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Bucs-Falcons: Grading the fallout from Tampa Bay’s 34-32 loss to Atlanta

With the loss, Tampa Bay finished last in the NFC South for the seventh time in eight seasons.
Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (12) points at the referee after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Tampa Bay's 34-32 loss to Atlanta Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. BRONTE WITTPENN | Times
Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (12) points at the referee after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Tampa Bay's 34-32 loss to Atlanta Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. BRONTE WITTPENN | Times
Published Dec. 30, 2018|Updated Dec. 31, 2018

TAMPA — Let the search begin.

I bet you're standing around the water cooler Monday morning and crowing a little bit.

"See, I told you they could lose without trying to tank."

For their final trick, before the coach was fired, the Bucs blew a 17-0 lead, roared back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to retake the lead, then lost 34-32 to the Falcons as time expired on a field goal by — wait for it — former Buc Matt Bryant.

After the game, Dirk Koetter was dismissed as coach.

It turns out Bryant was indeed the Bucs' best kicker Sunday as the loss elevated them in the draft to no worse than the fifth overall pick.

It was uproarious comic relief and a prelude to what followed, as the 11th coach in Bucs history became part of franchise history.

Jameis Winston apparently will return.

Will Bucs fans?

This team teased with a 2-0 start, including a win over the No. 1 seed heading into the NFC playoffs, then lost 11 of 14, wrapping up with a 11th consecutive nonplayoff season and, with tiebreakers, a seventh last-place NFC South finish in the past eight years.

That is nearly impossible to do in a league designed to turn losers into winners. The Bucs were up to that task, and heads should roll over it.

And he knows it, too

Koetter tried to be philosophical after the loss, but he gets it. He is 19-29 in three seasons as Bucs head coach. Enough already. The Bucs had the best offense in their history, but that's only half a team —half of half a team if you factor in no running game. Koetter never saw the big picture. He should have fired Mike Smith before the season. The defense was awful last season, too. And since he was promoted in here to be Winston's QB whisperer, well, that's that. Kotter seemed to sense it postgame. "It's a winning league," he said. Indeed. Grade: C-minus

The GM should go first

Jason Licht got little out of what might go down as the most bountiful NFL draft in years. He has a 27-53 record as general manager, one win less than Mark Dominik, the man who preceded him. The Bucs aren't any further along as a franchise than they were when Licht took over. He sat on his hands at the trade deadline. We could go on. Licht should not. Grade: F

Daylight?

Winston had one his best games. He threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns and led the comeback,  and his one interception really was an unlucky bounce. "One day the ball is going to bounce our way," he said. It's still hard to believe that. Grade: B

Microcosm alert

In the end, the maligned defense couldn't hold off Matt Ryan and the Falcons. It was the D, via and Andrew Adams interception, that set up Winston to Chris Godwin for the lead with 5:10 left. But it also was the defense that collapsed when it mattered, again. Atlanta overcame a first-and-45 and a third and 11 to move downfield to set up Bryant's winner. Grade: F

The good stuff

The Bucs have areas of talent, like their young receivers. There's Godwin, who caught six balls for 114 yards and two TDs, and Mike Evans, who had six catches for 106 yards and a TD, and even the injured O.J. Howard. They're the best thing the Bucs have going for them moving forward. Grade: A

The bad stuff

The lack of depth, especially on defense. And this is still a soft team. It will have to improve on the lines of scrimmage to move up in the division. Grade: D

The fun stuff

The game didn't really mean a thing, so kudos for enjoyment. Kudos to the Bucs defenders for their end-zone celebration after Adams' interception. Kudos to the Falcons for razzle and dazzle, namely that touchdown pass to Ryan from Mohamed Sanu – Sanu's second TD pass against the Bucs in as many seasons. Grade: A

Typical Bucs stuff

Getting beaten with no time left by the Curse of Matt Bryant. The 43-year-old, still-in-the-league Bryant, whom the Bucs discarded in 2009 in the name of … better kicking. We'll wait for you to stop laughing. Grade: F

Atypical Bucs stuff

Lo and behold, Bryant's kick, and Atlanta's win, actually helped the Bucs move up in the order for next year's draft to no lower than fifth in line. We knew getting rid of Bryant would eventually pay off. Grade: B

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or 813-731-8029

Mike Sherman

Sports Editor

Tampa Bay Times/tampabay.com

490 First Avenue South

St. Petersburg, FL 33701

405-990-0352

Twitter: @mikesherman

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or 813-731-8029

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