If this was indeed the biggest game in years for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, well, it ended as the biggest disappointment.
So much for the division title.
So much for the favorite’s shot at the playoffs.
After a 31-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints, it felt like another coal-in-the-stocking Christmas. It felt like another year without a pony. It felt like another season on the wrong side of the nice-naughty list (the one where teams have clinched the playoffs by Week 15).
What it felt like was just another lousy finish for the Bucs, who seem to fold up after Thanksgiving. Remember that five-game winning streak? It was a tease. Nothing more. A mirage. A double-reverse with a stumble at the end.
Oh, I know, I know. Officially, the Bucs are not eliminated from the post-season. There is still hope. But it would take a loaves-and-fishes level of miracle. The Bucs are on the outside of the ledge where you can see the wild card race, where you have to scramble and chase and scoreboard watch. In one game, they went from playoff favorites to outsiders.
How do we sum up the team’s playoff’s chances? Well, they’re in a foreign language, and you need calculus to get there, and a Rubik’s Cube is involved. Carry the one, and a lot of teams have to lose. And the Bucs have to win, which may be the hard part.
Well, because they couldn’t win the sequel game … again.
Think about this: Over the last two seasons, the Bucs are 5-1 in their first games against division rivals. The second time they have played them? They are 1-4 (with Carolina awaiting next week).
So what is that? Coaching? Injuries? Players? Either way, it’s a disturbing stat. Teams are supposed to get stronger and smarter and hungrier as a season goes along, not the other way around.
The Bucs simply weren’t good enough on Sunday. The offense wasn’t crisp enough. The defense wasn’t strong enough. Frankly, the team didn’t play like a playoff team. It didn’t leave you with the feeling it would have been capable of going very far in the postseason.
“We played hard,” said Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter. “We played hard enough, we just didn’t play good enough today. The turnovers [were critical], as it is in many games, those two turnovers led to two touchdowns and we didn’t get any the other way. When you have two turnovers like that lead to 14 quick points against a quarterback like they have, it’s just going to be tough sledding if you don’t take it away on the other end.”
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Getty Images
There was Jameis Winston, who threw for 277 yards, but who threw two interceptions. These were not the end-of-the-half interceptions. They weren’t the bounced-off-the-receiver’s-hands interceptions. These were throwing the wrong spot and the wrong jersey interceptions.
There was Doug Martin, helmet unattached. Martin couldn’t even find his way to the field. Last year, Martin was the second-best running back in the NFL. This year, he isn’t one of the Bucs’ top four. You go figure. Either the Bucs made a mistake when they re-signed Martin, or they made one Saturday when they chose to play without him.
There was the run defense, which gave up 123 yards. New Orleans has the 17th-ranked running game in the league.
There was the pass defense, which gave up 299 yards throwing to Drew Brees. Brees threw three picks when the teams played last; this time, he threw none. It’s odd. If you look at the history of the Bucs playing against Brees, you’ll see they fare better in games where they put pressure on him. The previous four games, in fact, the Bucs had 11 sacks and a 2-2 record. But pressure didn’t happen nearly often enough Saturday.
There was the lousy start to the second half, where Josh Huff botched yet another kickoff, and the team followed with no gain and an interception.
“Much like an earlier game this year, when we have bad plays we have a tendency to string them too close together,” said Koetter. “It was a bad play on that kickoff, then we had a no gain on a run and then a second-and-10 interception. It was just a bad string of plays right there, a bad way to start the second half. It was a one-score game and then right off the bat we make it a two-score game.”
In the years since winning the Super Bowl, the Bucs have made the playoffs only twice. The last of those was the 2007 season.
The reason, most times, has been simple.
They weren’t special enough.
So how will you look back on this season? As a start, maybe. As a nice little winning streak, maybe. As a step for Winston, maybe.
No. In the end, these Bucs weren’t special enough.
No one has won more awards, including two national Associated Press Sports Editors Best Columnist awards and eight top 10 finishes, than the legendary Gary Shelton, former sports columnist of the St. Petersburg Times. Shelton returns to PewterReport.com for his second season of providing post-game commentary on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like no one else can.
Shelton just received his sixth Sportswriter of the Year award for Florida by the NSSA, and no one has seen more big events, including 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics and 11 Final Fours. Shelton still goes into the locker room to obtain his stories.
And no one has made you angrier, or laugh louder, or think harder about what he has written. Simply put, no one has covered Tampa Bay sports like Shelton has. Now you can read Shelton daily on GarySheltonSports.com and follow him on Twitter at @Gary_Shelton
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Legendary sports columnist Gary Shelton returns to PewterReport.com for his second season of providing post-game commentary on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like no one else can. No one has won more sports writing awards than Shelton, who has covered Tampa Bay area sports for decades with his unique brand of humor and insight. Bucs fans can Shelton daily on GarySheltonSports.com and follow him on Twitter at @Gary_Shelton
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