I don't think anyone was anticipating the Buccaneers becoming the latest edition of 'this league' in which any given Sunday, anything can happen, but hey, here we are. The Bucs fell to the Football Team in Washington, 29-19, in the most uncharacteristic performance from all phases of the ball we've seen this season.
It wasn't just one issue that doomed the Bucs, either. It was a series of almost fluke circumstances, which also included a few fortunate bounces for the opponent, that culminated in the poor performance and in a weird way, that could be a good thing.
Good, of course, in the sense that they aren't likely to keep happening. Let's dive a little further into that with the top three takeaways below.
1. There weren't enough chances on offense to be successful.
The struggles of the offense in the loss can largely be contributed to the fact that there just wasn't a lot of offensive opportunity. Aggressiveness has become the calling card of this offense and we know how potent it can be. But with the Buccaneers committing two early turnovers, as quarterback Tom Brady said, they were never playing on their terms. For the first time all season the Bucs didn't score a point in the first quarter and getting down 13-0 to start the game made it hard to recover, essentially throwing off the entire game plan. It resulted in a season-low 47 offensive plays for a unit that is used to hovering around the 70-play mark.
Those aforementioned turnovers are partially to blame, helping to skew the time of possession battle in favor of Washington, 39:08 to the Bucs' 20:52. And once the Bucs got ahold of the ball, they weren't able to sustain drives, converting just four of 10 third-down attempts.
More than that, the Bucs seemingly couldn't fully take advantage of opportunities they did have. They made three trips inside the red zone and came away with a touchdown just once. Tampa Bay settled for field goals on the other two trips.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle the Bucs faced, offensively or defensively, was penalties… again. Looking at the stat sheet, Tampa Bay committed six penalties, resulting in 43 yards given to the opponent. While that stat has certainly looked worse at other points this season, It was when those penalties came that seemed to doom any momentum the Bucs would gather. The very first offensive play of the game, in fact, was a false start and it resulted in a three-and-out for the Bucs. In fact, four of the six were pre-snap penalties, which is a big no-no in Head Coach Bruce Arians' book and adds severity to the Bucs' self-inflicted wounds. Competitive penalties like pass interference or even holding, which happened to be the other two penalties the Bucs committed, can often be forgiven, or at the very least explained.
The penalties, the struggles on third down, the turnovers; those things all contributed to the simple lack of chances the offense had, which had domino effects for the defense.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week ten matchup vs. the Washington Football Team.
2. The defense couldn't get off the field, despite having a relatively successful pass rush.
Those 20-some extra plays the Bucs are used to having don't just affect the offensive side of the ball, of course. The defense was on the field a lot more, which means less rest and more opportunities for mistakes. They were strained early, contending with two turnovers that had Washington in Bucs' territory both times. The Football Team came away with 10 points off of those turnovers. Not to mention the defense was further strained by losing starting cornerback Richard Sherman
But the defense did itself no favors with those aforementioned penalties. Washington was given two first downs because of penalties that allowed them to extend productive drives. Two neutral zone infractions in the same second-quarter series allowed the home team to get within field goal range and ultimately come away with three points. A third-quarter pass interference call set Washington up at the one-yard line. The next play, running back Antonio Gibson was in the end zone. Three isn't an egregious number for defensive penalties but the timing and nature of them certainly impacted the game – and the scoreboard.
Then, there was the fact that Washington converted 11 third downs. It was out of 19 total attempts, giving them a 57.9% conversion rate, which again – isn't an egregious showing. The Bucs' defense had no problem forcing Washington into third-down situations and making them work for their production. The problem was that Washington proved up to the task.
It had a lot to do with quarterback Taylor Heinicke and his arm, too, which I'm not sure many people saw coming from the league's 20th-ranked passing offense. The Bucs only allowed an average of 2.8 yards per carry from the Football Team, so it was largely up to Heinicke to make plays through the air. He didn't do anything particularly flashy either, save for maybe a 20-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Carter in the second quarter. But Washington's longest play of the game was just 22 yards. The defense did a good job of limiting explosive plays while taking away the running game – with the exception of the final nearly 11-minute drive by Washington. Forty-two of their 94 rushing yards came in the fourth quarter, 40 of which in that final drive, which was perhaps the most uncharacteristic drive of the season for the Bucs' defense. It allowed Washington to secure the ball and the win but as Devin White said after the game:
"We still got a lot of games, still got a lot of football to play. Still in the playoff run, still got the same aspirations. Everything is gonna come together because with the great leadership on this team, we are going to hold each other accountable as captains. We're gonna come together and whatever it is we're gonna fix it. We know what we wanna get to and we know we got the team to get there. We just gotta do what we gotta do. It's nothing on the coaches, it's all players. That's all grit, hard work and whoever wants it the most."
3. The Bucs' shortcomings were uncharacteristic and hopefully regaining some healthy players will provide the team the boost it needs.
That final drive was just one of the aspects of the game that was uncharacteristic of the Bucs, which seemed to overshadow the more characteristic performances. The defense tallied 5.0 sacks, a season high, and even forced a turnover when inside linebacker Lavonte David punched the ball out of a Washington receiver's hands as safety Antoine Winfield Jr. recovered it. Devin White came away from the game with an incredible 18 combined tackles and 2.0 of those 5.0 aforementioned sacks. He was all over the place in a long-awaited breakout performance that was ultimately blemished by the loss.
On offense, two very pretty touchdown passes by Brady come with the caveat of the two interceptions Brady also threw – again uncharacteristic for a player now in full command of his offense. Wide receiver Mike Evans tied Mike Alstott's franchise record for touchdowns (71) on one of those pretty touchdowns, by the way. His 70 receiving touchdowns since he entered the league in 2014 are the most by any player in the league in that span. But Evans was only allowed two total catches on the day.
But the good news is that this one game doesn't define their season, as Evans put it following the game. And the Bucs can hopefully look forward to getting healthier going forward. Two players who are seemingly close to returning are wide receiver Scotty Miller and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting. Miller can add another element to the Bucs passing attack as Antonio Brown continues to rehab an ankle injury. Murphy-Bunting can aid a dilapidated secondary tremendously, especially with Dee Delaney suffering a concussion in Washington and the severity of Sherman's pregame calf injury unknown.
Arians said Monday that Vita Vea's knee injury, for which he was carted off the field at the end of the game, isn't severe and the cornerstone of the Bucs' defensive front shouldn't be out long-term. His status for next week is uncertain, though we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief there.
Regaining some stability at those key positions should make it so the loss to Washington becomes as uncharacteristic to the Bucs' record as the game itself was for each phase of the ball. It's important to hang onto that word, 'uncharacteristic,' because no one should think this is what the Bucs are as a team; the conservative play on offense, the defense's inability to get off the field despite their very much characteristic aggressiveness intact. It was a game they most certainly want back but at 6-3, the sky isn't falling and the Bucs have the chance to right the ship on Monday Night Football at home against the New York Giants in Week 11.