TAMPA — Beleaguered Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich is safe for at least a few more days, as head coach Todd Bowles said Tuesday no decision has been made about possible changes to the staff for 2023.
Tampa Bay was last in the NFL in rushing yardage and rushing attempts and suffered one of the biggest declines on offense in league history, going from 61 touchdowns in 2021 to 31 in 2022.
Quarterback Tom Brady attempted 66 passes in Monday night’s 31-14 loss to the Cowboys in the NFC wild-card game, two shy of the NFL playoff record and most in his 383 career games, including the postseason.
When asked if a decision had been made to part with Leftwich, the Bucs’ offensive coordinator the past four seasons, Bowles said, “No, there hasn’t been.”
“I don’t have any assessment,” he said. “Right now, we’re evaluating players. We’ll meet as a coaching staff later in the week. I’ll meet with individual coaches, as well as the staff as we do every year, and we’ll make those assessments then.
“ ... I don’t want to sit here and say we’re talking about things when I haven’t talked over things with my coaches. We’ll do our yearly assessment just like we did with the players.”
The Bucs went 8-9 during the regular season and won the NFC South. Despite their tenuous situation at quarterback with Brady, 45, set to become a free agent, Bowles characterized the job in the coming offseason as a reload and not a rebuild.
“You never want to rebuild; you’re always reloading,” Bowles said. “Whether you have those guys or not, you want guys who can come in and compete so you can win this division.”
Other important highlights from Bowles’ post-mortem to the 2022 season:
When the Bucs need to know whether Brady will retire, play next season and/or return to the Bucs:
“You want to have those plans, but they can all go to pot beforehand. We’ll meet with Tom, we’ll meet with everybody else. We’ll meet with the brass and come up with a plan and see where we are, and if that’s the case, hopefully it doesn’t have to come after free agency and everything else like that. You want to have plans going into it. We’ll do our due diligence and meet with the parties involved and come with a plan one way or the other.”
Brady, set to become an unrestricted free agent, said after Monday’s game that he was “truly” undecided about his future.
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The Bucs are $43 million over the projected salary cap and have other pending free agents to consider, including Brady, linebackers Lavonte David and Anthony Nelson; cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting; safety Mike Edwards; and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks.
“We haven’t met on them yet, but we’ll prioritize the guys we want to keep and guys that we’re willing to wait and see go out there (into free agency),” Bowles said. “I think every team is going to have the same problem. so we’ve got to be prepared either way.”
What Bowles told his team Tuesday:
“It was more or less when we come in the offseason it’s voluntary, but at the same time it builds camaraderie, it builds chemistry and it builds culture. When you have an offseason and everyone has their own personal trainer and you come back, you’re not really together at that point. Guys can come in and work out. … I played eight years with the same team and the same coordinator, and I took the same notes every year, every day, so it becomes second nature. You have to treat it like that. When you get to that point, and we need to get to that point, that’s when you become a team again and have success going forward.”
On improving the run game, which ranked last in the NFL:
“I think anytime you’re the worst in the league, it’s the combination of everything. There’s no one thing that you can point to and say we weren’t good in the running game other than we weren’t good in the running game. We’ll reevaluate everything and make those decisions going forward.
“It’s important, but at the end of the day you want to do what you do best and score more points than the other team. Winning is first, and if you get runs within the win, you’re very happy. If you’re throwing the ball and you win, you’re very happy. Let’s not overblow it. It’s a passing league right now. You want to be able to run the ball more, but if you get down you have to throw or sometimes you have to throw if they’re crowding the box … so it’s all relative. ... We want to do better in the run game, but the ultimate thing is winning.”
On what he wishes he’d done differently:
“You want to close out the division earlier. You really want to do that. We had some games that got away from us that we should’ve won earlier. We didn’t close them out. I felt we should’ve been mentally tougher the first half of the season like we were the second half of the season, and we’ll try to get better at that.”
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