Sizzle turns to fizzle as Bucs lose third game

by Gary Shelton on October 15, 2018 · 4 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Winston threw four touchdowns, but had two interceptions./CARMEN MANDATO

Monday, 4 a.m.

It was exciting, all right. That much is obvious.

It was wild, and it was wacky, and it would have made all of the highlight shows. It had razzle, and it had dazzle, and it had the derring-do born of desperation.

But was it really the Bucs' best chance to win? Really?

The Tampa Bay Bucs, faced with a dying clock on the road, pulled out a funky play call on the game's final play of a 34-29 loss to the Atlanta Falcons Sunday. With a second-and-

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10 at the Falcons' 21, quarterback Jameis Winston pulled down the ball and ran forward for 13 yards.

When he reached the 15, he lateraled it as he was being tackled. Mike Evans picked it up and lateraled it toward DeSean Jackson. Jackson, however, couldn't handle the pitch as it wobbled out of bounds.



On the popularity scale, the Bucs' last ditch effort will probably be popular. People love plays painted by creativity. Heck, it looks bold. It looks daring.

But was it really the team's best chance to pull out a victory in that moment?

Again, Tampa Bay was at the Falcons' 21; it wasn't going to take a Hail Mary to win. They would have been pitting their biggest strength (receivers) against Atlanta's biggest weakness (the secondary). Wouldn't a pass to Mike Evans or DeSean Jackson or Chris Godwin have a higher chance of success than lateral-it-till-you-drop? Couldn't O.J. Howard or Cam Brate or Adam Humphries have gotten open?

After all, Winston had passed for 395 yards on the day. What was 21 more? Granted, it would have been difficult. Time and distance were on the side of the Falcons. But with one shot, I'd try to do the thing this team is best at doing -- hitting a medium-range pass.

Think of it this way: In NFL history, how many NFL games have been won by a last-second 21-yard pass? Now, how many have been won by a multi-lateral desperation play?

"It was a quarterback draw with options," explained coach Dirk Koetter. "It’s hard to score on one play from the 20. When you’re going full speed  with one play to win the game from the 20. It’s tough. He’s got people closing in on him from all sides. There aren’t a lot of great plays on one play from the 20."

All in all, it was a better effort from the Bucs in this loss than, say, the one to Chicago. The defense showed a little fight in the second half, forcing three punts in a row. The pass coverage was awful, but the team still had a chance to win. The running game was better.

Still, there were some nagging old wounds that were re-opened.

For instance:

-- Another quarterback lit up the Bucs' secondary. This time, it was Matt Ryan, who hit 31 of 41 passes for 354 yards, the fifth straight quarterback who has thrown for at least 330 against Tampa Bay.

We got them in third-and-long, but we couldn't get off the field in the first half,'' Koetter said. "They finished 8-for-12 on third down, but in the first half, they did a good job when it was third-and-9, third-and-17. We couldn't get off the field.''

The Bucs have one interception in five games (198 passes).

-- Winston didn't cost his team the game, but he threw two interceptions inside the Falcons' 5. He threw for a lot of yards, but again, he made big mistakes.

"Jameis does so many good things out there," Koetter said. "He has composure. He can make all the throws. He runs the team. He scrambles. He’s tough. But there are a couple of balls you’d like to have back. That's playing quarterback in the NFL. I thought Jameis played well for a huge percentage of the game."

-- The Bucs continued to struggle in the red zone at the wrong times. Raise your hands if you doubted the team would score a touchdown after Adam Humphries' reception set them up with a first and goal from the 2. They didn't.

-- Yet another missed extra point haunted the Bucs. When Chandler Catanzaro missed after the Bucs' first touchdown, it put the Bucs' in the position to chase all day. They never caught the Falcons.

-- An 18-yard pass reception to Mike Evans took far too much time when Evans failed to get out of bounds. There were 45 seconds left when the play to Evans started. There were 22 seconds left when the next one did.

-- And then there was the old, old wound. Who, exactly, decided the Bucs needed a better kicker than Matt Bryant? Bryant's 57-yard-field goal made sure a kick by the Bucs wouldn't beat Atlanta.

Think of the nerve it took for Atlanta coach Dan Quinn to make that call. If Bryant misses (and he did pull a muscle on the kick), the Bucs take over at the Atlanta 43 needing just a field goal to win with 1:10 to play. Instead, the Bucs had to start their drive -- needing a touchdown -- from their 24.

"That was an unbelievable call by Coach Quinn or whoever made it," Koetter said. "Matt Bryant is money. I've seen him make that kick. But where we were going to get that ball needing a field goal...I told Coach Quinn it was a hell of a call by him. That was a very ballsy call."

It all added up to the third straight loss for the Bucs, who have to be wondering when they might win next. Against Cleveland next week? Against Washington on Nov. 11? Against San Francisco on Nov. 25?

"We will win games," Winston said.

If you didn't know this was the Bucs, you could have identified the burn marks from the corpses of smoldering defensive backs. Ryan hit his first 12 passes, and he threw just 10 incompletions all day. In five games, the Bucs have forced only 47 incompletions.

For a receiver who has lit up the Bucs regularly, the Bucs treated Julio Jones like just another guy. He caught 10 passes for 143 yards. It was like the Bucs were playing "where's Waldo," with Jones as Waldo.

And, Winston's old bugaboo, the interceptions, hurt. The first one was when he overthrew DeSean Jackson and the ball was picked. The second one bounded off his receiver and the defensive back into the air and was intercepted.

"You eliminate those two plays and I had a great day," Winston said. "You add those two plays and it’s a bad day."

The Bucs attempt to even their season record at 3-3 with next Sunday's game against Cleveland. The game is at 1 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.

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