A victory "would" have sent a strong message to the rest of the country and the league for the matter that this team is finally the up and coming bunch of young stars those Hard Knocks cameras told you about in August.
Oh yeah, and a win "should" have sent the Patriots home with a losing record and leave future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Bill Belichick with a nice hole in their resume---they "should" have NEVER won a football game in Tampa.
It wasn't to be and there are many reasons the Bucs are now 2-2 where it seemed everything was set up for a season changing win.
If you would have told me before the game that Gronk would be marked absent, that the Bucs Defense would force a pair of turnovers and total three sacks (three times the amount they had entering this game)---yet the Bucs would lose---I wouldn't have believed you.
It was hardly the shootout many experts predicted. Instead it was a sluggish, sloppy and in the end sad ending for the Bucs who may live to regret this one down the road.
MY FIVE TAKEAWAYS:
(1) ST NICK---Christmas came awfully early for the Defending Champs as the Bucs's St Nick dished out three big presents in the form of three gift wrapped missed field goals.
This team is simply snake bit at kicker. For some reason, the best kicker in NCAA history in Roberto Aguayo loses all of his confidence and now the sage veteran Nick Folk inexplicably has followed suit. There is no way he can stay on this football team as his performance clearly cost the Patriots game and nearly lost them the Giants game too.
Folk has now missed five of his last six kicks---the worst stretch of his 11 year NFL career where you can't blame Bucs GM Jason Licht--he saw the Aguayo problem coming and thought Folk was the answer---time to reboot.
How about this stat--Folk has seven missed kicks in four games--Aguayo has 11 ALL of last season and that was of course a disastrous year.
Afterwards, Koetter was asked if Folk was his kicker moving forward?
"Yeah, we'll talk about that. Jason (Licht) and I had a brief conversation afterwards. That will be something that will be forthcoming. But, you don't want to make any rash decisions."
“Yeah, it’s unfortunate because Nick [Folk] won the job in training camp and he’s been really solid in practice. The thing that happened last week (Giants game) kind of came out of left field. There was no indication that was coming. We only kicked live in practice one day this week, and Nick was lights out. So yeah, these last two weeks haven’t been exactly what we were looking for – of course, Nick would be the first to admit that. But still, it’s a team game. We had other opportunities.”
(2) PROCRASTINATING OFFENSE: Let's face it, the Bucs were ripe to pick on a Patriots Defense which entered as arguable the worst unit in the league and the worst in this junction of the season of the Belichick era.
Instead, Jameis WInston couldn't find his rhythm until the fourth quarter. Sure he didn't commit a turnover but Winston once again missed DeSean Jackson on a surefire deep ball for a touchdown and was inaccurate for much of the game. He didn't get a whole lot of help as his receivers dropped their share of passes, and yes the kicker let him down---but in this prime time game, you need your prime time player to be ready from the jump and that wasn't the case.
WInston didn't point fingers after the game and blamed himself where he is now 1-4 in Prime Time games as a Bucs quarterback. "Never like disappointing a home crowd, especially when you’ve got a chance," Winston said. "These fans came out here. They were electric. They brought the juice. A great atmosphere for our organization. The only thing that could have been better is for us to win and it was there.”
(3) ABANDONING DOUG MARTIN: The biggest bright spot for the Bucs was the fantastic return of Doug Martin who many thought may be brought back slowly----but that was hardly the case.
He shook off the rust quickly immediately impacting this offense early in this game which begs the question?
Why did Dirk Koetter stop using him? Even CBS announcer Tony Romo (who is outstanding by the way) remarked that the Patriots zone Defense was ripe for the Bucs run game to flourish.
The biggest key for me entering this game was keeping Tom Brady off the field---abandoning the run shortened drives and gave the best QB in NFL history more time to beat the home team.
(4) CLOCK MANAGEMENT: After the slow start, the questionable play calling and three missed field goals, the Bucs still had a chance to win with under two minutes left.
WInston shines in the no-huddle but instead of spiking the ball, wasted a play with under a minute left and subsequently shaved :15 precious seconds off the clock which may not have won the game for the Bucs but would have given them a much better chance.
Can you imagine pulling this one out despite all of the setbacks? It would have done wonders for this young football team.
(5) TIME TO STEW OVER THIS ONE: The Bucs don't have a bye week but they do have this mini-bye week where they will be idle this weekend for the only time this season. The last thing you want is to go into it with a defeat like this.
The team knew the first quarter of the year wouldn't be easy so finishing 2-2 isn't the end of the world--but it will be interesting to see how this team responds as moving forward the NFC South promises to be brutal where the Bucs still have six games against the likes of the Falcons, Panthers and Saints--3/4 of the toughest division in football.