Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Turning Point, Week 3: Roberto Aguayo's misses doom Bucs vs. Rams

Three games into the 2016 season, here is what we know about the Buccaneers: They're not much different from the team that finished 6-10 last season.

They lack a pass rush. They turn the ball over too often. They make Case Keenum look like Aaron Rodgers.

And then there's the kicking game. If you believed it was a problem last season, you probably lost your mind after Sunday night's 37-32 loss to the Rams.

Yes, the Bucs had a chance to pull off an improbable comeback in the final seconds. We can ponder the Jameis Winston pass that bounced off Vincent Jackson's hands. Or Charles Sims' failure to get out of bounds to stop the clock. Or Dirk Koetter's decision to not call a timeout. Or Winston's "should I run or should I pass" shuffle toward the end zone on the game's final play.

None of that would have mattered if Roberto Aguayo had done what the Bucs expected him to do when they traded up to take him in the second round of April's draft. His missed kicks — an extra point in the first quarter and a field goal in the third — put the team in a hole it could not climb out of.

If the rookie's extra-point attempt hadn't veered left, the Bucs wouldn't have had to go for two-point conversions after both of their fourth-quarter touchdowns. If Tampa Bay had kicked extra points after those touchdowns, it would have been down three points late instead of five. A last-minute touchdown wouldn't have been the only option.

When the Bucs chose Aguayo, they hoped he would be as automatic as he was at Florida State, where he made all 46 of his field goal tries inside 40 yards and all 198 of his extra points. Kicks weren't supposed to be adventures; they were supposed to be nonevents, opportunities to refill your drink or grab a grilled cheese burger.

So far, however, when Aguayo walks onto the field, you don't know what's going to happen. Who knew that when the Bucs started touting "the new Raymond James Stadium experience" they weren't just talking about the new video boards?

As Aguayo prepared to pad the Bucs' 20-17 lead in late in the third quarter, fans in the north end zone stood in anticipation of his 41-yard field goal attempt. When he hooked it to the left, some collapsed in their seats. Others shook their heads with "same old Bucs" resignation. And you thought the grilled cheese burgers were bad for your heart.

On the field, teammates reassured Aguayo, slapping him on the helmet as he returned to the sideline. But unease filled the rest of the stadium as the Rams offense huddled. The crowd knew the Bucs needed those points.

Suddenly, all of the preseason commentary that had begun to fade rushed back. The ridicule on draft night. The anonymous general manager who said the Aguayo selection was the "dumbest pick in the history of the draft." The numbers crunchers who pointed to their spreadsheets and scatter plots. The season-ticket holders who booed the rookie during training camp.

The Rams sensed the shift, too, and attacked. When they took over at their 31-yard line after the miss, Todd Gurley gashed the Bucs up the middle for 9 yards. Los Angeles kept the pressure on, mixing in no huddle, play action and quick, short passes. On first and 10 from the Tampa Bay 17, Gurley again burst through the middle, dodging a couple of tackles as he picked up 16 yards. But so much more than a running back was slipping through the Bucs' hands.

When Gurley finished the drive with a 1-yard run, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, down on one knee, paused in the backfield. What was once a 10-point lead had evaporated and become a four-point deficit.

After the Rams' go-ahead touchdown, the Bucs' win probability fell to 38.9 percent, according to Pro Football Reference. Before the missed field goal, it stood at 78.8 percent.

Winston settled into a rhythm on the Bucs' next possession, completing 5 of 7 passes for 63 yards. But on third and 6 from the Los Angeles 13-yard line, defensive end Robert Quinn beat tackle Donovan Smith around the left edge and knocked the ball out of Winston's hand.

As defensive tackle Ethan Westbrooks scooped up the fumble and returned it 77 yards to give the Rams an 11-point fourth-quarter lead, a reenergized crowd fell silent again, heads shaking.

Same old Bucs.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.

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