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Where have all the Bucs fans gone?

John Romano’s Gimme Five: Bruce Arians’ example, reasons to be encouraged by the Bucs defense and other interception-prone passers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (27) enters the field at Raymond James Stadium before the start of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, November 10, 2019, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (27) enters the field at Raymond James Stadium before the start of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, November 10, 2019, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Nov. 11, 2019

Five topics suitable for inane debate on talk radio.

1. Thousands of empty seats are now the norm: Attendance is becoming the elephant in the room. Or, in this case, the elephant that has left the room. How bad are the crowds at Raymond James Stadium? Put it this way: The Raiders are a lame-duck team in Oakland and they’re still drawing more. Attendance for the Bucs’ 30-27 win Sunday was 40,038, the smallest home crowd in 23 years. Tampa Bay’s attendance went up in 2015 when Jameis Winston was drafted but, by 2018, was down 11.7 percent. The league-wide drop is only 1.9 percent during that same period. Surely, this has not escaped ownership’s attention.

2. Don’t write him off yet: A week ago, the Peyton Barber bandwagon was empty. Ronald Jones had assumed the starting tailback role and looked more dangerous and dynamic than Barber had all season. Then came Sunday. Jones had a critical fourth-quarter fumble while Barber gained 39 yards in the second half, including the game-winning touchdown. And, in case you’re wondering, Barber has had 180 consecutive touches without losing a fumble.

3. Do as I say, not as I do: If Bruce Arians is going to complain about composure in the final minutes of games, it might work better if he doesn’t cost his team a timeout by losing track of his challenge flags.

4. Shouldn’t the growing pains have ended? For all the kvetching over Winston’s interception issues in previous years, he’s never had a season as erratic as this one. Winston is on pace for 27 interceptions, which would be the most in Tampa Bay since Vinny Testaverde’s transcendent 35-interception season in 1988. You can blame blocking and poor routes only so many times. At some point, you must acknowledge Winston still throws too many reckless passes.

5. Unsung hero: Shaquil Barrett is the hot newcomer, Devin White is the future and Vita Vea is the rock. But how about some love for Lavonte David? His forced fumble and recovery in the fourth quarter kept the Cardinals from taking the lead. He is second in franchise history to Derrick Brooks in forced fumbles and his 14 fumble recoveries are the most ever by a Tampa Bay defensive player.

A list of five

Bruce Arians’ five coaching tips for Arizona’s Kliff Kingsbury:

5. Before cutting a franchise icon, try inserting “lazy’’ in subliminal messages.

4. When no one is looking, remove all the tight ends from the depth chart.

3. Why use Uber Eats when you have a backup quarterback.

2. Hire 28 assistant coaches so you can take a few weekends off.

1. Buy your defensive backs in bulk.

Four overlooked defensive qualities (and one scary reminder)

1. The Bucs are much, much better at producing takeaways. Last year, Tampa Bay combined for 17 interceptions and forced fumbles. They’re already at 15 this year, which puts them in the NFL’s top 10.

2. The Cardinals scored on 5 of their first 10 drives on Sunday. But when it mattered most, the defense came up with huge stops on Arizona’s final two possessions.

3. The two cornerbacks taken in the second round in 2018 – Carlton Davis and MJ Stewart – still don’t have an NFL interception. The two taken in 2019 – Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean – each have one.

4. Run defense has had a phenomenal turnaround. Last year the Bucs gave up 124 rushing yards a game and 4.7 yards per carry. This year, the numbers are 78 and 3.5.

5. Um, yeah, still giving up 31 points a game.

Five QBs with similar interception problems

A lot of great quarterbacks have had a higher interception ratio than Winston through their first five seasons, including Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and John Elway. But in this era of controlled passing attacks, Winston is not keeping good company. Here are the five most recent QBs with at least 70 INTs in their first five seasons. Warning: It’s not a pretty list.

1. Blake Bortles: He threw 75 interceptions in his first 75 games in Jacksonville. Now a backup in Los Angeles.

2. Andy Dalton: Led the Bengals to 50 wins in his first five seasons despite throwing 73 interceptions. Went 0-4 in the playoffs with six interceptions and one TD. Now 32 and on the bench.

3. Mark Sanchez: Jets cut him loose after four seasons and 69 interceptions. Bounced from Philadelphia to Dallas to Washington. Now retired at 32.

4. Matthew Stafford: Like Winston, a former No. 1 overall pick. His 73 interceptions in his first 61 games also resembles Winston’s 72 in 65 games. Stafford has been much more productive since his sixth season, cutting down his interceptions and improving his passer rating from 83.1 (from 2009-13) to 94.2 (2010-19). Still, 0-3 in the playoffs.

5. Jay Cutler: Briefly looked like a star in Denver. Traded to Chicago and twice led the league in interceptions. Retired by 34.

Final five words.

Rays can offer attendance tips.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.