Outside of the running game, Tampa Bay looked lost in New Jersey
After a mediocre performance in a 16-3 loss to the Washington Redskins, people wondered what it might take from Ryan Fitzpatrick for the Buccaneers to turn back to Jameis Winston. On Sunday, that answer came. Three interceptions later, the Bucs turned back to the player who started the year #1 on the team’s depth chart.
While Winston had his moments on Sunday, the Buccaneers underlined by the end of the day that there is more to football than quarterbacking. Another subpar performance by the defense, and a good one from Eli Manning and Saquon Barkley, set the tone for a 38-35 Giants victory.
Winston stpped in during the third quarter. To his credit, the Buccaneers then went on three straight touchdown drives. The first ended in a Winston fumble recovered in the end zone by Mike Evans. The second was finished off by Peyton Barber crashing through the middle in his usual style. The third was a quick pass to Adam Humphries.
There were hints of Winston getting back to some bad habits as well. That third touchdown drive was extended by a couple of dropped interceptions by the Giants, one of which was entirely unforced. The fumble, which turned out well but was still regrettable, could have been prevented. Still, the return to game action was generally positive for the embattled signal-caller. There was an interception, a deep ball in desperation that floated just a bit too far, but a late pick against the prevent defense is more a sign of a game out of hand than anything else.
It would be overly simplistic to put the early deficit on Ryan Fitzpatrick, though he did little to help. Eli Manning had one incompletion in the first half. Saquon Barkley was open on the play late in the second, well after he already gashed the Bucs for the first half, but the throw was off the mark and he couldn’t reel it in. This unforced error was the only positive in the Buccaneers’ pass defense in the first two quarters.
Tampa Bay’s ability to move the football between the twenty yard lines was largely responsible for making the defense look better than it truly was on Sunday. They came into halftime having only surrendered fourteen points, but the Giants had everything they wanted on offense throughout.
The Buccaneers got gashed defensively on Sunday. Eli Manning had an open man on every pass play. Saquon Barkley got to run through a few holes and show everybody what all the hype was about.
It was that defense that prevented any comeback the Buccaneers might have had. They pulled to within three points in the fourth quarter, but the Giants marched down the field at will for an easy touchdown to effectively seal the game. New York came into Sunday with the 26th ranked NFL offense in terms of points scored and 25th in terms of yardage, but they were hardly bothered by the Buccaneers’ defense on Sunday.
It was a defense that completely undermined the offense’s second half. By allowing touchdown after touchdown, the defense eventually made the Buccaneers abandon the run once again, even on a great day for Peyton Barber. It cannot be understated what Barber added to the Bucs’ offense on Sunday, but the time of possession is no small part of it. Peyton Barber was the Buccaneers’ best defensive player, and it was hardly even close.
There is little question that the Buccaneers are in for some big changes this coming offseason. There is no indication one way or another from the Bucs about Dirk Koetter’s job status, but at bare minimum the team is sure to take a long, hard look at it. Jason Licht’s future with the organization is also uncertain.
With possible changes on the coaching staff and front office ahead, the Buccaneers in 2019 are a gigantic question mark. Winston’s performance should remind people that his fate in Tampa Bay is anything but sealed, with the new coaches likely to have a tough decision to make when they arrive.
The Bucs are not without talent. Four of their five great passing targets will be back in 2019, with only DeSean Jackson likely to depart. When healthy, Lavonte David is among the finest linebackers in the game, and on Sunday the Buccaneers’ expensive defensive line were able to put Eli Manning on the turf repeatedly. There will be something to work with for any incoming coach, but there is also so much work that needs to be done.
Up next for Bucs
The Buccaneers come back to Tampa on Sunday to take on the San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco is coming in off a bye, having lost 27-23 to the New York Giants in week 10. Nick Mullens will likely be under center for a 49ers team that spent most of the season reeling after injuries and other setbacks took them from everybody’s favorite sleeper in preseason to the bottom of the NFC West.
Coach Kyle Shanahan is known as one of the sport’s foremost game-planners, and that spells potential disaster for a Buccaneers defense that has struggled to keep up with any NFL offense. Look out next week for tight end George Kittle, who is making a name for himself in the west coast’s Bay Area.