Monday Musings: Time to Shake Things Up

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Good morning, folks. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 19-16 in overtime to set up a win-and-clinch matchup with the Carolina Panthers next Sunday in Tampa.

But, as usual, the final ledger belied the true story this game told. And that was one of a Buccaneer offense that again failed to show up until the first three-and-a-half quarters of football have been played.

Repeat Performance 

Maddening as it is, this Buccaneers team cannot find a sense of urgency until it’s staring defeat squarely in the face with almost no margin for error remaining in the contest. We saw it against the Rams. Then the Saints blew a 16-3 lead in Tampa.

And yesterday, trailing 16-6 to the 4-11 Cardinals in the fourth quarter, the Bucs were backed up against a wall yet again, looking to its QB to bail them out. And – to be fair – it was largely the fault of said QB for why this team was in the hole that it was. Tom Brady threw two interceptions – both to cornerback Marco Wilson, and both in the direction of Mike Evans. One was the result of getting hit as he threw, but the other was on a woefully underthrown ball with Wilson the underneath part of a double coverage late in the third quarter. And there’s no doubt Brady has a lot to evaluate this week about what went wrong.

GOAT Engineered 

But when it mattered, the best to ever do it proved again why he should have the ball in his hands the majority of the time. With 10:47 left, Brady engineered a 7-play 67-yard drive, which largely came on a short pass to Leonard Fournette that broke for 44 yards, Cade Otton deserves credit for key blocks on two defenders that sprung Fournette. On third and goal from the 3, Brady tossed the ball to Rachaad White, who found the corner of the end zone for a long-overdue touchdown.

Arizona drove down to the Tampa Bay 42 yard line, bleeding clock along the way. But on third and 1, Trace McSorley made an aggressive pitch to Keaontay Ingram, who couldn’t hold onto it. William Gholston recovered, and the Bucs capitalized, moving 55 yards in 5 plays to tie the game on a Ryan Succop 38-yard field goal.

After the teams traded punts, overtime followed. The Bucs’ defense forced a punt after 6 plays, and then Brady went to work, going 6 for 6 for 69 yards and setting up Succop’s 40-yard game-ending kick.

Another inferior opponent, another backup quarterback, and another struggle. But one the Buccaneers will gladly take in this success-starved season.

Random Thoughts & Notes

Tom Brady successfully converted a QB sneak on 4th and 1 in the first half.  WHY HASN’T THIS BEEN USED ALL YEAR???  It’s been well known that Brady is one of the best to ever sneak the ball.  I assumed it had been because of risks to his aging body, or that he otherwise refused to do it. Apparently that’s a hard no. Given how terribly this team has failed in very short yardage this season, pulling the sneak out of the bag now is both satisfying (in that it works) and inexplicably maddening.

Ryan Doesn’t Succop 

How important has Ryan Succop been this year, especially given the difficulty in scoring points?  He’s 9-9 from 20-29 yards, 7-8 from 30-39, and 11-11 from 40-49 yards this year, in addition to 21-21 on extra points. His struggles from beyond 50 have been well documented (2-6), but if you get the ball inside the 32-yard line, the kick is a gimmie. That’s a nice luxury to have, and one that’s won the Bucs a number of games in this cardiac-challenging season.

Too Many Self-Inflicted Wounds

The Bucs lost out on two touchdowns in the first half after Brady missed Julio Jones on a deep corner route where Jones was wide open. That’s a throw Brady usually makes in his sleep, but he just missed that one, and that resulted in 4 points off the board. The other was when the Bucs were flagged for an illegal shift when Otton was not set, which nullified a Jones catch-and-run score. Eight total points taken away from an offense that really can’t afford to lose scoring chances this year. That lack of discipline will bite them against a team with any kind of pulse offensively down the stretch and/or in the postseason.

Tackle Issues 

The Buccaneers have some serious issues at tackle to deal with, as Josh Wells suffered a torn patellar tendon on Sunday. Brandon Walton came in and did a decent job keeping Brady protected, which allowed the late-game comeback. Kudos to him. Sometimes the next man up is good enough, and he was yesterday. Hopefully Josh makes a full and speedy recovery.

Based on the Wells’ loss, Todd Bowles said coming out for the second half that the Bucs needed to run the ball more. Well, 8 of the Bucs’ 14 rushing attempts thereafter went for 3 yards or less. That’s not an efficient offense. What was efficient is when Brady went into the shotgun, no huddle, and moved the ball down the field twice in the final minutes, churning out 10 points.

Two Minute Answer

What it means is the Buccaneers need to turn its two-minute offense MUCH earlier in the game.  No huddle, spread the field, and get Evans more involved.  His two targets in the first half is just inconceivably bad game planning. They have to find a way to get the ball in his hands more often.

And yes, I understand the risks in the passing game lately. Brady has thrown two interceptions in three straight games and at least one in five of the last six. He’s missed throws and looked just off at times. He’s made some reads that make you scratch your head (i.e., the Demario Davis interception against the Saints). But he’s still shown this year that when you give him the ball in a hurry-up situation, he’s at his best and still very dangerous.

The Bucs need to implement their two-minute offense (regardless of if it’s Walton or Donovan Smith at LT) and not wait until its 17-7 Panthers with 8:25 left in the fourth quarter this weekend. It’s time to give the best ever to do it the chance to do what he does best from the start, because what we’ve seen this year for the first three and a half quarters simply isn’t working and will get this team bounced immediately from the playoffs…if they even make it that far.  The Panthers are suddenly a pretty decent football team, so the layups and flashy comebacks against really bad teams is done.  What’s been status quo on offense won’t cut it any longer. It’s time to go fast and do it early.

The Aftermath Reaction Show

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