Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Bucs

Suddenly, penalty flags few and far between for 2020 Bucs

The NFL’s most-penalized team last season is hearing far fewer whistles this fall.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) said coach Bruce Arians "definitely grilled" the team after some penalty-marred efforts earlier in the season. Tampa Bay has averaged only three penalties over its last five games.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) said coach Bruce Arians "definitely grilled" the team after some penalty-marred efforts earlier in the season. Tampa Bay has averaged only three penalties over its last five games. [ BRIAN WESTERHOLT | AP ]
Published Nov. 19, 2020
Updated Nov. 19, 2020

TAMPA — The organic sounds of Sunday mostly have been muted out for the Bucs this autumn.

Such is the stoic byproduct of staging an NFL season amid a pandemic. Even at recent home contests, which have featured socially distanced audiences of roughly 15,000, the game-day soundtrack includes far fewer hoots and jeers, roars and yelps.

And in the case of the Bucs, fewer whistles as well.

And that type of silence is golden.

“That’s always a plus,” running backs coach Todd McNair said.

The most-penalized team in the NFL last season with 8.3 flags per game, the Bucs (7-3) are drawing only 5.7 per contest in 2020, which ranks 16th. Their 51.9 penalty yards per game (19th in the league) are nearly 18 fewer than last season (69.4).

They’re on pace to average their fewest penalties per game since 2008 (5.5), Jon Gruden’s final season.

“Shoot, basically just trying not to play dumb football,” inside linebacker Lavonte David said.

“Coach (Bruce Arians) says all the time you can’t have Bucs beating Bucs, and that’s something that’s been going on around here a long time as far as penalties and doing dumb stuff on the football field. We harp on it daily, all the time, and we preach it to each other; you don’t hear it just from coaches.”

Evidently, the message had to be repeated once or twice before it really started resonating.

In the season’s first five games, Tampa Bay averaged 8.4 penalties and 82 penalty yards a game. The capper was a dreadful night in Chicago (11 penalties, 109 yards) that included myriad offensive line whistles including two false starts on left tackle Donovan Smith.

“There were a couple of games where we had a lot of penalties and (Arians) definitely grilled us on it,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “And we definitely deserved it.”

In the five games since, the Bucs have totaled 109 penalty yards, on 15 total flags. In their 38-10 rout of Green Bay on Oct. 18, they weren’t penalized at all (offsetting penalties on one second-quarter play resulted in officially no play).

“There was a concerted effort by the players,” Arians said. “They were tired of hearing me say it, but we’ve done a really good job of correcting it.”

Minimal self-infliction will be critical over the next 10 days. The Bucs’ postseason destiny could hinge on Monday night’s game against the Rams (6-3) at Raymond James Stadium, and another home date six days later against the reigning Super Bowl champs from Kansas City (8-1).

The Rams’ 4.1 penalties per contest are second-fewest in the league.

“It obviously affects games — it has affected games this year — and it’s something that we really just locked in on,” McNair said. “Coach has made an emphasis on it and the players, to their credit, have been taking care of business.”

Whistles are waning

A look at the Bucs’ 2020 penalty numbers compared to recent years (NFL ranking in parentheses):

Stay updated on the Super Bowl champs

Stay updated on the Super Bowl champs

Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter

We’ll deliver a roundup of news and commentary on Tom Brady and the Buccaneers weekly during the season.

You’re all signed up!

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

Explore all your options

Year; Penalties per game; Penalty yards per game

2020; 5.7 (16th); 51.9 (19th)

2019; 8.3 (32nd); 69.4 (30th)

2018; 7.3 (28th); 60.9 (24th)

2017; 6.5 (14th); 49.7 (7th)

2016; 6.8 (20th); 57.9 (19th)

2015; 8.9 (31st); 74.7 (31st)

* Source: teamrankings.com