We’ve seen this song and dance before. Games where opposing teams pranced up and down on the Bucs at will, taking 38-0 leads. Games where opposing teams emptied out their benches and even put their third string quarterback in. Games where Bucs fans booed and left the stadium all but empty by the fourth quarter. Games where the Bucs offense couldn’t get a first down until nearly midway through the game.
This looked all too familiar.
There’s just one tiny difference.
Those Bucs teams wore creamsicle jerseys, not red and pewter.
They also didn’t have Tom Brady under center.
You could run out of adjectives to describe the performance by Tampa Bay on Sunday night. Words like ugly, embarrassing, lackluster, and putrid probably aren’t strong enough to depict the type of night it was.
So what happened? How could a team go from destroying playoff teams like Green Bay and Las Vegas to barely beating the New York Giants and then getting crushed by their rivals on Sunday Night Football?
Let’s start with the trenches. The Bucs are missing Ali Marpet at guard and Vita Vea at defensive tackle more than people realize. Marpet is a pro bowl guard and is the power behind that offensive line. Couple that with Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs who struggled to hold the edges and you had five guys who got dominated, giving their quarterback very little time to throw the ball.
On the other side, missing Vea allowed Brees more time to pick the secondary apart the provide the Saints running lanes on the No. 1 run defense in the NFL. The Bucs gave up 139 yards on the ground, the most they had all season while the secondary was shredded by Drew Brees who had his favorite weapon back in Michael Thomas.
Brady was also simply out of sync. It’s too early to say whether adding Antonio Brown may be changing the direction of the offense in the middle of the season, but it was clear they were off. Brady missed throws that he normally makes with eyes closed. He looked as if he was trying to get Brown too involved while ignoring weapons like Mike Evans and Scotty Miller, players that have helped make this offense what it’s been the first half of the season.
Then there’s coaching. Listen, I think Bruce Arians is a solid coach. But he is no Sean Payton. If you don’t believe me, well, try this on for size. Sean Payton is 4-0 against Bruce Arians the last two seasons and has outscored him 137-67.
But last night is on Arians. Whereas Payton had his team ready to go and energized, Arians’ team quit in the second half. And if you don’t believe me, look at star linebacker Lavonte David in the fourth quarter who didn’t even try to break up Adam Trautman’s touchdown that put the Saints up 31-0. Or the offensive line who literally looked like they were sleepwalking in the second half, failing to protect their star quarterback.
The Bucs also abandoned their running game completely. They set an NFL record for least amount of rushing attempts in a game, 5. One of those rushing attempts was a kneel down!
The good news for the Bucs is it’s just one game. They’re still 6-3 with a pretty favorable schedule left the rest of the season, although battles with the Rams and the Chiefs await in November.
The bad news is they may have watched the division and home field advantage slip away in the blowout loss. Running the table may not get them past the Saints who have an even more favorable schedule down the stretch.
The Bucs hope to see the Saints again. They hope to make it to January and have their shot at turning the script and do to the Saints like they did to the Eagles in 2002 when they finally cleared that hurdle against Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid at the Vet.
Of course, something tells me the Saints hope to see the Bucs again, too.