Tampa Bay took one on the chin yesterday and things aren’t set to get easier any time soon.
Sure, New Orleans isn’t the New Orleans of a few years ago, but the Titans aren’t exactly the 1990s Cowboys, either.
Head coach Lovie Smith stepped to the podium and used the word disappointing or disappointed six times within the first minute of Monday’s press conference, which is about how much time it took Tennessee to hang six on the board Sunday afternoon.
“We put an awful lot into being ready for the opening weekend to play your best ball,” he said after getting a night to sleep on yesterday’s debacle. “You assume that you’re ready to go. You have to get to that first game. In our case we got to that first game and we weren’t as ready as I thought we would be. So it’s disappointing.”
Once again the Buccaneers offense, like an old diesel engine in a Buffalo winter, needed some time to warm up before being of any use. Unlike that old diesel engine, the Bucs performed more like a 4-cylinder Geo Metro.
Tennessee commanded the start with a 21-0 first-quarter lead that saw Tampa Bay generate just 78 yards of total offense. The Bucs’ first two drives resulted in rookie quarterback Jameis Winston’s pick-6 and a three-and-out.
Running back Doug Martin helped get the offense on track its third time with the ball, picking up 36 yards on the drive’s first four plays. Winston went on to hit tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins with a 5-yard touchdown pass on the opening play of the second quarter.
Not waiting until a new 15 minutes gets put on the clock to generate points would be a welcomed sight, though. The Bucs averaged just 2.7 points in the first quarter in 2014, better than only Tennessee. At home that number dropped to 2.0.
NO HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE
Any time a team loses by 28 points, even the shoddiest of refereeing can’t be to blame. That being said, the Bucs got no home-field favors Sunday.
It took just one offensive snap to see the first head-scratcher when safety Major Wright apparently hit running back Bishop Sankey too hard. It’s not the last time we’ll see a big hit result in an infuriating 15-yard penalty and Sunday’s helped Tennessee move out of trouble to its own 26.
One quarter later came a forward progress call as defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was busy strip-sacking quarterback Marcus Mariota at the Titans 2. The ball bounced into the end zone and appeared to be good for a Buccaneers touchdown or at least a safety. This was a borderline call, but it was another that didn’t go in Tampa Bay’s favor. Despite being down 21-7 at the time, a healthy dose of positive momentum that early in the second quarter wouldn’t have hurt.
About three-and-a-half minutes of game time later the refs were being showered in boos once again. Head coach Lovie Smith sent the offense back on the field on fourth-and-1 near midfield and running back Doug Martin appeared to give Tampa Bay a fresh set of downs with a short run. Tennessee head coach Ken Whisenhunt challenged the spot and officials agreed with the second-guessing. Martin’s knee may have hit the turf before he fell forward enough to move the chains, but seeing the ball picked up and slid back just far enough to result in a turnover on downs was like adding insult to injury at that point.
Officials tied a bow on the performance during garbage time in the fourth, hitting receiver Vincent Jackson with an offensive pass interference call that wiped out what could have been Winston’s third touchdown pass of an otherwise forgettable afternoon.
MAKING IT RAINEY
Of the few positives Bucs fans can look to from Sunday’s loss, Bobby Rainey’s job handling kick and punt return duties makes the cut.
It’s a small positive, but it wasn’t bad; which in this case is pretty good.
Tennessee kicked off plenty yesterday and Rainey got to run three back, averaging 27.7 yards per attempt. What the fourth-year backup running back lacks in size he more than makes up for in effort. Rainey ran back kicks with a straight-forward decisiveness that was encouraging to see. Though his returns may lack the electricity shown by top-notch guys around the league, he didn’t put the offense in a tough spots, either.
And while Rainey’s 8.5-yard average on two punt returns doesn’t look like much, it’s not including a nice 24-yard run-back to the Tennessee 38 in the second quarter that was negated by Johnthan Banks’ illegal block above the waist penalty.
It was only one game, but a 27.7-yard kick return average over the course of an entire season would have ranked fourth-best in the NFL last year. Despite that fact, Rainey’s probably keeping both return spots warm until someone else is called upon to take over. He’s that guy that always seems to fill in admirably when needed but never gets trusted for a full-time position.