In some ways, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' unpleasantly surprising 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night was a game nearly unique in franchise history. Tampa Bay players and coaches, and certainly their fans, would like to keep it that way.
There have been occasional blowouts over 45 seasons, of course, in both the win and loss columns. At the time, the Buccaneers' 38-10 dismantling of Green Bay in Week Six seemed almost equally surprising as the Saints game. On the negative side, the Bucs have now lost by 35 or more points 11 times, this one the first since 2018 in Chicago. Most of the times, though, those lopsided games belonged to Tampa Bay teams that didn't seem to have a postseason destiny.
Of the previous 10 such losses, only three were suffered by a Bucs team that went into the game with a winning record. And two of those three wre early in seasons that would go on to losing overall records – a 2-1 squad in 2018 and a 3-1 team in 2011.
The only other time that Tampa Bay has lost a game by 35 points despite having a winning record by the season's midpoint or later was in 1999. The 9-4 Buccaneers went to Oakland in Week 15 riding a six-game winning streak and somehow left with a 45-0 defeat. It wasn't a turning point; the Bucs won their next two games to close out the season and then beat Washington in the playoffs to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
Obviously, the 2020 Buccaneers would like to see a similar pattern. They've already rebounded from their previous two losses with a pair of three-game winning streaks. Neither of those losses were nearly as upsetting, however. So what do the Buccaneers do now to move on in the way the 1999 team did?
Own it, says Head Coach Bruce Arians. Don't let it define you, but try to define why it happened.
"Learn from it," said Arians. "You don't bury your head in the sand; you own it. You go in, you look at the tape, you figure out what went right, what went wrong, and then you move on to the next ballgame. That's the beauty for players and coaches – it's a 24-hour thing. You get to look at it, grade it and then you move on."
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 9 matchup against New Orleans.
Inside linebacker Lavonte David, a team captain and the longest tenured Buccaneer, started drilling that message home almost immediately, though the whole team had to come to the office on Monday to break down the film.
"Most definitely," said David. "I talked to the guys already – this is over with. We played last night [and] it wasn't the outcome that we wanted. After we watched the film, we got together – it's over with. Talked to our coaches, watched the film, examined it, did what we had to do, talked it out. We know what we did wrong and we know what we can do better, so that's over with."
After Tampa Bay's narrow 25-23 win over the Giants on Monday Night Football in Week Eight, Arians said that he has always felt a team learned more from almost losing than actually losing. There was nothing "almost" about Sunday night's loss, but there are still lessons to be had. After getting progressively better defensive results from the midpoint of last season into the first half of this one, it was clear that better communication between the different positions was helping to tighten up that unit. Sunday's game was a setback in that regard – Drew Brees completed 29 of 35 passes, often to men with no defenders nearby – which means communication will once again be a seriuos focus this week in practice and going forward.
"We got him off the spot, but Drew did a great job last night of moving in the pocket and still being accurate," said Arians. "Guys were getting ready to hit him and he threw some really good balls down the field accurately. It was the best I've seen him play in a while. Defensively, our safeties and our inside linebackers did not play very well. There was really, really poor communication."
David agreed with Arians' assessment and doesn't think that issue is indicative of how the defense usually performs. But again, he and his teammates have to own it before moving on.
"Yeah, it was just uncharacteristic by both levels, linebackers and DBs," said David. "[We were] just doing things that's uncommon from us. It's definitely something that we learned from, especially after watching film today. It's something that's not in our character. Whatever it may be that happened yesterday, we've just got to let it go, get it out of our heads and move forward from it. But it's definitely something that we learned from.
The communication problems didn't allow the defense to play as a cohesive unit and led to some players trying to do too much. David said that as things started to go poorly some Buccaneers strained to play a "perfect" game, and it backfired.
"The biggest lesson is we're just going to need everybody," he said. "Week to week, we're going to need everybody to be on their A-game – whatever it may be mentally [or] physically. Whoever is out there on the field, all 11 guys are going to have to be playing as one. Yesterday we didn't play as one [and] we didn't play as a unit. That's just something that we have to get better at, and it starts at practice. Don't get me wrong – last week at practice, coach said that our practice was great. But, for some reason, it didn't carry over to the field. We just have to get that fixed and everything else will take care of itself."
The loss dropped the Buccaneers to 6-3 and a half game behind the Saints in the NFC South and a half-game behind New Orleans, Seattle and Green Bay for the best record in the conference. Since the NFL went to six playoff teams per conference in 1990, almost 75% of the 140 teams that have started 6-3 have gone on to the postseason…and that was before the field was expanded to seven teams per conference this year. The Buccaneers would have been in the driver's seat in the division and in pole position in the NFC with a win; it didn't happen, but the team's goals are still well within reach.
"I think one of the biggest things is to stay healthy – especially in your lines of scrimmage and your quarterback," said Arians. "For us, just win the next one. We're sitting in a pretty good spot right now. [It] could have been better, but we're still in a really good spot. It's just focus and win the next ballgame."