Lovie Smith met with the press on Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to the New York Giants, 32-18, at Raymond James Stadium. In the interim, Smith and his team had an opportunity to review the tape from that game and gain a more detailed understanding of how the Bucs let an opportunity for consecutive wins slip away.
So, upon further review, here are a few things Lovie Smith and the rest of us learned from – and/or what new questions were raised by – the Bucs' Week Nine loss to the Giants.
1. Cornerbacks Jude Adjei-Barimah and Sterling Moore may have earned even more exposure with their performances on Sunday.
Behind-the-scenes photos of the Buccaneers vs. Giants game at Raymond James Stadium on November 8th.
In a move that was not revealed publicly until shortly before kickoff on Sunday, Smith and his coaching staff chose to give the starts at cornerback to rookie Jude Adjei-Barimah and 2015 free agent acquisition Sterling Moore. Those two replaced incumbent starters Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins, each of whom played only sparingly during the game. Alterraun Verner remained in his relatively new role as the nickel back.
Smith said that Adjei-Barimah and Moore had earned an opportunity to see if they could make a difference for a secondary that has struggled through much of the 2015 season.
"We haven't played the type of defense we would like to play and we will eventually play," said Smith. "If you're not, you continue to look for different combinations at certain times. There are a lot of different reasons why you go a certain way.
"We do value what a player does through the week all the way up until the Saturday practice – his preparation all the way up to the last meeting before Saturday night's meeting. We base who starts and who plays on all of that. Sometimes guys haven't had a true chance to show you what they can do and they get their chance, they do something that makes you look at them more. That's a good thing for us."
The Bucs' defensive results weren't perfect, though the final score looked worse thanks a last-play fumble return touchdown by the Giants. The Bucs did hold Eli Manning to 213 yards and a 74.3 passer rating a week after he threw six touchdown passes in New Orleans, and they did get two important stops in the red zone. Smith doesn't plan to reveal whether or not Adjei-Barimah and Moore would remain in starting roles this week or beyond, but he did say the duo had made a positive impression.
"We liked that combination and like what they did yesterday," said Smith. "I don't go over things like that on what we're going to do this week. We'll see how that week plays out, but [I] like what they were able to do – some of the things that they did.
"I feel like they both played well. We have looked for different combinations back there. I like some of the things both of those guys did yesterday."
Moore getting a significant amount of playing time is a development that could have been predicted in the spring and summer, given that the team signed him away from the Dallas Cowboys as an unrestricted free agent. Adjei-Barimah, on the other hand, didn't sign with the Buccaneers as an undrafted rookie until just before the start of training camp, and he was on the practice squad for the first three weeks of the regular season.
However, after logging just a single offensive snap in each of his first two NFL games in Weeks Four and Five, Adjei-Barimah has seen his workload increase every week. He got on the field for 25 snaps in the Week Eight win over Atlanta and was in the lineup for all but two of Sunday's defensive plays.
"Jude has been one of those guys – we had a lot of free agent-type players that came in and they had traits that we liked," said Smith. "Sometimes when you have traits and you are down on the depth chart it takes a while before you get your opportunity to play, but when you do get your chance you do something with it. That wasn't an All-Pro performance by Jude or anything yesterday, but we like some of the things that he did."
2. While some new contributors are emerging, the Buccaneers still need a lot more from their two defensive cornerstones.WATCH: BUCS-GIANTS PRESS CONFERENCES* *In the last calendar year, both defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David have signed new long-term contracts with the Buccaneers, and they were well-deserved deals in each case. McCoy and David man perhaps the two most important positions in the Bucs' defense, and each has done so at an All-Pro level. Tampa Bay is trying to restore its defense to the dominant force it was for a decade in the '90s and '00s, and to do so they'll need to build it around McCoy and David.
During the 2015 season, however, neither McCoy nor David has produced at quite the levels to which they and the team had become accustomed. McCoy has played through a shoulder injury since the second week of the season and he is second on the team with 4.5 sacks, but he has not brought down an opposing QB down since Week Five. David is the team's leading tackler, as expected, with 69 stops and he also has a sack, three tackles for loss, five passes defensed and a forced fumble. The multiple big plays for which David has become known, however, have been considerably less frequent.
The Bucs need more from McCoy and David in 2015, and Smith knows they will get it.
"Wish I knew the answer for that," said Smith concerning the less-dominant play of that duo. "We do have high expectations. They have high expectations for themselves. Lavonte David missed some tackles yesterday. He was in position to make some other plays. Sometimes it just doesn't happen for whatever reason. It eventually will happen. Lavonte is a great player, same thing for Gerald."
And, of course, both McCoy and David are capable of having a significant impact on the game without it necessarily being glaringly obvious on the stat sheet. McCoy, for instance, commonly eats up double-team blockers, which theoretically should help his fellow pass-rushers. David is playing alongside a rookie middle linebacker in Kwon Alexander and, having been the defensive play-caller before, can help get his teammates in position. And, of course, neither McCoy nor David are alone in producing less-than-expected results on defense.
"I think you have to be careful sometimes when you just look at the stat sheet," said Smith. "Forgetting just the stat sheet, both of those guys would say it's not good enough, just like very few of our defensive players would say that. Very few of our players in general would say that. When you have three wins, very few of us have played exactly the way we should, but that's at the halfway point. That's how we are. We'll see improved play from these guys."
3. The Bucs still haven't found a way to win consecutive games, but by the same token they've proved that they can rebound from a tough week.
Tampa Bay has had three chances this season to follow up a win with another win, and they've yet to capitalize on one. Obviously, the team's hopes of returning to playoff contention can't be fulfilled until it can start stringing together consecutive victories.
The silver lining in an up-and-down season, perhaps, is that the team has had experiencing coming back from a tough loss, and has proved quite capable of turning things around quickly. A runaway Tennessee Titans win at Raymond James Stadium in Week One might have seemed demoralizing on the surface, but the Bucs stole a huge division win at New Orleans seven days later. Tampa Bay thought it had a chance to upset division-leading Carolina in Week Four only to see that chance extinguished by a sudden rash of turnovers. The next week, the Bucs went without a giveaway and scored 38 points in a win over Jacksonville. Even the Week Seven loss at Washington, which included the surrender of a 24-point lead, was followed immediately by a road victory at Atlanta over a 6-1 division foe.
The Bucs will try once again to start a winning streak in Week 10, and they should at least be confident they can get the first victory when the Dallas Cowboys visit.
"Right now, what we have figured out though is how to have a disappointing loss and come back and win the following week," said Smith. "First step for us is to get back to that place. After that, we'll work on trying to get two consecutive wins together. Right now it's about one. It's about the Cowboys coming into town. [They are a] good football team. Their record doesn't show it. There are a lot of us in the league right now [that are] a team that could be a good football team that hasn't played that way. [It's] another opportunity for us. Eventually, whether it be penalties, dropping into coverage, who we put out on the football field – eventually all that will come together and we'll get a win."