TAMPA — The only games left at Raymond James Stadium until the fall are a less-than-exciting Outback Bowl today and a more-than-exciting college national championship game next week.
As soon as Sunday's 17-16 Bucs victory over the Panthers was complete, bulldozers started clearing the field for the colleges. Too bad they won't be back to get Ray Jay ready for some NFL playoff action.
Still, the Bucs finished 9-7 for their first winning season since 2010. Here's a report card from the finale.
Crossing the line
Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis is not known as a dirty player, but he leveled Bucs receiver Russell Shepard with a cheap shot in the fourth quarter. As Shepard was gliding across the field with the ball nowhere near him, he was blindsided by Davis. Talk all you want about the league protecting players from injuries and concussions, but players also need to have enough respect for one another to protect themselves. Playing hard is one thing. What Davis did was gutless. To Davis' credit, Shepard said after the game that he apologized to him. GRADE: F
Question: Is punter Bryan Anger pound-for-pound Tampa Bay's best player? He had another sensational day with five punts for a 45.5-yard average and five downed inside the 20-yard line. No wonder the Bucs signed him to a big, fat extension. He's worth every penny, unlike the team's other kicker (more on that in a second). For as good as Anger is, no, he is not the best player on the team. Receiver Mike Evans is. His winning touchdown catch with 3:13 left was an appropriate finish to the season. GRADES: A and A
I've tried to defend moving up in last year's draft to take kicker Roberto Aguayo out of FSU in the second round. I might have to give up and say it was a mistake. Aguayo started the season by missing half of his first eight field goals. But since then he is 18-of-23. Unfortunately, two of those misses came Sunday. One was blocked. The other was 46 yards that sailed wide. Come on, a 46-yarder? In near-perfect conditions? Gotta makes those. In a rather odd circumstance, Aguayo's longest field goal this season was only 43 yards. Even odder is how few opportunities he had to kick anything longer than that. He attempted only one field goal of 50 or more yards. That was a missed 50-yarder. What makes the draft pick bad, aside from Aguayo's struggles, is the Bucs' need for so many other things. GRADE: D
The Bucs entered the game with virtually no shot at making the playoffs. The Panthers went in eliminated. This game had every chance to be a real dog, and no one could've blamed either team for not going all out. But both teams deserve praise for their competitive play. There was chippiness, smack-talking, hard hits. The game wasn't played well, but it was played hard. It came down to the final few seconds, when Carolina went for a two-point conversion and couldn't convert. The game was — hard to believe — entertaining. The best part might have been the Bucs' kicking unit dancing around to the House of Pain song Jump Around and jacking up the crowd after Tampa Bay's go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter. Real emotion! GRADE: A-plus
Men in stripes
Game officials have a tough job. At all times, 22 players are running like deer and hitting like Mack trucks. It's hard enough for them to stay out of harm's way, let alone get every call right. So the last thing we'd want to do is pick on them for having a lousy game. So this is the last thing we're doing: We're picking on them for having a lousy game. Their goofed calls are too many to list here, but trust us, they had a bad day. Even the replay person seemed to miss a couple. GRADE: D