It’s about setting the tone for next year, you know.
Bears 26 – Bucs 21
After being eliminated last week from any sort of pie-in-the-sky playoff contention following their loss to the St. Louis Rams before a Thursday night national audience, the Bucs still had two games to go before we can pull the curtain on yet another season of dashed hopes. All that was left was to play for a bit of pride, perhaps finish the year at .500, and maybe secure some records and recognition for a few key, well-performing players. This, while getting an opportunity to further evaluate the team’s young, burgeoning talent and set up some things for next year.
Not a particularly bad plan, really. They even managed to do some of those things.
Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and running back Doug Martin, two players who’ve shown resiliency all season, were held largely in check. Winston threw for nearly 300 yards and two TDs, though he did toss an interception, and the scores and yards he collected did not come easy as he struggled throughout the day to connect with his receivers. The consistently dependable Martin, who came into the game hoping to snag the NFL rushing title, was held to just 49 yards on 17 carries with two heartbreaking fumbles along the way.
Despite taking an early lead thanks to a blocked punt deep in Bears territory which allowed the Bucs to score a quick touchdown, Tampa’s defense had a rough day keeping Chicago QB Jay Cutler and his offense in check. Couple that with three Bucs turnovers, and that was pretty much all she wrote.
Of course, today’s loss ensures the Bucs will notch their fifth consecutive losing season. There’s no question that the team is very much improved following last year’s 2-14 debacle, and yes, they’ve one more games this year than they have since the 2012-2013 season.
This third consecutive loss drops the Bucs to 6-9 on the year. As I write this, New Orleans is about to win over the Jacksonville Jaguars and approve their own record to 6-9. After being destroyed a couple of weeks ago by Carolina, the Atlanta Falcons redeemed themselves and improved to 8-7 by serving those same Panthers their first loss of the season.
Next up for the Bucs? They close out their season on the road against Carolina, in a game that’s meaningless for both teams, albeit for different reasons. The Panthers and their league-best record have secured a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and it’s likely that the starters will only play a portion of the game. Meanwhile, the Bucs will be hoping to reach 7-9 and end things on a high note.
I’ll probably just go see Star Wars again.