Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand that’ll just about do it.
Bucs 17 – Panthers 16
Sure, the Bucs needed this win to help they’re playoff chances, but they went into yesterday’s game with the deck stacked against them – including cards from a bunch of other decks, because why not – so far as any post-season plans were concerned. The odds of all the dominoes falling just the right way were astronomical in a way that makes a voyage to Saturn look like ducking over to the 7-Eleven for a pack of smokes.
And of course, the odds were not overcome.
Despite the disappointment of staying home to watch yet another post-season on TV, the Bucs have much to be happy with, and much to work with as they look to next year. After a rocky start and looking oblivion in the eye very early on, Tampa was able to turn things around and make a serious run for the playoffs. They end their season with a 9-7 record under first-year head coach Dirk Koetter — including a truly impressive 5-game winning streak in the season’s second half — and with a lot of potential when they start scheming for 2017.
Quarterback Jameis Winston, though still rough around some of the edges, made great strides to improve his game. His work during the off-season was evident with respect to his presence in the pocket along with his response to pass pressure. What will need definite improvement is his awareness when on the move and finding ways to protect or get rid of the ball when he’s flushed out of the pocket. He had a couple of truly stellar performances where he was able to guide his team to late-game comeback victories, there were also a tad too many instances where poor choices resulted in costly turnovers or other heartbreaking drive-killers.
A lot of these points can be addressed by giving Winston additional offensive weapons. The Bucs need to look at finding another receiver to complement Vincent Jackson and workhorse Mike Evans. Winston and Evans in particular found a rhythm that provided the Bucs offense with some nice options downfield, so building on that is definitely a priority.
Likewise, the running back situation will need shoring up. Doug Martin, a solid back who’s had a hand in much of Tampa’s recent successes, did not have a good year. Jacquizz Rodgers helped to cover that gap, and he was a damned freight train against the Panthers on Sunday. The Bucs will be courting him heavily to stay with them rather than lose him to free agency. As for Martin, he’ll be on the bench for the first three games of the 2017 season as he serves a suspension related to substance abuse issues. There’s been some (minor) talk that Tampa might part ways with him, but for the moment I’m not giving such gossip a lot of credence. Still, another back to either partner with or replace him and Rodgers has to be an item on any Bucs offensive coordinator’s shopping list.
On defense, give it up for safety Keith Tandy. That dude was one of the key drivers for the Bucs D finding the right gear. Moreover, the whole unit’s performance against Carolina capped off a year of steady, solid improvement that shows a potential for returning to the dominating, crushing defenses that Tampa used to field as a matter of course. Three interceptions of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, two sacks, and a highlight reel-worthy goal line stand at the end of the game to deny Carolina a two-point conversion and the victory. Sure, there were a few missteps throughout the year, but overall? Yeah, there’s a lot there for next year. Bring it.
So, yeah, I’m bummed that the Bucs are done for the year, but unlike past seasons, I’m optimistic about what we might see in the fall when all of this rolls back around. I’ll furl my colors and lower my sails, and I’ll do it not with despair but instead anticipation.
Besides, I still have beach volleyball season to look forward to, right?
Bucs Life, yo.