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Penalty phase needs to end for the Bucs

Tampa Bay leads the NFL again with 43 accepted penalties in five games.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) greets offensive tackle Donovan Smith (76) after a touchdown during Tampa Bay's win in Denver earlier this month. 
Smith, who will earn $14.5 million this season, leads the entire NFL with seven penalties for 55 yards.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) greets offensive tackle Donovan Smith (76) after a touchdown during Tampa Bay's win in Denver earlier this month. Smith, who will earn $14.5 million this season, leads the entire NFL with seven penalties for 55 yards. [ JACK DEMPSEY | AP ]
Published Oct. 11, 2020

TAMPA — Whistle mania has come to Tampa Bay, an annual occurrence of personal fouls, interference, holding and false-start penalties responsible for the referees' smackdown of the Bucs.

A year ago, the Bucs led the NFL with an average of 8.38 penalties per game and were third with an average of 69.44 yards marched off against them.

Entering Sunday, the Bucs were once again the best rules-breakers in the game.

The Bucs have been whistled for a league-most 42 penalties accepted for 410 yards. It includes eight false starts, seven offensive holding, six defensive pass interference, two offensive pass interference, three unnecessary roughness, one roughing the passer and one offside penalty.

Fourteen other flags were picked up after being declined or offsetting.

In Thursday night’s 20-19 loss to the Chicago Bears, the Bucs were flagged 11 times for 106 yards.

“It’s hard knowing that if you erase the penalties, we would have had a better chance of winning,” cornerback Jamel Dean said. “It’s just something that we have to work on and get better at."

The only thing worse than the intolerable number of flags hurled against the Bucs is the names of the players responsible for the majority of penalties.

We’re not talking about predominantly rookies or undrafted free agents, players who might be unfamiliar with how the NFL game is officiated.

The biggest repeat offenders have been some of the highest-paid players on the team, and in some instances, a team captain or two.

In fact, three of the top five most-penalized players in the league belong to the Bucs: left tackle Donovan Smith, receiver Mike Evans and cornerback Carlton Davis.

Smith, who will earn $14.5 million this season, leads the entire NFL with seven penalties for 55 yards. They include three false starts, three holding penalties and one that was not accepted.

Davis is second in the league with six penalties for 87 yards. Five are for defensive pass interference, and one is a personal foul.

Evans is known for his physical play at receiver. But refs know his reputation for pushing off against pass defenders.

In four games this season, Evans has two offensive pass interference penalties and one personal foul.

He’s an emotional player who has been suspended in the past for an outburst against the Saints in 2017 when he blindsided cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

But he’s a captain who has hurt his team at some inopportune times.

“I think turnovers, penalties, field position, all those lead to points and it comes down to third down, red(-zone) area,” Bucs quarterback Tom Brady said. “Ultimately, you’re trying to score more points than the other team, and turnovers are a big part of that.

"Penalties are another big part of that because you’re not possessing the football if you’re in third-and-long yardage. So you need to have clean games where you stay ahead on down and distance, you can get some rhythm, some momentum. We obviously have to do a better job of that.”

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It must be a bit of a culture shock for Brady, who spent 20 years in New England where the Patriots prided themselves on not committing fouls. Brady was agitated and barking at his offensive line Thursday following one flag-marred series in the second half.

The Bucs took the ball at midfield and had six penalties on one drive that netted minus-two yards.

It included a holding penalty by rookie Tristan Wirfs, an offensive pass interference penalty on Evans, an offensive holding on Smith, unnecessary roughness on center Ryan Jensen and a holding penalty on Alex Cappa.

“Just pretty poor execution,” Arians said. “We got down and we had a sack, three penalties — you’re not going to beat anybody with (11) penalties or however many we had, especially when we were down there once and ended up punting because of about six or seven penalties on one drive. I didn’t have our team ready to play. It’s obvious.”

A couple years ago, Jensen had 11 penalties, many of them personal fouls. But there is a broad line between protecting teammates and losing all your poise.

Of course, referees don’t always get it right. The Bucs were trying to hold onto their 19-17 lead in the quarter and had the Bears pinned deep in their own territory Thursday night.

Bucs defensive lineman William Gholston sacked Bears quarterback Nick Foles for a nine-yard loss on first down back to the Chicago 16-yard line. Two plays later, the Bucs looked as if they had held, but Shaquil Barrett was flagged for roughing the passer, a questionable call at best.

The Bucs eventually held, but it allowed the Bears to pin Tampa Bay deep and flip the field position eventually used to kick the game-winning field goal.

Arians is 21 games into his career as the Bucs' head coach. He has an undisciplined football team.

Sometimes, players commit penalties because they lose focus. Sometimes, it’s poor technique. Sometimes, it’s because they are fearful of getting whipped.

But whatever the cause, committing penalties will beat you.

Every time.

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