The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have reached a pivotal point in their season as they take on the division rival Atlanta Falcons in prime time Thursday night.
Here we go, again. Almost halfway through the season and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in a situation where they can win and keep their hopes alive – or they will lose and leave fans in a puddle of disappointment and draft talk before Thanksgiving.
The slight optimism rests on the fact that Jameis Winston is 3-0 in his brief career against the Falcons. Linebacker Kwon Alexander makes it his personal mission to play better against the Falcons than any other team. Somehow, this group of Bucs can figure out a way to beat Atlanta since Dirk Koetter and Jameis Winston joined the team.
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On the other hand, the Falcons have not been the team they are now in the previous three meetings. The Falcons currently have the number one offense, averaging 32.8 points along with 425.2 yards per game – including 313.8 through the air. The running game has been fantastic with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman while Matt Ryan has been playing out of his mind since the loss to Tampa Bay in week one.
For the Buccaneers, this is it. After blowing a game against the Raiders in epic fashion, they come into Thursday’s game on a short week and having played almost a full extra quarter of football which – whether you want to admit it or not – will have taken its toll on the team. On top of that, the game will be at home.
Now, you could argue that playing in Tampa would be an advantage for the Bucs. They don’t have to get on a plane, they don’t have to stay in a hotel, they won’t be out of their elements. However, the Bucs have won three home games since 2014 – all of which were last season. It seems as if all the odds are currently stacked against the Bucs and they have no choice but to respond.
Question is, can they?
Oct 30, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) makes a catch in the first half against the Oakland Raiders at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
As crazy as it may sound, stopping the Falcons’ offense rests squarely on the shoulders of the Buccaneers’ offense. Jameis Winston completed merely six passes in the second half of the game against the Raiders and the team had three consecutive three-and-outs to end regulation and in overtime. That simply can not continue. Not making a deal for a wide receiver – as difficult as it may have been – will continue to haunt this team moving forward. Mike Evans remains the lone threat on this offense that will trot out guys like Cecil Shorts, Antone Smith, Peyton Barber, and Russell Shepard to try and produce on offense. No Doug Martin, no Charles Sims, no Vincent Jackson, no Jacquizz Rodgers…just Mike Evans. Sorry, but that formula isn’t going to cut it.
Dirk Koetter seems to understand that as he has shown a severe lack of confidence in his offense, relying on guys that were walking the streets after the first week of the season to carry the load. He shows reservations about putting the game in Winston’s hands, fearful he will turn the ball over when forcing a pass or trying to make a big play. Winston keys in on Evans and forces the ball to him regardless of the coverage.
What choice does he have? There’s no one else.
As painful as it may be, this is the Buccaneers team we will see moving forward. Even when – or if – Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers return, there is still no one in the passing game outside of Evans. You can’t run the ball 45 times a game and expect to win. There are no threats left.
Like it or not Buccaneers fans, this is the team we have for the remaining nine games. A win on Thursday night can help moving forward, but it’s virtually impossible to expect any kind of sustained success with the way this offense is constructed for the rest of 2016.