CB VERNON HARGREAVES III
When you start a rookie cornerback there will be some growing pains. Some times they hurt worse than others. Saturday was one of those painful days both literally and figuratively. Hargreaves was picked on by Drew Brees for a big part of the game and the rookie from Florida was beaten a number of times. In his defense he was shaken up in the first half and then later in the game but was able to tough it out. Despite his struggles Hargreaves did manage six tackles along with two pass breakups. Better days are ahead for Hargreaves, and days like Saturday will become more and more rare as he develops and learns the slightest errors can turn into big plays, first downs and touchdowns.
QB JAMEIS WINSTON
Casually glancing at the stat sheet Winston’s final numbers don’t look terrible. But the bottom line is, elite quarterbacks find ways to win tough, meaningful games in December. To be fair, it isn’t like Winston had a ton of weapons to work with, and after the Cameron Brate injury, he lost one of his favorite targets. But two very costly interceptions on poor decisions really hurt the Bucs chances of winning, and basically put a stake through the heart of the Bucs playoff chances.
Quarterbacks get took much credit when they win and too much blame when they lose. Again to be fair, Dirk Koetter did him few favors in the second half, throwing 25 times and only running the ball eight times., despite the team averaging over four yards per carry. In fact, Winston dropped back over 20 times in a row from midway through the third quarter, until the end of the game.
But that is life in the NFL, and a lesson hopefully learned. Winston finished 23 of 35 for 277 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Winston also took a costly sack in the first half on a ball he could have thrown away. The second half sack wasn’t one that can be pinned on him.
KR JOSH HUFF
Josh Huff seems like a nice guy. And the staff thinks he has potential and brings a speed dynamic to the team. However if Huff is lined up to return kicks again next week, someone should have to answer for it. Once again, a mishandled kickoff spelled disaster. Opening the second half with the Bucs down just six points, the ball got way from Huff who dropped it after gathering it in and was tackled inside the five. A run went for no yards next, and that was followed with with an ill-advised Winston interception that lead to another Saints score and a 20-7 lead.
RG ALI MARPET
The Bucs’ shuffled-up offensive line did a good job protecting Winston, limiting the Saints to two sacks and four total quarterback hits. The group also did a fairly decent job in the rushing attack. Led by Jacquizz Rodgers, the Bucs gained 4.2 yards per carry but ran just 21 times for 89 yards. Marpet was the line’s weakest link Saturday, however. The second-year right guard got beat a few too many times and committed three penalties. Two of those penalties – a hold and false start – came within four snaps of each other. Marpet’s other infraction – a fourth-quarter hold to try and keep Saints defensive tackle Nick Fairley from teeing off on Winston – was declined in favor of Winston’s intentional grounding penalty.
As mentioned above, when the coaching staff watches the film they will most likely wish they had leaned on the running game a little more, particularly in the second half when the last run came with 4:10 left in the third quarter. Granted the Bucs were playing from behind, but the Bucs defense struggled much of the game getting off the field and one way to keep the Saints from scoring was the use a ball-control approach. The onside kick was also an odd decision as the Bucs had all three timeouts left with two minutes left. Even had the Bucs forced a punt, most likely they would have been pinned inside their 20 with no timeouts, needing to go at least 80 yards to tie the game.