Bucs brought back to Earth by New Orleans
They are still the Super Bowl champions. As such, the New Orleans Saints stand as something of a measuring stick for all other teams, the Buccaneers included.
What their 31-6 loss to the Saints on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium told you, then, is that these Bucs still don't measure up. Not with the NFL's best, they don't.
This was the second time the Bucs lost this year, and both (the other was to Pittsburgh) have been convincing setbacks to teams that have a combined record of 8-3.
The Bucs' three victories, meanwhile, have come against three teams (Cleveland, Carolina and Cincinnati) who have a combined record of 3-13. It's apparent, then, that this rebuilding project is far from complete.
"We're not a finished product,'' acknowledged Bucs coach Raheem Morris, whose team has been outscored 69-19 in its two losses. "We're still on the come, and so we have to chalk this one up as a learning (experience).'' Only problem is, the Bucs didn't learn anything Sunday that they hadn't already learned while losing to the Steelers and while beating the Browns, Panthers and Bengals.
Their pass rush, for example, not only was shut down by the Saints, but it also was shut out, producing no sacks for the fourth time in five games and no quarterback hits on Saints Pro Bowler Drew Brees.
That lack of pressure allowed Brees to pick apart the Bucs' young secondary, which got another interception from rookie Cody Grimm but gave up touchdown passes of 41 and 42 yards on the Saints' first two offensive series.
Those two quick scores forced the Bucs to all but abandon their plans to run the ball, but from the looks of their early rushing attempts, they weren't going to have much success with that approach anyway.
Cadillac Williams, who went into the game averaging 2.6 yards per carry, gained 2 yards on his first two carries of the game and the Bucs quickly went to Kareem Huggins after that.
Huggins gained 7 yards on his first try, but then went down after a hit to his right knee that added injury to what would prove to be an insulting 18-carry, 42-yard rushing outing that was the Bucs' worst of the season.
"Something just seemed off,'' Williams said of the rushing attack, which produced at a rate of 2.3 yards per carry Sunday and is gaining an average of just 3.6 yards per carry on the season.
"Obviously we struggled there today,'' Morris said. "We've been struggling the whole season. We have to go back to the laboratory, back to the drawing board and start from scratch.'' While he's in that laboratory and at that drawing board, Morris also will want to look for a better way to stop the run, because that continued to be a problem as well.
At one point late in the first half, while the outcome still could have been steered toward another end, the Saints had three individual runs longer than the Bucs' rushing total of 13 yards.
"They exposed us,'' said Morris, whose team allowed Saints third-string tailback Chris Ivory to gain 158 yards on 15 carries and became the first Bucs team since 1993 to allow a 100-yard rusher in three straight games.
"They did a nice job with their scheme and with some of their fits, and we did a bad job of tackling,'' Morris added. "We have to get back to hunting, hitting and tackling. That's got to be the No.?1 priority for us.''
Correcting the flaws in place kicker Connor Barth's game may become a priority as well. Barth hadn't missed a field goal in six tries before Sunday, but both of his attempts against the Saints bounced off the right upright.
"It was just one of those days where things didn't go our way,'' Williams said. "When we did make a play or get a drive going, something always just seemed to happen and it went wrong for us.'' About the only thing that went right was a fourth-quarter challenge by Morris that wiped out a lost fumble by Sammie Stroughter and turned it into an incomplete pass.
That gave the Bucs new life on one of the few drives in which they moved the ball deep into New Orleans territory, but that drive resulted in one of Barth's missed field goal attempts.
"These are types of games that you go back and you learn from,'' Morris concluded. "You play the heavyweights and you compete and find out where you are, and right now we're humbled.
But with a young team, that's going to happen. Now, it's my job to make sure that it doesn't happen as often as it has with these last two juggernauts that have come in here.''
|About the writer|
Roy Cummings has been The Tampa Tribune's primary Buccaneer beat writer for many years now and has a knowledge of the current players that is unsurpassed amongst local reporters. He also appears on Channel 8's news broadcasts on stories about the Bucs. He came to London with the Buccaneers in 2009 and was at Richmond Park to be part of the Bucs UK's most memorable day when the club took on the UK Patriots at touch football in front of many Bucs alumni and club officials.