Bucs win, but fall short of making fans happy

by Gary Shelton on October 11, 2015 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Doug Martin fights for yardage on is 123-yard day.

Doug Martin fights for yardage on is 123-yard day.

Sunday, 6:51 p.m.

TAMPA

It was like having a candy bar for dinner. Sweet, perhaps, but hardly satisfying.

With a team trying to learn how to walk, however, this is what you get. Thirty-eight points worth of offense. Thirty-one given up by the defense. Finally, a win at home. Almost, a secondary capable of blowing it all.

So, no, it wasn't everything you want in a victory. On the other hand, these are the Tampa Bay Bucs, who have been slow to find wins of any sort, and so they will take it. Never mind that the opponent, Jacksonville, is only 1-4 on the season. Never mind that the difference in the game was that the Bucs recovered a fumble for

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Howard Jones celebrates one of his two sacks for Bucs.

Howard Jones celebrates one of his two sacks for Bucs.

a touchdown, and the Jags dropped an interception that could have been returned for a touchdown. Never mind that the Bucs still have loads of improving to do if they are to be close to a break-even team for this year.

The Bucs won.

This column will now pause so everyone can dance around the coffee table and yell “Yippee.''

Charles Sims moves toward the goal line for Bucs

Charles Sims moves toward the goal line for Bucs

Hey, when you're a Bucs' fan, you take your wins where you can get them. And for Tampa Bay, this was the first home win in 12 games. The last time the Bucs won, it was Dec. 8 of 2013, and Mandela had just died and storms were hitting the East Coast. Greg Schiano was the Bucs' coach, and Mike Glennon was the quarterback. And Tampa Bay improved all the way to 4-9.

So happy days are here again. Yes, it was harder than it should have been, given the performances of many of the Bucs' players. Yes, it felt like the secondary was on roller skates as the Jaguars' ran around them.

“We're disappointed in what has happened this year for us,'' coach Lovie Smith said. “We feel we're a good football team. That team out there is a pretty good team that can play with anybody around.”

Well, no, they can't. Still, the Bucs crafted a nice little game plan with Doug Martin rushing for 123 yards and Jameis Winston hitting 13 of 19 for 209 yards. So what if the secondary was a sieve, allowing visiting quarterback Blake Bortles to throw for 303 yards and four touchdowns.

“Huge,'' said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “We haven't won at home since 2013 and it's dang near 2016 right now and we're going into a bye. You think about last year, we played Baltimore right before that bye, and that was not the way you want to go into the bye week.”

For the Bucs, this was big. For one thing, it matched their season win total from last year with 11 games to go. For another, it probably quieted – at least for the moment – the sound of bounty hunters looking for head coach Lovie Smith. Smith has spent only  21 games in his job, but already, fans are getting restless as they search for improvement.

Against Jacksonville, they found just enough to get by. Barely.

Want an example of the type of thing that exasperates Bucs' fans? There were 36 seconds left to play in the half, and a 20-7 lead had been whittled to 20-14. The Jags had just kicked out of bounds – giving the Bucs the ball at the 40 with three time-outs left.

And they ran out the clock. Of course they did.

In that situation, why not take a shot? Why not hope a receiver can make a play or draw a pass interference? By that time, kicker Connor Barth had already kicked two of his three field goals and two extra points.

“We felt like we were in pretty good shape,” Smith said. “Yeah, we could have tried to score. We didn't want anything bad to happen then. We were out coming out there (in the third period) and playing ball from there.”

The thing is, as fans, we're hard to please. You want your team to win, but you want them to win in a manner that suggests it will happen again. New England fans don't have to worry about that. They know that every now and then, a team has to win a tough game. Seattle doesn't have to worry about it. They know that one unit having a bad day is just that. But when a team has won so infrequently, you want all the units to play well enough for victory. Hey, this is the NFL. Teams win by a touchdown (or less) all the time. But when a team wins only every now and then, you'd like it to be convincing.

Except for the embarrassment of the secondary, it was a Buc kind of day. The pass rush was decent, especially newcomer Howard Jones, who had two of his team's six sacks. Throw in a forced fumble by George Johnson, recovered by Jacquies Smith in the end zone, and the line can feel pretty good.

And the linebackers were active in the blitz game. Yeah, they missed a bunch of tackles, but they made a contribution, too.

But the secondary? Egad. The secondary was awful, maybe the worst in Bucs' memory. Except for an interception by Bradley McDougald, the Bucs pretty much played chase all afternoon. Bortles finished the game with a rating of 125.4. The Bucs would have been better to play the Beatles in the secondary; at least that would have had some big hits.

Offensively, the Bucs were as good as they have been all season. Winston's rating was very good, 122.5.

“Tuesday, I took it on myself to be turover free,” said Winston, who had a fumble reversed by replay and an interception dropped. “If we didn't win the turnover ratio, you never know what will happen.”

Martin had a terrific day, his second straight 100-yard day. That's not bad, since he had just one 100-yard day last year and just  one the year before.

“Coach Dirk (Koetter) pulled up the statistics that I guess they are No. 4 in run defense. When I see that, and when our room says that, we think of that as a challenge,” Martin said.

There were a number of huge plays for the Bucs. There was Charles Sims' 56-yard run with a screen pass on third and 15. There was Smith recovering a fumble for a touchdown. There was a 39-yard run by Martin.

All in all, however, it was a victory that came with some frustration. Bortles kept finding receivers, and the Bucs' defensive backs kept losing them. It was a sight that reminded fans, even in victory, that this team has limits.

For a day, however, the Bucs were winners. That hasn't happened often. And everything else feels like quibbling.

The Bucs are off next week, then travel to Washington the week after.

Winston had his first turnover-free day in the NFL.

Winston had his first turnover-free day in the NFL.

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