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So far, Bucs generating points and penalties in profusion

The Bucs are the second-most penalized team in the NFL through four contests.
Through four games, Bucs coach Bruce Arians' team is the second-most penalized squad in the NFL.
Through four games, Bucs coach Bruce Arians' team is the second-most penalized squad in the NFL. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 8
Updated Oct. 8

TAMPA — They’ve broken from the 2021 gate fast, but not necessarily clean. Efficiency often has been supplanted by fits and false starts. They acknowledge having left a lot of points on the field.

Strewn somewhere amid all the flags.

“We’ve dealt with some penalties,” receiver Chris Godwin said.

Just when it seemed Bucs contests had evolved from a concerto of whistles to only a smattering of them, self-infliction has resurfaced, bedecked in yellow. Entering Sunday’s home game against the Dolphins, Bruce Arians’ squad has the second-most total penalties (34) and penalty yards (304) among the 32 NFL teams.

Currently, they’re on pace to eclipse Arians’ 2019 team, which was flagged an NFL-most 133 times.

“(Arians) talks about them all the time,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “We preach it, we teach them. We’ve got to get better at it. Some of the stuff is competitive, and some are things we can avoid. We’re trying to avoid those.”

Clearly, this isn’t what championship teams do — or did. That February boat parade likely never launches had the Bucs not made a concerted effort this time last season to perform with more concentration and discipline.

After an overall embarrassing Thursday night loss in Chicago in Week Five (11 penalties, 109 yards), the flags started dissipating like the humidity. Including playoffs, the Bucs averaged only 3.9 penalties for 29.2 yards in their last 15 contests.

But in that case, discipline came with a mild disclaimer: Due to the pandemic, the Bucs played in mostly barren stadiums bereft of crowd noise, naturally lessening the propensity for pre-snap whistles.

Four teams averaged five or fewer penalties in the 2020 regular season, led by the Patriots (3.9). By contrast, only the Colts averaged five or fewer the season before, when NFL stadiums were at full capacity.

Through four games, nearly 40 percent of the Bucs’ penalties (13 of 34) have been pre-snap infractions.

“Look at this (return of) crowd noises this year,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “We didn’t have one rainy game like (Sunday’s contest in New England) last year. We didn’t have one crowd noise game last year. So we’re still learning each other. Continuity is the key in the NFL.”

If last Sunday’s triumph is any sign, continuity just might be coming around. With the resounding bellow of the Gillette Stadium foghorn accompanying the roar of nearly 66,000 fans, the Bucs were whistled for only one pre-snap infraction: a false start on tight end O.J. Howard midway through the second quarter.

“We had one that really wasn’t a penalty,” Arians said. “That was a major emphasis last week.”

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Still, the Bucs have been whistled for at least seven penalties in each of their four contests to date.

“I think the great thing about football is it’s a long season, and as you saw last year, it takes a while to kind of build things up,” Godwin said.

“Obviously, we don’t want it to take that long this year. But I think with the guys we have on our team and the experience we have, I’m confident that as the year progresses, we will continue to get better, cut down on the penalties, cut down on the mental errors and just start to find our groove and figure out exactly what we want to be as an offense.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

Related: New England is coming to Tom Brady this time. Sort of

Echoes of the whistle

A look at the Bucs’ penalty output through four games:

Opponent; Penalties; Yards; Pre-snap penalties

Cowboys; 11; 106; 3*

Falcons; 9; 83; 4

Rams; 7; 41; 5

Patriots; 7; 74; 1

* All occurred in fourth quarter

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