Bucs doomed by too little defense, too much Russell Wilson
Rick Stroud, Tampa Bay Times, published 4 November 2019|
Jamel Dean never expected to be the toast of the town, burned time and time again by Seattle receivers Sunday. It wasn't until after pre-game warmups, when cornerback Carlton Davis hurt his hip, that the rookie from Auburn realized he would be starting against the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson.
Prior to Sunday's 40-34 overtime loss to the Seahawks, Dean had played only three snaps all season. By the time the game was over, he had given up three of Wilson's five touchdown passes and several other big plays that doomed the Bucs.
"I mean, it wasn't my best performance,'' Dean said quietly in the Bucs locker room. "It was probably the worst I've ever played. It's probably my worst performance playing corner. But I guess it was my welcome to the NFL type of game for me.''
Remember shortly after the NFL draft, after the Bucs had selected three more defensive backs in the first three rounds, when coach Bruce Arians declared the secondary was "fixed?''
Well, Dean and fellow rookies Sean Murphy-Bunting and Mike Edwards were among five first-year players who started on defense Sunday and allowed Wilson to carve them up like an early Thanksgiving turkey. Wilson rallied the Seahawks from a 21-7 deficit by completing 29 of 43 passes for 378 yards and five scores in handing the Bucs (2-6) their fourth straight loss.
Three of those touchdown passes went over Dean's head – two to receiver Tyler Lockett and one to D.K. Metcalf. "He's a great quarterback,'' Dean said. "I see why he's considered one of the best in the league.''
The Seahawks probably should have won the game in regulation, had place-kicker Jason Myers not missed an extra point and two field goals, including a 40-yarder at the end of regulation.
Jameis Winston nearly matched Wilson's brilliance, passing for 335 yards with two touchdowns. Mike Evans had another extraordinary game with 12 catches for 180 yards and a score. But the Bucs had five rookies on defense playing Sunday, including linebacker Devin White and defensive end Anthony Nelson.
They weren't able to clamp down on Wilson or his receivers. The game basically came down to a coin toss to start overtime. The Bucs called tails, it was heads and Wilson was money.
Dean, who also had four of the six passes defensed by the Bucs Sunday and five tackles, started overtime by giving up a 12 yard pass to receiver David Moore. Then he was called for illegal contact on Metcalf to give Seattle an automatic first down. Wilson kept attacking Dean, hitting Metcalf on a 29-yard pass to the Tampa Bay 6-yard line. Two plays later, he flipped a pass to tight end Jacob Hollister for the game-winner.
"I'm really, really proud of our guys,'' coach Bruce Arians said. "At one time we had (five) rookies out there on defense. This was (the first) NFL game for some of them. They got broken in pretty good. We're really, really, really young. We had three rookies in the back end playing, including Devin. Nelson got hurt. We just have to keep growing. I love the way they competed.''
White made a tremendous play, hustling down running back Chris Carson after a 59-yard run and stripping the football, which rolled harmlessly out of bounds to stay with the Seahawks. It was a veteran, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who missed one of the three tackles that allowed Carson to escape.
"The big play was my fault,'' Suh said. "I got to make sure I get that running back down in that situation. We didn't do enough on defense to get the ball back to our offense to score points.''
While Arians seemed to beg for patience with his rookies, particularly in the secondary, Suh wasn't as forgiving. "They're no longer rookies,'' Suh said. "You're halfway through the season. You had your time to be a rookie and I think they stepped up and played well. At the end of the day, the veterans have to make sure we come out of here victorious.''
In a way, the Bucs secondary is in shambles because some of the other players they drafted have not worked out.
Vernon Hargreaves, the former first-round pick from Florida, has been up and down. Davis still doesn't have an interception after 18 starts. M.J. Stewart, a second-round pick last year, has been inactive the past two games.
So Arians drafted three more defensive backs this year and they are all green but growing. "Before we came out, I called them up and told them it's on us,'' White said. "We're the guys they drafted and we need to make plays and step up. We need to be here for a long time and we need to win games.''
Wilson is one of the NFL's best quarterbacks and an MVP candidate with 22 touchdowns and only one interception this season for the 7-2. No shame in losing to him or the Seahawks in CenturyLink Field. "The dude was good scrambling around, making things happen,'' White said of Wilson. "He's a great player, one of the greatest I've ever played.''
But Wilson smelled blood in the water when he saw Dean making his first start. "Oh, he's going to grow tremendously,'' Winston said of Dean. "I believe he's an incredible talent and it shows him having the ability to persevere, him knowing they're coming at him. He made some key stops for us as well. Just that sudden change. Him not knowing that hey, I'm a starter. But he went out there and did a good job to me. Obviously, we all have things we've got to get better and learn from. But hats off to him, all the young guys that had to step up in crunch time. (Five) young guys having to step up against one of the best teams in the NFL. We fought hard, we just have to find a way to pull it off.''
White made some mistakes as well. This is becoming a theme, where the Bucs' defense under Todd Bowles is just not good enough to get the big stop to win the game in the fourth quarter or overtime.
"We're getting better but we're right there,'' White said. "It's time to keep taking the extra step and finish the game. Everybody said the Seahawks are one of the best teams, but we just had them. We had them on the ropes, we've just got to knock people out when we have them on the ropes.''