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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. Bucs In A Must-Win Game Against Browns

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. the Cleveland Browns game is the most critical game in Dirk Koetter’s three years as Tampa Bay’s head coach.

Wait a minute – this isn’t the Falcons, the Saints or the Panthers we’re talking about.

This is the lowly Browns, right?

You know, Cleveland … the team that went 1-15 in Hue Jackson’s first year as head coach in 2016 and the team that went 0-16 last year?

Well, the Browns aren’t that bad anymore in Jackson’s third year. Ask the Steelers, who tied the Browns in Week 1. Ask the Ravens, who lost 12-9 in overtime in Cleveland two weeks ago.

While the Bucs defense has been consistently bad all year, the Browns defense held the Saints to just 21 points in a 21-18 loss at New Orleans in Week 2, and the Ravens to nine points. But Cleveland also gave up 45 points to the Raiders in a 45-42 loss and 38 points to the Chargers in a 38-14 home loss last week, so there is a real chance the Bucs’ high-powered offense can expose Cleveland’s defense.

So what makes this the most important game in the Koetter era?

The Bucs are 2-3 with three straight losses right now, and a fourth straight defeat would clearly enrage a grumpy and restless Tampa Bay fan base. Last year, the Bucs had two five-game losing streaks en route to a disappointing 5-11 record.

Besides, the upcoming schedule after Cleveland has Tampa Bay traveling to Cincinnati (4-2) and Carolina (3-2) and then a home game against Washington (3-2). The Bucs better beat the Browns, as there is a big, big difference between a 3-3 team and a 2-4 team.

At 3-3, the Bucs would be one win away from being back over .500. At 2-4, it would take three consecutive wins to get over .500 with a 5-4 record. Such is life in the NFL and its 16-game schedule – where every game is important.

But why is it so critical that the Bucs beat the Browns?

Because psychologically Cleveland is the worst team in the last three years – a decade really – and a loss at home this Sunday would mean that the Bucs are a worse team than the lowly Browns.

Titans QB Marcus Mariota – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Titans QB Marcus Mariota – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

A loss to Cleveland would be worse than the 41-17 loss at Raymond James Stadium to Tennessee to start the 2015 season. You remember, don’t you? Jameis Winston threw a pick-six on his first NFL pass attempt, while nemesis Marcus Mariota threw four touchdowns in his first NFL game.

That loss proved that the Bucs weren’t “Tennessee ready” despite having the entire offseason to scout Mariota and the Titans, and put Lovie Smith squarely on the hot seat after Week 1. I would call for Smith to be fired five weeks later after a 31-30 loss to the Redskins at Washington after being up 24-7 at halftime.

Longtime Bucs fans – I’m talking about the fans that watched the team in the 1970s and 80s – know what it’s like to have their team be the laughingstock of football. After the glory days of the Dungy and Gruden years with the pinnacle coming in the team’s lone Super Bowl berth and win in 2002, the last thing Tampa Bay fans want is to become the laughing stock of the NFL again.

The Bucs have come perilously close over the last decade.

There was the 0-7 start to the Raheem Morris era in 2009, followed by a 0-10 record to end the 2011 campaign, which sealed Morris’ fate.

There was the 0-8 start to the 2013 season, which was Greg Schiano’s final year.

Of course there was Lovie Smith’s ridiculous 2-12 record in his first season in Tampa Bay in 2014.

Last year could have ended with six straight losses and a disappointing 4-12 record if not for a miracle deep pass connection between Jameis Winston and Chris Godwin to beat the Saints late in the fourth quarter to boost the Bucs’ record to 5-11.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

A 2-4 start and a loss to the Browns on Sunday wouldn’t necessarily doom the Bucs. There are still 10 games left in the season. But the psychological blow would be tough for the players and the organization to overcome, and just might be impossible for the Tampa Bay fan base to overcome.

This is a big, big, big game for Koetter, new Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mark Duffner and the Buccaneers. They’ve already lost in an embarrassing fashion to second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky this year. A defeat at home at the hands of rookie Baker Mayfield would be disastrous.

How could fans not call for the firing of Koetter and likely general manager Jason Licht, too if the Browns beat the Bucs? Unless he plays a perfect game, if Winston threw a pick or lost a fumble that contributed to the loss, fans would want him run out of town, too.

Heck, I could see an enraged fan base seething over a loss to the Browns and wanting the Glazers to sell the team and get out of Tampa, too.

Am I wrong?

Browns QB Baker Mayfield - Photo by: Getty Images
Browns QB Baker Mayfield – Photo by: Getty Images

If the Browns beat the Bucs the only thing that will save a lot of people their jobs at One Buccaneer Place is for Tampa Bay is to somehow go 8-2 down the stretch and make the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

Do you see the Bucs going 8-2 over the final 10 games? I don’t.

For Koetter, Duffner and the Buccaneers this is as “must-win” as it gets. Win, and avoid disaster. A 2-4 start all but sinks the Bucs’ ship this year.

No pressure, right?

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

35 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sure you guys already know that you can read past page one.

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    • NVM. Wish I could delete last post. Sorry.

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  2. I think that has been the thought at this point – a loss here means all hope for this season is lost after 6 games. Problem is, against rookie QBs, the Bucs are absolutely horrendous.

    Greg Altmann just published the following. While the past does not predict the future, this is pretty damning:

    NFL’s worst records against rookie QBs since 2011?

    Bucs 1-10
    Jaguars 5-9
    Browns 6-10
    Vikings 5-6
    Raiders 3-3
    Bills 7-7
    49ers 6-5
    Redskins 8-6
    Chiefs 4-3
    Titans 9-6
    Eagles 6-4

    So the Bucs are by far the worst team dealing with Rookie QBs going back over the last 7 years. Yes, the Bucs have been bad during this time but not winning here just means they are terrible yet again this year and probably it is the end of Koetter/Licht by the end of the season.

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  3. What scares me about Duffner as DC is that the linebackers, his unit, are really not doing anything that great this year.

    not great at blitzing, not great at gap assignments, not great in coverage. If he is not able to coach them up can he really coach up the rest of the D?

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    • Not great at blitzing?? Umm because Mike Smith rarely called blitz’s for them.

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    • How much of that is Duffner and how much of it is Mike Smiths scheme and rarely blitzing? Maybe Duffner wanted to blitz more and Smith wouldn’t let him. We will find out soon.

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  4. You want to play harder for coach Duffner because you know he cares for you? What kind of crap is that? You should play as hard as possible all the time for yourself, your team, and because you absolutely hate to lose. There’s our problem in a nut shell. We have a mentally weak defense, with mentally weak leadership who’ve been to O.K. with losing for to long. We need a defensive face lift from scheme, to so called star players who’ve under preformed these last few years. I hope Duff can get more out of this crew, I’m just not sure this is the crew that can get it done.

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  5. One word:

    APATHY….

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  6. Just get a win…. no more talk, no more excuses, no more hugs, just win….

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  7. While all games are important in a 16 game season, the notion that a single game will make or break a 16 game season is just media hype. I’m a skeptic about the current Bucs regime and team, but surprising outcomes are always possible in a 16 game season.

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  8. I do not think drafting another RB is necessary. Better to develop Barber and ROJO as this is a pass first team now. Plus, I still like that rookie Wilson. So in summary you have two rookies at RB and a third year guy starting to find his groove. No reason to panic at the RB spot.

    Once the Bucs start building leads and the defense improves so will the running attempts and rushing yards. That is how most NFL teams that have good rushing attack do it. The old school way of playing defense + running the ball with a lead.

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  9. The Browns think they can win this game. The Bucs will find a way to lose like they always do. This is the season. 4 losses in a row and a 2-4 record. its over if they lose and its over for Koetter and Licht. We need a new regime. Think Tony Dungy, President of Football Operations and go from there.

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  10. Is it really the best strategy to have the least rushing attempts in the NFL? Yes, the passing offense is doing well, but if you can’t run the ball down the stretch and into the playoffs, is there really any chance for a team to succeed? How have the RBs been inhibited by an offense that is not running that much? Rojo has the talent. The offense needs to evolve into a more balanced squad. Not running the ball also keeps the D on the field, and nobody wants to see that.

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  11. surferdudes, you are speaking with so much more clarity lately, did you get off the bong diet.
    I remember when Scott presented hiss case for firing Lovie and he changed my mind with his sound argument.
    Last year Scott didn’t call for Koetter’s firing but he sure was pining openly for Jon Gruden to return.
    Thank god that didn’t happen.
    I guess Reynolds had amnesia when it came to Gruden’s draft picks and personnel moves once he got his own lap dog into the GM office.
    The Glazer’s aren’t going to fire anyone for the rest of the season so to speculate now on the subject is ridiculous unless Reynolds has an ulterior motive.
    Let the season play out and see what happens.
    If the offense keeps operating at a high level and the defense keeps playing like a bunch of clumsy moronic girls scouts like they have been for the last 5 games, why would you fire Koetter.
    Licht put together this defense and the personnel and as good a job as he has done finding some offensive nuggets, especially in FA, he hasn’t done the same for the defense.
    So far. his defensive picks have been huge underachievers.
    So why do you throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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    • Drdnest, I have been saying the same thing. Koetter is an offensive minded coach who doesn’t know a lot about defenses. He trusted Mike Smith which turned out to be a mistake. Koetter has built us the best offense we have ever had in Tampa. We are avg 28 ppg and over 450 ypg. Those are crazy numbers for us. Koetter was hired to develop Winston and improve our offense which he has done so far. We just need a great DC who can make our defense avg. With an avg defense we can make the playoffs and be a contender.

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    • Holding the GM responsible who single handedly destroyed the Bucs multi-decade legacy of strong defenses over a sustained 5 year timeframe, with his defenses (players and coaches) getting progressively worse and worse each season until now he and his work product have hit rock bottom with the worst defense in the league for two straight seasons, well, that is not called “hatred”.

      That is called “accountability”.

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    • You said the free agent pics on defense have underwhelmed. I don’t believe JPP is underwhelming.

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  12. I really want to grab Armani Oruwariye in round 1 to pair with Carlton Davis outside!!

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    • He looks good but I really like Greedy Williams from LSU.

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      • Greedy Williams, best DB name ever!

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      • Greedy goes in top 10-15. I’m wanting the Bucs to pick around 20 or a little later. That means they won 8+ games 🙂

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    • I didn’t see anything special about Oruwariye in that video other than his ability to position himself to make plays. Most of interceptions were on balls the quarterback should have never thrown. He doesn’t look like he wants to tackle either. Not starting for Penn State. PASS

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  13. I hope Tampa doesn’t draft another skill player with their high draft picks. Invest in the lines and secondary. 2017 was the year to get a RB and Tampa missed – and SR is right about Tampa’s perception of Martin. That, combined with other needs and the fact that OJ Howard was a gift too good to pass up in the first round, pushed RB down the priority list. A better O-Line will enhance Barber and Jones.

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    • Agree, I want to grab a true LT and move Donovan Smith to RT.

      2019 2nd round pick/Marpet/Jensen/Cappa/Smith 🙂

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  14. Forget the draft until after the season.
    Does anyone think we could trade McCoy for even get a fifth round selection for after the way he has played this season. I don’t.
    Scott, glad you used the Rhonde Barber example of how it takes some time for some players to develop in this instant gratification world we live in today.
    What surprises me even more is some so called “fans” are so qucik to call players busts just so they can be proven right about the choice or thier hatred toward the GM and everything he does.
    That is a big sign of narcisisism. Another character flaw more evident in today’s society.
    As for me, I make no bones about the fact I know very little about any of the Bucs draft picks when they are chosen and because I have a job that doesn’t involve being involved in evaluating professional football talent, to pretend that I did would only make me look pompous.
    I too think RoJo is showing improvement to and hope he continues to do so.
    Why would any reasonable thinking Bucs fan wish otherwise.
    Unfortunately, as we often see from some of the posts out here, there are others that don’t.

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    • Holding the GM responsible who single handedly destroyed the Bucs multi-decade legacy of strong defenses over a sustained 5 year timeframe, with his defenses (players and coaches) getting progressively worse and worse each season until now he and his work product have hit rock bottom with the worst defense in the league for two straight seasons, well, that is not called “hatred”.

      That is called “accountability”.

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    • C’mon Naplesfan, after all these years , you are still spelling Ronde with an ‘h’?

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  15. Good Article Scott. Defense I hope will stay close to LOS because of Browns running game. We need big DL in this game, not a tweener like Spence.
    Bucs should win this game.

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  16. I know the Browns are a different team now, but please don’t lose to them lol.

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  17. What was wrong with Dare O?

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  18. SR creates a straw man to defend Vea…..real shocker!

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  19. And once again, we are looking ahead to the Draft before Halloween. Boo! There’s still a lot of football left before we Bucs fans should be so eager to declare the season over; even if the Browns win on Sunday. This is the history of our fan base. As Buc-N-Phiily said, “APATHY”.

    In spite of the Browns being regarded as the NFL’s worst team the past few years, there will be thousands of their fans infesting our “home” turf to create Dawg Pound south. “Woof Woof” cheers will be heard anytime the Brownies do something positive. They still have that thing we “homers” call “hope”.

    I’ve said many times. All teams can beat you and you can beat all teams. The Browns have made a lot of Draft blunders, but also have made some good choices. I really liked Baker Mayfield’s demeanor. It’s just a matter of putting it together and gaining confidence. They have lost games similarly to our own Pewter Pirates. Those types of defeats are the most difficult to get over.

    As WNB0395 said, this Offense is as good as it’s ever been. Unfortunately, the Defense has been as bad as I can ever remember. We’re not used to this flip-flop. This sure isn’t Dungy Ball. No longer will Sapp’s 17 points win the game. Start fast and just keep your foot on the accelerator.

    Already, after a surprising 2-0 start, a couple of woulda, coulda, shoulda won close losses and one ass-whippin we’re too ready to sing, “The Thrill is Gone” and turnout Don Merrideth’s lights.

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  20. Buc stops here- I knew our Bucs had issues, but that’s worse than I had thought. Add in back-up QBs, and it’s even worse!

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  21. Do you think that our GM heard that Kareem Hunt liked our uniforms and said I could never draft a man with such awful taste?
    RoJo will run the ball when the O LINE starts blocking, easy does it on the RoJo bust talk.
    One more comment. I am glad the Duffer will be on the field, never thought or liked idea of coaching from the booth. How can you get a guy motivated unless you are looking him in the eye.
    GO BUCS

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  22. Poor product for over a decade. Now what was SR saying?

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