Bucs dominated in big contest

by Gary Shelton on January 1, 2024

in general

Godwin caught a late touchdown./TIM WIRT

Monday, 4 a.

You can tell the size of the defeat by the sighs of the Tampa Bay Bucs’ fans

Suddenly, here come the old doubts, the familiar skepticism, about Todd Bowles’ leadership, about Baker Mayfield’s efficiency, about the running game and the cornerbacks and the offensive line and the pass rush One loss in five games, and the old wounds are fresh again. The Bucs might not make the playoffs after all, and if they do not, the fury will have its sound.

The Bucs laid an egg Sunday. With a chance to clinch the playoffs, to beat the rival Saints to open contract renegotiations all around, the Bucs played perhaps their worst game of the season in a 23-13 loss to New Orleans. The final score was much closer than the play was for most of the game.

“Our coaches have got to come up with a better game plan on both sides of the ball, and the players have to play it better,” Bucs’ coach Todd Bowles said. “We were off kilter from the start. They did a good job manufacturing a drive down the field keeping us off balance. They did a good job getting turnovers. They did what they were supposed to do, and came in here to do it, and we didn’t.

“We definitely stunk it up as coaches. We stunk it up as players. We didn’t play up to our standard. We’re trying to win our division and we didn’t win one. We have another chance next week and we [need to] come back Tuesday ready to work. By any means necessary, we have to show up Sunday.”

The Bucs did flash a bit of life in the late going, with Baker Mayfield hitting Trey Palmer on a 62-yard pass (Palmer fumbled it) and Chris Godwin on a 47-yard touchdown. But don’t let those two big plays make you forget how bad the Bucs were for most of the game.

They gained just 44 yards in the first half, and they had just one first down that didn’t come by penalty. Mayfield was five of 10 for 47 yards. The Saints built a 17-0 lead by the half.

“It’s just one of those days where nothing seems to get going,” Mayfield said. ‘And then when we had a chance – yeah, couldn’t get it. One of those days where you look at it and see the things that went wrong and be like ‘Alright, we’ve got to get it fixed. Here’s where it went wrong’ and move on.” 

The Bucs had four turnovers. Technically, they had five, but Mayfield’s interception a two-point conversion doesn’t count in the official statistics.

“It was like we didn’t know what was at stake,” linebacker Lavonte David said. “We came out very flat on both sides of the ball. It’s something that we’ve got to take to the chin. They came out and beat us. We’ve definitely got to get better. Learn from it and get better next week.”

Tampa Bay has struggled against opposing quarterbacks all season. Sunday, they made a star out of Derek Carr, who has struggled in his first season with the Saints.  Carr hit 24 of 32 passes and threw for two scores. He had a 111.1 rating while facing little pressure.

“We had to stop the blitz) because the ball was coming out pretty quick,” Bowles said. “He wasn’t holding the ball long enough for us to get the pass rush, so we tried to cover. I didn’t think in the first half we tackled well when the ball was dumped down there. I thought they cleaned it up some in the second half.”

Mayfield had  309 yards, but his interceptions marred the day. Rachaad White’s best run, 16 yards, came with a fumble at the end.

The Bucs can still win the NFC South if they win at Carolina, who has just two wins on the season. But the Bucs barely beat the Panthers earlier, and this game is on the road.

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