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
“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
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
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
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
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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