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Hey y’all, it’s official: Another Bucs season has bit the dust

John Romano | It’s not just the 3-7 record, it’s the helter-skelter way Tampa Bay plays that makes this a good time to start planning for the holidays and the NFL draft.
Even if Bucs players and coaches don't know it, the fans do. They've seen this movie too many times before. Since 2013, the Bucs have averaged 3.3 wins at the 10-game point of the season. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Even if Bucs players and coaches don't know it, the fans do. They've seen this movie too many times before. Since 2013, the Bucs have averaged 3.3 wins at the 10-game point of the season. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Nov. 18

TAMPA — Some teams have turning points. The Bucs have surrender points.

It’s that moment in every season when you realize it’s all been for naught. All the anticipation, all the hope, all the money. It all goes poof in a single afternoon of pratfalls and moronic calls. It’s been that way around here for the better part of a decade.

So let it be recorded that 2019’s surrender came on Sunday.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. This season was tumbling downhill long before the 34-17 stinker against the Saints on Sunday.

But it’s not as simple as a winning record. Hardly anyone expected the Bucs to rise up from last season’s 5-11 mess to make the playoffs in 2019. But you did expect — and have every right to expect — a franchise showing some sign of walking, crawling or even stumbling toward respectability.

And Sunday’s game made it clear the Bucs still can’t get out of their own way.

Just consider the clues in front of you:

No. 1 — The Bucs made substantial progress on defense last year after coordinator Mike Smith was fired and replaced by Mark Duffner in mid-October. In the final 11 games under Duffner, Tampa Bay gave up 24.5 points (not including returns) and 357.6 yards a game. This year, under new coordinator Todd Bowles, they’re giving up 28.5 points (not including returns) and 371.8 yard a game.

And that’s after bringing in free agents Ndamukong Suh and Shaquil Barrett, using the No. 5 pick in the draft on linebacker Devin White and taking three defensive backs in the first three rounds. At what point does this defense start getting better?

No. 2 — Among full-time starters, Jameis Winston had the highest interception rate in the NFL from 2015-18. And somehow, it’s gone up in 2019. By a lot. In his first four seasons, he threw an interception, on average, every 33.1 passes. Now, he’s throwing one every 22.5 passes.

Now, just to be clear, Sunday’s loss was hardly on Winston’s shoulders. The first interception was not his fault and, by the end of the game, he was throwing desperation passes. But at what point does Winston start taking better care of the ball?

No. 3 — Tampa Bay was one of the league’s top scoring teams coming into Sunday’s game, but it’s still hard to pinpoint this offense’s identity. They pay a ton of money to tight ends and brag about their talent, but hardly ever use them. O.J. Howard turned a catchable ball into an interception in the first quarter on Sunday and was never heard from again.

They want to lessen the pressure on Winston, but Sunday’s game featured the fewest running plays in Bucs history. Tampa Bay’s running backs had six carries for 13 yards. If you’re counting, that means they called passes on 55 of their 61 offensive plays. That’s a nifty 90 percent.

No. 4 — They continue to make decisions for silly reasons. Last week, head coach Bruce Arians said he purposefully gave away a time-out in the fourth quarter of a close game because he wanted to make a point with officials by illegally throwing a challenge flag. I thought it was the dumbest explanation I would hear all year. I was wrong.

On Sunday, Winston was sent limping back into a game when the Bucs were losing by 17 and there was only five minutes remaining. Backup quarterback Ryan Griffin was ready to go, but Winston said he was fine and so Arians let him return.

What?!?! This is your potential franchise player and you’re going to let him talk his way back into a meaningless blowout while he’s playing on a bad ankle? Are the coaches so afraid of a quarterback controversy that they don’t want to risk Griffin throwing a touchdown pass in garbage time?

And do you know the worst part?

The Bucs could win next week against Atlanta. They could win the following week in Jacksonville, too. It’s not inconceivable that they win three or four games down the stretch against non-contenders and delude themselves into believing they’ve reached that elusive turning point.

But if you’ve been watching closely enough you’ll know this team is a long way from being among the NFL’s elite. They score a lot of points, they play a lot of close games, they have a handful of elite players, but this team is too erratic and undisciplined to ever count on.

You know that because you’ve seen it before.

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

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Peyton Manning threw 26 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions in 2001, his age-25 season. Jameis Winston has thrown 26 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions through 13 games this season, which is his age-25 season. What does it mean? Probably nothing. [KEVIN RIVOLI  |  Associated Press]
    Reality check: Manning’s 2001 was superior to Winston’s 2019, mainly because it’s easier to play quarterback in today’s NFL.
  2. Last season, Jameis Winston threw the ball away five times. This season, he has thrown it away 23 times. “One of the hardest things to do is to throw the ball away — trust me,” Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
    The quarterback’s league-leading interception rate is overshadowing a potential step forward in his development.
  3. Winston is putting up statistics nearly identical to what Manning posted the season he turned 25. But a comparison requires more than numbers.
  4. Rookie linebacker Devin White is starting to have the kind of impact in Tampa Bay as he had at LSU. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Rick Stroud | Licht has virtually nothing left from his 2016 draft. But oh, those last two!
  5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston smiles while on stage before meeting with the media during the Famous Jameis Jamboree at Raymond James stadium on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 in Tampa. The event, which recommended a new toy or non-perishable food item as the cost of admission, included games, beverages and a visit from Santa Claus. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Winston tested his injured right thumb by throwing a football for the first time this week on Friday.
  6. Bucs career receptions leader Mike Evans (left) won't be available to help quarterback Jameis Winston and Tampa Bay for Sunday's 1 p.m. game at Detroit. [MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The Bucs are without Mike Evans for the first time since 2017, but Ndamukong Suh is back in Motown.
  7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive linebacker Ndamukong Suh (93) on the bench during the second quarter of the preseason game against the Miami Dolphins on August 16, 2019 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times [MONICA HERNDON   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    He’s not the same player who dominated in Detroit, but Suh did plenty of damage the last time he faced the Lions.
  8. With Oklahoma State in 2018, Taylor Cornelius threw for 3,978 passing yards (fifth most in program history) and 32 touchdowns (fourth most). The Tampa Bay Vipers drafted him in October. [SUE OGROCKI  |  Associated Press]
    The Tampa Bay Vipers signal-caller talks camp competition, Marc Trestman’s coaching style and Mike Gundy’s hair.
  9. Quarterback Jameis Winston (3) and the Bucs face the Detroit Lions at 1 p.m. Sunday in Detroit. [Tampa Bay Times]
    Here are our picks for this week’s NFL games.
  10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) makes a pass to a receiver during the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Sunday. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    The quarterback has been able to play with limited practice in the past, doing it before during the 2017 season.
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