Plenty of media and fans across the nation spent the better part of the past seven months talking about deflated footballs. In Tampa Bay now, it’s all about deflated spirits.
That’s what happens to a team and its fan base after losses like the meltdown in Washington. All of the promise shown in the first half, all the hopeful thoughts of being 3-3 heading to Atlanta next week; it was all pretty much wasted because of an exceptionally miserable second half.
“That football team that played in the first half, we’re that team,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said Monday. “We’re, unfortunately, also that team that played in the second half. I think we’re more along the lines of what we saw in the first half.”
Let’s hope so, Coach.
WIDEOUT ISSUES Tampa Bay went from being solid at wide receiver to wondering who’s going to be suiting up next week.
Smith and the team officially announced that Louis Murphy’s knee injury is an ACL tear that ends his season. More concerning, though, is the knee injury that knocked out starter Vincent Jackson early in the second half. Smith didn’t elaborate on the severity or specifics of the veteran’s situation but it’s never a good spot to be in.
Russell Shepard’s nagging hamstring injury left Tampa Bay with four active receivers yesterday and that number suddenly dropped to two after the injuries. Quarterback Jameis Winston mentioned during his postgame conference how that affected Tampa Bay’s second-half offensive game plan and Smith touched on it as well Monday.
Moving forward, Tampa Bay has some decisions to make deciding which receivers to activate.
“That affected our game plan a lot [yesterday],” Smith said. “It’s about the next guy up, though. Donteea Dye has really stepped up and given us some good reps. With Louis down, of course, I’d say we’re going to move another guy up. Adam Humphries has been in that role before, but we’ll just kind of look at our options out there and then go from there. Hopefully, too, before long, we’ll get another option in our passing game in Austin Seferian-Jenkins back. That can also counter the third receiver and what he’s been doing, too.”
Dye made the most of his lone target yesterday. His first NFL reception also counted as his first touchdown when he pulled in a 7-yarder in the second quarter. It’s premature to consider the rookie out of Division III Heidelberg University a reliable option opposite Mike Evans in the event Jackson has to miss time.
In addition to Dye, Humphries is currently stashed away on the practice squad with fellow rookies Rannell Hall and Evan Spencer.
DEFENSIVE CHANGES Something’s not working in the Bucs’ secondary and the team remains in search of the personnel combination to provide some backend stability.
Nine different defensive backs saw action Sunday as Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins racked up 206 of his 317 passing yards in the second half – not to mention all three of his touchdowns through the air.
Since deciding Alterraun Verner is no longer the answer on the edge opposite Johnthan Banks, Tim Jennings and Mike Jenkins have both flamed out. Jennings was a healthy scratch yesterday and Jenkins spent most of his afternoon chasing after Redskins pass catchers and watching them haul in completions.
Coach Smith addressed the secondary’s struggles Monday and said the team is still searching for answers.
“If we’re making changes and we’re looking at different people, we are not satisfied with what we have gotten. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “If something isn’t right and you feel like there is another option that you haven’t tapped into, you have to look at that. That’s what we’ve been doing. I think we’ve looked at just about everybody back there that we have on the roster to see if we can get the perfect combination, but we’re not there yet. We weren’t there for the last half of the game. The first half those same guys made a couple plays.”
Rookie Jude Adjei-Barimah received his biggest chunk of playing time this season, getting on the field for 13 defensive snaps, and pretty much performed like a youngster. He got in on one pass breakup but also looked lost at other moments. One of those low-light plays resulted in Ryan Grant’s third-quarter, 3-yard touchdown. Adjei-Barimah was following Grant going in motion and then switched off to cover the inside slot man at the snap. That left Grant wide open in the back-right corner of the end zone and Adjei-Barimah and Banks double-covering a man in the middle.
Similar to the wide receiver situation, Tampa Bay’s only other in-house secondary options are young practice squad guys. Keon Lyn and Daxton Swanson are both cornerbacks with one year of NFL experience.
HOBART HAMMER Rookie offensive lineman Ali Marpet has been receiving positive reviews since jumping immediately into the starting right guard position out of Division III Hobart College.
He, along with many other Buccaneers, had trouble avoiding penalties Sunday and one of his three was of the 15-yard variety. Coach Smith stated his concern about the number of personal foul infractions during press conferences yesterday and today.
Given the situation, this one didn’t seem too bad.
The play came on the first drive of the third quarter when Winston fled the pocket for a short gain but was stripped of the football. After recovering his own fumble, Winston was on the ground and hit late by former Buccaneer Dashon Goldson. The safety known for his aggressive style technically went helmet-to-helmet on Winston, as well, and Marpet reacted to the situation by instantly defending his quarterback. He went after Goldson and gave him a good shove, which Goldson played up with an NBA-style flop.
Marpet can’t be doing this on a consistent basis and he caught an earful on the sideline after the series stalled out, but I’d still rather see a guy’s kneejerk reaction be going after anyone trying to mess with his quarterback rather than doing nothing and letting it happen. Maybe just rein it in a little next time.
HO-JO MOJO Nobody more than defensive end Howard Jones is making the most out of his playing time recently.
The 25-year-old burst onto the scene two weeks ago when he recorded two of the team’s six total sacks against Jacksonville.
That was his first NFL regular-season game action and he followed it up by making another splash on Sunday. It was Jones that scooped up Cousins’ fumble and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown that put Tampa Bay on top 24-0 at the time.
Jones is being eased in as a backup to ends Jacquies Smith, George Johnson and Will Gholston, playing 34 of the total 123 defensive snaps (27.6 percent) the last two games. But his early ability to make things happen and be in the right place at the right time, coupled with recent struggles from others at the position, could result in increased playing time.
DON’T FORCE IT, JAMEIS Despite the loss on the scoreboard and the mid-game loss of two receivers, rookie Jameis Winston managed to turn in his best all-around performance of the season in Washington.
He set season-highs in passer rating (128.1), yardage (297) and completion percentage (72.4), while adding two touchdowns and protecting the football by avoiding turnovers.
Winston got a little fortune with the zero giveaways, however.
His aforementioned fumble that resulted in Marpet’s personal foul penalty came when he was a runner outside the pocket. In addition to defenders trying to take his head off in these scenarios, just about all of them will be swiping and punching at the football.
Another careless moment came in the first quarter on the team’s second offensive series when Winston was trying to do a little too much. The Bucs faced a third-and-2 situation from the Washington 4 and when he was flushed out of the pocket to his right he kept his eyes downfield looking for something to open up. That’s a good thing. Rotating and trying to throw across his body into the middle of the end zone, however, is not.
Winston’s pass sailed high and out of harm’s way, but that is not a good habit to get into moving forward.