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Bucs’ midseason report card fills with a few highs, lots of lows

A look back at the first eight games reveals opportunities lost, potential unfulfilled
Bucs coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich look to get on a roll in the second half of the 2019 season.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich look to get on a roll in the second half of the 2019 season. [ SCOTT EKLUND | AP ]
Published Nov. 7, 2019
Updated Nov. 7, 2019

TAMPA — As a head coach for the Colts and Cardinals, Bruce Arians was used to quick turnarounds and winning seasons. So after a 2-6 start with the Bucs, it’s not disappointment or discouragement that he is experiencing.

"No, I’m just (ticked) because we had games to win and we didn’t win them,'' Arians said.

Like most NFL teams, a kick here or one less turnover there would make the record look better. Arians believes his team still has a run to make in the second half of the season.

"You are what you are,'' Arians said. "It’s disappointing to be where we’re at because we had leads. We come from behind and missed a kick. We don’t get a call. It’s all very disappointing because we should be in the hunt. There’s a lot of football left to get into the hunt. You’ve got to win one to get a streak going.''

Here’s a look back at the first half.

Biggest disappointment

O.J. Howard – Targeted only 18 times in the first six games and trade bait before a hamstring injury knocked him out of the past two games.

Breshad Perriman – Bucs needed a reliable third receiver and Perriman gave them seven catches on 24 targets.

Vernon Hargreaves – Made two plays in the first two games. Can’t remember another significant one.

Carlton Davis – Still waiting on his first career interception and has eight penalties resulting in first downs. Clutch and grab guy.

Cameron Brate – See Howard, O.J. At $7-million per season, Brate is an expensive decoy who has had more drops than normal.

Biggest surprises

Shaquil Barrett – Signed a one-year, $4-million “prove it” deal. He did. Career-high 10.5 sacks and mom not calling him in for supper.

Alex Cappa – Not that you ever doubt a guy from Div. III Humboldt State, which no longer has a football team. Cappa has been more than solid and has the best hair on the team.

Jason Pierre-Paul – Not the fact he’s playing. The fact that he even wants to after fracturing his neck.

Worst loss

Hands down, blowing an 18-point lead TWICE to the New York Giants only to lose on a missed 34-yard field goal at the buzzer.

Best win

In something from a Hollywood script, Bucs go toe L.A. and trounce the Rams. Game is dedicated to the memory of GM Jason Licht’s father, who died suddenly the day before the game.

Best play

Ronald Jones’ fourth quarter run for a first game to lock down a win at Los Angeles. Jones returned to the LA Coliseum and was energized.

Worst play

So many candidates. The fourth-and-1 run into the middle of the line needing a touchdown to win vs. the Titans. How about the third-and-1 run (after eight straight run plays) vs. the Giants that forced the Bucs to settle for a field goal and a six point lead? But even with that, it’s Matt Gay’s missed 34-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter that cost the Bucs a win over the Giants.

Five college prospects worth scouting for the Bucs

Oregon QB Justin Herbert - He’s coming off his best game of the season but may not go in the top of the first round and won’t be ready to play right away as a rookie. If the Bucs don’t re-sign Winston, they could get a bridge free agent quarterback to mentor Herbert, who has the best arm in the draft.

Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts - He could go midway in the first round where the Bucs are most likely to pick. Again, if Winston moves on, no reason Hurts couldn’t do what Kyler Murray is doing for the Cardinals. Proven winner but would have to change the offense.

Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas - Arguably the best tackle in the NFL draft. Bucs need one as Demar Dotson is a free agent and Donovan Smith could move to RT if need be. Thomas has allowed just four sacks in two seasons.

LSU safety Grant Delpit - Another defensive back? Well, the Bucs need as safety and Delpit is the best in college football. Very physical with great man coverage skills.

Iowa tackle Tristen Wirfs - Dominant offensive line prospect who can play left or right tackle at the next NFL. Physical specimen will be the second or third offensive lineman off the board.

Five Bucs with the most job security in Tampa Bay

Receiver Mike Evans – Is having his best season as a pro, which is saying something. On pace for more than 1,600 yards and 12-14 touchdown passes. Arguably the best wideout in the NFC.

Receiver Chris Godwin Still has a year left on his rookie contract but no fifth-year option. Godwin is a WR1 on most teams in the NFL and will be getting a big payday soon.

Linebacker Devin White – It’s officially becoming his defense after the rookie from LSU was slowed by injuries. Could play 10-12 years in a Bucs uniform.

Defensive tackle Vita Vea – Big and powerful, Vea is really becoming a force in the middle of the Bucs defense and still has lots of upside.

Guard Ali Marpet – Marpet hasn’t had his best year. No member of the offensive line has, as evidenced by an NFL-most 30 sacks allowed in eight games. But Marpet has Pro Bowl potential and is a good place to start.

Five Bucs who can start saying their goodbyes

Tackle Demar Dotson – Father Time wins after this season as Dotson is a free agent. One of the best stories in NFL history and a great guy to boot.

Tight end Cameron Brate – He has no guaranteed salary for 2020 and the Bucs don’t know how to use him anyway. It’s unfortunate, but injuries have taken a bite out of his production.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh – Could be looking for his fourth team in as many years. The $9.5-million helped the Bucs become No. 1 vs the run and mentor Vea.

Defensive lineman William Gholston – Versatile player has two years left on his $27.5-million deal but none of it is guaranteed and the production (two sacks since 2016) won’t justify it.

Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves – Former first-round pick from Florida will have to ball out the second half to earn that $9.5-million fifth-year club option that’s guaranteed only against injury.

Best-case scenario

Bucs want to run the table but this isn’t 8-ball. So, realistically, they have games they could be favored in Sunday vs. the Cardinals, two against the Falcons, at Jacksonville and at Detroit. Unlikely they would beat the Saints, Colts or Texans at home. This is starting to look more and more like a 5-11 record for the third year in a row. At least they’re consistent.

Worst-case scenario

Something happens to Jameis Winston where he won’t be able to play all or most of the remaining games and the Bucs don’t have a full evaluation under Arians’ system to decide whether to use the nearly $27-million franchise tag on him. It’s possible the Lions and Jags, playing at home, beat the Bucs and they win only one or two more games.

Quotable

Jameis Winston, following the loss to Seattle

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud.