It was the Collapse At The Capital – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blowing a 24-0 first half lead at Washington only to lose 31-30 in the final seconds of the game.
I’ve seen enough.
I know you have.
This Buccaneers team can’t finish.
Let’s hope the Glazers have seen enough, too, and decide to finish the Lovie Smith era – and quickly.
“All losses really hurt, but you have some that really leave a deep scar,” said the beleaguered Bucs head coach following a historic choke job. “And this is definitely one of those.”
Smith, whose record is now 4-18 as the head coach in Tampa Bay, is scarring the Buccaneers and their fan base by finding horrific ways to lose games.
The Bucs were supposed to work on fixing a very shaky secondary during the bye week. Top cornerback Johnthan Banks returned to the lineup to replace Tim Jennings, who was awful against Jacksonville, but it didn’t matter.
Protecting a 30-24 lead with 2:24 left in the game, two of Smith’s favorite defenders, safety Bradley McDougald and cornerback Mike Jenkins, got torched on a Redskins touchdown drive that made Kirk Cousins look like Sonny Jurgenson, Joe Theismann and Mark Rypien. Against soft coverage and no pass rush, Cousins made it look easy.
“They had a lot of open looks and a lot of man coverage,” Smith said. “They were making plays where we couldn’t guard them. It’s a combination of both. You try to mix it up as much as you can. Whether it’s zone or man it usually comes down to a one-on-one situation and we didn’t make enough plays.”
The dagger was a 6-yard slant pass to tight end Jordan Reed for the game-winning touchdown with 24 seconds left. McDougald was isolated on Reed and allowed an inside release, which is a cardinal sin inside the 10-yard line.
“You’re supposed to not let them have the slant,” Smith said. “It’s as simple as that. When you get down close to the goal line like that you make them throw a fade. You don’t let them complete the easiest throw. We didn’t get that done today.
“We had opportunities. First and goal and not being able to get a touchdown down there really kind of set up that finish for them. For us, we still have a six-point lead. Defensively, we have got to be able to close the door.”
But Smith’s Buccaneers just can’t seem to finish.
Many Bucs fans want to point to Tampa Bay’s third-and-goal play call from the Redskins’ 1-yard line, which was a 2-yard loss on a toss to running back Charles Sims as a critical turning point in the game – and it was. A touchdown there gives the Bucs a 34-24 lead with 2:27 remaining and a 3-3 record early in the 2015 campaign.
Yet I want to illustrate the fact that Tampa Bay held a 24-7 lead with 1:20 left just before halftime with three timeouts remaining, yet Smith was content to run the clock out and head to the locker room instead of trying for more points. Starting at Tampa Bay’s own 12-yard line, Sims ripped off an 8-yard run and then the Bucs were aided by a Redskins timeout with 1:15 left. Sims picked up four yards and a first down and Smith just let the clock run.
With time still ticking and 30 seconds needlessly running off the clock, Sims rambled for 13 more yards and another first down out to the Tampa Bay 37, which then prompted Smith to call his first timeout of the half. A holding call on the next play brought the ball back to the Tampa Bay 27, but there was still 35 seconds on the clock and two timeouts left to help try to get another Connor Barth field goal on the board before halftime.
Heaven knows the Bucs could have used three more points at the end of the game.
That kind of terrible clock management before halftime cost the Bucs last year in a 19-17 loss to St. Louis, this year in a 37-23 loss to Carolina, and nearly came back to bite Smith in a close, 38-31 victory over Jacksonville two weeks ago in a nearly identical situation as Smith decided to sit on a 20-14 lead and go into halftime with three timeouts in his pocket.
Why does Smith have an aversion to scoring points prior to halftime? He has acknowledged that he doesn’t want anything bad to happen right before the half, but that line of thinking prevents anything good from happening, too.
The Bucs have had trouble finishing in the fourth quarter because they don’t try real hard to finish in the second quarter, either.
No lead is safe in the NFL, especially when you have an awful pass defense like Tampa Bay does that allowed Cousins to complete 33-of-40 passes (82.5 percent) for 317 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Add Cousins’ name to the likes of other non-descript quarterbacks who have beaten Smith’s Buccaneers in Austin Davis, Derek Anderson (twice last year), Ryan Mallett and rookie Marcus Mariota.
Former Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden once told me that an NFL team gets between 10-12 possessions per game on average, and that each one is precious. If you aren’t trying to score on each possession you are simply wasting them.
Thanks to a surprise onside kick in the third quarter that gave some momentum to Washington after it tightened the score to 24-14, the Bucs only had nine possessions to the Redskins’ 11 on Sunday.
And due to Smith’s complacency before halftime, the Bucs only really tried to score on eight of those nine possessions. That’s a fact, and a clear sign that Smith got out-coached by Jay Gruden.
Aside from working on a shaky pass defense over the bye week, I thought the Bucs would be re-emphasizing the need to cut down on penalties, as Tampa Bay has been one of the most undisciplined teams in the NFL this year. The Bucs tied a franchise record with 16 penalties for 142 yards while the Redskins were flagged just four times for 20 yards on Sunday.
“It was losing your poise,” Smith said. “We had too many penalties. Some of the penalties got them going when we had our big lead. It’s just not the type of ball that we should be playing. We had trouble with penalties early in the season but I thought we had gotten past that, but we haven’t.”
How in the world did Smith think the Bucs had improved in the penalty department? Did he not recall the 10 penalties for 72 yards in Tampa Bay’s last game against Jacksonville?
Is he not aware of the fact that only Buffalo has more penalties (72 for 670 yards) than Tampa Bay (64 for 533 yards) does, but that’s only because they’ve played seven games while the Bucs have only played six?
In fact, the Bucs have been penalized 10 times of more in five of their six games this season.
Bucs vs. Titans – 12 penalties for 97 yards Bucs at Saints – 11 penalties for 90 yards Bucs at Texans – 10 penalties for 84 yards Bucs vs. Panthers – 5 penalties for 48 yards Bucs vs. Jaguars – 10 penalties for 72 yards Bucs at Redskins – 16 penalties for 142 yards
The scary thing is that Smith sees improvement in areas where no one else does, like penalties and on defense, despite getting flagged in double digits nearly every week and giving up a whopping 14 passing touchdowns in the red zone – including six in the past two games – this year.
Since taking play-calling duties away from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier – despite improved defensive play down the stretch last year – Smith’s defense has already surrendered 30 points or more in six games this season.
30+ Points Allowed In 2015 Titans 35 (out of 42) Panthers 30 (out of 37) Jaguars 31 Redskins 31
Last year, the Bucs defense allowed opponents to score 30 points or more just four times out of 16 games.
30+ Points Allowed In 2014 Falcons (42 out of 56) Saints 37 Ravens 48 Lions 34
I’ll remind you that there are 10 games left in this season.
Bucs fans have always loved defense from the days of Lee Roy Selmon and Richard “Batman” Wood and Mark Cotney in the 1970s, to the days of Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch and Ronde Barber in the late 1990s and early 2000s. To see this type of crappy defense is scarring Tampa Bay’s fan base.
Smith is famous for saying the kind of improvement he sees doesn’t always show up on the scoreboard, but the scoreboard is the ultimate arbiter of success in the NFL. Head coaches are measured by their wins and losses, and Smith is now 4-18 as Tampa Bay’s head coach, which is absolutely unacceptable, as the Bucs have lost more than a handful of winnable games over the past two years because they are incapable of finishing games.
Smith’s predecessor, Greg Schiano, had a better record (7-15) through his first 22 games in Tampa Bay than Smith does, and he was fired after just two seasons. There is precedent for the Glazers not letting Smith see the third year of his five-year contract – the final year of which is a team option.
Forget the notion that Smith should get a pass this year because he has a rookie quarterback. Winston hasn’t played like a rookie in half of the team’s games, and certainly played great in a winnable game at Washington on Sunday.
Raheem Morris, who also coached was saddled with a rookie quarterback in Josh Freeman, was 7-15 in his first 22 games, and he had a much younger and less talented team to work with in 2009-10 than Smith does right now. Morris was fired after three years in Tampa Bay.
The four teams that have beaten Smith’s Bucs this year have a combined record of only 12-15 this season.
Teams That Have Beaten Tampa Bay In 2015 Carolina – 6-0 Washington – 3-4 Houston – 2-5 Tennessee – 1-6
Dating back to last year, Tennessee has lost 15 of its last 16 games. The Titans’ only win was a 42-14 trouncing of Tampa Bay on opening day this year. What an embarrassment.
There is improvement going on in Tampa Bay, but it’s on offense – not Smith’s side of the ball. The young, revamped offensive line is coming together. Wide receiver Mike Evans is starting to get hot. Doug Martin is back to his rookie form, and he and Sims are the most effective 1-2 punch in the NFL at running back.
Winston hasn’t played like a rookie the last two games in completing over 70 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions, while leading the offense to score 31 points against Jacksonville and 23 points against Washington. It’s a shame that the fantastic efforts of Winston, Evans and Martin were wasted by poor game management and poor pass defense on Sunday.
At the very least, the Glazers need to demand that Smith turn the play-calling duties over to Frazier, who has a bird’s eye view from the press box, for the rest of the season because the scoreboard suggests Smith is failing in that capacity. But I would take it a step further.
I would look south to Miami and see how the Dolphins have responded to interim head coach Dan Campbell, who is 2-0 after the firing of Joe Philbin following a 1-3 start. After failing to score more than 20 points in its first four games, Miami has beaten Tennessee, 38-10, and Houston, 44-26, under the energetic Campbell.
I wonder if energetic offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter could inject more life into the Buccaneers as an interim head coach than the stoic Smith has, and get this team to be more aggressive. I’d like to see him have the chance.
The problem isn’t necessarily the talent. The Bucs scouting department has had two very good drafts that have produced seven starters, and has unearthed some gems in young, undrafted defensive ends Jacquies Smith and Howard Jones, who have combined for seven sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries for touchdowns, in addition to undrafted wide receiver Donteea Dye, who caught a touchdown on his first NFL reception at Washington. General manager Jason Licht and pro personnel director Jon Robinson need to stay put and keep acquiring talent.
The Dolphins haven’t changed any personnel over the last two weeks. Miami changed head coaches, and with that it changed the tone and the direction of the franchise.
Something isn’t right at One Buccaneer Place. There is complacency in losing close games because Tampa Bay is 4-11 in games decided by eight points or less under Smith.
Something in Smith’s message isn’t resonating with the players. The Bucs still can’t cover in pass defense. They still get penalized an average of 10 times per game. Tampa Bay still can’t finish games.
“I’ve had a lot of losses and all of them hurt,” Smith said. “Some hurt a lot more. Right now this one is hurting about as bad as any I could think of. You’re supposed to hurt when you finish the way we did, but then you look at the big picture a bit. We’re disappointed in this loss, but I still say we can be a good football team if we can clean up a few things.”
Smith is in charge of getting those things cleaned up and he’s failed. The Bucs’ 2-4 record this year is proof of that, and a murder’s row of upcoming games against Atlanta, the New York Giants, Dallas, Philadelphia and Indianapolis will make this a November not to remember in Tampa Bay.
When did a 4-18 record become acceptable to the Glazers? It’s time for them to make a change in Tampa Bay and fire Smith.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com