It wasn’t a game they were supposed to win. And pundits relax – they didn’t. The Buccaneers fell 35-26 to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay machine, but Tampa left Lambeau with more than a tally in the loss column; they played with more confidence and passion than they had all year, and delivered a performance that would’ve beaten any other team in the NFL.
Twice this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been accused of giving up during a game. Surrendering. Rolling over and submitting. Against the Texans, it took Albert Haynesworth to provide the voice of reason for the young Buccaneer defense, despite having been signed only six days prior. Raheem Morris called the team out after the blowout loss to Houston, and — if only for a game — it worked.
And their energy was encapsulated in a single, frantic play. LeGarrette Blount secured a hand off, met two tacklers in the heart of the Packer defense, churned his legs, and broke through into the secondary. He was met by Morgan Burnett and Tramon Williams but powered immediately through them, burned down the sideline, juked Sam Shields, and stiff armed a Green Bay linebacker as he charged into the end zone.
They forewent the free agent rush, and now, the Bucs are paying for it. They decided to pass on Johnathan Joseph and, thankfully, Nnamdi Asomugha, and because of their reluctance, the rest of the league is passing on the Tampa defense.
The lack of depth in the defensive backfield is horrifying. E.J. Biggers has held his own for most of his brief career, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Buccaneers are deploying Biggers — a young, seventh-round draft pick — against superstar receivers every week. Biggers’s backup? Undrafted Elbert Mack and second-year underperformer Myron Lewis, who left the field with scorch marks on his uniform last Sunday.
The safety position is only slightly better, and it’s a concern that must be addressed in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Buccaneers are a retirement announcement and a guilty verdict away from fielding the worst set of cornerbacks in the league.
Fourth-and-three. Six minutes remaining. The Buccaneers trail by two scores near midfield, and…
… and they punt?
I can understand the onside kicks (even the ill-advised second attempt), but the punt completely contradicted Morris’s aggressive approach to the game. Luckily, Elbert Mack recorded an interception off Aaron Rodgers — a rarity for both parties — and awarded the Bucs new life. But punting the ball to the NFL’s top offense in the waning minutes of the contest is not a key to victory.
When the Tampa Bay offense was rolling like it was (the game marked the third time in team history where Tampa fielded a 300-yard passer, 100-yard receiver, and 100-yard rusher), earning three yards with the game on the line should be a no-brainer. If you’re going to throw the game away with onside kicks, Morris, lace your aggression with a little consistency.
Go for it next time.