At 3-3 the Tampa Bay Bucs entered Bank of America stadium desperately trying to get their season back on track.
The consensus was that this was Tampa Bay’s get-right game. The Carolina Panthers are amidst a teamwide fire sale. After letting their head coach go, they decided to trade away two of their best offensive players and dive head first into a rebuild. The Bucs are supposed to be far from a rebuild even though they have come in beneath expectations since their season’s start. Week seven at Carolina was allegedly Tampa’s time to get on a roll.
Any time the Bucs take the field, there are certain expectations of the team as well as the players on the field. Sometimes the reality and the expectation align, other times the reality is something entirely different, here’s:
Who we thought would do well and did:
Cade Otton- The tight end has been rotating in and out all season from starter to second string and he has been productive. Otton has stepped up for the Bucs at different points this season and Sunday was another good moment for the rookie. Tampa’s offense struggled to find any production but the rookie fourth round pick was able to gain 64 yards against Carolina.
Who we thought would do well and didn’t:
The Tampa Bay Bucs offense- Tampa’s offense has been on a downward spiral all season and a lifeless defeat versus the 1-5 Carolina Panthers really drives that point home. The Bucs averaged under five yards per play while rushing for 46 yards. Tampa’s offense manifested more punts than points in an uninspired effort, from start to finish on Sunday.
Who we thought might struggle and did:
Byron Leftwich- The stubborn nature of the Bucs’ play calling is astonishing. With no success on the ground they continue to grind away, banging their head into a brick wall. The Bucs rushing attack in short yardage is…irritating. It’s not the lack of success, it’s the consistent willingness to be unsuccessful. Sunday, one of the best Tampa Bay drives, which featured three passes to Mike Evans, ended with a third and one run for a loss of a yard and then a second consecutive rush attempt on fourth and one. Turnover on downs. The Bucs’ style of play has been consistent this season, consistency is good, however, it is not as good when it’s bad.
Who we thought might struggle and didn’t:
The Bucs offensive line- Tampa Bay’s offensive line has been subject to a lot of criticism and it hasn’t been ridicule without reason. The offense has been held back and hampered by their inability to block opposing teams’ fronts all season. The Bucs flashed a new wrinkle today, up front they chose to let second year guard Nick Leverett share snaps with rookie Luke Goedeke. Luke Goedeke’s struggles have been meticulously combed over all season, the rookie has not been an adequate replacement at left guard. Tampa Bay may not have noticeably elevated the performance of the offensive line but the admission of a problem is always the first step in finding a solution. What Tampa has been doing has not been working, time to try something else.
Surprise of the game:
Jaelon Darden: Jaelon Darden was a fourth round pick in the 2021 draft and for the vast majority of his time as a Buc he has been the team’s primary returner. Darden hasn’t seen much playing time on offense since being drafted and in the return his efforts have been mostly pedestrian. Today was one of Jaelon Darden’s most memorable performances as a Buc. Against Carolina, the wide receiver averaged over 10 yards per punt return.
The Final Whistle: Sometimes the best part of the game is the end of the game. The Bucs have not given fans much to cheer for the last two weeks and the end of Sunday’s game came as a sweet relief.
Tampa is no longer undefeated in the division. With an overall record beneath expectations and a highly competitive assortment of teams in other divisions spread across the conference, the Bucs in-division win-loss record becomes even more crucial. Being in such a uniformly bad division has easily been a highlight inside of a difficult season for the Bucs. Second place in the NFC South may not be guaranteed a wildcard spot, winning the South ensures the Bucs at least one home playoff game even after an ugly season. No matter how you get there, if you can get in the postseason, you have a chance at the ultimate prize.