Buccaneers lose 3rd place in a row; What’s going on in Tampa Bay?

The Buccaneers are stagnant.

Thursday night’s 27-22 loss to the visiting Baltimore Ravens was another frustrating example of a team seemingly unable to pull things together — and eight games have already been played.

Nothing runs offensively, which in turn hits the other side of the ball. When the fourth quarter came in Tampa, the defense had been on the field for 59 games. Final possession time: Baltimore had 38:23 possession, Tampa Bay 21:37.

Even Ryan Fitzpatrick, a former quarterback for the Bucs (and eight other NFL teams), had no responses in his postgame comments. The buccaneers themselves could not muster any. It is the first time since 2002 that Tom Brady has lost three games in a row. It’s the first time in his career that he’s been below .500 for eight weeks. And there seems no end in sight. This is how the Bucs looked all season except for Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys. Her other two victories were not convincing either.

“I think we struggled with everything,” quarterback Tom Brady said after the game. “Struggled in the red, struggled in third, struggled in running game, two-point games, short mileage, backed up, first quarter start, third quarter start. Not very good attacking football.”

So what exactly needs to be fixed?

The offense itself is painfully one-dimensional. The only time this wasn’t the case was during the first few drives of the game, both of which ended in points. And remember, those first few are usually written in advance. The opening series for the Bucs offense was also even, containing four passes and five runs, including running back Leonard Fournette’s one-yard score.

Then the second drive, although they made it a field goal, faltered after five consecutive passes. Despite having a 10-3 lead, the Bucs inexplicably gave up the run all but completely. They finished the night for just 44 yards on 15 attempts.

Meanwhile, Brady attempted 44 passes and completed 26 of them for 325 yards and a touchdown. Receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin each caught just six of 11 targets. Essentially, Tampa only does one thing offensively — and not particularly well.

Perhaps the strangest thing is how much the chemistry between Brady and his recipients seems to have regressed. The above two are in their third year at Brady, so there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t all be on the same page. Julio Jones, who scored his first touchdown as a Buccaneer on Thursday night, is a consummate pro no matter who he plays for, so it shouldn’t take him half a season to get on the script with Brady. It’s more apparent than ever how much the 23-year veteran misses his safety net in Rob Gronkowski, who retired ahead of the season. Brady didn’t even have Cam Brate to fill in for Gronk this season due to injury.

Anyway, the timing throws that Brady loves so much aren’t there. But why they aren’t there is still a mystery. Is Brady’s internal clock speeding up because he doesn’t trust his protection? Is he holding the ball too long? Are his throws off target? Are his recipients just off the mark?

Or did the defense find them out because they don’t have to worry about the Bucs running the ball?

Maybe it’s all of the above.

It’s all the more puzzling that the Bucs can’t or won’t run the ball. If the passing game doesn’t work, switch it around. They’re last on offense this season, and it’s not because they lack the backbone. The team drafted Rachaad White in the third round to complement Fournette, who is said to be one of the most complete defenders in the league.

Given the Bucs’ ineffectiveness even when trying to run, it’s almost understandable that they’d go back to passing. After all, this crime was built on it. But Tampa was only four for 13 in third place. They rank 26th in the third-down conversion rate in the league at just 36.11%.

And then there’s the red zone.

Even when the Bucs do manage to get the ball moving around the field, most of the time they settle for a field goal. They convert just 47.37% of their trips to the red zone into touchdowns, which equates to 27th in the league. They rank 22nd in goal-to-go situations, converting just 63.6% of situations inside the 10-yard line into six points.

This can fall on the offensive line and how much she’s struggled this season without her center leader Ryan Jensen. While Robert Hainsey filled in admirably, the impact of losing a composer like Jensen cannot be overstated. The offensive line influences everything and provides an explanation for an offensive that just doesn’t work in all facets.

If it’s not the offensive line, then we might need to reconsider that the first few offensive drives of a game are often scripted. That means the team knows exactly what they’re about to run, regardless of what the opposing defense is doing. It’s a time to be able to evaluate and adapt. You see what works and what doesn’t, and then stick with the former. We just haven’t seen these adjustments happen within games.

The Ravens, on the other hand, did just that. They got away from themselves in the first half, passing the ball 32 times and running it just seven times. But injuries to their top receivers in tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Rashod Bateman forced them back to the ground in the second half. It could have just been the best thing that could have happened to them. Baltimore beat the home team 17-6 in the second half.

The Bucs are now on a 10-day hiatus before the Los Angeles Rams come to town. Maybe that’s enough time to make some serious adjustments.

“I think we’re going to try to figure everything out,” Brady said after the game. “I think we will try to make an assessment. We’ll have a little more time to see what we’re doing and how we can do better in the future.”

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen previously had stints with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl champion (and Boat Parade participant) to her resume. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.


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