Buccaneers Lose Game, Benefit Of Doubt

There’s no sugarcoating it: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have taken a step back this season

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into Arizona at 2-2, with many questions around their team. Can the offense find its stride? Can the defense build off a strong performance against New England? Is Tampa Bay a playoff contender?

As it turns out, the answer to every one of those questions is a resounding no. The Bucs made the game close at the end due to some truly transcendent garbage time play from Ryan Fitzpatrick, but make no mistake, there should be no silver lining on a day where the Buccaneers had a long week to prepare and they showed up completely unprepared in a 38-33 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

“I obviously did a horrible job of getting these guys ready to play football, because that was the worst half of football I’ve ever seen in my life.” Head coach Dirk Koetter knows that when a team fails that completely, it starts on top. The Buccaneers didn’t see the Cardinals coming.

Carson Palmer’s first incomplete pass came well into the third quarter. By that point the Cardinals held a 31-0 lead. Adrian Peterson already had over 100 yards. Jameis Winston had already left the game with a shoulder injury. In short, the game was already all but over when Carson Palmer was intercepted in the third quarter, the first ball he’d thrown all game to not find an open man.

The Buccaneers’ defense wouldn’t have cut it as a practice squad in the first half. The Cardinals scored touchdowns on their first three drives and a field goal on their fourth. They added another touchdown on their first possession of the second half. That’s 31 points without much effort. With ten days to prepare for the Cardinals, the Buccaneers defense came in with no idea how to take on Arizona.

Arizona traded for Adrian Peterson during the week. It became a story throughout. It should not have surprised the Buccaneers that Peterson would get a lot of carries right off the bat, but they had no answer for Peterson in the first half. Even more embarrassing was the degree to which Larry Fitzgerald was open. That is to say, he was open all day long, sometimes entirely uncovered as though the Buccaneers were under the impression he had retired.

Peterson ended up with 134 rushing yards. Larry Fitzgerald had 138 receiving yards. Palmer was 18/22 on the afternoon.

(AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

Go down the line, and the Buccaneers failed in pretty much every way on Sunday. The team looked unprepared. Winston was 5/10 before being removed due to injury. The offensive line, well, allowed Jameis Winston to get hit in a way that caused him to eventually leave the football game. Doug Martin wasn’t particularly productive until garbage time. The defense didn’t get much pressure on the quarterback, failed to cover the team’s premier receiver, and had no answer for Peterson. Ryan Fitzpatrick proved a capable backup at times, but threw an interception on his own 1 yard line to set up the Cardinals’ final touchdown.

Tampa Bay didn’t miss any field goals, but as Wayne Gretzky might say they missed 100% of the kicks they didn’t take. Tampa Bay failed to convert two point attempts twice on the afternoon, and decided not to kick a field goal at the end of the first half with the ball deep in Cardinals territory. Had those kicks all been taken and made, that would have made up the difference in the game. Murray did make his one extra point attempt, by the way.

The second half was mostly garbage time. With Arizona up 31-0 in the third quarter, the Buccaneers began to make their offense work, led by Ryan Fitzpatrick with Winston sitting. Fitzpatrick was 22/32 on the evening with 290 yards passing, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.

Mike Evans caught one of those touchdown passes, a deep ball down the sideline that kept the score closer than it deserved to be. Cameron Brate had another, an impressive connection of two Harvard alumni. DeSean Jackson had the other.

These would all be encouraging things, especially combined with a second half for Doug Martin where he broke a 27 yard run. The problem is that they occurred with the game well in hand for Arizona already. Credit to the players for playing so hard in the second half, but that doesn’t erase how bad they were in the first

(AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

There is no room for silver linings right now. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 9-7 last year. They looked to have improved in the offseason. That’s a team that was expected to contend for a playoff spot, to take the next step in the development of their talented young team.

Playoff teams do not come out that flat in two straight road games. They don’t come across like they didn’t expect a team with Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald on it to utilize Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald.

No one person could take the full blame for a game like this. There are more fingers to point than a pair of hands can produce. The coaching staff didn’t prepare the team properly, players didn’t execute well, and the losing was a true team effort.

Some facts on the Bucs’ first five games:

Fact: The Buccaneers are in last place in the NFC South after the Saints defeated Detroit.

Fact: Football remains a team sport, so before you put this disappointing start on Jameis Winston ask yourself how many QBs can win with a defense that played twenty out of sixty minutes on Sunday.

Fact: The Buccaneers have been blown off the field in both of their road games so far this season, at Minnesota and Arizona.

Through five games, this season constitutes a step backward for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from the top down. The outlook on Winston seems much different than it was a year ago. Dirk Koetter is having a rough early season. The running game, defense, and receivers are all producing less than most people imagined they would. Now with twelve games remaining and no bye week, the Buccaneers are fighting an uphill battle in a very tough division.

Seasons really can’t end after just five games, but the odds now seem stacked against Tampa Bay managing to make a run at playing a seventeenth game this year. Not only are they last in their division, but they trail five teams who are not in first place in their respective divisions. While it’s still too early to focus on playoff races, the Buccaneers have put themselves in a position where they’ll have to turn things around just to get back in those races.

Five of the Buccaneers’ next seven games are on the road. So far this season, they have performed very poorly in road games. This is a problem, as all five of those games are against teams with better records than the Buccaneers.

Reasons for optimism: The game is over. The only people who have to watch it again play in the NFL.

Cause for concern: In the first half, the Buccaneers were abysmal in all facets of the game and allowed a Cardinals team they were favored to beat to run up a nearly insurmountable lead. The playoffs were part of many people’s expectations this year and it seems like those people will need to recalibrate.

Outlook for next week: With a trip to surprisingly feisty Buffalo, the Buccaneers will be tested with another road game. Buffalo will be coming off a bye week, with a record of 3-2. With LeSean McCoy in the backfield, the Buccaneers will again be asked to stop a very good running back. The Bills feature a fierce defense that will likely cause trouble for Dirk Koetter’s Buccaneers.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.