Bucs still trying to move from NFL’s Skid Row

by Gary Shelton on September 19, 2016 · 1 comment

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Winston had a rough down with four intercepions and a fumble./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Winston had a rough day with four interceptions and a fumble./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Monday, 4 a.m.

In the NFL, there is a mansion on the hill. It is surrounded by orange groves and tennis courts. A Rolls-Royce is parked in front.

The Tampa Bay Bucs do not live here.

This is the Patriots mansion. The place where they mail Bill Belichick's rings to him.

There are lesser houses in the neighborhood, but still, they are stately. They are the homes of the Broncos, the Packers and the Steelers. On occasion, the Cowboys and the Raiders and the 49ers have lived here.

The Bucs don't live there either.

This is Champions' Street, where the roads are paved in melted

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Lombardi Trophies. The good teams, the really good teams, reside here. The Bucs haven't been around these parts for a very long time.

Before Sunday, you probably didn't really believe the Bucs were talented enough to live here. But you probably thought they were closer, didn't you?

Turns out, it's the same old neighborhood for the Bucs, who were walloped 40-7 by Arizona on Sunday. They live with the Browns and the Bills and the Lions.

To sum up: Running back Doug Martin was injured against Arizona, which forced the Bucs to become one-dimensional, and that dimension was Jameis Winston's arm, who couldn't throw it anywhere the Cardinals' secondary couldn't cover. By the time the day was done, Winston had 25 incompletions, four interceptions, three sacks, a fumble and too many bruises to mention.

In other words, ouch.

You would have hoped the Bucs would be better than this. No, they might not be good yet, and all of that playoff talk may have been a year premature, but for goodness sakes, aren't they behind losing by 33? In the fourth quarter, only one question remained for Tampa Bay fans. “What is Winston still doing in there?”

Koetter, for the record, said that Winston stayed in because he wouldn't have come out. He said that the captain always wants to go down with the ship. Of course, that makes you wonder just who's in charge around here. Winston was getting hit enough he needed to be out for his own protection.

Hey, it's a no-excuse world. I do think the Bucs would have been vastly better off if Martin stayed healthy. That way, Winston wouldn't have thrown as many passes, or as many interceptions. The Cardinals still would have won — they're better — but it would been kinder.

“When you play against a high-powered offense like Arizona, you can’t give them freebies," Winston said. "We turned the ball over and gave them a pick-six; it wasn’t good. We played one of the best defenses in the league, but all those interceptions were on me. The tipped ball; I’ve got to get it over the defensive linemen, me and Coach Mike (Bajakian) work on that every day in practice. We’ve just got to bounce back. Some times you’re going to face good teams, this is the NFL so we’ve just got to bounce back.”

But maybe the Bucs needed a reminder that they're still trying to be upwardly mobile. They're a team that has spent a lot of years near the bottom of the standings. They aren't going to get better simply by wishing it were so.

Take Sunday. The Cardinals were faster. They were more precise. They were more explosive. They were deeper.

Yeah, that's what a playoff looks like. It looks like the Cardinals.

What the Bucs looked like was a team that will get a high draft pick, and a team that needs it.

Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter called this “a reality check.” That's true for the Bucs, and true for a lot of their fans. The reality is that the Bucs, at best, are a long-shot contender for a wild-card berth. They don't have enough speed at receiver, they don't have enough oomph at running back, and their secondary can be had. They are woefully thin, and when they lost Martin, they had no Plan B. Sims is a nice receiver out of the backfield, but he leaves much to be desired as a runner. Once Martin left, the Bucs' attack had no balance to it. It forced the team to put the ball in Winston's hands, and Winston threw too many to the other guys.

Looking back, perhaps the Bucs should have pressed harder to find a second running back, harder to find another receiver, in the off-season.

All of this makes sense, of course. Hey, it was only two years ago that the Bucs' had the No. 1 draft pick in the NFL. You don't get that by being so good, do you? And  you have to fight your way to a new residence.

Eventually, I think the Bucs will get there. As ugly as Sunday was, I think next week's game against the Rams – a team that has had the Bucs' number lately – will be more telling. The Cardinals? They're just better. The Rams?

If the Bucs are indeed a better football team, that will be a fine time to show it.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bill Myers September 19, 2016 at 9:11 am

The big ‘HOPE’ I have been feeling about our season has turned into just ‘hope’. I know, I know….It’s just one game…just one bad game. GO BUCS!

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