Mistake prone Bucs fall to playoff bound Cowboys
Roy Cummings, Florida Football Insiders, published 24 December 2018

The day started with a report from NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport claiming the Bucs owners have not ruled out giving beleaguered head coach Dirk Koetter another year at the helm of their team. Coming in the wake just a week ago of a report that said the Glazers were already scanning the landscape for possible replacements for Koetter, it was a curious report. But hereís why it makes sense:

Let me remind you yet again that Koetter is the architect of the offense that for weeks was the top yard-producing offense in the NFL this year and remains on pace to be the most productive in team history. In a league where the rules favor offensive play, it wouldnít be the worst idea to hold on to an offensive-minded coach who is on the brink of producing his sixth career top-10 offense and third in the last four years.

Another reason the Glazers may be leaning toward keeping Koetter is because, they donít like the field of candidates theyíll likely be choosing from should they opt to let Koetter go. Itís already been decided that in Baltimore, John Harbaugh will return for the 2019 season. Likewise, it appears Dan Quinn will be retained in Atlanta for another year. That may not leave much.

Thereís talk that Ron Rivera may be let go in Carolina, but given the field of candidates, itís hard to believe the Panthers would let go of a coach who has consistently kept them in the playoff hunt. Now, it would not be out of the realm of possibility for the Glazers to make a play for the latest hot coordinator or some college coach, but theyíve taken that route several times before and come up with nothing.

There is good reason to believe then that the Bucs best bet may be to simply hold on to Koetter and see if arming him with a better defensive coordinator, more defensive talent and a competent kicker will right the ship. On the other hand, the Bucs are still a very mistake-prone team (which falls on the coaching staff) and it was their mistakes that cost them during their 27-20 loss to the Cowboys in Dallas on Sunday.

With the win, the Cowboys secured the NFC East Championship and qualified for the playoffs. While playing mostly for pride, the Bucs outgained the Cowboys by a wide margin and outplayed them throughout most of the game, but nine penalties, two lost fumbles and a missed field goal spelled doom. Gee, sound familiar?

This has pretty much been the problem for the Bucs all year. Early on, it was mistakes by the defense that cost them. Then their quarterbacks took turns screwing up. Of course, their kickers have always had a hand, er foot, in things. The biggest issues Sunday were the penalties, which included a holding penalty that wiped out a 31-yard run and a delay of game on fourth-and-1 from at the Cowboys 2, and those two giveaways, both of which led to touchdowns.

The point here is that talent is not the problem for the Bucs. As theyíve proven across the course of the year, theyíre talented enough to compete with playoff caliber teams such as New Orleans, Philadelphia and Dallas. What they arenít is talented enough to overcome their own mistakes and beat playoff caliber teams. That has been prove out over the course of the season and it was proved out yet again on Sunday.

You really have to give the Bucs defense credit for bouncing back Sunday. That unit started horribly, allowing gains of 31, 11, 11 and 10 yards while also committing two penalties on its way to surrendering a touchdown on its first series. After that, the Cowboys gained 7, 18, 5, 13, 5, 56, 4, 29 and 11 yards respectively during their subsequent nine possessions and scored just 13 points, seven of which came after a fumble recovery at the Bucs 4.

The rebound was part of a much bigger rebound that has been ongoing since Mark Duffner took over as the Bucs defensive coordinator from fired Mike Smith and could play into the decision to keep Koetter as well. Itís likely the Bucs could do much better than Duffner as a defensive coordinator, but simply by adding a few more pieces Duffner could make the defense respectable and respectable may be enough to make the Bucs relevant.

Speaking of the defense, Vita Vea is starting to quiet the critics who believe the Bucs missed big by drafting him 12th overall last spring. He may never quiet the critics who wanted Derwin James, but his three-tackle, one-sack, one-tackle-for-loss game against Dallas was a big reason why the Bucs stayed close with the Cowboys and why thereís reason to believe that better things are yet to come for the big defensive tackle.

Bobo Wilson cost the Bucs a critical score when he fumbled a handoff on an end around late in the game Sunday, but other than that he turned in a pretty good game. He immediately the Bucs in position for their first score with a 38-yard kick return, caught two passes for 28 yards, including a big 25-yarder late in the game and even had a special teams tackle.

The Bucs offensive line continues to underperform. Quarterback Jameis Winston was under siege all day again on Sunday, when he was thrown for three sacks, hit nine times and knocked down at least a dozen times. And that may not have been the worst of it. They were also flagged for four holding penalties, including one that wiped out a 31-yard run by Peyton Barber at a time when the Bucs were still in contention. No unit has underperformed more this year than the offensive line, which needs a major overhaul during the offseason.

Adam Humphries continues to be one of the best players in the NFL who no one outside of his own city wants to talk about. He caught a team-high 10 passes for 79 yards Sunday and showed yet again that heís as tough as any receiver in the league when he not only held on to the ball but bounced back from a vicious hit to the head and shoulder area that earned the Cowboys an unnecessary roughness penalty. Donít be surprised if Humphries isnít the first player the Bucs re-sign this offseason.

Brent Grimes played like a rookie Sunday. He was never sharp and was particular dull when he took horribly poor angles on two key plays back-to back late in the game. After being beaten badly on a critical third down with six minutes left in the fourth quarter on a pass to Cole Beasley, Grimes took yet another poor angle that allowed Ezekiel Elliott to run for yet another first down all but sealing the Bucs fate. Grimes gave the Bucs two great years, but this team would have been better off without him this year

Given the lack of protection, Winston turned in quite a good game Sunday. Yes, he was responsible for one of the Bucs two giveaways, but in completing 34 of his 48 passes for 336 yards, a touchdown and no picks he produced a 97.2 passer rating and was one of the big reasons the Bucs hung in as long as they did against the Cowboys.