TAMPA, Fla. — Another Sunday, another last-second loss.
Just two weeks in, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are used to late-game letdowns. Last week, the New York Jets inflicted the pain. Sunday, the New Orleans Saints went 54 yards in five plays to pull off the 16-14 victory as time expired at Raymond James Stadium, after Garrett Hartley made a 27-yard field goal.
Where do the Bucs go from here? We’ll learn in time, but it doesn’t look good.
Here are some thoughts from the latest letdown …
1. The Bucs’ identity is found on defense.
This is little surprise, given Greg Schiano’s background. But Sunday was another example that this team must create opportunity on that side of the ball when its offense sputters.
The Bucs signed Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis for a game like this. For the most part, Tampa Bay was a bend-but-don’t-break unit all afternoon until the snapping at the end.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees got his numbers — he finished 26 for 46 for 322 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions — but the Bucs earned enough stops to place them in position to win until the late collapse.
We’ll address the personal fouls later, but this group must be smarter when trying to impose its will downfield. Aggressive play is good. But at times, this defense looks undisciplined. We’ll see if they clean up their play in the coming weeks, but they must do so to reach where they want to go.
2. The bye week can’t come soon enough for this team.
Or perhaps a Week 4 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals at Raymond James Stadium will offer some reprieve. Either way, it’s hard to see Tampa Bay leaving Gillette Stadium with a victory over the New England Patriots next Sunday.
There isn’t much shame in losing to the Saints. The NFC South will likely come down to them and the Atlanta Falcons. Still, the Bucs envisioned beating a team like New Orleans when they signed Goldson and traded for Revis in the offseason.
Expect more questions to fly around One Buc Place this week. The Josh Freeman-Greg Schiano saga will be a popular topic (again). Victories will take care of the noise around this team, but the wins must come … fast.
3. Doug Martin had an easier time than in Week 1.
One of the main reasons the New York Jets pulled off the season-opening upset was because they keyed on the Bucs’ talented running back and forced Josh Freeman to beat them. Martin finished with 65 yards on 24 carries in the loss at MetLife Stadium. Last year, he was held to 65 or fewer yards only five times.
Martin had more luck against the Saints, totaling 144 yards on 29 carries. It’s no secret that opponents are going to try to limit Martin’s impact this season. The more success opponents have in doing so, the less likely Tampa Bay’s offense will roll.
Sunday, Martin showed an ability to break through early. He earned 47 yards on 10 carries in the first half, including a long run of 12 yards. The Bucs can take pressure off Martin by being efficient in the passing game. But Tampa Bay still has a long way to go in that category.
4. The Bucs must show better discipline in the secondary.
Tampa Bay’s secondary has struggled with the thin line between aggression and recklessness in the season’s first two weeks.
The Bucs were tagged with three personal fouls Sunday, continuing a theme that this defense is at times undisciplined, especially deep down field. Bucs coach Greg Schiano has said his staff teaches and preaches good techniques.
But some of these hits — especially Goldson’s wicked cracking of tight end Jimmy Graham in the neck area in the second quarter — must be eliminated. Winning teams don’t make these errors.
There’s little excuse for these plays to continue. Clearly, Schiano wants his defense to play at an aggressive level. But some restraint must be shown as well.
5. Lightning is no fun.
The Bucs and Saints played all of one series before severe weather in the area led to a one-hour, nine-minute rain delay. There were some nasty lightning strikes close by, and the rain picked up shortly after both teams raced to their respective locker rooms to beat the wet stuff.
Most fans filled the aisles and huddled in the nearest concourses. Others were bolder and braved the elements. But in time, play resumed after a 10-minute warm-up period.
The field, for the most part, stayed in good shape once play resumed. This was the latest proof that when it comes to Florida weather, anything is possible.