Advertisement

Should Brady have returned? Should Arians have retired? A look back at Tampa Bay sports in 2022

John Romano | Before the calendar flips, we revisit key moments and decisions for the Bucs, Rays and Lightning.
The year got off to a rough start in Tampa Bay with the Bucs giving up a last-minute drive to the Rams and falling 30-27 in the NFC Divisional round. For a while, it looked like this would be the last time Tom Brady walked off the field at Raymond James Stadium.
The year got off to a rough start in Tampa Bay with the Bucs giving up a last-minute drive to the Rams and falling 30-27 in the NFC Divisional round. For a while, it looked like this would be the last time Tom Brady walked off the field at Raymond James Stadium. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 27, 2022|Updated Dec. 27, 2022

TAMPA — We are impulsive. We are high-strung.

We see a game, hear a quote, learn of a trade and react. Sometimes with joy, sometimes with anger, every time with conviction. On the radio, at the corner bar, in columns, through social media.

We are sports fans. It’s what we do.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Whether we argue or agree, the idea of second-guessing — or calling your shot ahead of time — is part of the joy of being a fan. If a big game doesn’t get your blood going, you might as well be watching the History Channel.

But occasionally, maybe rarely, we slow down and reflect. It’s not as viscerally pleasing, but there’s comfort in the effort. And the end of a calendar year seems as good a time as any.

So let’s look back at 10 of the biggest moments/decisions/stories of 2022 and make sense of them in retrospect. It’s not exactly Jimmy Stewart running through Bedford Falls in the snow but it feels good for the soul. Our own version of It’s a Wonderful Sports Life.

10. Bucs lose 30-27 to Rams in the division playoffs

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) hauls in a long pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) to help set up the game-winning field goal on Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) hauls in a long pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) to help set up the game-winning field goal on Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The moment: The score was tied, the Rams were on the Bucs 44 with no timeouts and 27 seconds remaining. All the Bucs had to do to get to overtime was avoid a reception of 18-20 yards that would have given Los Angeles a shot at a 53- to 55-yard field goal.

Then-defensive coordinator Todd Bowles called for a zero blitz — which meant the cornerback covering Cooper Kupp was instead rushing quarterback Matthew Stafford — which left Kupp one-on-one with safety Antoine Winfield.

Stafford, who had an absurd 139.6 passer rating against the blitz in 2021, hit Kupp for a 44-yard gain to set up a chip shot field goal to end Tampa Bay’s season.

At the time: Bowles was widely roasted for being too aggressive.

In hindsight: Nothing has changed. It still feels like a reckless play against the wrong receiver/quarterback.

9. Jeff Scott is fired as USF football coach

Bulls head coach Jeff Scott reacts after Tulane scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter on Oct. 15, 2022.
Bulls head coach Jeff Scott reacts after Tulane scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter on Oct. 15, 2022. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

The moment: Less than 10 months after giving him a two-year contract extension, the Bulls fired Scott the day after losing 54-28 to Temple. His three-year record on Fowler Avenue was 4-26.

At the time: The consensus was that it was time for Scott to go. Maybe even overdue. I, on the other hand, suggested USF needed stability and not the sixth different coach in 15 years.

Get real-time alerts about your favorite teams

Get real-time alerts about your favorite teams

Subscribe to our free Breaking Sports News newsletter

We’ll send you major developments in the local, state and national sports world as they happen.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

In hindsight: I was wrong. It’s hard to defend a record as unsightly as Scott’s. There’s renewed enthusiasm with Alex Golesh at the helm. Although, it must be pointed out, Golesh is another young offensive coordinator with no head coaching experience. Just like Scott.

8. MLB kills the Rays sister city plan

A fan clutches a sign with Montreal crossed out while sitting in leftfield. The sign was given to the fan by Chris Haight, 26, from Bradenton, who was walking through the stands along with two others carrying "Keep the Rays in Tampa Bay" and various signs.
A fan clutches a sign with Montreal crossed out while sitting in leftfield. The sign was given to the fan by Chris Haight, 26, from Bradenton, who was walking through the stands along with two others carrying "Keep the Rays in Tampa Bay" and various signs. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]

The moment: The Rays risked the wrath of fans in Tampa Bay and spent lots of time and money pursuing a split-season plan with Montreal, only to have MLB’s executive council abruptly nix the plan without explanation in January.

At the time: Montreal was bummed; Tampa Bay was overjoyed.

In hindsight: It seems pretty clear that MLB owners thought the Rays were using the sister city plan as leverage to get loads of public money to build a new stadium in Tampa Bay. When they realized the Rays were serious about the idea, they decided it was nutty.

7. Lightning trade for Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel

Lightning left wing Nick Paul (20) celebrates his goal against Dallas back in November.
Lightning left wing Nick Paul (20) celebrates his goal against Dallas back in November. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The moment: Despite having little room under the salary cap, Lightning GM Julien BriseBois pulled off two deals ahead of the trade deadline, acquiring Hagel from the Blackhawks and Paul from the Senators. Tampa Bay gave up three young players (Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh and Mathieu Joseph) and first-round draft picks in 2023 and 2024.

At the time: Neither Hagel nor Paul lit up the scoreboard in the final 20 games of the regular season, and the Lightning actually dropped from second to third in the Atlantic Division.

In hindsight: Brilliant moves. Once they got accustomed to Tampa Bay’s system, Paul and Hagel were a big part of another strong postseason run for the Lightning. And now, less than a year later, both are among Tampa Bay’s top five goal scorers.

6. Rays trade for David Peralta and Jose Siri

David Peralta (6) runs to first base after hitting an RBI single in the fourth inning against the Angels back in August.
David Peralta (6) runs to first base after hitting an RBI single in the fourth inning against the Angels back in August. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The moment: The offense was scuffling and the Rays were losing ground in the AL East. They went from 5.5 games behind on June 1 to 15.5 games behind on July 1. Instead of taking a big swing like they did in 2021 when they traded for Nelson Cruz, the Rays made two relatively low-key moves getting Peralta from Arizona and Siri from Houston for low-level minor leaguers.

At the time: It seemed prudent because the Rays were counting on Brandon Lowe, Wander Franco and Manuel Margot to return from injuries.

In hindsight: Big miss. Peralta was a disappointment, and Siri did not have a huge impact. The offense never bounced back and finished the season with a horrifyingly inept effort against Cleveland in the wild card series.

5. Bucs stand pat after Ryan Jensen injury

Bucs center Ryan Jensen is seen at training camp before sustaining an injury that has kept him out all season so far.
Bucs center Ryan Jensen is seen at training camp before sustaining an injury that has kept him out all season so far. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The moment: Re-signing Jensen was a top priority for the Bucs in the off-season. The veteran center signed a three-year, $39 million deal hours after free agency opened. But then, on the second day of training camp, Jensen suffered ligament damage in his left knee during normal contact drills.

Having already lost guards Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa in the off-season, the Bucs were now faced with replacing all three interior linemen. J.C. Tretter, who had been a durable and solid center the previous five seasons, was available as a salary cap casualty in Cleveland.

The Bucs, instead, decided to give the job to converted tackle Robert Hainsey.

At the time: It seemed a curious move for a team that had spent lavishly in the off-season for a final Super Bowl-or-bust season with Tom Brady

In hindsight: The offensive line has been Tampa Bay’s undoing in 2022. Too many injuries, not enough depth. Consequently, the offense has had a historic drop-off from 2021. While Hainsey has been adequate at center, he could have helped at other positions had the Bucs brought in a veteran center.

4. Ryan McDonagh traded to the Predators

Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh takes the ice during last season's Eastern Conference Final.
Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh takes the ice during last season's Eastern Conference Final. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The moment: Days after losing Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final against Colorado, the Lightning dealt one of their leaders for little in return. McDonagh, who was 33, had a salary cap hit of $6.75 million and signed for another four years. Considering the Lightning were over the cap and still needed to sign a handful of other players, McDonagh was the odd man out.

At the time: Combined with the departure of Ondrej Palat, it felt like the end of an era in Tampa Bay.

In hindsight: It still stings, and the Lightning defense continues to be a work in progress. But the Lightning were able to sign Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak and Nick Paul to long-term deals with the cap savings from the McDonagh trade.

3. Bruce Arians unexpectedly announces his retirement

Bruce Arians during his last game as Bucs head coach, Jan. 23 vs. the Rams.
Bruce Arians during his last game as Bucs head coach, Jan. 23 vs. the Rams. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The moment: The Bucs coach, who had given no indication he was thinking about stepping aside, abruptly retired a little more than two weeks after Tom Brady returned to Tampa Bay. Arians said he wanted to leave while the roster was still stacked with talent and there was a succession plan in place with Todd Bowles.

At the time: Arians’ explanation sounded a little dodgy at the time. There were lots of rumors that Brady had not been happy with the lack of discipline under Arians in 2021.

In hindsight: The right move for Arians, who got out before the wheels came off, but a horrible move for the Bucs. We didn’t realize it at the time, but this offense was already in trouble. Too many defections, too many injuries and too many miles on star players. Still, you can make a strong case that the Bucs would have been a better team with Arians on the sidelines. The question is how much better?

2. The Rays trade Austin Meadows

Austin Meadows  looks on while at batting practice during spring training at Charlotte Sports Park on March 14, 2022.
Austin Meadows looks on while at batting practice during spring training at Charlotte Sports Park on March 14, 2022. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The moment: Coming off a 106-RBI season, the Rays dealt Meadows to the Tigers for third baseman Isaac Paredes.

At the time: This was not a popular move in the bleachers. Meadows was seen by many as an indispensable cog in the Tampa Bay lineup. Rays fans have grown accustomed to off-season makeovers, but this one stung.

In hindsight: Another perfectly timed move by the front office. While his traditional numbers were still strong, the Rays recognized that Meadows was trending in the wrong direction. Paredes is younger, cheaper, more versatile and hit 20 homers in a part-time role.

1. Tom Brady changes his mind about retiring

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady attends a pregame warmup before the start of the Oct. 27 game against the Ravens.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady attends a pregame warmup before the start of the Oct. 27 game against the Ravens. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The moment: On the eve of free agency, Brady announces he is returning to the Bucs. Brady had retired days after the playoff loss against the Rams, but later said he had “unfinished business.”

At the time: Universal joy. It didn’t matter that Brady was soon to turn 45. It didn’t matter that he seemingly held the door open for Bruce Arians to walk out. The GOAT was coming back and the Bucs were suddenly a popular pick as a Super Bowl contender.

In hindsight: While there is still time for a miracle turnaround, this was a horrible miscalculation for Brady. There is speculation — with a tinge of evidence — that Brady had wanted to play in Miami in 2022. Instead, he returned to Tampa Bay, his marriage crumbled during training camp, his offense fell apart around him and he’s lost more games than any of his 22 seasons as an NFL starter.