Bucs still looking for a complete game

by Gary Shelton on October 8, 2021

in general

Leftwich's offense still looking to improve./TIM WIRT

Friday, 3 a.m.

The record looks pretty enough. They are 3-1, which everyone should agree is a pretty good start.

There have been enough points. They are fourth in the NFL in touchdowns. They're averaging 30.5 points per game. That's good enough.

And yet, there has been something unsatisfying to the start of the Tampa Bay Bucs. Perhaps it is the expectations for a defending Super Bowl champion, but there have been stretches of ineffectiveness that have been bothersome.

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Consider. Against Dallas, the Bucs trailed 29-28 with 1:24 to play.

Consider: Against Atlanta, the Bucs led just 28-35 going into the fourth period before two pick-sixes by Mike Edwards finished things.

Consider: Against New England, the Bucs trailed 17-16 with 1:57 to play.

Will the team finally bring the proper focus to Sunday's game against Miami? We'll see. But first, the team has to address its shortcomings.

"We just didn't execute the way we're capable," quarterback Tom Brady said. "One of four (in the red zone) is not where we want to be. We want to be 3-of-4, 4-of-4, so we'll try to, obviously, get better at it this week. It's an important part of the game. Anytime they hold you to field goals, for a defense it's a big thing, especially in close games.

"You've got to win the red area. That's all points. You've got to win third downs, it keeps you on the field. You've got to win the kicking game, which is field position. Turnovers – extra possessions. In the end, everything adds up. It's a game of points and there's a very thin margin of error."

Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich also said the team has to do better in the red zone.

"I just think we didn’t execute well down there and I think they did a good job," Leftwich said. "They’re a well-coached group and if you don’t execute against a group like that, you’re going to be kicking field goals. I think we learned a lot from that. The biggest part is we found a way to win the football game. Our ultimate goal was to go up there and win the football game, regardless of score, and we did that.”

True. But it has taken two fourth-quarter comebacks by Brady to get the team to its 3-1 start. That seems to be playing with fire, doesn't it?

"You know, football is – you’re never a finished product in this sport because every year is very different, " Brady said. "The opponents are different and obviously the conditions are different. I mean, look at this [return of] crowd noises this year. We didn't have one rainy game like that last year. We didn't have one crowd noise game last year. So, we're still learning each other. Continuity is the key in the NFL. We've only been together, a lot of us, for a year. I think we're going to be making improvements until the day that we're all not together. We've got to try to keep getting better and better every time we take the field."

Leftwich agreed.

“We’re trying to play our best football," Leftwich said. "I don’t think we've played it yet. Obviously, the numbers don’t mean anything until the end of the year. We’re still in Week 4, we’re early in the season. We’ll worry about what the numbers are at the end, but right now we’re just trying to get better. We’re just trying to get better and do what we need to do to help the team win each Sunday.

"That’s really how we approach it. If it’s scoring a bunch of points, it’s scoring a bunch of points. Obviously, we try to do that every week. There’s going to be times when you don’t, but if you can win football games when you don’t, that’s a sign of a good football team. So, we all have our hand in the pile trying to do what we can to win football games. That’s our approach week-in and week-out.”

The Bucs would seem to be a heavy favorite at home against the 1-3 Dolphins. But a battered secondary and an inconsistent pass rush complicate things. The top three cornerbacks the Bucs started the season with are all injured.

“You can’t worry about it at the time," said defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. "I’ve been coaching in this league over 20-21 years, and I’ve had a healthy secondary in maybe three or four of them, so it’s next man up. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. You’ve got to get them ready to play. It’s our job as coaches to get everybody ready to play when they come in the building. You survive and advance. It’s early in the season. I thought those other guys did a good job stepping in.”

The Bucs play against the Dolphins on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.

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