Almost, but not quite.
Bengals 37 – Bucs 34
You wouldn’t know it to look at their record, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers actually have — as of this writing — the #3 offense in the NFL. That ranking takes into account a number of factors such as rushing and passing yards accumulated for the season and averaged per game, and total number of points for the season so far along with average number of points per game. Wins and losses don’t factor into the ranking.
Of course, wins and losses determine which teams get to the playoffs, so you know….perspective, and shit.
It was a rough day for Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, who despite completing 18 of 35 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown throw also tossed four — count ’em, four — interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. To be fair, the Cincinnati defense was on point most of the day, sacking Winston five times in and around all their other mischief. All of it was enough for the Bucs to bench Winston in the third quarter and sent in backup Ryan Fitzpatrick.
We all remember how Fitz started the season on fire before reality reasserted itself. However, for the second time in three games since Winston’s return, he was called upon to help dig the Bucs out of a pretty deep hole and damn if, as before, he didn’t almost pull it off. With Tampa down 34-16 following Winston’s pick-six, the Bucs defense managed to hold the Bengals at bay as Fitz went to work. He engineered three scoring drives (a field goal and two touchdowns, including a 2-point conversion to go with the second TD) to tie the game with just over 2 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. Now the stage was set for a possible defensive stop and either a go-ahead field goal or overtime, the Tampa D unfortunately couldn’t hold Cincinnati’s final offensive drive or their own field goal to seal the deal. Game over.
Damn. I mean….damn. That’s just a dick punch, right there.
The biggest question swirling around One Buc Place is whether Tampa has a “quarterback controversy.” Lots of people are down on Fitzpatrick over the long haul, and sure, the dude’s had his share of issues over his career, but the simple fact is that his stats right now are better than Winston’s. The numbers don’t lie, and at the season’s halfway point they should be weighing heavily on the minds of the Bucs coaching staff. I mean, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d certainly like to be seeing my guys playing football in January. Anybody else?
Whoever ends up under center next week is going to need some help, namely from the Tampa offensive line. The Bucs defense, once among the most feared in football, is a shadow of its former self. No longer the hungry, opportunistic squad of warriors who forced fumbles, antagonized quarterbacks and reduced them to tears by picking off their best passes, the Tampa D is there and fits and starts but otherwise acts like it’s hanging on by its fingernails. Something needs to change and damned fast.
Yesterday’s loss drops Tampa to 3-4 on the year and into the basement of the NFC South Division. New Orleans is about to run away with it, on a 6-game winning streak with no sign of stopping.
Next up? The Bucs travel to Charlotte to take on their division rival Carolina Panthers. To say a division win at this point in the season is vital would be an understatement. We’re already getting to the nitty gritty, y’all.
Bucs life, etc.
UPDATE: After I posted this, it was reported that Ryan Fitzpatrick will start this coming Sunday against the Panthers.