It was a bitter disappointing loss for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Despite jumping out to a 17-0 they fell apart in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals. This loss was as frustrating of a loss as there has been in the Tom Brady era.
In fact, it was more than frustrating. This loss was embarrassing and humiliating. It was a game that showed all the flaws with this infuriating team in the second half.
However, none of that is the big takeaway from this game. We already knew this team was frustrating and featured an embarrassing offense which infuriated us on a weekly basis. What really stood out in this game was that for 30 minutes the Buccaneers looked great.
The first half of this game was undoubtedly the best half of football that Byron Leftwich has called this year. It featured many of the things that fans and media had been begging for all season. There was consistently play action passes in the offense and they were much more aggressive in pushing the ball downfield.
These are the things that the Bucs have done in recent years when the offense was at their best. It has been unclear why the team had gotten away from that this season, but the new direction had not worked out. The offense we saw on Sunday was a breath of fresh air that reminded us of the good ole days of last season.
Unsurprisingly, the Bucs marched down the field three times with this game plan. Despite one drive stalling inside the Bengals 10 yard line and a second requiring a 4th down conversion at the goalline, it felt like the Tampa Bay offense was in complete control in the first half. All this against a Bengals defense that ranks in the top 10 in points allowed per game makes the showing that much more impressive.
Is This Sustainable?
The answer to this is a resounding yes! The Bucs have been one of the most effective play action passing teams in the NFL when they have chosen to use it. It is something they have done consistently over the last few years and are more than capable of doing more down the stretch.
Keep in mind, this was a Bucs offense that wasn’t at full strength. Star offensive tackle Tristian Wirfs didn’t play in this game and neither did Julio Jones. Center Ryan Jensen hasn’t played all season, but there is some optimism that he could play sometime this year.
Adding those important pieces will only help the offense. Particularly Wirfs and Jensen would help in giving Brady more time to sell the run action and survey the defense in these play action passes. So not only is this offense sustainable, but it can even be better.
Hope Doesn’t Float, It Passes
The score of this game was in some ways irrelevant. The Buccaneers control their playoff fate with three weeks to go and that’s more than they could hope for after their struggles this year. So the optimism that this first half provided was all that really matters to me in this game.
That’s because the overall expectation of this year has not changed. Winning playoff games is how this Bucs team will be measured. Their regular season record will be forgotten over time. Afterall, how much do you remember about the regular season of the 2007 New York Giants team that beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl?
Showing the ability and willingness to change what the offense has been doing with this kind of success is very promising. If the Bucs can continue to refine this new (actually old going back to 2021) approach to offense then they can be a difficult opponent down the stretch. They could even make the noise in the playoffs that we expected them to make coming into the year.
Will that actually happen? It’s hard to believe it with everything we’ve seen this year. However, even the adjustments made for the first half was unexpected at this point in the year. Hopefully this is the beginning of a pattern and we continue to see the same results we saw the first 30 minutes of Sunday’s game vs the Bengals.