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. Tampa Bay lost another heartbreaker, this one in overtime at Seattle, 40-36, when the team’s young secondary couldn’t stop Seahawks Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw five touchdowns. After the game, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians was proud of his young players, but that matters little as the team lost its fourth straight game to fall to 2-6 on the year.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Tampa Bay’s Young Defense Gets Shredded – Again
The Bucs have invested a lot of draft picks to address the secondary, including three selections this year in cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean and safety Mike Edwards. Last year, general manager Jason Licht spent two second-round picks on M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis and a fourth-round pick on strong safety Jordan Whitehead.
The problem is that this secondary is too young and too inexperienced. If you haven’t been watching all season as quarterback after quarterback has piled up 300-yard game after 300-yard game, Seattle’s Russell Wilson shredded the secondary for 378 yards and five touchdowns and no interceptions in the Seahawks’ come-from-behind 40-34 overtime win.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “At one time we had six rookies out there on defense and they were fighting their asses off. This was an NFL game for some of them and they got broken in pretty good.”
The young guy who got broken in with a brutal trial by fire game was Dean, who started in place of Davis, who injured his hip in pre-game warm-ups. Dean gave up several big plays down the stretch, in addition to both of Tyler Lockett’s touchdown and a score by rookie D.K. Metcalf. Lockett had a career-high 13 catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns and Metcalf had six catches for 123 yards and a score.
“Carlton’s injury throws a young guy out there, and like I said, when you are playing with six rookies with snaps out there – and they held their own,” Arians said. “It’s a bright future – yeah, we’re pissed off about losing a game that went to overtime that we thought we should win just like last week. But I see the growth. I see us getting better.”
The Bucs recorded three sacks on the day, but couldn’t pressure Wilson when it mattered the most it seemed. And Dean looked gassed at the end of the game and had trouble keeping up with Metcalf.
“He made some good plays and he made some bad plays,” Arians said of Dean. “It was a big learning experience. It’s the most that he’s played – just physically being tired. I thought Sean Murphy-Bunting … he’s been growing and growing. I thought this one was a good one for Jamel. Mike Edwards got out there and got some snaps. The growth is good.”
Growth is good, experience is good, but losing is bad. It’s always better to grow and learn through wins than through losses. And the fact that the Bucs have been young and inexperienced in the secondary has really played a role in the team’s six losses this season.
“Just have to grow up,” Arians said. “We are really, really, really young. Over there we had three rookies playing in the back end and Devin [White], and [Anthony] Nelson got hurt. Just keep growing. Keep growing, but I love the way they competed.”
The evaluation of Tampa Bay’s young secondary boils down to one of two things. Either the Bucs just don’t have enough playmakers on defense and drafted the wrong guys, especially in the secondary, or the young defenders just haven’t had enough time to develop into playmakers yet.
Bucs Super Bowl cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly struggled mightily as rookies and second-year players. It wasn’t until three years into Barber’s NFL career that he emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber playmaker, and it wasn’t until five years into Kelly’s career that he led the NFC in interceptions, helping the Bucs get to and win the Super Bowl.
It’s too early to tell if players like Dean, Davis, Murphy-Bunting, Edwards and Whitehead have Pro Bowl potential, but they certainly haven’t showed it yet as the Bucs have now gone three straight games without an interception. One thing is for certain, until these players gain more experience and create more plays the yardage and touchdowns allowed will continue – and the losses will also pile up.
STATEMENT 2: Make No Mistake – This Is A Bucs Loss
Don’t be excited about how well the Bucs played on Sunday, losing to the Seahawks in overtime. It doesn’t matter. Tampa Bay lost. There shouldn’t be any moral victories for this team any more. Yet at the end of the game, Arians seemed incline to take one.
“I can’t be more proud of our guys,” Arians said. “To have the injuries that we had at the last second and to take this team to overtime – and that’s a hell of a football team. I think it speaks volumes about our guys. A play or two – we’re just a play or two [away] and we win last week and we win last week.
“They’re pissed – they’re really pissed because it’s like two weeks in a row. They worked hard in practice this week and it showed in this game. I can’t ask any more from these guys. I can’t be more prouder of them.”
With all due respect, nobody wants to hear that.
A loss is a loss – and the Bucs now have six of them and only two wins.
Arians can be proud of his players – it’s his team. And I appreciate his rah-rah style after the game.
But this is a franchise that is destined to have a 12th straight losing season, and the narrative has to change. At some point in time, there has to be a tipping point. At some point in time there has to be a game where a player or players rise up and make a play to win the game, and then do it again the next week and the week after that.
Arians just got here, and I’m sensing that this turnaround job is not nearly as easy as he thought it was going to be. Arians had never lost three games in a row before – and now he’s lost four games in a row for the first time.
I think Arians is in unchartered territory. At 2-6 this season is now lost. But for it to have any success in the future it has to learn how to win over the final eight games. There has to be a stretch where the Bucs win three games in a row to end the year, or win four out of the last five. Otherwise Arians’ first season in Tampa Bay will be a big waste.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Did White Turn A Corner In Seattle?
Yes, in a big way. Inside linebacker Devin White, the team’s first-round pick, missed a few games after injuring his knee in Week 2 and that slowed him down. But after a nine-tackle effort against Carolina in London, White forced a key fumble on a fake field goal attempt in last week’s loss at Tennessee. Although that play didn’t count because the refs missed the call and blew an inadvertent whistle.
That didn’t stop White from making some significant progress as a playmaker in Seattle as the LSU product easily had the best game of his young career with 12 tackles, two forced fumbles and half a sack. White showed off his 4.4 speed in chasing down Seahawks running back Chris Carson on a breakaway 59-yard run and knocked the ball out from behind.
“Just catch him – that was a huge, big-time play,” Arians said. “I saw Tyrann Mathieu do that his rookie year and catch Jared Cook. I just wish we would’ve gotten the damn ball. It was a great play by him but we don’t recover the ball. The ball bounces out of bounds.”
White wasn’t drafted that high just to make tackles. The Bucs are expecting splash plays from White and he’s starting to deliver, although his day wasn’t perfect. White was flagged for pass interference on tight end Jacob Hollister that resulted in a 38-yard penalty, which gave Seattle a first down at the Tampa Bay 1-yard line in the first half. The Seahawks would score a touchdown on that possession.
Still, it was a step in the right direction for the young rookie linebacker.
“Devin White’s play on Carson was unbelievable,” Arians said. “We just don’t get that fumble. That’s what these young guys are all about. Each and every guy had a hand in the pile today.”
QUESTION 2: Should The Bucs Have Gone For The Win With A 2-Point Conversion?
Yes. Arians had too much confidence in his coaching staff, specifically defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, not to go for the win with a two-point conversion. Instead Arians made an error in not understanding that the Bucs young secondary was gassed, especially Dean, who was getting picked on repeatedly.
“No, just because of history here and we had held them – their kicker just missed one,” Arians said of not going for two points after the Bucs’ touchdown with 46 seconds left in regulation. “No, there was no [thought of going for the win with a two-point conversion].”
Lose the coin flip in overtime and there’s a decent chance Seattle marches down the field for the game-winning touchdown without Tampa Bay’s offense – the best unit the Bucs had on Sunday – not touching the ball. And that’s exactly what happened.
I would have taken my chances with a pass to Mike Evans or Chris Godwin to win the game on a two-point conversion. No risk it, no biscuit, right?
No. Instead, Arians let his past success in Seattle dictate his decision, which was wrong. Arians isn’t coaching the Cardinals anymore. This is the 2-6 Buccaneers we’re talking about.
“That’s the thing – every time in overtime you want that ball,” Arians said. “I’ve had some doozies with these guys before, and I thought we had them stopped and they made a really good third down conversion.”
Was Arians protecting Byron Leftwich, whose play-calling has come under fire in recent weeks from fans and some in the media, including yours truly, by not having the offense attempt a two-point conversion? Did he not want the game coming down to a throw from Jameis Winston, who completed 29-of-44 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns, because of the heat Winston has taken in recent weeks?
Only Arians knows for sure, but I wouldn’t have trusted the Bucs defense and its young, porous secondary to try to win the game for Tampa Bay.
Because in the end, it didn’t.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Evans And Godwin Will Make The Pro Bowl
Tampa Bay has only had a few Pro Bowl wide receivers in over 40 years of football, including two-time Pro Bowler Mike Evans, who is the franchise’s greatest receiver. This year, the Bucs will have two Pro Bowl receivers in the same season for the first time in team history.
A week after Evans had 11 catches for 198 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s loss at Tennessee, he recorded a career-high 12 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown at Seattle. That pushes his season totals to 50 receptions for 842 yards and seven touchdowns.
Godwin had seven catches for 61 yards against the Seahawks, and that increases his season totals to 54 receptions for 766 yards and six touchdowns. Evans now has the second-most yards behind New Orleans’ Michael Thomas’ 875 yards, while Godwin ranks fifth in the league behind Seattle’s Tyler Lockett, who has 767 yards.
Evans is more of a shoo-in if he maintains his current production levels because he’s a household name. But if Godwin can top 1,200 yards and get at least 10 touchdowns he should definitely get Pro Bowl consideration, too.
PREDICTION 2: Bucs Secure A Top 10 Draft Pick
With its fourth straight loss after a 2-2 start, Tampa Bay is now 2-6 with eight games left. Even with a 4-4 finish down the stretch, which seems unlikely given the fact that these Bucs haven’t learned how to win yet.
The Bucs entered the game with the ninth overall pick if the season ended prior to kickoff, and at 2-6, Tampa Bay has now moved up to eighth and is tied with Cleveland and the New York Giants with that record.
In order for the Bucs to get to .500 and finish 8-8, Tampa Bay would have to go 6-2 down the stretch, which seems improbable. Even a 5-3 finish to improve to 7-9 seems unrealistic given how the last four weeks have gone.
Right now it’s a safe bet to assume the Bucs will have a Top 10 draft pick for a third straight year, unfortunately.