You can watch football for a long time and not see a victory handed away like the Bucs did on Sunday. Against a Saints team down to their third-string quarterback, the Bucs still found a way to lose. Three turnovers played a huge role in the loss, but more egregious were Tampa Bay’s 11 penalties for 99 yards. After the game, head coach Bruce Arians didn’t mince words.
“I thought that it was an embarrassing display of football,” Arians said. “Of all the things that we talked about coming down here, about what it takes to win, and to play like that. It starts with me. Obviously, we weren’t ready to play. Penalties, turnovers, you’re not beating anybody that way.”
The Bucs final turnover came on an attempt at a game-winning drive, a situation they never should have been in. Tom Brady’s first interception occurred because of two egregious uncalled defensive infractions. Tyler Johnson was bear-hugged ten yards down the field in his route, while Chris Godwin was grabbed around the waist coming out of his break. The latter interference caused the receiver to stumble and not arrive at the catch point in time. It would end up being one of many missed calls that swung the game.
Of the Bucs 11 penalties, several were poor calls. But that has been the story all season for Tampa Bay, as the second most penalized team in the NFL with 59 infractions. That’s one behind the “league-leading” Eagles, with 60. But the Bucs have surrendered 580 yards in penalties this year, by far the most in the league. That’s almost as many rushing yards as Tampa Bay’s defense has allowed (620)!
“Penalties,” Arians said. “We gave it to them. They (the Saints) did a nice reverse (on the game-winning drive). 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.”
We won’t go through each penalty, but a quick look at some of the major ones tells the whole story. A roughing the passer flag on Devin White was obviously a bad call upon replay. It prevented a 3rd-and-12 for the Saints from the Bucs 26-yard line. Instead, New Orleans got a first-and-10 from the 14.
Antoine Winfield Jr. intercepted Trevor Siemian on the next play, but Will Gholston was then flagged for roughing the passer. Of course, officials missed that Gholston’s helmet was knocked off his head by Terron Armstead. Also, Gholston barely touched Siemian. I mean, what are we doing here?
Bad officiating was the theme of the game. I could go into several more examples, but the Bucs also had a plethora of penalties they could have controlled, but didn’t. Tampa Bay leads the league in pre-snap penalties with 23, adding another three on Sunday. The vast majority of issues for the Bucs have come on defensive offsides and neutral zone infractions. That’s nothing new, as the Bucs led the NFL with 11 defensive offsides and 14 neutral zone infractions last year. In 2019, the Bucs led the league with 15 neutral zone infractions, and were seventh-worst with seven defensive offsides.
In 2021, it’s been more of the same. Tampa Bay is currently tied for the league-lead with five defensive offsides, and are third with three neutral zone infractions. Offensively, 11 false starts are tied for third-worst in the NFL. Those are all issues the Bucs can control, but simply haven’t. Sloppy play before the snap on both sides of the ball is a big reason why the Bucs aren’t 8-0 at the bye.
Now, here’s a little bit more frustration and a little bit of hope. Right now, the Bucs are beating themselves and getting hosed by poor officiating. Officials almost cost them a game against New England earlier this season, and finally did cost them one against the Saints. Still, the Bucs should have been able to overcome it in Week 8, but weren’t up to the task.
NFL officiating is just bad, period. Don’t buy into any conspiracy theories. No matter what it seems, officials do not have it out for your favorite team. Through eight games this season, officiating has just happened to be brutally bad in favor of the Bucs’ opposition, and rarely in favor of the Bucs. At the midseason point, only one team has benefitted less from penalties and penalty yardage than Tampa Bay.
If the past is any indication, there will be some regression to the mean. Some of the ridiculous calls on the Bucs will cease, and they will start getting a few more calls in their favor. The good news is that, despite the current discrepancy, the Bucs are still 6-2. All their problems are fixable, the schedule is favorable and they should be healthy coming out of the bye. If they can clean up little things like they did last year, Tampa Bay will be just fine.