At different times throughout this wayward season, the Bucs have been plagued by penalties, fumbles, interceptions, missed tackles and assignments, and big plays allowed for the opposition. All were on display today.
In front of a Raymond-James-esque sparse crowd at EverBank Field, the Bucs laid arguably their biggest egg of the year, allowing the Jaguars to score 41 unanswered points in a 41-14 rout.
The Bucs led 14-0 with eight minutes to play in the second quarter on the strength of two methodical scoring drives in their first three possessions, including their first 1st-quarter touchdown of the season on a LeGarrette Blount 1-yard touchdown run.
Then, the game changed for good on one play. Preston Parker, who had already fumbled away one punt, fielded a punt deep in his own territory and turned to go upfield, when he was hit by the Jags’ Montell Owens and fumbled. Colin Cloherty, whose name didn’t even appear on the team’s official roster provided in the press box, picked up the fumble and trotted it in for a touchdown.
From there, things snowballed for the Bucs in all phases. The Bucs allowed QB Blaine Gabbert, who finished the first quarter 1-for-5 for 2 yards with an interception, and a stagnant offense that averaged a measly 12.7 ppg to take over. Gabbert found Marcedes Lewis for a 62-yard bomb down the seam, which set up the game-tying touchdown run by Maurice-Jones Drew. After a Freeman fumble was recovered for a touchdown by Nate Collins, the Jags capitalized on a misplaced Freeman back-shoulder throw for Mike Williams that was intercepted by (briefly) one-time Buccaneer Ashton Youboty late in the second quarter. Gabbert engineered a 9-play, 49-yard drive that took less than a minute and culminated with a Maurice Jones-Drew touchdown reception just before the half.
And just like that, a team which had not scored more than 20 points in a game this season had scored 28 points. In just over half a quarter.
For the day, the Bucs turned the ball over seven times, with four fumbles and three interceptions. They committed 12 penalties for 97 yards. They fell silent on offense after Jacksonville cracked the scoreboard, sputtering through drives of 26, -20, 16, -1, 13, 11, 18, 2, 35, and 3 yards for the remainder of the game. And perhaps most disconcerting, they allowed a rookie quarterback to burn them for the second time in as many weeks.
“He didn’t play like a rookie,” said CB E.J. Biggers. “He did everything he had to do, he helped his team win. You couldn’t tell he was a rookie quarterback.”
Sunday’s loss was nothing short of a comprehensive failure that caps off a week in which the Buccaneer coaching staff was focused on making the offensive game plan more basic. According to Raheem Morris, the Bucs will get down to an even simpler facet of the game this upcoming week: protecting the football.
“I don’t deal on negative thoughts. Last week it was frustration because of foolish penalties. This week it was fundamentals. It’s an opportunity for me to get these guys going as far as fundamentals. Get these guys to hold onto the ball, get these guys to deal with ball security, get these guys to deal with tackling, with blocking…we’ve got to go out and handle those things. I don’t deal with low points. I don’t ride the emotional rollercoaster. I see it as a challenge to me and staff.”
While other teams are moving forward, the Bucs seem to be taking things backwards. Scaling back the playbook is one thing. Having to have extra padded practices to work on tackling is bad. Having to work to teach your players to hang on to the football is even worse.
The end result is a 27-point loss to a three-win team led by a rookie quarterback (and a statistically bad one at that) coming off a week where the Bucs were embarrassed at home by another rookie quarterback on a three-win team.
If the Bucs can’t fix these numerous basic flaws in the last three weeks and find a way to pull out a win against the Cowboys, Panthers, or Falcons, there could be some fundamental and wide-spread changes after the season.