fair catch and almost fumbled on the ensuing hit.
Mickens is on the practice squad and could give Tampa Bay’s special teams a veteran spark. The trick will be making room for Mickens on the active roster, especially with cornerbacks Carlton Davis III and Sean Murphy-Bunting possibly returning from injured reserve after the bye week.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 spent six years 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@example.com
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