Tampa Bay spent their Sunday in rainy Cleveland, Ohio.
The Tampa Bay Bucs entered their bye week riding the high of a two game winning streak, they emerged from the bye as if they hadn’t actually emerged. Tampa is now 5-6 and the doubts will continue to creep in. The momentum that their early November schedule had garnered is gone, filled only by a deflating sensation equatable to an empty balloon. In a season that has had sky scraping highs and swooping lows, the Bucs have once again stayed true to that trend. Coming off the height of one of their highest highs, they have slipped and fallen back into the doldrums of a losing record. As has been the case all year, the NFC South comes with its own door stop and therefore remains wide open. Even with another loss, signifying the end of a two game win streak Tampa is still in a desirable spot in the playoff picture. At some point a push for the playoffs is required, rather than a playoff saunter and that time is near.
Any time the Bucs play there are certain expectations of the team as well as the players on the field. Sometimes the reality and the expectation are one in the same other times the reality is something else entirely, here’s:
Who we thought would do well and did:
The Bucs pass rush- Tampa Bay’s pass rush took a major blow when star edge rusher Shaq Barret went down with a season ending injury. The injury left the Bucs with a lot of backup players stepping into larger roles, against the Browns, those players were able to rise and shine. Tampa’s rush was a consistent thorn in Jacoby Brissett’s side. He was sacked four times and pressured throughout the game. The Bucs defense, down their best rusher, was able to provide adequate rush even in a loss.
Who we thought would do well and didn’t:
Tampa Bay Bucs run defense- The Tampa Bay Bucs’ run defense has been quite the topic amongst fans in 2022. For a few years now, run defense has been a Bucs’ staple. Great run defense has become somewhat of an expectation in Tampa since Todd Bowles took over as the team’s defensive coordinator. After a rather unprecedented stretch earlier this season, where the Bucs were gashed in multiple contests in very un-Tampa-like fashion, the last few games have seen much more of a return to form for the Bucs’ run defense. Pessimism is always prone to run rampant and the pessimists came out in droves flocking to the idea that Tampa Bay’s rejuvenated run defense was only a short-term phase and they would soon revert to their struggles from earlier in the season. The Bucs run defense was matched up against a very formidable opponent and it folded like a house of cards. The Browns tallied over 180 yards rushing. In the interest of fairness, the record should show that it was throughout nearly five quarters of play.
Who we thought might struggle and did:
Bucs tackling- Tampa Bay’s tackling has not been a highlight for the team this season. Too often throughout 2022, fans have seen short completions turn into long gains for the opposition. Another week and Tampa Bay’s Sunday was littered with more instances popping up of frequent inability to wrap up on first contact. Whether it’s a screen pass where the ball carrier is engaged in the backfield that turns into a five or six yard gain or a big return where Tampa’s coverage unit just bounces off and slides past a return man for a potential field position altering play.
Surprise of the game:
Bucs opening drive offense- Tampa Bay started the game on offense down 7-0. Their opening drive featured a heavy dosage of the run game, led by rookie running back Rachaad White. The absence of Leonard Fournette did not deter the Bucs from staying committed to the run game in the slightest. Tampa’s new rising star, Rachaad White, was fed the ball early both on the ground and through the air as he once again put his versatility on full display. The drive, despite encompassing what could have been a drive-killing red zone penalty, finished in the end zone, nine plays 75 yards for a touchdown.
Chris Godwin- Godwin put a stamp on Tampa Bay’s opening drive. The Bucs receiver fought through a defensive pass interference penalty en route to his second touchdown of the season and second in as many games. Chris Godwin continued to show progress working his way back from last year’s knee injury. The receiver’s production has been trending upward in recent weeks, with seven catches against the Los Angeles Rams, another six grabs the following week in Germany versus the Seattle Seahawks and today he ended the first half, in Cleveland with six catches for 58 yards. Godwin finished with 12 catches and over 100 yards marking his 8th straight game with six or more catches, etching his name in the Tampa Bay Bucs’ record books.
Week 12 saw the optimism that believed Tampa had turned a corner, fade to the realization the Bucs have far from solved the multitude of issues that have plagued their 2022 campaign. Bye weeks are a great opportunity to self scout and improve on your team’s weaknesses but they are only opportunities and opportunities are only there to be taken advantage of by good coaching and a good staff. A loss is not devastating, only disappointing. The Bucs continue to miss opportunities to increase the distance between themselves and the rest of the competition in the NFC South. A weak division can only solve Tampa’s problems for so long, eventually the Bucs will need to make the plays themselves and make progress for themselves, until then every game will feel like a drudge no matter the opponent.