So, you know….things took a turn.
Cowboys 26 – Bucs 20
Nobody can say the Bucs didn’t have their chances. They had plenty, including the last real scoring drive of the game and a chance to stage a comeback victory. But, it wasn’t to be. There were several reasons for this, but the main one? Dude by the name of David Irving, who decided–apparently all on his own–that he was going to be a one-man wrecking crew pretty much every play he was on the field during the fourth quarter. From the looks of things, the Dallas defensive lineman and Tampa quarterback Jameis Winston got very well acquainted during that final period. Winston saw more of Irving than he did his own center, for crying out loud.
Winston had his moments, to be sure, including a truly impressive scoring drive to open the third quarter when he led the Bucs offence 89 yards to pay dirt. Tampa’s strategy of going with a “hurry-up” offensive attack served them well here, keeping the Cowboys off-balance and not allowing them to substitute players while taking advantage of the resulting mismatches in downfield coverage. The tactic was nearly flawless, allowing Winston to march the Bucs right down the field almost at will. So, naturally, Tampa head coach Dirk Koetter and offensive coordinator Todd Monken chose not to repeat the approach again. Go figure. I mean, you have to wonder if employing that scheme might’ve done at least something to mitigate David Irving, who proceeded to dial it up to 11 and wreak hell in the Bucs backfield.
Instead, Winston finished with 17 completions on 35 pass attempts for 247 yards and two touchdown throws (both of them pretty sweet, considering one was broken up and receiver Adam Humphries still managed to haul it in). All of that was mitigated by three costly interceptions, including one in the final thirty seconds which sealed the deal and allowed Dallas to take a knee to end the game.
Winston also endured four sacks, and lost a fumble while being swarmed in the pocket, which raises another question: Several of his solid plays (not counting at least one of the picks) came when he was out of the pocket and passing on the run, whereas he was getting consistently harassed during his straight drop-backs. He has the ability to make things happen when he swings out to the flanks, so why not design more plays for this? The Bucs offensive line proved only marginally capable of providing pocket protection, and things went right in the crapper once David Irving began asserting himself in the second half.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Thanks to the defense–who even while operating below the level they’ve established during the past several weeks–still managed to keep things close enough that Winston and the offense had their chances to bring home the win. There’s a lot of raw material on both sides of the ball here that’s on the cusp of evolving into something great, and besides…we’ve still got two more games to go, this year.
However, the road to the playoffs is now just a bit more bumpy.
Depending on what happens tonight, the Bucs could find themselves on the outside looking in so far as post-season seeding is concerned. Their loss, in addition to snapping their five-game win streak, drops them to 8-6 and a full game behind Atlanta in the NFC South division. If Washington loses tonight, they’ll be back in it, occupying the second Wild card slot, but as we’ve mentioned already, there’s still two games to go.
Next up? The Bucs are in New Orleans on Saturday (aka, “Christmas Eve”). Winning this along with their season closer at home against the Carolina Panthers on New Year’s Day, is the best they can do to solidify their playoff hopes, but they’ll also need help in the form of losses by Washington and Green Bay though the Bucs currently hold a tie-breaker if it comes down to them and the Packers. Of course, if Atlanta wants to tank their last couple of games and give Tampa the division title, that’d be okay too, but let’s not ask for too much, right?
Gonna be a close one folks…maybe even right down to the wire.
Bucs life. Grr. Argh.