Monday, December 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: Lovie Smith's worst Bucs loss

LANDOVER, Md.

This was the worst loss of the Lovie Smith Era.

Worse than when the Falcons hung 56 points on the Bucs a year ago. Worse than when the Ravens kicked the snot out of them last season. Worse than any of the other three losses this season.

"You know, all losses hurt," Smith said, "but you have some that leave a really deep scar."

This cut is the deepest, and the latest example of a team that simply doesn't know how to win. Still.

Yes, it was the worst loss of the Lovie Era, which might turn out to be a very short era if there are many more flops like Sunday's.

(RELATED STORY: Bucs admit coaching mistakes led to second-half collapse)

It's one thing to get thrashed by a team better than you. It's quite another and infinitely more disheartening to choke the way the Bucs did Sunday.

Up 24-zip. Up 24-zip against a Washington team that was already crummy before being hamstrung by injuries. Up 24-zip against a team whose quarterback is Kirk Cousins, for crying out loud.

"Tough loss," linebacker Lavonte David said. "Tough loss."

Tough? More like inexcusable. More like humiliating. Laughable. How can you not look at this loss and say, "Yep, same old Bucs?" Only the Bucs can snatch a loss like this from the jaws of victory.

You know who the Bucs are? They're the Raiders. They're the Browns. A bad team that's always bad. A bad team that bumbles its way from week to week and year to year finding new levels of incompetence. A bad team that you expect to lose games like Sunday's.

Yeah, that's right, come to think of it. Sunday's collapse really wasn't all that surprising, was it? Be honest. Even after the Bucs took a 24-0 lead, did you really think the game was in the bag?

Of course not. Because this team doesn't know how to win. You know it. What's worse, with the way the Bucs folded Sunday, they know it. When you look back at Sunday, it wasn't shocking that the Bucs couldn't hold a 24-point lead; it was shocking that they had a 24-point lead to begin with.

"I don't know, I don't know," Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "I really don't have a lot to say about this one."

That's what McCoy said after the game. Appropriate, considering the invisible man and his defensive teammates had little to say during the game. Given a chance to shut down Washington and win, the Bucs defense was so overwhelmed so quickly and so easily that we should check the tape to see if it actually had 11 guys out there.

Now here's the part that really grinds the gears: Isn't Lovie's calling card supposed to be defense? Yet it was another horrid defensive effort that wasted a decent day by the Bucs offense.

Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston was throwing darts up and down the field. Running back Doug Martin was shredding Washington's defense by running through gaping holes. Wide receiver Mike Evans was dominant.

The Bucs could not win a game in which Winston threw for 297 yards, Martin ran for 136 yards and the offense did not commit a turnover until its last offensive play. How does that happen?

Because when you have a bad football team, a team that hasn't a clue on how to win, one snowflake turns into a snowball and a snowball turns into an avalanche. That's what happened after Tampa Bay took its big lead.

The Bucs gave up a score then another. That's not being confident. They were stunned by an onside kick. That's not being prepared. They committed bad penalty after bad penalty. That's not being disciplined.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter called for a slow-developing pitch play to Charles Sims with a chance to secure the game from inside the 1-yard line in the final 21/2 minutes. That's not being smart.

Most of all, they couldn't stop Cousins. And that's not being very good.

The really disappointing part is the Bucs were just a few moments and maybe one play away from being 3-3. A win in Washington and the good vibe of being .500 might have carried over for a spell. Suddenly, you start looking ahead at the schedule and wondering if they could knock off this team and that team and, maybe just maybe, be in a spot to make a wild-card run going into the last month.

Now? After a loss that drops them to 2-4? Forget the good vibe, and forget .500.

Bold prediction: This team will never reach .500 this year or any other year under Lovie Smith. Then again, maybe it's not so bold. As long as the Bucs keep running out this defense which can't stop a slant pattern or the likes of Kirk Cousins, the Bucs have no chance.

On Sunday, when the game was on the line, the Bucs tripped over that line and lost. The offense couldn't pick up 1 yard and the defense couldn't stop Washington from picking up 80 yards. Throw another L on the pile.

This loss will linger.

"It's a disappointing loss and we're going to feel bad until the next game," Smith said. "It's no more than that. When I say no more than that, this really hurt. But there's a lot of football left to go."

Lot of football left, and yet no reason to believe the Bucs won't keep discovering new and even worse ways to lose.

   
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