Monday, 4 a.m.
All things considered, it may have been the ugliest play in the ugly history of the Tampa Bay Bucs. Children should not watch it. It should be rated X, because rating it an O would just be silly.
It was third-and-one at the Denver 26, a lean-forward kind of play. Nothing too complicated, right.
But quarterback Jameis Winston handed the ball off to Charles Sims, who finds running the ball from scrimmage a bit of a chore. He was swamped. He couldn't telephone the first-down marker without it being a long distance call.
So, faced with being stopped short, Sims compounded his mistake. Hearing Winston call for him to lateral the ball, he pitched it wildly, and Denver
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recovered it for the third takeaway of the half. It ended up eight yards behind the line of scrimmage in the hands of the Broncos Billy Winn.
It was scattered, it was chaotic and it was unsuccessful, all of which sums up the Tampa Bay offense on Sunday.
“That was not a smart play on our part,” coach Dirk Koetter said. “It was not one of our finest moments.”
And really, that was about as good as it was for the Bucs' offense on Sunday.
For the most part, the Bucs spent most of the afternoon running on a treadmill. The ground game was through quicksand. The passing game was through fog. In the middle, there was lightning. Yep, you might say that the Bucs' offense was chaos.
I mean, yeah, the Broncos' defense was tough, all right. But they made the Bucs look like foreign students trying out this game of football for the first time.
Put it this way:
In the first half, the Bucs had two interceptions and a fumble.
In the second half, the Bucs gained 92 yards.
In the second half, they had four first downs.
In the second half, the Broncos had four sacks.
And so forth. For the game, the Bucs had 215 yards. But 75 of those came on their first-period touchdown drive, leaving 140 for the rest of the game. The Bucs had 69 yards in penalties. That leaves 71 yards. So no wonder coach Dirk Koetter punted when it was fourth-and-six at Denver's 46. To him, seven yards must have looked like walking to North Korea.
“Not a smart play on our part,” said Koetter. “Not one of our finest moments right there.”
Look, there are a couple of glaring shortcomings going on here. One is Jameis Winston, who seemed to think that Aqib Talib was one of his primary targets. Remember last year, when Winston seemed to have a handle on his early mistakes? Well, he's throwing to the wrong guys again. Last year, after four weeks, he had seven interceptions; this year, he has eight.
“At times, I do try to do too much,” Winston said. “That's part of the problem. I've just got to do my job and let the players play.”
Winston was asked if he needs to protect himself by leaving the game early.
“I need to protect the football,” he said. “That's what I need to be worried about protecting right now.”
Perhaps the problem is that the Bucs don't have anyone else to rely on on offense. Mike Evans is off to a good start, but he relies on Winston to get him the ball. And make no mistake. The Bucs desperately miss Doug Martin.
Sims is a nice back coming out of the backfield to catch a pass, but when it comes time to run the ball, he's Lars Tate light. He carried it 15 times Sunday; he gained 28 yards. That's a 1.9 yard average, which means he might pick up the first down on sixth-and-short. Of course, he might not.
Let's face it. Tampa Bay Bucs' fans have seen some ugly offense through the years, from Sam Wyche circling his finger to Ray Perkins to Leeman Bennett trying not to notice that Bo Jackson didn't sign. With Koetter, it was supposed to be better. Sunday, it wasn't. The Bucs wouldn't have scored again if the teams were on the field until Thursday.
Koetter seemed to agree. He praised Denver's defense, but he added “it's not acceptable for the way we played.”
Want an example? There was 7:30 left to play, and the Bucs had a fourth-and-six at the Denver 46.
If there was any chance at all, the Bucs had to go for it...and Koetter punted.
“I had been watching our offense the whole game,” Koetter said. “I don't know why anyone expected we could make it on fourth and seven if they had been watching our offense the rest of the game. I sure didn't expect us to.
“I'm playing the percentages, guys. We we don't make it on third and seven, and we've got the guy wide open, what makes you think we're going to make it on fourth-and-seven? We were struggling all night. We aren't playing well enough on offense.”
The answer? No, I don't think the Bucs would have made it on fourth-and-seven.
The other answer? A good team would have. A good team would have had the guys, and the aggression, and the boldness. Because you aren't going to overcome a 20-point deficit with your punter.
Then there are the growing concerns with Winston, who has now thrown an interception in his last seven games. Everyone likes how competitive Winston is, and everyone likes his leadership. But the kid simply has to be more precise throwing the ball. He can be scatter-armed, and it leads to trouble.
“He decided last year to come out of it,” Koetter said. “He made a conscious choice to come out of it He did a great job of that. We need it again.”
For the Bucs, it doesn't get much easier. Next week, instead of the Super Bowl winners, they play the Super Bowl losers in Carolina. Away from home. On Monday night. Then they travel to San Francisco, where they have not played well.
“I still think we're going to be a good football team,” Koetter said. “We weren't good enough tonight in a lot of areas, starting with coaching. My coaching.”
The thing is, the more a coach says that, the easier it will be for fans to believe him. In other words, if the Bucs are going to be better, isn't it about time?