It was a special day on Sunday when the Buccaneers honored one of the greatest players to ever put on a Bucs uniform, Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks, during a special halftime ceremony.
Unfortunately, the action during the two halves of play that bracketed that halftime ceremony was not as special and the Bucs now find themselves 0-2 after losing to the St. Louis Rams, 19-17. As coaches and players review the game film, the answers to the test are always revealed. There's a fine line in every NFL football game. On any given Sunday, regardless of what team or players you're playing against, the team that makes the fewest mistakes will, more than not, raise the ball up at the end of the fourth quarter with a win. After reviewing the coaches film, I leave Sunday's loss with the following key takeaways.
1) BOBBY RAINEY STEPPED UP:
With starting tailback Doug Martin inactive, Bobby Rainey was asked to give the Bucs offense a boost. One of my keys to the game was to establish the line of scrimmage and have success against the Rams defense. Rainey played exceptional in a losing effort. He rushed for 144 yards on 22 carries. The offensive line, especially on the left side with Logan Mankins and Anthony Collins, created some great running lanes and the team took advantage of that throughtout.
2) POOR SPECIAL TEAMS:
This game illustrated that the performance of the special teams can be magnified tenfold when not played properly. Two blocked kicks proved costly for the Bucs in a very tight game yesterday.
First, the the Bucs gave up a blocked punt. We allowed an underneath move by one of the Rams rushers and he was able to get to our punter and block the kick. Then, we gave up a blocked field goal. Field goal protection must be treated like it's the most important play in the football game for each and every player on the protection unit. Every man must properly seal their gaps or run the risk of getting the kick blocked. Edge pressure was not protected and it proved to be costly. As Head Coach Lovie Smith said, it was an important play in the game because it ultimately was the deciding three points the Bucs needed.
3) PROTECT THE FOOTBALL:
Turnovers will kill any team's chances to win a football game. If they occur in the red zone, they can prove to be devastating. In the second quarter, the Buccaneers found themselves with first and goal on the nine-yard line. Josh McCown rolled out to the right and tried to throw a ball back to Vincent Jackson. The ball was intercepted and the Buccaneers missed out on another opportunity to score in the red zone. Josh needs to be smarter in that situation and throw the football away. With three more downs, you need to live to play another play. After two weeks, he must improve in that area. Overall the Buccaneers scored 3 of 5 times in the red zone. Between the blocked field goal and the INT, those plays alone cost the Bucs a minimum of 6 points, which they desperately needed.
4) INJURY BUG:
The coaches or player will never make excuses for injuries as a reason why their team struggles. But with that, anytime you have only one starting defensive lineman playing (DT Gerald McCoy left with a broken hand in the first quarter) and your middle linebacker is down, it can be a struggle. To the credit of the defense, they held the Rams to four field goals and gave up only one touchdown in the first series of the game. The Bucs will need to lean on their backup players to fill in and be solid contributors moving forward. It's not the ideal situation to be in, but these players need to hold the fort down until the cavalry returns.
Overall, anytime you turn the ball over and have two mishaps on special teams, any team in the NFL would find it hard to win the game. Still, there were several positives in the football game. The running game was much improved and the offensive line played their best game to date. These two things alone will have us in every football game moving forward. On the flip side, the Bucs must clean up their special teams play and protect the football. All of these things can be corrected in practice this week and the team must carry that onto the field Thursday night.