It was another S.O.B. story for the Buccaneers on Sunday in a 37-32 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
You know, the team that only put up nine points in two games this season?
S.O.B., as in same ol’ Bucs – but there was likely some legitimate sobbing going on at Raymond James Stadium as Tampa Bay fell to 1-2 on the year as the Rams’ mastery of the Bucs somehow continued.
Were those tears streaming down the faces of Bucs fans, or some leftover rain drops after the one-hour weather delay due to lightning and thunderstorms at the two-minute warning? Likely the former. This Tampa Bay team will make you cry.
It was the same ol’ Bucs, as in a team that can’t do the following:
• Win winnable games.
• Win home openers, which hasn’t happened since 2012.
• Beat the Rams, which hasn’t happened in the last four tries.
• Beat Case Keenum, for Pete’s sake.
• Hold a lead – the Bucs led 20-10 in the first half, remember?
• Stop big passing plays on defense. Two TDs over 40 yards.
• Get to the quarterback on defense. One sack.
• Make field goals. One big miss.
• Make extra points. Another big miss.
• Properly manage the clock.
There are 10 things off the top of my head. There are more, but you get the gist of what I’m saying.
A new head coach in Dirk Koetter, a new defensive coordinator in Mike Smith … and not much difference in Tampa Bay – yet.
It’s the same ol’ Bucs – so far.
It’s just three games into the 2016 regular season with 13 more to go, but this loss to the Rams stings. Even if the Bucs somehow make it interesting down the stretch, this loss to an NFC opponent could be the difference between a losing season, and a .500 season, or even between a .500 season and a winning season.
Dare I say between a winning season and a playoff season?
No. Not buying it?
I’m not either after Sunday’s dreadful loss in S.O.B. style. There is a big, big, big difference between 2-1 and 1-2 right now for this Tampa Bay team. And 1-2 it is.
Even if Jameis Winston had pulled off a near-miracle comeback against the Rams, the Bucs would have to be considered one of the worst 2-1 teams in the NFLs due to the wretchedness of their defense.
The safety play is awful.
Tampa Bay’s defensive line can’t get to the quarterback without Jacquies Smith and Robert Ayers it seems.
And after an hour to think about it, the Rams decided that the best place to go with the ball on third-and-11 was right at Brent Grimes, the Bucs’ $8 million cornerback.
Grimes made a nice play on the ball, but got flagged for pass interference in the end zone earlier in the game. It just goes to show you how little NFL offensive coordinators think about this past-his-prime player, which is quite damning.
As bad as the defense played – it surrendered four touchdowns, including two in the red zone, helped doom the Bucs – and as awful as Roberto Aguayo was in missing four critical points, put the blame for this loss squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Jameis Winston and Koetter.
They said so.
Winston had plenty of time and chances to get the ball into the end zone. Taking over at the Bucs’ 44 with 1:42 left with two timeouts, he connected on his first three passes for 29 yards down to the Los Angeles 27 with 49 seconds left.
Winston then hit running back Charles Sims with a 12-yard gain down to the 15-yard line. Sims failed to get out of bounds, choosing instead to pick up the first down but cutting back inside. That was the right call, according to Koetter.
“We tell those guys when they’re near the sideline, if it’s a situation where they can get out, but if the guy overruns it when we have timeouts then they should take the yardage,” Koetter said. “He made a good play there.”
But the wrong call was Koetter not using a timeout after Sims’ gain down to the Rams’ 15. Instead of having close to 40 seconds to operate from inside the L.A. red zone, Tampa Bay had just 26.
“Yes, there was an opportunity,” Koetter said. “I got a lot of confidence in our two-minute [offense] and I sometimes push the envelope on that, on getting to the next play. I thought we were a little bit slow lining up on that next one. I thought we still had time to check it down again and use it, but as it worked out, we were still lining up so I probably should’ve used [a timeout] there.”
The Bucs got just six plays off before time expired after Winston’s 10-yard run on second-and-10 from the Los Angeles 15. Tampa Bay would have had two more plays on that series of downs to score a game-winning touchdown, but it ran out of time. There wouldn’t be a third down chance or a nail-biting fourth down opportunity.
And Koetter took a timeout into the locker room after the game, which was Lovie Smith-like.
Winston made his own wrong call by not throwing the ball up to Mike Evans in the end zone on the final play and letting the 6-foot-5 receiver make a play on the ball. Instead, he got tackled from behind at the 5-yard line after a 10-yard run.
“That was just dumb on my part,” Winston said. “That was bad. I’ve got to get somebody a chance there.
“In that moment I’ve just got to give somebody a chance in the end zone. But when I [saw] them basically drop the whole team, I was like, ‘Man, let’s see what we can do.’”
Evans, who finished with a career-high 10 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown, would have been a nice guy to give a chance to.
For some reason, Winston didn’t throw his way once during the final, 10-play drive.
Instead, Winston targeted Jackson four times on the drive, but only connected on the first pass of the drive, which went for 16 yards.
“At the end of the day, I’ve got to complete the football,” Winston said. “That’s the main thing. I had Vincent Jackson wide open for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone. That’s just pitch and catch – I overthrew him. I had Charles Sims coming over on the check down – overthrew him. But I’m going to get better. I’m going to get better. I guarantee you. I guarantee you I’m going to get better.”
After the game, Koetter admitted there is just something not quite right about these Buccaneers, who haven’t learned how to win yet.
“Our culture is not where it needs to be, and that starts with me – I’m the head of that,” Koetter said. “I’m the head of that, so I’m putting that squarely on my shoulders. There is something about our culture – I wish I could grab it. I’ve been on teams before that have had it, and you don’t want to let go of it. But when you don’t have it, it’s hard to figure out what it is.
“There is something in our culture – and it’s my job to fix it, and the coaches – of letting games like this get away. … We have to get over that hump, and we’re not there.”
Koetter’s candor is refreshing after two years of Smith’s worn, tired coach-speak, but wins are preferred, aren’t they?
Losing winnable games, blowing leads, losing to average or below average quarterbacks, poor pass defense, no pass rush, missed field goals and poor clock management.
We’ve lived this for the past two years under Smith, and it’s games like Sunday’s unthinkable 37-32 loss to the Rams that was a big reason why I called for Smith to be fired last year and replaced by Koetter.
Same ol’ Bucs – for now.
We’ll see if Koetter can figure out and correct his team’s culture, and do it quickly enough to salvage a 2016 season that could easily spiral to a 1-5 start heading into the bye week.
Tampa Bay has to take on both Super Bowl 50 participants in the coming weeks.
It’s Denver next up at home and then hitting the road to face Carolina on Monday Night Football after that.
Somewhere in Illinois, Lovie Smith might be smiling if he wasn’t fretting over his Fighting Illini’s own 1-2 start – thanks in part to an ugly, 34-10 home loss to Western Michigan last week.