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The Bucs blew it.

With a chance at making the playoffs as an NFC Wild Card there’s no other way to put it.

Tampa Bay entered the game 6-6 and the chance to get over .500 for the second time this season, but a 24-17 loss at home to a four-win New Orleans team – and the stench that came with it – all but cost the Bucs a chance to make a run at the postseason.

The Bucs stunk on offense, on defense, on special teams, and on the sidelines where head coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter had some really lousy play calls. Both got clearly out-coached by Saints head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.

Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston was off on many of his throws. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was playing with a broken hand and was woefully ineffective. When it mattered the most, Tampa Bay was awful.

Bucs head coach Lovie Smith - Photo by: Getty Images

Bucs head coach Lovie Smith – Photo by: Getty Images

“We kind of knew what was at stake today,” Smith said. “Normally you play your best ball when this much is on the line. It’s amazing we lost, but by seven points. You have to give the Saints a lot of credit. They played well on both sides of the football. Things we did, you just can’t win football games [like that]. Defensively, third downs killed us, big plays really hurt us an awful lot. We didn’t make any plays, no takeaways on the defensive side. Offensively, you have to score more points. It’s as simple as that. Dropped balls, missed the field goal, things that cause you to lose football games, we did it all.”

Neither team had a turnover. The penalties were about even as New Orleans had 12 infractions for 95 yards and Tampa Bay was penalized eight times for 80 yards.

The deciding factor in this game came on third down where Drew Brees annihilated the Bucs defense, converting 12-of-17 third down. That’s a 71 percent conversion rate.

“You said it, favorable third downs – third-and-longs – we should win,” Smith said. “Whether it be penalties or just not playing ball, we can’t have it.”

Brees converted a third-and-21 in the second quarter with a 41-yard pass to wide receiver Willie Snead. There was no pressure on Brees and Snead raced by safety Bradley McDougald. New Orleans would go up 14-0 five plays later.

“I saw that,” Smith said. “You don’t need to ask me. That’s what it was. We were in the two-deep. You saw that. Good execution on their part, bad on ours.”

The Bucs blew it.

Winston and the Bucs had three three-and-out series due to failed third downs, and saw two other scoreless drives end after four and five plays, respectively. Tampa Bay converted just 36 percent (4-of-11) on third down.

“Yes, we started bad,” Bucs left guard Logan Mankins said. “A bunch of three-and-outs. We’re a team that doesn’t have many three-and-outs and today we had a lot more than normal, so they controlled the ball quite a bit, we didn’t. It was just not good enough.”

The Bucs went three-and-out to start the game after a holding penalty by left tackle Donovan Smith on the first play negated a 36-yard pass to Vincent Jackson.

“That kind of told us a little bit,” Smith said. “That was a snapshot of what our day would be. We did have some costly penalties throughout the day, but you can just put that along with everything else. Again, we haven’t played like that. We saw some things out there today that we haven’t done this season and that’s not who we are.”

The Bucs blew it.

By halftime, the Bucs had just 10 points on the scoreboard and failed to exploit the worst defense in the NFL. Wide receiver Mike Evans wasn’t even targeted in the first half, and some of Koetter’s play calls were real head-scratchers considering how good his game plans have been this year.

Bucs DE Kourtnei Brown - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs DE Kourtnei Brown – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

In fact, Evans didn’t catch a pass until his 4-yard reception on third-and-6 set up a 47-yard field goal attempt by Connor Barth, which was missed. The Bucs shouldn’t have been in field goal mode on Sunday. Smith should have known better that Tampa Bay needed touchdowns to beat Brees and New Orleans.

Settling for a field goal rather than trying to go for it on fourth down with six minutes left in the third quarter trailing by 14 was the wrong call by Smith.

The Bucs blew it.

Just when it looked like Tampa Bay’s defense might rise up and make up for Smith’s poor judgment on New Orleans’ next possession, defensive end Howard Jones’ egregious hands-to-the-face penalty on third-and-15 negated a big sack by defensive end Kourtnei Brown that would have forced a punt after a rare three-and-out. Instead, it gave the Saints a first down and continued a touchdown drive that put New Orleans up 24-10.

The Bucs blew it.

Winston and the offense were really able to click on only two drives, including one in the fourth quarter that was capped off by a touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Adam Humphries. That cut the Saints’ lead to 24-17 with 8:56 left in regulation. The Bucs defense was able to make a stop and force a punt on fourth-and-1 at their own 49-yard line to set Winston and the offense up for a potential game-tying touchdown drive with 5:22 left.

Running back Doug Martin was seldom used, evidenced by only 11 carries for 81 yards, but he ripped off a 24-yard run on first down to propel his average to 7.4 yards per carry and set Tampa Bay up at its own 44-yard line. On first down, Winston’s pass to Evans was high, as most of his throws were on Sunday, and out of reach.

Bucs RB Charles Sims - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

Bucs RB Charles Sims – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

On second down, Winston failed to connect with running back Charles Sims down the left sidelines on a wheel route. Winston contends that Saints linebacker Dannelle Ellerbe should have been called for pass interference, but no flag was thrown on the play. On third down, Winston hit wide-open receiver Donteea Dye with a perfectly thrown ball, which slipped right out of the rookie’s hands.

The Bucs blew it.

Another three-and-out possession was the result, and Smith elected to punt the ball away rather than go for it on fourth-and-10 near midfield with 4:13 left.

“I thought we could back them up there and stop them,” Smith said. “That’s why I did that. You can second-guess it right now. I would make the same decision 10 out of 10 times on that.”

The Bucs had all three timeouts and the two-minute warning at their disposal, but would never get the ball back as the Saints converted two third downs. Nickel cornerback Alterraun Verner was flagged for a defensive holding penalty on third-and-2 that extended New Orleans’ drive. Brees’ pass to Brandin Cooks was incomplete and the Saints would have had to punt the ball back to the Bucs with 2:24 left.

The Bucs blew it.

“I would say third downs – which has been the story with us – third downs and red zone, two things that were our Achilles heel today,” Verner said.

Jon Gruden, the all-time winningest coach in Tampa Bay history, was famous for saying that you get what you deserve on Sundays. The Bucs deserved to lose to the Saints based on the way they played in front of a near sold-out crowd of fans that were excited about the first meaningful home game in December in several years.

The Bucs blew a golden opportunity to get over .500, which Tampa Bay has yet to do in 29 games with Smith as the head coach. As a result, they truly don’t deserve to go to the playoffs this year.

“I’ve been in this a long time,” Smith said. “These games happen and I can’t give you a reason why. Yeah, we should’ve done this, should’ve done that – it happened. We didn’t play well. They played better than we did. Even with all that, we lost by seven points. If we just had down a few things [differently].

“Is our football season [over]? No, just real disappointment right now, but that bad taste will get out of our mouths if we can take care of business against the Rams this week.”

The Bucs had a chance to win back-to-back games for just the second time this year, but faced with the reality that Tampa Bay truly had to win all four remaining games to have a viable shot at the playoffs they couldn’t get it done. Falling below .500 again at 6-7, the Bucs now have to win three games in a row – starting with Thursday’s game at St. Louis – and receive some help to keep the team’s faint playoff hopes alive.

“No, not out [of the playoffs],” Smith said. “There’s three games left to go and we’re two out of it. Right now we are [still in the playoff race]. It’s one game and us playing better ball. We didn’t put a good product on the field today.”

Bucs WR Mike Evans - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The truth is that the Bucs don’t have a quality win this year, and haven’t beaten a team with a winning record. The best team Tampa Bay has defeated? Atlanta twice – and the horrific 6-7 Falcons are in a free fall, losing their last six games. After that it’s 5-8 Jacksonville.

Tampa Bay will struggle on the road in a short week against a 5-8 St. Louis team that beat Detroit (4-9), 21-14 on Sunday. Then it’s home to play Chicago (5-8) before going on the road to finish at unbeaten Carolina.

Tampa Bay, which has lost to the likes of Tennessee (3-10) this year, New Orleans (5-8) in addition to a host of teams with seven losses on the year, including Washington, Indianapolis and the New York Giants, will be lucky to win just one of its remaining games.

The Bucs blew it.

This was the same team that stumbled in Indianapolis against a below-average Colts team three weeks ago when Tampa Bay had the chance to assert itself and get above .500. The Bucs offense has struggled mightily against three of the absolute worst defenses in the NFL – the Colts, the Giants and the Saints – scoring only 12, 18 and 17 points in those games, respectively.

“Nobody played well today,” Smith said. “It’s kind of simple as that. There were plays to be made out there today that we did not make. I wish I could sit up here and tell you someone played well. We didn’t. Maybe the video will say something else.

“Right now, a day like today – just being real – no one, none of us, of course starting with the head football coach. That’s as bad a job as I have done.”

Saints head coach Sean Payton and Bucs head coach Lovie Smith - Photo by: Getty Images

Saints head coach Sean Payton and Bucs head coach Lovie Smith – Photo by: Getty Images

Smith is right, it was as bad a job has he’s done with this team, which will be fortunate to finish 7-9. With so much to play for and Tampa Bay’s offense, defense, special teams and play-calling stinking up Raymond James Stadium, you wonder if he’s the right head coach to take this red and pewter-clad team to the playoffs.

He wasn’t on Sunday.

The Bucs blew it.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

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: sr@pewterreport.com
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Horse
Horse
5 years ago

No Scott, the players blew it. Anybody know why Dotson was Inactive? The Saints defense seem to know what we were going to do before the ball was hiked. Our OL played poorly. Our DL didn’t get enough pressure on Brees; he hadly saw the dirt.

Garv
Garv
5 years ago

I agree the Bucs blew it today. Drops and penalties over and over at the WORST possible times. It was a verty frustrating game to watch and seeing that in front of what was the best home field crowd all season was disappointing to type the least. Yes, it’s still been a learning year and great strides have been made but today’s game was a huge downer and the Bucs did indeed blow it.

macabee
macabee
5 years ago

Let me see if I recall correctly from my 7th grade anatomy class. You have to exhale to blow – you have to inhale to suck. I think what we really did was we…….err either way, pretty bad, huh?

Clearwater Buc
Clearwater Buc
5 years ago

Scott, I gotta call you out on this. For most of the season, you were clamoring (along with most Bucs fans) for Lovie to be fired. After signs of improvement, you wrote a piece just a couple weeks ago about how you were wrong about Lovie. And now- after a disappointing loss- you’ve swung back again to Lovie shouldn’t be our head coach?

Twistedwires
Twistedwires
5 years ago

This team is what their record says they are. They are a middle of the pack team (which is a huge improvement) that at best had an outside chance of making the playoffs at the beginning of the season. But, I’m not letting a game like this damper what has been a really fun season to watch. While this game was the polar opposite of the Philly game where it seemed that everything went right. It just didn’t go that way this week. There are many reasons (excuses) to explain why. But I feel like there were plays to be… Read more »

bucsfannorth
bucsfannorth
Reply to  Twistedwires
5 years ago

100% agree with this post…thanks for saving me all the typing!

Garv
Garv
Reply to  Twistedwires
5 years ago

Well typed! After the disappointment of yesterday’s poor showing your post still rings true. The Bucs are getting there and a setback cannot and will not change that fact. I too look forward to the future, a future very close to the present. Hoping for a strong finish and a great offseason to set up a playoff run next year.

scubog
scubog
5 years ago

Gee Scott, do you really need to start calling for Lovie’s head again? How about wait until seasons’ end. With all of the potential firings due to the group of teams hovering around the 500 mark, who you bringing in? How much regression do you want when we start over….again? It’s clear to me that this ultra-youthful team still is lacking in talent.

surferdudes
surferdudes
5 years ago

The Panthers finished last season under 500 so there’s hope. I would describe our defense as a dog chasing it’s tail. We need better players Horse, but Lovies coaching hasn’t been very good, and he got schooled today by Peyton. Why is Donte Dye on the roster? Dude can’t run block but makes up for that by dropping passes. I’ve been posting for weeks to give Hall, or anyone else a shot.

jme0151
jme0151
5 years ago

I think Lovie’s talent evaluation abilities are LOW!!! Not a fan. His defense is just not working. More talent needed??? Doubt if it will help with this scheme unless we outscore the other team consistently.

jme0151
jme0151
5 years ago

I guess a .500 team is our future with Lovie around. Guess it beats 2-14.

macabee
macabee
Reply to  jme0151
5 years ago

jme0151,
Read what I’m thinking in Monday Afterthoughts!

pinkstob
pinkstob
5 years ago

Agreed on all points made SR. I was going to wait until the season was over to point out that we haven’t beaten a team with a winning record in hopes that would change before the season ended. Hell, we haven’t PLAYED a team with a winning record besides the Panthers and the way all the teams are playing we may end the season only having played one team with a winning record. That’s got to be some kind of a record. My only other comment is if memory serves me correctly PR predicted the Bucs would go 7-9 and… Read more »

jongruden
jongruden
5 years ago

Scott- is like most Bucs Fans when we win even against very bad teams we jump on this high and rose colored glasses and start thinking “playoffs” well not me I knew we were a mediocre team at best but I was surprised to see Doug Martin play so well this yr as for everything else I was on the money with, and before you say “your wrong about Winston” I never said he wouldn’t be good, I was worried about his immaturity issues off the field and I liked Mariota better. I predicted Winston to have 17 td’s and… Read more »

Therr88
Therr88
Reply to  jongruden
5 years ago

All the bucs complaining need to chill. If you truly think the bucs were a playoff team this year then you’re crazy lol the bucs are young, they are gonna be fine. We have Jamies Winston who’s gonna do great things for us. We just need to fix up somethings before we say oh we are a playoff team. We are almost there.

Therr88
Therr88
Reply to  jongruden
5 years ago

you are kinda far off, he has 23 TDs and 11 int this year

macabee
macabee
Reply to  jongruden
5 years ago

Jon, I think your comments are amusing and get a kick out your unvarnished perspective of the Bucs. But if you’re going to put forth such opinions, then tell the whole story. Your worries about Winston off the field have been assuaged or relieved. Winston has thrown 11 INTs, Mariota has thrown 10. If the draft were held today the Bucs would be picking 17, the Titans led by Mariota have the dubious honor of picking 1st again. If you report that someone came in 2nd in a race, it’s useful to know there was just two people in the… Read more »

jongruden
jongruden
Reply to  macabee
5 years ago

Winston off the field “so far” has been relieved, he has a whole career ahead of him still to make me worry. second- the fact the Titans are picking #1 again means what exactly? Winston is better than Mariota or maybe Doug Martin is better than Bishop Sankey? Mariota doesn’t have Evans or V Jax or the second leading rusher in the Nfl with him, don’t worry I’m not saying one is better than the other, but to say Mariota isn’t good as a rookie is absurd and simply pre conceived bias on your part. What whole story do you… Read more »

Entre
Entre
Reply to  jongruden
5 years ago

jongruden, although I find your pessimism to be a little off putting, I must give you credit. You have been saying for weeks that the Bucs are mediocre and would finish somewhere between 6-8 wins. Even as the rest of us got our hopes up for the playoffs, you continually tried to bring us back down to reality. Unlike most of my fellow Bucs fans, I still believe the playoffs are possible. Im an optimist to the end. My question for though is “what is with this hate for Stocker and Gholston?’ I agree they are not starters, but they… Read more »

Dbuc63
Dbuc63
5 years ago

Agree 100% SR. Most posters take one of your lines and “create” their own interpretation. I recall some posters responding negatively last week when I posted the Bucs haven’t beaten a good team this year in response to them “turning the corner”. How dare I after such a convincing win! The Bucs are much improved no one is disputing that. We’re the youngest team in NFL as well. It’s been obvious to me however, that Lovie is being outcoached which is different all together than players not playing. Lovie seems to be a 4th round pick going against a 1st… Read more »

jongruden
jongruden
Reply to  Dbuc63
5 years ago

DBuc ^ agree

cgmaster27
cgmaster27
5 years ago

Well we did blow it yesterday and as Bucs fans it’s a little tough as they tease us and then let us down. We are an extremely young team so there will be these peaks and valley’s we are just looking for some growth this year. We’ve already eclipsed my prediction and I figured 8-8 would be a stellar season. The problem is that we just don’t have enough talent yet. Our whole secondary outside of Sterling more, who again played pretty good yesterday, wouldn’t make most teams rosters. And the injuries are starting to mount up as well, which… Read more »

owlykat
owlykat
5 years ago

Who decided not to play our best tackle? Our best Tackle, Dotson, wasn’t in there despite the fact he is the best Tackle on our team and has been for years, and was healthy. He should have been playing left tackle and there would not have been a long pass cancelled for Smith’s holding. I have said from the start that Smith’s best position is at Guard because he is a good run blocker but not good enough at pass blocking as his scores have shown this year by unbiased stat sites. Who ever is responsible (and I suspect WarFLOP)… Read more »

drdneast
drdneast
5 years ago

If anyone is being absurd and in “denial” as you often state so many Buc fans are after a win, it is you jongruden
Your continued insistence that the Bucs aren’t a 6 win team is proof that you need to get back on your meds.
Go to the standings in the south and look under Bucs and wins and you will clearly see 6.
So in reality, the Bucs are a 6 win team.
You repeating over and over that they aren’t isn’t going to change reality like Donald Trump attempts to do.
Geeesh.

BK
BK
5 years ago

Well that was painful article to read. Scott Reynolds is truly the weak link on this website. With 21 teams below .500, you think it would be rational to fire Lovie? We are playing with 3rd strings on defense but somehow we should have been able to stop the saints that almost beat the panthers last week? This is an overachieving team. Yes the entire team played horrible but offense played flat. Jameis was off and WRs did not help.This team will probably not the playoffs not because of the defense and definitely not because of Lovie. But you are… Read more »

scubog
scubog
5 years ago

Last season it was the Doug Martin bashing articles. Nuff said.

drdneast
drdneast
5 years ago

That’s for sure scubog. Not just here but everywhere else. now he’s everyone’s BFF who always true to him.
Scott’s arguments have validity but here is the main question.
Is there anyone else out there who is better than Lovie on a noticeable level.
Everyone thought the Falcons and the Jets had found the magic elixir but both teams have turned out to be just average.
Doesn’t really matter because Lovie is going to be here another year.

arizonajoe
arizonajoe
5 years ago

Lovie Smith is fine. Let’s not make wholesale changes again. I have been please with Winston’s performance and off-the-field nothing. I wish Mike Evans wouldn’t drop so many passes, but I don’t want to get rid of him. The stupid penalties are killing us.

muvlodge
muvlodge
5 years ago

Scott, I usually am onboard with your articles and opinions but as other posters have said and it’s no secret…You flat out seem to hate Lovie as a coach. Last year I was with you and wondered if he was the right guy for this job. After the strides the team has made I now think he is the guy. Let’s look at things for what they really are. Rookie QB, that is good. Second year WR that is immature, injury prone, and hot/cold but at the same time is still a pretty damn good player that needs to grow… Read more »

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