Bucs go for it, and fail, in loss to Falcons

by Gary Shelton on November 27, 2017 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Fitzpatrick missed three passes in a row late in the game./CARMEN MANDATO

Fitzpatrick missed three passes in a row late in the game./CARMEN MANDATO

Monday, 3 a.m.

The statistics say it shouldn't have been close. Logic tells you it shouldn't have come down to a single play. Basic eyesight tells you it shouldn't have depended on one decision and one throw.

And yet, there they were. With 7:05 to play, the Tampa Bay Bucs still had a puncher's chance of pulling out a game they didn't deserve. Despite all of the yardage, and all of the third downs, and all of the electricity of the Atlanta Falcons, the Bucs had a fourth-and-one at the Atlanta 18, trailing 27-20.

And the play went nowhere.

Like the season itself.

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Martin suffered a concussion Sunday./JEFFREY KING

Martin suffered a concussion Sunday./JEFFREY KING

To flash back: Ryan Fitzpatrick had time to throw, and for a second, he had Cameron Brate downfield. But Keanu Neal, the second year pro out of Florida, knocked the pass away, and before you could debate whether the Bucs should have gone for it or kicked the field goal, the Falcons moved 82 yards in 11 plays for the clinching touchdown in a 34-20 victory.

“I told them the players I should have given them a better play,” Koetter said. “That's on me. We had momentum at that time. Getting a field goal and being by four. Are we going to stop them, not stop them? We made the decision on third down to go for it. You have three or four plays on your sheet for that situation and I picked the wrong one.”

You can debate how the Bucs chose to play it. It's understandable if Koetter didn't think his defense could stop Atlanta. By that point, did anyone? But even if the Bucs had converted and ultimately tied the game, they still would have to get a stop on the Falcons to win the game. Think about it: Any scenario in which the Bucs win depended on the defense eventually standing up.

The loss lowered the Bucs' record to 4-7, meaning that even with a hot streak to close out the year, the Bucs will have no better record than they did a year ago. Even that would take five straight wins.

Evans  caught six for 78 yards in receiving./JEFFREY S. KING

Evans caught six for 78 yards in receiving./JEFFREY S. KING

It is amazing, frankly, that the Bucs were as close as they were before the play. The Falcons were unstoppable for most of the day. Wide receiver Julio Jones, in particular, wove throughout the secondary like a skier whizzing past slalom poles. He caught 12 passes for 253 yards, his third 250-yard day, and on every play the Falcons didn't throw it to him, they were doing the Bucs a favor. Jones came in with only one touchdown on the season, but he scored twice against Tampa Bay, and he made cornerback Ryan Smith look as if he were playing on ice skates. It was amazing, frankly, that Jones didn't have 300 yards.

“We tried rolling coverage to him,” Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter said. “We tried pressing him. We didn't have an answer for him today.”

McCoy had two sacks for the Bucs.

McCoy had praise for Julio Jones of the Falcons./JEFFREY S. KING

Some teams have. Jones ranked only 12th in the NFL in receiving despite his talent. The Bucs couldn't find him, however. For all the bad defensive backs the Bucs have employed, no receiver ever caught passes for more yardage than Jones.

Still, the discussion of this one will come down to going for it on fourth-and-one.

“We tried rolling coverage to him,” Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter said. “We tried pressing him. We didn't have an answer for him today. The second half we were going to try to press him or cloud to him every single time he was in the game.”

“You guys know how I feel about Julio," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.

"He’s incredible. That’s just the type of guy he is. He played great today. People have been saying he hasn’t had the numbers this year. Once your good, your good. You can explode at any time. I just hate that it was today. He’s a phenomenal player.”

Despite it all, the Bucs closed to within a touchdown midway through the fourth period. Koetter could have elected to close to within four points with a field goal, but it was doubtful if the Bucs could have stopped Atlanta, which rolled up 516 yards and converted a staggering 11 of 14 third down attempts.

Fitzpatrick said he should have made a better throw.

“I thought it was a good play call,” said Fitzpatrick, who had been 2-0 as a starter. “I wish I would have been able to execute it better. I just didn't get it done. That one hurt. Coming back, 27-20, we had some major momentum. That was the play of the game that wasn't made.”

The fear of its own defense,  in itself, is a big part of Tampa Bay's problem. There was no pass rush, and very little pass coverage. Atlanta's Matt Ryan threw only nine incompletions in his 35 attempts.

In other words, a team without a pass rush doesn't stand a chance against a team with an efficient quarterback and an electric wide receiver.

“We had zero sacks today,” Koetter said. “I think we went zero coverage – bringing one more than they've got – at least five times in first half. That's the result when you do go zero. If you miss one tackle, there is nobody left. If you're not perfect you're going to give p big plays.

On those third downs, Ryan was eight of 10 for 94 yards. Receiver Mohamed Sanu hit his only pass for 51 yards, also on third down.

This year, the Bucs have been the worst team in the NFL at getting off the field after playing on third down. They've also had the worst overall defense in the league and the worst pass rush.

Add in kicker problems, injuries and accusations against the quarterback, and it's been a particularly disappointing season.

The Bucs fell behind 27-6, and it looked like another day at the woodshed for a Tampa Bay team that has struggled on the road. The big play was a heave from one wide receiver – Sanu – to another one – Jones – for 51 yards. However, Peyton Barber scored two touchdowns, and the Bucs found themselves behind 27-20.

Of course, if the Bucs had been successful, they still would have to rely on their defense to come up with a stop. That, in itself, is a big part of Tampa Bay's problem. There was no pass rush, and very little pass coverage. Atlanta's Matt Ryan threw only nine incompletions in his 35 attempts.

“We had zero sacks today,” Koetter said. “I think we went zero coverage – bringing one more than they've got – at least five times in first half. That's the result when you do go zero. If you miss one tackle, there is nobody left. If you're not perfect you're going to give p big plays.

On those third downs, Ryan was eight of 10 for 95 yards. Sanu hit his only pass for 51 yards.

This year, the Bucs have been the worst team in the NFL at getting off the field after playing on third down. They've also had the worst overall defense in the league and the worst pass rush.

Add in kicker problems, injuries and accusations against the quarterback, and it's been a particularly disappointing season.

The Bucs fell behind 27-6, and it looked like another day at the woodshed for a Tampa Bay team that has struggled on the road. The big play was a heave from one wide receiver – Sanu – to another one – Jones – for 51 yards. However, Peyton Barber scored two touchdowns, and the Bucs found themselves behind 27-20.

Ryan suggested that it wasn't hard to figure out the Bucs' secondary.

We knew we were going to get some opportunities to get Julio Jones the ball for sure,” said Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. “The way their scheme sets up shows that they’re sound in what they do. They don’t change, in terms of personnel that they go against, all that much. They trust their guys on the defensive side of the ball, but you never know when (Julio) Jones is going to go off for 250 yards. It never really surprises me because he’s so talented. We see that from him week in and week out. I’m just proud of him. He played really, really well today.”

The Bucs' defense was on its heels all day. The Falcons averaged 8.1 yards per play. Without their best back, Davonta Freeman, Atlanta still had 148 yards rushing.

“It’s another road loss, another division loss, and another loss, period,” said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

"It’s not what we wanted or expected. Like earlier in the week, people don’t need to be saying that we turned the corner. We’ve got a lot of work to do and it showed today. Proud of my guys. We fought back. We had a lot of guys go down, but they were just a better team today. These are the champs right now, and we knew what we were coming into. They were just better than us today.

“We gave them an option, we didn’t make them one-dimensional, and they were able to run the ball. Our guys need to tackle better, and everyone needs to be in a gap. Overall as a unit, we just weren’t able to stop the run, and then we gave them the option of play-action and boots. The chunk plays killed us.”

The Bucs continue their disappointing season next week with a trip to Green Bay for a 1 p.m. game.

 

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill MYERS November 27, 2017 at 8:51 am

Yes I am a very disappointed Buc fan. I also feel sorry for this team. They are who we thought they were. Forget about that hot streak to finish the season. The players will have to dig deep just to do their job with nothing left to play for but pride. I love my Bucs but I am so tired of seeing them struggle through every season. Something has to be done to get a winning season for us fans! GO BUCS!

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Gary Shelton November 27, 2017 at 11:52 am

They’ve had 20 seasons with five victories or fewer.

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