BY ROY CUMMINGS
Sunday started with the news breaking that Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson had not just asked for a trade, he’d demanded one. By the end of the day, Jackson had reason to rescind that request.
It’s uncertain what was behind Jackson’s original request, but if it had anything to do with the fact the Bucs had moved on from his preference of Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, well, that may no longer be an issue.
Largely on the arm of Fitzpatrick, the Bucs rallied from 21-points down in the first half to tie the Bengals before losing 37-34 on a last-second 44-yard Randy Bullock field goal.
The loss left the Bucs at 3-4 on the year, which does nothing for their fast fading playoff hopes, but Fitzpatrick’s play should earn him the opportunity to lead this team back into the race.
So, let’s break this one down:
This game was lost in the first half, when the Bengals built a 27-9 halftime edge and the Bucs played the kind of ball that gets coaches and general manager fired. The Bucs did nothing in that half to suggest they’re getting better. Once again, their defense was porous and mistake-prone; they struggled to move the ball on offense and gave it away too often, and the kicking game was inconsistent.
This team looked like it was regressing at that point. That they rallied will probably save jobs, but the regression that was evident throughout the first half is just the kind of thing the Glazer family looks at when it contemplates making major changes.
He who hesitates is lost, and the Bucs lost on Sunday because coach Dirk Koetter hesitated to bring Ryan Fitzpatrick into the game. Koetter says he thought about bringing Fitzpatrick in after starter Jameis Winston threw his second interception. He waited, however, until after Winston threw two more picks, including a pick-six that gave the Bengals a 34-16 lead. Koetter said immediately after the game that he isn’t ready to make a decision regarding who his quarterback will be next week, but it seems obvious that if he wants to keep this season from going completely off the rails, he’ll start Fitzpatrick.
The biggest reason Winston needs to take a seat is because he is clearly regressing. Winston made big strides in his last five games last year and for what it’s worth he carried that over into the preseason this year. Overall, however, he hasn’t been the same since returning from his three-game suspension at the start of the season. If Winston doesn’t pick his game back up soon the Bucs may have little choice but to permanently move on from out of fear that, much like Sunday, he will become more of a liability than an asset.
So, does anyone miss Mike Smith yet? OK, no one is going to go that far. But the fact of the matter is, the Bucs defense doesn’t look all that better under new coordinator Mark Duffner than it did under Smith.
Granted, it’s only been a couple of games but the Bengals are ordinary at best offensively and the Bucs allowed them to look special at times on Sunday. Sure, the Bucs forced a string of three-and-outs in the second half, but so what? They couldn’t keep the Bengals from moving into field goal position when they needed to at the end, so really, little has changed here.
It’s hard to win football games when you’re penalized as much as the Bucs were on Sunday. The Bucs were flagged 11 times for 75 yards, and the biggest culprits were defensive and offensive linemen. Bucs D-linemen were flagged five times for offsides or encroachment Sunday, with four of those being accepted. The offensive line wasn’t any better. That unit was called four times for penalties that wiped out sizable gains. The Bucs were even called for delay of game on the play in which the Bengals finally moved into field-goal position at the end of the game. It’s hard to know for sure, but on a wind day, those extra 5 yards may have been the difference between Bullock making and missing that game-winning kick.
The problems with the offensive line go far deeper than the penalties they earned on Sunday. That unit allowed six sacks, nine QB hits and constantly forced the quarterback it’s supposed to be protecting to scramble out of trouble on Sunday. This O-line was supposed to be a Bucs strength this year. It has been anything but so far, and that has to change.
Peyton Barber ran once again on Sunday with the authority that earned him the starting running back job in the first place. Good thing, too, because it looks like the Bucs may have to lean on him even more going forward. Rookie Ronald Jones left the game early with a sore hamstring and injuries of that sort tend to take a while to heal. Depending on the severity of it, Jones’ sore hammy could bring a premature end to what has been a very disappointing season.
Jason Pierre-Paul had two more sacks on Sunday and now has eight on the year. He’s almost certain to become the first Buccaneer since Simeone Rice in 2005 to record 10 or more sacks. That will no doubt satisfy a lot of fans who have eagerly awaited the addition of anyone capable of recording sacks in that fashion but JPP’s likely accomplishment just goes to show that individual sack totals really don’t matter. If JPP gets 15 sacks and the Bucs finish the year with the most forgiving defense in the NFL, what will have been gained?
We’ve said this before but it bears repeating yet again: the Bucs are no better off with Chandler Catanzaro as their kicker than they were with Roberto Aguayo or Nick Folk. Catanzaro missed yet another PAT on Sunday – his third in 20 tries – and the Bucs never really recovered. Oh, sure, they rallied to tie the game late, but the Bucs wound up chasing that point all day, and who knows how the game would have turned out had he made it.
The trade deadline is Tuesday. The Bucs said Sunday they have no plans to move Jackson, but at 3-4 they may have no choice but to change their minds. There are sure to be a lot of internal discussions over the course of the next 48 hours about where this season is headed, so don’t be surprised if the Bucs ship out not only Jackson but a few other players worthy of a draft pick. The Bucs are at a crossroads and based on their incredible lack of consistency on the field, it may be time to look further into the future.
Roy Cummings is the Bucs Insider for pewterpirates.com