Buccaneers Need to Win Sunday or It’s Time for Change


No, the NFC South is not decided yet. Blame the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who took a massive, 23-13 L to the New Orleans Saints last Sunday during the team’s final home game at Raymond James Stadium.

Despite what the score suggests, the Bucs never really had a chance in the game, as they fell behind 17-0 at halftime and 20-0 by the fourth quarter.

A couple garbage-time touchdowns from Baker Mayfield dressed up the score and made things look a little less bleak in regards to Sunday’s performance, but make no mistake, these were very much the 1-6 Bucs that we saw in the middle of the season instead of the four-game winning-streak Bucs that we’ve watched for the past month.

Obviously this game was far less important than this Sunday’s matchup with the 2-14 Panthers, but it’s still a discouraging way to close out the season at home. The Saints are not very good either, and yet the Bucs couldn’t get anything going and got bullied at the point of attack for the first time in a while.

The Buccaneers had been running the football relatively efficiently going into last Sunday’s matchup, averaging around 111 rushing yards per game over their latest winning streak. Against the Saints, Tampa Bay ran for a pretty sad 57 yards and gave up 108 yards to New Orleans.

Mayfield also threw a couple incredibly ill-advised interceptions, one being a underthrown deep ball that turned into a 50-50 ball for rookie receiver Trey Palmer (you can figure out who won the battle between Palmer and second-year corner Alontae Taylor), and the other coming off a tipped pass, something that was a huge problem for Baker all Sunday afternoon.

While Mayfield’s size was a bit of a question mark coming out of college, Sunday was the biggest example of the issue rearing its ugly head, with the Saints’ defensive line having a field day timing up Mayfield’s passes and batting them down or deflecting them (and in one case turning one into an interception).

Mayfield attempted to change up his looks, pump faking and double clutching to throw off the timing of Saints pass rushers, but that seemed to have a huge negative impact on his confidence and overall ability to get the ball out of his hands. He settled for dump off after dump off, targeting running backs Chase Edmonds and Rachaad White a combined 10 times and only gaining 64 yards in return.

Bucs receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin had a combined nine targets and racked up 151 yards between them (begging the question of why Mayfield went away from the duo so much in this game).

The Bucs’ defense was also unable to create any takeaways, and while Saints quarterback Derek Carr was his usual below-average self, he also didn’t manage to lose the game with any critical or painful mistakes, setting the Saints up with a chance to snatch the division away from the Bucs if Tampa Bay is unable to come away with a road victory against the hapless Panthers this weekend.

In the first Buccaneers game of the new year, they’ll get to match up against rookie QB Bryce Young and a Panthers team that has an interim coach in Chris Tabor.

Unfortunately for the Bucs, unlike many times when hopeless teams employ seemingly strange tactics to improve draft positioning, the Panthers have no incentive to do so, since they’re not only guaranteed  the NFL’s worst record for the season, but also don’t even have their own first round pick anyways since the Chicago Bears received it in the trade up to draft Bryce Young from this past season.

Of course, it likely won’t matter anyways, as the Panthers have struggled to get anything going on either side of the ball, with Young submitting his first positive Estimated Points Added (EPA) performance of the season a couple weeks ago in the Panthers’ heartbreaking 33-30 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

If the Buccaneers don’t come out of this game with the victory (and thus a third straight division title), I have a hard time believing the front office will let this slide without major changes coming down the pipeline. Losing to the Saints was fine, but losing to the Panthers with the division within grasp would be more than unacceptable.

Luckily for head coach Todd Bowles, I don’t expect that to happen. The Bucs should take home a victory 23-13 and Bowles’ job will be safe for one more season.

It’s a Bucs life, but hey, it’s the NFC South, so that’s just good enough to make the playoffs.

Follow @ctbrantley12 on Twitter and listen to him on the RBLR Bucs podcast

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This article originally appeared on CLTAMPA.COM and is used with permission.

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