Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
Sikkema’s Story of the Week
GOOD AFTERNOON, FRIENDS.
THE TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS ARE BEATING THE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS IN EVERY FACET OF THE GAME OF FOOTBALL AT HALFTIME.
ASK ME ANYTHING.
— 🎄christmas tre🎄 (@TampaBayTre) December 9, 2018
Every facet of the game. And I wasn’t wrong.
At the end of the first half, the Buccaneers had a 14-3 lead and the New Orleans Saints right where they wanted them. And after Drew Brees fumbled on the second play of the second half and gave the ball right back to the Buccaneers, you could see the future before your very eyes.
A win over the Saints; a sweep, even.
Two games on the road with the playoffs on the line.
Coming back to Tampa Bay, perhaps one win away from the goal of running the table and making the playoffs.
— Sports Gifs & Videos (@Supreme_Gifs) December 9, 2018
And then we woke up.
That moment, as Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter later went on to proclaim, was the turning point in the game. The Buccaneers were still up on the the scoreboard at that time, but it wouldn’t last. After that blocked punt, the next four Buccaneers drives went: minus-13 yards and a punt, minus-1 yard and a punt, three yards and a punt, and an interception to end the game. In the span of those failed drives were 25 unanswered points for New Orleans, enough to give the Saints the victory.
The Bucs had the Saints right where they wanted them – and then they remember they were the Buccaneers. They crumbled, just like they always do.
Having guys like defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul here in Tampa Bay has been quite the change of pace when it has come to the mentality for winning in the locker room, and you know what? I’ll give Vinny Curry his due, too. Those two guys hate losing. They aren’t losers. They won’t be losers. But they are now. At least on this Bucs team.
I remember walking into the Tampa Bay locker room after its embarrassing defeat up in Chicago earlier this year. The locker room was as silent as can be. I remember walking up to Pierre-Paul and Curry specifically, each with disbelief in their eyes that their team just lost 48-10. Pierre-Paul said it was the worst loss he’s ever been a part of. Meanwhile Curry was just trying to say the words out loud that that wasn’t what they were, that they couldn’t allow themselves to believe they were a team that was capable of losing like that.
Welcome to Tampa Bay.
I hate being this negative and bleak. I really do. That whole “you media guys love when the team loses” is ridiculous. No, we don’t. You really think we enjoy talking to players and coaches that don’t want to answer our questions we have to keep asking about why they can’t figure this out? You think that’s fun?
The two two-game win streaks the Buccaneers went on this year was the most enjoyable I’ve had as journalists here recently. I don’t like dogging on this team. I wish I didn’t have to. You have to sit there and try to craft ways to ask each man why they can’t get it done. But this is who they are.
If you ask me, this season had three potential turning points.
The first was against the Steelers.
Monday Night Football. It doesn’t happen often for the Buccaneers, but this time it did, and it was in their house. I remember going down from the press box to go meet my dad at his seat to say hello for a few minutes before kick off. As I stood their under the lights with thousands of crazy, jacked-up Tampa Bay fans, eager to see their 2-0 Buccaneers take the stage on national television, I remember standing next to my dad, hearing him talk about the team, and I couldn’t help but think of all the games he’s been to. You know, the ones back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The ones that held meaning. And I couldn’t help but think that the game we were about to watch might be historic. It might be the moment it all turns around. I mean, if they were to win that one, with the whole world watching, the Buccaneers would be back on the map for the first time in 10 years.
It wasn’t. It was a 30-27 loss instead.
The next was against the Falcons after the bye week. Though Tampa Bay had lost two in a row, that didn’t have to be the identity of this football team. The Bucs could still be the team that went 2-0 to start the year, even with Jameis Winston back as the starting quarterback. Beating the Falcons would be huge. It would mean they were still two up games in the division. Though it was a back-and-forth game, the Bucs had a chance at the end, and the moment that broke Buccaneers fans’ hearts was the final play, the one that bounced six inches too short of DeSean Jackson’s hands out of bounds as the clock struck zero. Imagine if that ball had just travel six more inches. Imagine how much that changes things. The Bucs lost 34-29.
And the final one needs no recap, it was the game we just saw. After winning two in a row, the Bucs had the Saints’ number. They had them down double-digits at halftime. They were forcing turnovers from Brees. They had the Saints’ run and pass games contained.
And then it was gone. And the main takeaway from it all, is that when the moments are brightest, when they mean the most, when they could change everything, this team doesn’t know how to win, evidenced by 25 straight points by the defending NFC South champion Saints in a 28-14 win over Tampa Bay.
Whether the Bucs win the turnover battle or lose it. Whether the defense holds the opposing team under 20 points or they don’t. Whether they throw for 500 yards or not. Whatever it is – and everything in between – no recipe is a recipe for victory for this team, at least not enough; not against the best. They will find a way to lose. They will believe their own fear of failure. The second momentum began to slip against New Orleans, that rope of control came flying out of their hands.
Good teams can feel control slipping and snap back into shape. Just look at what the Saints did on Sunday in the second half. Heck, good teams can start like the Saints did and refuse to believe it’s over. But even comebacks can be easy. It’s when the pressure is all there that really matters.
What’s the phrase? No pressure, no diamonds?
There are no diamonds in Tampa Bay.
It’s just ashes. Again.