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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Todd Bowles: Bucs Looking in the Mirror on Monday

After a fourth straight loss in Week Nine, the Buccaneers are searching for answers as to how to get a complete effort from the offense and the defense in the same game


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost four straight after an encouraging 3-1 start to the 2023 season, but the most recent loss was not like the three that preceded it. Against Detroit, Atlanta and Buffalo, the Buccaneers failed to score more than 18 points in each contest, but the defense was generally stingy enough to keep the games close to the end. In Houston in Week Nine, the offense exploded for a season-high 37 points and delivered a four-point lead with 46 seconds left but the defense couldn't hold it.

It is obviously frustrating for players and coaches alike that the team has not been able to execute well enough on both sides of the ball in any given game to secure a win over the last month. That's a frustration best symbolized by the infrequently-penalized Lavonte David drawing a flag for slamming his helmet to the turf on the Texans' game-winning pass with six seconds left. Now the Bucs are left trying to channel that emotion into the self-evaluation and search for answers the team needs to get back on track.

"We've got to make plays, we haven't made them," said Head Coach Todd Bowles on Monday after the 39-37 defeat in Houston. "It's been a struggle. It's been a struggle. We didn't play well yesterday at all,  giving up too many big plays. I think there were nine big pass plays over coverages we have been doing since Day One. It's not a communication thing. Sometimes you have to look yourself in the mirror – as a player, as a coach, as a team – and we're doing that. We're doing that today and we'll make sure it gets done."

The Bucs' frustration in recent weeks has been magnified by the general feeling that the team has practiced and prepared well but has been unable to duplicate those efforts when the plays matter. Bowles noted in his postgame press conference on Sunday that the Bucs had specifically and repeatedly worked on defending some of the big plays that Houston hit on in the passing game and should have been able to stop them.

View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 9 matchup vs. the Houston Texans.

"You've got to carry it to the game," he said. "We practice hard all week, we practice [well] all week, and in the game, we've got to make plays. All of it [falls] under execution. It all falls under that, and it's all things that we've done a million times. We've got to play it better, and evidently, we've got to coach it better."

Against the Texans, Tampa Bay's offense showed signs of improvement in some areas that had been lacking in the three previous weeks. The run game produced a handful of chain-moving plays, including runs of 16, 11 and 11 by Rachaad White. In five red zone trips, the Bucs scored four touchdowns and a field goal. Multiple players came up with clutch plays just when the team needed them the most. And while the Bucs did still draw nine penalties for 90 yards, only one was a procedural flag on the offense. Third downs remained an issue (3-13), but two successful fourth-down tries kept a pair of touchdown drives alive.

Unfortunately, C.J. Stroud and the Texans' offense caught fire in the second half and finished the game with 496 yards of total offense. That included 443 net passing yards, the fifth most Tampa Bay has ever given up in a game. The game turned on Houston's first play of the second half, when Noah Brown caught an intermediate-level pass crossing right to left and was able to get around the defense and run down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown.

"It's very disappointing, especially since they have been keeping us in games the past couple of weeks, but yesterday it fell apart," said Bowles of the defense's second-half troubles. "It was the offense's turn to play well and defense didn't play well. We've got to play well together.

"The other games we, were in, we had a shot to win, and holding it down pretty [well]. This game right here, especially in the second half, I think once the first play happened – the big play in the second half to Noah, I think – I think it kind of derailed a little bit. Then, calls we have been running since we've been here, everybody knows them, we've been through the situations a thousand times. We've got to coach it better, evidently, and we've got to play it better."

As Bowles noted, the Buccaneers are still very much in the NFC South title race despite their recent struggles. New Orleans won on Sunday to improve to 5-4 while Atlanta lost to fall to 4-5. With nine games still to play, the Bucs are 1.5 games behind the Saints and already have a head-to-head win against them. They have four more division games to play, including two against the 1-7 Panthers.

"Right now, our urgency is to fix the things that went wrong yesterday and the past few weeks and get ready for Tennessee," said Bowles when asked about the possibility of getting back into the division race. "All of that other stuff will come later.

"It's not falling on deaf ears. We've got some very attentive guys and we've got some leadership in that room that take full responsibility, and they understand what we have to do as a team – that's getting across. We've just got to play better."

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