It’s time for Scott Reynolds’ post-game 2-Point Conversion column, which features two big statements, two probing questions and two bold predictions. The Bucs backups blew a 17-10 halftime lead as the Falcons scored 20 second-half points to win the season finale, 30-17. NFC South champion Tampa Bay focused on resting its starters and finished the season 8-9, while Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans all finished 7-10.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Brady, Bucs Offense Got Enough Work In Atlanta
Fans may be upset at the fact that the Bucs lost their season finale, 30-17 in Atlanta, giving Tampa Bay a losing record this season. The 8-9 finish is disappointing, and will become even more disappointing if the Bucs are one-and-done in the playoffs with a loss to the Cowboys next Monday night. But that’s another column for another day.
The positive takeaway from the Bucs’ loss is that Tampa Bay scored on its opening possession, which is something it rarely does. Bucs quarterback Tom Brady got in some good work despite playing behind an offensive line that was made up of several reserves. Brady completed 13-of-17 passes (76.5%) for 84 yards and a touchdown, and led Tampa Bay to 10 points before giving way to Blaine Gabbert.
More importantly, the Bucs got out of the game relatively unscathed from an injury standpoint, which was prioritized over winning the game. Center Robert Hainsey tweaked his hamstring and was immediately pulled from the game after 13 snaps. Nick Leverett replaced Hainsey, who should be ready to go for the Cowboys game on Monday night.
STATEMENT 2: Cowboys End Their Season On A Downer
While Dallas finished with an impressive 12-5 record, the Cowboys ended on a sour note, losing the season finale at Washington, 26-6. With a 19-3 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 1, the Cowboys didn’t start the season or end the season well. While Dallas was 3-2 in its last five games, the Cowboys had to rally late in the fourth quarter to come back and beat the lowly Texans, 27-23, in Week 14. Then Dallas lost at Jacksonville in overtime the next week, 40-34.
The Cowboys did play inspired football in beating the Eagles in Dallas, 40-34, but that was without Jalen Hurts at quarterback. A 27-13 win over a spiraling Tennessee team in Week 17 doesn’t look as impressive now. Quarterback Dak Prescott has thrown at least one interception in each of the last seven games, including four games with a pair of picks. Prescott has 15 interceptions in the 12 games he’s played in, including one against the Bucs in Week 1. His most recent interception was a pick-six at Washington on Sunday.
The Bucs have beaten the Cowboys in the last two season openers, dating back to Tampa Bay’s 31-29 win at Raymond James Stadium in 2021. The Cowboys have not won a road playoff game since the 1992 NFC Championship Game.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Did The Bucs Backups Show The Team Anything?
Absolutely. The drop off in talent among most starters and reserves is significant, based on the second half loss to the Falcons. Yet Tampa Bay’s makeshift offensive line only surrendered two QB hits on Sunday – and no sacks – with both coming from starters Shaq Mason and Robert Hainsey. While the team’s reserve offensive linemen played reasonably well, notably left tackle Brandon Walton in pass protection, the rest of the reserves stunk.
The Bucs need to find some new, better inside linebackers as neither KJ Britt nor JJ Russell played well. If Tampa Bay loses either Devin White or Lavonte David the defense is in trouble. Britt had seven tackles against the Falcons, but five were assists. He had a 37.8 Pro Football Focus grade, while Russell was the worst-graded Bucs defender in Atlanta with a 28.8 grade. He missed three tackles and only made four (three assists) for a woeful 42% missed tackle rate.
Speaking of missed tackles, rookie cornerback Zyon McCollum missed another one, which gives him eight misses on the season, according to PFF. That’s the fourth-most on defense this year, and his 32% missed tackle percentage was third-worst on the team. Without question, that’s an area McCollum has to work on moving forward.
Sunday’s game will give the front office and scouting staff some more information about rookies like McCollum, defensive tackle Logan Hall and Luke Goedeke, who tried his hand at right tackle, which is where he played at Central Michigan. That intel can be used to help the team assess some needs in free agency and the NFL Draft. Based on a lot of the play, the Bucs could use some upgrades at several positions in 2023.
QUESTION 2: What Did We Learn From Trask’s NFL Debut?
Not much, other than third-string quarterback Kyle Trask does not appear to be ready to contend for a starting job in Tampa Bay any time soon. Trask completed 3-of-9 passes (33.3%) for 26 yards and a paltry 1.6 QB rating in his first regular season action. Granted, Trask was not given practice reps with the starters during the week and probably wasn’t totally prepared for the few reps he was given. Still, a go route is a go route, a slant is a slant and an out route is an out. And Trask missed more throws than he made.
Given the fact that Trask didn’t beat out Blaine Gabbert in training camp and the preseason speaks volumes. Gabbert looked good completing 6-of-8 of his passes (75%) for 29 yards and a touchdown on Sunday while playing with a mix of starters and reserves.
Yes, I lobbied for the Bucs to start Trask and give him the practice reps this week to better gauge his progress in my most recent SR’s Fab 5 column. But that didn’t come to fruition. Now it seems he’s even further away from being prepared to contend for the starting job one day.
In fact, Trask has to show he can win the backup job in Tampa Bay first. That shouldn’t just be awarded to him next year just because the contracts of Gabbert, Tom Brady and Ryan Griffin are up. Trask should have to prove he’s worthy of moving up the depth chart in 2023 – not just naturally elevate because he might be the only QB left on the roster. Throw in the fact that Trask will be learning a brand new offense next year and will be starting over with a new playbook and it might be time for the Bucs to consider a new QB of the future beginning in 2023.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Bucs Benefit From The Monday Night Playoff Game
Some Bucs fans are lamenting over the fact that the team will play the Cowboys on Monday night, giving Tampa Bay a short week if it beats Dallas and advances to the NFC Divisional Round. Keep in mind that the Los Angeles Rams played the first Monday night playoff game last year, won, and beat the Bucs the following week en route to winning Super Bowl LVI. So NFC teams that win the Monday night playoff game are historically 1-0 as Super Bowl champions.
That’s an interesting, yet kind of meaningless tidbit. But what isn’t meaningless is the extra day or two of rest the Bucs’ injured starters will get with their playoff game being on Monday night rather than Saturday or Sunday afternoon. That will help center Robert Hainsey’s sore hamstring heal, and give players like offensive tackles Tristan Wirfs (ankle) and Donovan Smith (foot) more time to rest, in addition to defensive tackle Vita Vea (calf), safety Mike Edwards (hamstring) and cornerbacks Carlton Davis III (shoulder) and Jamel Dean (toe).
Don’t worry about the potential following game at Philadelphia in the next round. The Bucs have to take care of business and win the Wild Card playoff round first before worrying about playing the Eagles on a short week. Besides that game would likely be played Sunday night, so Tampa Bay will only be short one day – just like the Rams were last year.
PREDICTION 2: Jensen Won’t Return For The Postseason
This is just a hunch, and I hope I’m wrong about this one, but I don’t think Ryan Jensen will return to the active roster in the postseason. I just haven’t heard enough positive things coming out of practice about Jensen’s stamina and overall health. The Bucs have a week left to either put him on the active roster or he’ll go back to the injured reserve list for the rest of the playoffs.
Remember, if Jensen is going to start for the Bucs in the playoffs he’ll have to be able to play for 60-70 snaps on game day. The Bucs aren’t practicing in full pads during this time of year. In fact, some of the practices are either walk-thrus or low tempo in order to keep players healthy. Jensen hasn’t played football for nearly six months and the team might be better off getting him fully healthy for the 2023 season at this point.