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ROY'S REACTION (Cummings' analysis of Bucs' Saints Collapse)

BY ROY CUMMINGS

So much for running the table. And so much for the slipping into the playoffs. Hey, it was always a bit of a pipe dream anyway but now, after losing 28-14 to the Saints and losing badly, well that dream is over.

Bucs fans can now go back to griping, moaning and debating who their next coach will be, because this loss may spell the end for Dirk Koetter, who seemed to be rising from the dead just a week ago.

Oh sure, Koetter’s Bucs could still rally and win their last three to finish the season strong, but this game against what is arguably the NFC’s best team was their chance to prove their little was real and sustainable.

Not only did they fail, they failed badly, their offense failing yet again to drum up any semblance of a rushing attack, their defense suffering a relapse and their kicker failing to secure key points when they were needed.

Yes, this game looked a lot like the games we saw all of last season. There was little suggest this time around that the Bucs are getting better, so you have to wonder what that means for everyone’s future.

There’s still plenty of time to ponder that, though, so let’s look back at this one and see where it was exactly that the Bucs failed.

The Bucs were 6-for-14 on third down, which isn’t all that bad when you consider that they faced third-and-long (6 yards or more) on all but four of those third-down situations. Of course, that’s what happens when you running backs account for 58 yards on 18 carries (3.2 per carry).

You really have to give Jameis Winston credit for cutting back on the mistakes, because now more than ever it seems he really is the only thing the Bucs have on offense. He was on Sunday anyway.

This was the second week in a row that in addition to naturally accounting for all the passing yards the team accrued, he also led the team in rushing. That’s not good for a team that wants to build its attack around the run game and play-action fakes.

Where was Mike Evans? He caught a 36-yard pass early on off a ball that Winston dropped into the bucket for him but disappeared after that. Evans is the Bucs best player, period. When he’s limited the way he was on Sunday the Bucs are going to struggle to move the ball and score points, just the way they did on Sunday.

The Bucs were on a roll defensively going into Sunday’s game. Prior to taking the field they ranked second in the NFL in sacks (24), third in third-down percentage (tied at 33.3) and 10th in passing yards allowed per game (216.3) over the course of the previous six games.

Despite some fine individual performances and some big plays, they didn’t play anywhere near that well against the Saints, who allowed just one sack, converted six of 11 third downs and completed all but seven of the passes they threw (24 of 31) for 201 very effective and important yards.

Contrary to popular belief, the free-agency signing period doesn’t end in late April or early May. It continues well into the season, which is why the Bucs signing of end Carl Nassib has to count as one of the best free agent signings of the year. Nassib has done nothing but impress since he was singed off the street early in the season. He continued to impress on Sunday by racking up a big tackle for loss and a forced fumble.

Rookie safety Jordan Whitehead might be the best hitter on this team. At a time when it’s hard to play an intimidating style of defense in the NFL, this kid plays likes he’s got a little John Lynch in him. He’s not at that level, obviously, but the will and want to are there and his hits are leaving an impression.

Cameron Brate quietly took over the team lead in touchdown receptions with his fifth and sixth of the year Sunday. Not bad for a guy who more or less started the season as a second-teamer behind O.J. Howard. Give Brate credit for working hard and making sure he was prepared when his opportunities came instead of griping and making a bunch of noise about a lack of targets and snaps.

Go ahead and laugh and chide, but the decision to draft Roberto Aguayo in the second round was aimed at ending what was already a longstanding kicking problem. Two years and four kickers later that problem still exists as the latest replacement, Cairo Santos, returned to earth Sunday and left six points on the board. Granted, Aguayo only fueled the slump, but I won't blame a GM for trying to end it, especially when he was drafting the most accurate kicker in college history.

So, in addition to leaving six points on the field, the Bucs special teams also had a punt blocked on Sunday. That blocked punt was arguably the turning point in the game as it sparked the Saints comeback from a 14-3 deficit. Funny, but I doubt we’ll hear anyone screaming for the head of Bucs special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor.

I said a week ago that Brent Grimes has quit. He confirmed that for me on Sunday, when he most watched from his starting spot at left cornerback. Grimes had four tackles because he just happened to be the targeted corner on a few plays but he did little other than that. At this point, the Bucs would be better off giving some kid a look instead of playing Grimes.

Roy Cummings is the Bucs Insider for Pewter Pirates.com