And we’re back!
A new season! A new attitude! It’s time to unfurl our flags, load our cannons, and set sail for another 17 weeks of glorious gridiron action! The very air is alive with the sweet smell of victory as we begin our quest for the post-season promised land!
Wait, what? We lost? To the Jets? Shit.
Jets 18 – Bucs 17
I really don’t care about the yardage or the pass completions or the number of first downs or the third down conversion rate, because while looking over the stats for today’s game, by and large the Bucs and the Jets were fairly balanced across the board in those areas. However, one stat did stand out for me, and so far as I’m concerned it’s the main reason the Bucs lost what should have been a very winnable game to open the season:
13 PENALTIES – 102 YARDS
Yep. Penalties. Thirteen of them, in case that number boggled your mind a bit.
A few of them could be chalked up to “first day jitters,” but more than a few were just ridiculous, and the final one on the day was as inexcusable as it was stupid.
Let’s be clear. The Bucs had this game all but sewn up, leading 17-15 with 34 seconds to go after Tampa kicker Ryan Lindell notched the go-ahead score. All the Bucs had to do was contain the ensuing kick-off and not give up any big plays which might allow the Jets to get into field goal range. Easier said than done, of course, but you figure this is a scenario which might have come up a time or two in practice. Just sayin’, particularly given the Bucs’ historic reliance on close games and the defense tasked with shouldering the burden for preserving whatever slim lead the offense is able to secure.
Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith, after scrambling ten yards and getting out of bounds after getting into Bucs territory with only seven seconds left to play, got pushed in the back by Tampa linebacker Lavonte David after he’d already left the field of play.
It’s a dumb move anytime, but in a situation like this, it’s a mistake with the potential to turn the tables on you in short order, which is exactly what happened. With an extra 15 yards tacked on to the end of the play following the penalty, the Jets advanced to within the range of their kicker, Nick Folk, who quite properly drilled the winning field goal, leaving the Bucs just four seconds on the clock to wonder what the hell had just happened.
Despite a handful of key goofs throughout the day, there were some positives on the Bucs’ side of the ball. Though enduring three sacks and an interception, quarterback Josh Freeman still managed to rack up 210 passing yards, while running back Doug Martin struggled early on, losing the handle a couple of times but still recording 65 yards on 24 carries.
Meanwhile, the Tampa defense, aside from the costly penalties, also had a pretty solid day. Five sacks of Jets QB Smith while collecting an interception and a couple of fumbles. They also kept the score close throughout the game, providing plenty of opportunities for the Bucs to seize and retain control. In truth, it’s unfair to blame the loss on a single late penalty, because Tampa had plenty of chances to put this thing away for good, but we all know that last drive is what’ll make the highlight reel.
Elsewhere in the NFC South, New Orleans beat division rival Atlanta and Carolina lost to Seattle, so it’s the Saints at 1-0 and everybody else fighting over cot space in the cellar. Next up for Tampa? Those same Saints for the Bucs home opener. The teams often split their two meetings each year, and it’s almost always a crapshoot so far as predicting a winner.
It’s a Bucs life, yo (ho).