Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tom Jones: This loss will haunt Bucs the most

Saints cornerback Sterling Moore brings down Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans after a reception in the second half, in which Evans scores as the Bucs play catchup.


Saints cornerback Sterling Moore brings down Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans after a reception in the second half, in which Evans scores as the Bucs play catchup.

NEW ORLEANS — When the autopsy of the 2016 Bucs season is performed, you will discover several pivotal moments as to why they came up short of the playoffs.

There will be the horrible loss in a lightning storm at home to the hapless Rams. That overtime loss to the Raiders where Oakland committed like 86 penalties. Even the Dallas game will sting, seeing as how the Bucs had the ball and a chance to win in the fourth quarter.

But ultimately, Saturday's 31-24 loss against the Saints is the one that will haunt the Bucs. This is the one that will leave a mark.

The one that got away in a season that got away.

Playing against a Saints team that is looking forward to golf season, the Bucs couldn't find a way to win when they needed a win in the worst way.

And that's kind of how the Bucs played — in the worst way.

An offense that sputtered. Special teams that bumbled. And a defense simply asked to do too much that bended and bended and bended and finally broke. Add all that up and the Bucs couldn't avoid losing a game that they really couldn't afford to lose.

"We played hard enough. We just didn't play good enough," coach Dirk Koetter said.

Now comes next week's home game against Carolina. When the Bucs walked off the field Saturday night, they needed a win and help to make the playoffs. Lots of help. We're talking miracle stuff. Otherwise, they would miss the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season.

Maybe they deserve to miss them after Saturday.

Want to make the playoffs? Want to be considered a good team? Want to prove you're not the same ol' Bucs?

Then find a way to win games like Saturday's. Find a way to win games you're supposed to win if you want to be taken seriously. Find a way to go on the road and beat a team that you beat just two weeks ago.

But Tampa Bay couldn't pull it off. It was outplayed and outclassed.

Oh, and if you want some controversy to go with a big heaping plate of humble pie, the Bucs provided that, too. Running back Doug Martin — the guy who signed a five-year deal worth $35.75 million in May — watched the game in street clothes. He was benched, putting his future, and certainly the rest of this season, in doubt.

Then again, the 2016 season likely will last only one more game because the Bucs got the shakes Saturday.

We're now looking at two consecutive December collapses. Last season the Bucs finished the season with four consecutive losses to sabotage a 6-6 record. That cost them a playoff spot and Lovie Smith his job. Now, two consecutive losses after an 8-5 start had their playoff hopes on life support.

The seeds of this loss were planted in the first half when Tampa Bay mustered a mere seven points, a total way too low against a less-than-stellar Saints defense. And way too low for an offense with postseason expectations.

Not only didn't the offense do enough to help, it did plenty to hurt.

The nails-in-the-coffin moments came at the start of the second half. First, kick returner Josh Huff (why is he here again?) bungled the opening kickoff and saddled Tampa Bay with crummy field position inside its 5.

Two plays later, Jameis Winston made a horrible decision and threw an even more horrible pass. It was intercepted and returned to the Bucs 13. New Orleans' Mark Ingram raced into the end zone on the next play, and though that didn't officially end the game, it was a turn of events the Bucs couldn't overcome.

Tampa Bay didn't go down without a fight, but it did go down. Winston threw another bad pick. The defense couldn't hold the Saints when it mattered.

A crushing loss.

One the Bucs and their fans almost certainly will remember when the playoffs start without them.

Tom Jones: This loss will haunt Bucs the most 12/24/16 [Last modified: Saturday, December 24, 2016 9:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays journal: Kevin Kiermaier returns, Mallex Smith sent to Triple A

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Four batters into his return from a lengthy stay on the disabled list CF Kevin Kiermaier found himself embroiled in a "did he" or "didn't he" debate Friday.

    Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, back after missing 61 games with right hip and back problems, says he wants to bring energy to the Rays. Mallex Smith is optioned to Triple-A Durham.
  2. Rays vs. Mariners, 6:10 p.m. Saturday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Mariners

    6:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    This is a 2017 photo of Jake Odorizzi of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. This image reflects the 2017 active roster as of Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 when this image was taken. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  3. Bucs journal: Starting defense disappointed holding Jags to 1 rushing yard


    JACKSONVILLE — The Bucs' starting defense held the Jaguars to a total of 1 rushing yard on seven carries in the first half of Thursday's 12-8 preseason win.

    And its members were disappointed.

    Jacksonville Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon (24) is thrown for a 1-yard loss as he is stopped by Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David (54) and defensive end Robert Ayers (91) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) JVS102
  4. Jameis Winston's hardest lesson: He can't always save the day


    TAMPA — Ever wonder what in the world goes through Jameis Winston's mind when he tries to fit the ball in a keyhole as he is being dragged to the turf like he was during Thursday night's 12-8 preseason win over the Jaguars?

    Jameis Winston, left, tries to hang on to the ball as Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler tries to strip it from him.
  5. Florida starter under center still under wraps


    GAINESVILLE — With two weeks before Florida opens its season against Michigan, the Gators' three-way quarterback battle remains wide open.

    Luke Del Rio, right, is in the mix to start against Michigan in the season opener … as is Malik Zaire and Feleipe Franks.