Bucs play sloppy, let victory slip away against Jets

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no other way to put it: This will sting for a while. The Bucs have better talent and are deeper than the New York Jets. But they still left MetLife Stadium on Sunday with an 18-17 defeat, a result that seemed unlikely after kicker Rian Lindell made a 37-yard field goal to give Tampa Bay a two-point lead with 34 seconds left.

Inconsistency was Sunday’s theme, but the Bucs played well enough to win. This was a sloppy day, highlighted by linebacker Lavonte David’s mental blunder on Geno Smith’s scramble in the final seconds.

This wasn’t the way the Bucs envisioned a start to the season. This wasn’t the way they want to play moving forward.

A few thoughts after Tampa Bay let one slip away …

1. David will have a long flight home.

What was he thinking hitting Smith near the sideline on the final drive? David is a fine talent, and the Bucs are high on his promise in this league. There are so many things to like about his game: His awareness, his aggression, his potential. But there is no excuse for committing that personal foul — one of 13 Bucs penalties for 102 yards — which allowed Nick Folk to make a 48-yard game-winning field goal. Absolutely none.

Instincts trumped intellect for David in that situation. The play wiped out an impressive nine-play, 61-yard scoring drive that put the Bucs ahead 17-15 after Lindell’s field goal.

Josh Freeman wasn’t pretty most of the day, but he did what he had to do to place Tampa Bay in position to win. From the Bucs’ perspective, this was an unfortunate loss that looks worse when you consider that the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots await the next two weeks.

2. The Bucs have no reason to worry about Darrelle Revis’ health now.

He never played in the Bucs’ four preseason games, so there were plenty of questions about how he would look in his return to the field since tearing the ACL in his left knee last September. The Jets tested him early — he finished with two pass breakups — and he looked agile and athletic when working on the knee in question all afternoon.

Obviously, this is a good sign for Tampa Bay moving forward. Revis showed no signs of hesitation in the opening minutes, and he never seemed to slow. So much about this day was moving past the unknowns involving Revis since was traded to the Bucs. So far, so good for No. 24.

3. What was up with the Bucs’ offensive start?

First, there was some sort of communication problem with Freeman’s helmet. Then the hits kept coming: Penalties, sacks, mistakes galore. A gruesome summary of the Bucs’ first three drives: six plays, 6 yards (punt); three plays, minus-3 yards (fumble and safety); and three plays minus-9 yards (punt).

For their part, the Bucs responded with two touchdown drives by the first half’s end, including an impressive five-play, 44-yard display in the first quarter that ended with Freeman finding Mike Williams for a 17-yard connection.

Still, this was ugly, ugly. One could pass off the problems as Week 1 kinks. But it will be worth watching to see if the early minute struggles continue next Sunday and beyond.

4. There was some good, some bad in the way the Bucs handled Smith.

The good: They sacked Smith five times, and the presence of Revis, Dashon Goldson, etc., allowed Tampa Bay to throw a number of blitz packages at the young player. They intercepted Smith once, and they were consistent in creating confusion for him.

The bad: Smith hurt the Bucs on the ground. He finished with a team-high 47 yards rushing on six carries. Overall, Smith managed his debut better than expected. He proved to be a mobile threat in the pocket, despite the fact that the Bucs did a good job of moving him out of his comfort zone.

It’s going to be interesting to see how they fare against Drew Brees and Tom Brady in the coming weeks. Goldson and Mark Barron were wicked in targeting receivers deep down field, and it’s clear that physicality in the secondary will be an asset for Tampa Bay throughout the season if key faces stay healthy.

5. The Jets did a good job of containing Doug Martin.

New York’s game plan of corralling Martin to make Freeman produce worked as well as the Jets could have hoped. Martin finished with 65 yards on 24 carries. But all afternoon, there was little space for him to run against a New York defense that was quick to gobble him up near the line of scrimmage.

This wasn’t a total surprise. Rex Ryan is a smart defensive mind, and if you must choose a way to make the Bucs beat you, forcing Freeman to do so is a smart strategy. Expect similar approaches to be used against the Bucs all season. More responsibility will be placed on Freeman to take the pressure off Martin and the running game.

If Freeman struggles to show consistency in the pocket, like he did at times Sunday (he finished 15 of 31 for 210 yards with one touchdown and one interception), then it will be easier for opponents to limit Martin’s impact.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.