Monday, 4 a.m.
Late in the day, and who is going to capture the opponent's king?
Imagine it. You are Jameis Winston, and you scan the offensive huddle of the Tampa Bay Bucs, unplugged. Who is going to make a play?
Here, there are plodders, and there, there are pluggers. Waiver-wire heroes and third-teamers who are playing second-team football. You could time the receivers with a sun-dial. There isn't a first down in sight. It's like playing chess, and you are down to pawns. It's like playing checkers, only no one has been kinged.
No Doug. No Jacquizz. No Vincent.
It was this way in the late stages of the Bucs' 30-24 loss to the Raiders' Sunday afternoon. One team was dangerous. The other was running on a treadmill. You got the feeling that the Raiders could score at any time and end this game. You got the feeling that the Bucs would score, oh, sometime on Tuesday.
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Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter won't say it, of course. He can't. To grumble about your hand — deuces and treys and six of clubs – is to belittle your soldiers. A general can't do that. So he keeps pointing Antone Smith toward the line and hoping the pile will move. Of course, it does not.
But, really, where do you see gamebreakers? Who do you think that other defensive coordinators are staying awake to stop? The Bucs are like a flashlight with no batteries.
Jameis Winston? Yes, he's the real deal. But his running game disappeared when Rodgers was hurt Sunday, and his receivers are slow. No wonder the Raiders kept daring the Bucs to take deep shots. They don't have deep on the roster.
Mike Evans? He's a good (not great) player. He'd be perfect if you had a real burner on the other side of the line. But on Sunday, he was targeted 11 times (more than one-third of Winston's passes) and he caught four for 50 yards. The Raiders had four receivers with more yardage.
Russell Shepard? Good guy, but he's made his living as a special teams player. Besides, he was hurt late in Sunday's game, too.
Adam Humphries? Every game, Humphries does something you like. But when the season started, no once was convinced he should be the Bucs' No. 3 receiver. Now, he's No. 2?
Cameron Brate? Another effort guy, and fans are pleased to have him play for the Bucs. But he isn't going to confuse anyone with Tony Gonzales, is he?
Cecil Shorts? He was targeted four times. He didn't catch any.
And so it goes. It's like trying to win an archery contest when your quiver is fresh out of arrows. It's like trying to win an auto race when your car is out of gas.
Consider their seven possessions after halftime.
On the first, they took over on their 24 … and lost five yards on three downs. Punt.
On the second, they took over on their 25. They ran five yards and gained 10 yards. Punt
On the third, they went 47 yards in three plays and scored a touchdown to pull within 17-16.
On the fourth, they went 38 yards and, with 44 yards of penalties against the Raiders, scored to take a 24-17 lead.
On the fifth, they took over at the 25. They gained four yards in three plays. Punt.
On the sixth, they took over at their 42. Three plays gained four yards. Punt.
On the seventh, they took over at the 11. Three plays got them seven yards. Punt.
In other words, they moved like they were in a traffic jam. In five of their seven drives,
they didn't get a first down. And who, in this molasses bunch, was going to get it?
We knew, of course. We knew that the Bucs were desperately thin at running back and receiver coming into the season. A lot of teams can play through this injury or that one. Not the Bucs.
To be honest, they're a little thin on the other side of the ball, too. They still don't have a pass rush. They still struggle to stay with top flight receivers. Tackling fades in and out like a bad radio signal.
Wouldn't you love to have a piece like the Raiders' Amari Cooper? At halftime, Cooper had two catches for 11 yards. After halftime, he had 10 catches for 163 yards. Michael Crabtree had two catches for 18 yards at the half. He had six for 90 yards afterward.
Wouldn't you love for Winston to grow into as precise (his word, repeatedly) as Derek Carr of the Raiders? Carr had 513 yards, and he threw only 19 incompletions in 59 passes. After all these weeks of playing mediocre quarterbacks (Case Keenum, Derrick Anderson, Paxton Lynch, Colin Kaepernick) the big kids got out of school Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Bucs sputtered. They didn't run the ball very well (a 3.8 average), and they didn't throw it very well (Winston kept overthrowing receivers). If it hadn't been for the self-destructiveness of the Raiders (an NFL record 23 penalties for 200 yards), then the game would have been over much before it began.
Remember, this was the game that was going to serve as a barometer of where the Bucs were as a franchise. Where they are is a team with plenty of pluck but not nearly enough pizzazz. Maybe that's why their 3-16 at home since 2014.
Frankly, the Bucs need reinforcements. They need to find a receiver. They need to sift through the road kill to find another runner.
Someone needs to move the ball. Someone needs to put another quarter in the video game.
And, please, plug it in.