Friday, April 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs on brink of elimination after 31-24 loss to Saints

NEW ORLEANS — Jameis Winston had the will, but once again he couldn't find a way. No way to score more than a touchdown in the first half. No way to keep from throwing two interceptions or from losing a second straight game.

The Bucs left themselves virtually no way to reach the playoffs after a 31-24 loss to the Saints on Saturday.

"We didn't play good enough to win here," Winston said. "Their quarterback played better. … I turned it over twice. and he turned it over zero. That's how it goes in the NFL."

The Saints' Drew Brees passed for 299 yards and a touchdown and Mark Ingram ran for two scores.

Unfortunately, here's what's becoming a holiday tradition. Something you can begin to count on. When the air turns cold, the Bucs offense grows colder.

Given a chance to finish the final month of the season strong and possibly break their nine-year playoff drought, the Bucs forgot how to start fast, make first downs, keep the football and score.

On Saturday, the offense disappeared like their starting running back.

You have to give coach Dirk Koetter credit for trying to shake things up. He benched a healthy Doug Martin, the league's second-leading rusher in 2015 and $7 million running back, for Jacquizz Rodgers, who was inactive at Dallas last week.

Martin said he was informed Saturday. "I knew a couple days ago," Martin said. "It was coach's decision. He wanted to put the best guys on the field that can help us win the game. I respect his decision."

Rodgers ran better than Martin, gaining 63 yards on 15 carries and scoring a touchdown. But the Bucs only managed one score in the first half. Winston's furious rally in the second half fell short.

The defeat realistically ended the 8-7 Bucs' playoff hopes. Atlanta (10-5) clinched the NFC South with a win at Carolina. The Packers (9-6) and Redskins (8-6-1) won Saturday. Tampa Bay has maybe a 1 percent chance with too many scenarios needed to list.

Sure, the Bucs defense had its fingerprints on this one as well. But you knew Brees would be hard to hold down for the second time in 13 days.

The Bucs trailed 28-14 when Winston tried to bring them back. He did throw a pair of touchdown passes Saturday, but Winston also was intercepted twice by safety Jairus Byrd.

Trailing 13-7, the Bucs suffered through another catastrophe of plays to start the second half. Josh Huff failed to pick up a bouncing kickoff cleanly and was tackled at the Tampa Bay 4.

Winston compounded the mistake with his first interception — a deep ball into double coverage to Mike Evans that Byrd returned to the Tampa Bay 14, setting up Ingram's touchdown run to make it 20-7.

"That was just a crazy play on my part," Winston said. "No one was open. I tried to give my guy a chance."

The second pick came with the Bucs trailing 31-21 in the fourth quarter.

For the past couple weeks, this has become a pattern for the offense. It wasn't much different than last Sunday in Dallas, when the Bucs managed only two field goals in the first half.

It wasn't really any different than last year. Remember when the Bucs were 6-6? They lost four straight, and for as much blame was placed on coach Lovie Smith for his defense, it was the offense that also collapsed.

Over the final four games of 2015, with an offense directed by Koetter, the Bucs scored a touchdown in the first half of exactly two games.

Entering Sunday, the Bucs had only averaged 19.4 points. Koetter felt he had to roll the dice a bit and bench Martin, who hasn't been the same running back since returning from a hamstring injury that caused him to miss six games.

"We only had room for one primary ball carrier today," Koetters said. "And we felt it was better this game to go with Quizz."

What hurt feelings it may have caused between Martin and the Bucs remains to be seen. Martin signed a five-year, $35.75 million contract as a free agent with the Bucs last March with $15 million guaranteed.

The Bucs still have a chance to beat Carolina on Jan. 1 and finish with a winning record, something that hasn't happened since 2010 when they finished 10-6 under Raheem Morris.

But it's also just as likely they could lose their third in a row, which doesn't feel much different than when they lost four in a row to end 2016.

"This (next) game is huge, just to jumping us into next season," Winston said. "God willing we get a playoff pass. We'd love that. But the main thing is to focus. Finish the season strong. Hold nothing back."

 
Comments
NFL draft confessions: The Bucs set the trap, and I took the cheese on Johnny Manziel

NFL draft confessions: The Bucs set the trap, and I took the cheese on Johnny Manziel

TAMPA — The NFL draft is one big game of Liar's Poker. Deal me out.Even the guys with a seat at the table don't know when someone is bluffing.Bucs general manager Jason Licht knows that the team's No. 7 overall pick this year will be affected b...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Bucs’ Jameis Winston, Mike Evans catch Miami Heat game from courtside

Bucs’ Jameis Winston, Mike Evans catch Miami Heat game from courtside

We've seen Jameis Winston and Mike Evans bonding this offseason, going to Texas A&M pro day together, among other events. The two Bucs stars and their significant others double-dated Thursday night, getting courtside seats to watch the Miami Heat in ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

The NFL did the Bucs no favors with their 2018 schedule, Rick Stroud says, making them open at New Orleans, followed by home games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Plus, linebacker Kendall Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle, p...
Published: 04/20/18
Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

TAMPA — How good can the Bucs be in 2018? Fans will get a good sense in the first three weeks, as Tampa Bay opens the year with three of its toughest games, all against reigning division champions. The Bucs open 2018 in New Orleans on Sept. 9 ...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

TAMPA – Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle he suffered in a car accident in Louisiana last week, putting his status for the start of the season in question.Beckwith was passenger in car driven by former L...
Published: 04/19/18
Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

The 2018 NFL schedule won't be released until 8 p.m. tonight, but the Bucs' eight home games were posted early — and presumably accidentally — on the team's site, showing what would be a daunting start to the upcoming season.Multiple outl...
Published: 04/19/18
Is Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick a first-round fit for the Bucs?

Is Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick a first-round fit for the Bucs?

Minkah FitzpatrickPosition: SafetyCollege: AlabamaHeight/Weight: 6-1, 201Draft projection: First roundWhy Fitzpatrick makes sense for the BucsOne of the Bucs' biggest needs is to improve their secondary. Fitzpatrick is a playmaker, arguably the best ...
Published: 04/17/18
Jameis Winston set to make $21 million in 2019 as Bucs pick up his option

Jameis Winston set to make $21 million in 2019 as Bucs pick up his option

TAMPA — Jameis Winston is headed for a big pay day after this season, whether he gets a contract extension or not.The Bucs on Tuesday picked up the fifth-year option on Winston's rookie contract worth $20.9 million for 2019. The deal is not gua...
Published: 04/17/18
Get to know potential Bucs NFL draft target Vita Vea of Washington

Get to know potential Bucs NFL draft target Vita Vea of Washington

As next week's NFL draft nears, Bucs fans might want to learn a little more about a potential target at No. 7: Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea.The 6-foot-4, 347-pound monster moves very well for someone his size and could be an intriguing option...
Published: 04/17/18
DeSean Jackson and Jameis Winston were in perfect harmony on Day 1

DeSean Jackson and Jameis Winston were in perfect harmony on Day 1

TAMPA — DeSean Jackson and Jameis Winston were finally on the same page.For the first day of the offseason workout program, anyway.Jackson, 31, is coming off one of the worst seasons of his 10-year career with 50 catches for only 668 yards and ...
Published: 04/16/18