Saints slam the door on Bucs’ ‘dangerous offense’

by Gary Shelton on December 10, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Tayson Hill blocks the punt of Bryan Anger to key the comeback./TIM WIRT

Monday, 4 a.m.

Evidently, the Bucs stop here.

Now, too.

The high-flying offense of the Tampa Bay Bucs, No. 1 in the NFL for most of the season, ground to a halt Sunday afternoon. For most of the season, they have been the high-flying Wallendas, an offense built on highlights and sizzle. They didn't always score the way you would hope, but they gained yardage like a real-estate broker.

And then the Saints came to town.

And they brought speed bumps with them.

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For the second straight week, Winston led the Bucs in rushing./TIM WIRT

The Bucs sputtered through most of the afternoon, losing a 14-3 halftime lead on their way to a 28-14 defeat by New Orleans. Suddenly, the Bucs were a car that was stalled in traffic. It was as if Trent Dilfer was back in town, and he brought Lars Tate and Alvin Harper with him. The entire offensive line was made up of Charles McRae clones.

It was ugly with a side order of homely. The Bucs opened the game with a 75-yard drive for a score, and later, they took advantage of an interception to lead to another one. Then it was as if they were moving through quicksand and swamp land. The Bucs were all dressed up and had nowhere to go.

Taylor runs back his interception./TIM WIRT


In the first half, the Bucs scored 14 points. In the second half, zero.

In the first half, the Bucs had 14 first downs. In the second half, six.

In the first half, the Bucs ran for 76 yards. In the second half, 29.

Wait, there's more. And less. Which leads us to believe it must have been the worst halftime speech in the history of speeches.

In the first half, the Bucs had 130 passing yards. In the second half, they had 44.

In the first half, Jameis Winston hit 12 of 21 passes and had a rating of 107.2. In the second half, he hit six of 17 and had a rating of 35.3.

In the first half, Winston was sacked once. In the second half, he was sacked three times and hit repeatedly.

In the first half, the Bucs made five of eight third downs. In the second half, it was one of six.

In the first half, the Bucs had the ball for 16:40. In the second half, they had it 11:27.

"They were better than us in the second half," Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter said. "There's no question. We couldn't get anything going  on offense, and 14 points isn't going to do it against the Saints.

Santos missed two field goals./TIM WIRT

 "Our defense was on the field way too much in the second half. I think we had sixteen, almost seventeen minutes of time of possession in the first half, and like twelve in the second half. Again, that’s just not going to work against the Saints. They totally shut us down in the second half. We couldn’t score points, and our defense was on the field too much. We had way too many holding penalties. That killed us. We went through a stretch there where we had a bunch of penalties right in a row. We got dominated in the second half. They shut us down. We haven’t been shut down like that for a long time.”

In other words, it was an awful game plan by Tampa Bay against a run-of-the-mill Saints defense (16th in the NFL). They kept trying to run, and failing, and they ended up with third-or-six or longer,. Then they would try to pass to Chris Godwin and fail (he was targeted 10 times but made only one catch, which he fumbled).

Peyton Barber had only 17 yards in the second half./TIM WIRT

They would commit a penalty (they had 10 for 84, although the Saints declined two major calls). They kept punting (six times), and the defense kept playing until it wore out.

Okay, okay. If most of us had to pick a score before the game well, 28-14 sounds about right. But a 14-3 lead might have made you think the Bucs had progressed more than they had.

Instead, they have lost their chance to have a winning record. (They have to win out to finish at .500). They blew a lead. They argued with each other on the sideline. (Jameis Winston got into it with Ryan Jensen after a particularly stupid penalty). They had a punt blocked. They missed two field goals. They didn't tackle well enough.

And that's the snapshot of your Bucs with three games to go.

The blocked punt changed things. The Bucs had a 14-3 lead when it happened, and Bryan Anger was punting on a play from the 41. A punt inside the 20 was possible. But the Bucs caved in, and Tayson Hill blocked the punt. That led to a touchdown and two-pointer. The Saints would score 17 more points on their next three possessions.

Meanwhile, back to the offense that was stuck in the mud. It was an offense that would make Lovie Smith cover his eyes. Or Leeman Bennett. Or Raheem Morris. Or Greg Schiano. Or Ray Perkins. You get the picture.

Quarterback Jameis Winston had only one turnover, a late interception when the game was over, but he wasn't as crisp as he has been. He misfired on several passes. Consider: He threw the ball seven more times than Brees, but he had six fewer completions and had a 71.5 rating.

Lewis makes a catch in front of Elliott./TIM WIRT

“I didn’t think Jameis was as sharp as he’s been the last two weeks," Koetter said. "But, he also didn’t turn the ball over (before the Bucs' final offensive play). We were (plus-one) in turnovers, as far as offense and defense. But, the blocked punt is a huge one. Jameis was under duress all day; Jameis got hit too many times today. You can’t have your quarterback getting hit that many times, whether it’s scrambling, running, four sacks. We can’t get him hit that much.

"We struggled on offense – period. I mean, we’ve never struggled like that in our passing game. We had over 100 yards rushing, but we struggled in the passing game. We’re one of the best passing teams in the league, but we weren’t today.” 

There were other blemishes, too. Consider the late second quarter, when the Bucs had a first-and-10 at the New Orleans' 43.  On first down, Donovan Smith had a false start. First and 15. Then Jensen was called for holding. First and 25.  Two plays laer, Jensen was called for unnecessary roughness, which was 15 yards and a loss of downs. Fourth and 25. Then Kevin Minter was called for a false start before the punt. Fourth-and-31.

Whee. This is why ticket prices are so high. You cannot match the thrills that this game gives.

Brate goes up for the first Bucs' touchdown./TIM WIRT

Winston didn't blame the line for the pressure he faced.

“I’ve just got to get the ball out of my hands and, like I said, simple execution," Winston said. "I can’t put them in that situation. Sometimes I can make some good plays for them, other times I’ve got to get the ball out and just complete the football.”

So how does a team go from scoring 48 against a team in the first meeting (on the road), and then get 14 in the second game (at home).

“I thought we were running the ball a little bit better," tight end Cameron Brate said. "I thought Jameis was making good decisions. Obviously, we had a couple big plays. Mike (Evans) had a big play down the sideline the first drive. Seemed like he had a little more time back there in the pocket. If we give him time, we know he’s going to make plays. I thought he did a good job making some plays with his legs on third downs to keep drives alive. Just for whatever reason we couldn’t continue doing that in the second half.”

Said Adam Humphries: "I feel I like we came out with a lot of confidence – moved the ball well, started the game really good and had some adversity there in the second half and just didn’t bounce back from that the right way. Like you said, a lot of self-inflicted stuff. Just can’t have that against a really good team.”

But how a feuding team? Neither Jensen nor Winston would say much about their argument.

"Coming off a bad play," Jensen said. "Families fight. Me and Jameis are highly competitive guys and we just had simple words. We talked about it. We got cooled down and talked about it and everything is good.”

Said Winston: “Brothers have disagreements, so it wasn’t that much."

The Bucs travel to Baltimore next Sunday. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Brees goes airborne to barely gets over the goal line./TIM WIRT




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