Bucs Offense Continues To Fail The Defense In Week 15

In the first half of Sunday’s 34-23 loss to the Bengals, the Bucs actually played complementary football — something they haven’t done often in 2022.

Then, in the second half, it was much of the same old story that has played out all year. The offense left the defense out to dry and everything unraveled. It started with a botched fake punt by Giovani Bernard to open the third quarter. That gave Cincinnati possession at the Bucs’ 16-yard line, which eventually resulted in a field goal.

From there, Tom Brady uncharacteristically turned the ball over four times in the offense’s next four drives, with all four turnovers resulting in short fields for the Bengals. The first three led to touchdown drives of 31, 13 and 39 yards for Cincinnati. Just like that, Tampa Bay’s 17-3 lead was a 27-17 deficit.

Mike Edwards

Bucs S Mike Edwards – Photo by: USA Today

In the end, the defense allowed 34 points — but only 237 yards.

“Our defense didn’t play terrible. They played well enough to keep us in the game,” Bucs tight end Cameron Brate said. “But we’re giving them the ball at the 20-yard line multiple times… They finished with under 300 yards, right? … Thirty-four points and 237 yards, it doesn’t add up. That’s what happens when you turn the ball over in your end of the field and you just can’t do that in the NFL and expect to win games. So, you have to remedy that.”

Having to defend against drives that start deep in plus-territory is bound to wear a defense down. Bucs linebacker Devin White said it’s the defense’s responsibility to pick up the offense in those situations, but there really was only so much that unit could do for much of the second half.

“I just think as a defense, we got to have that bend but don’t break mentality,” White said. “We can’t control what happens on special teams and offense — we would like to play complementary ball. But at the end of the day, when our backs are against the wall, we gotta do whatever we gotta to do to hold them to three to keep our lead, keep the energy and keep the focus.”

As much as the defense wants to share the blame, it shouldn’t have to. This 2022 season has been on the offense.

Offense Responsible For Bucs’ Subpar Record

What unfolded on Sunday wasn’t surprising. The Bucs haven’t played a full four quarters all season, and the offense has been the major reason for that. This was just a continuation of what 2022 will be remembered for: the offense letting the defense down.

Tampa Bay is 6-8 with three games to play. It still leads the embarrassment of a division that is the NFC South, but this team would’ve run away with the division crown long ago with an offense that was even marginally better. The Bucs defense has put the team in position to win almost weekly.

Looking at the team’s eight losses, the defense played well enough to win in at least four of them:

-14-12 loss to Green Bay

-41-31 loss to Kansas City

-20-18 loss at Pittsburgh

-21-3 loss at Carolina

-27-22 loss to Baltimore

-23-17 loss at Cleveland

-35-7 loss at San Francisco

-34-23 loss to Cincinnati

There’s even a case to be made that the defense was playing well enough to win against Carolina and Baltimore as well. The Bucs were holding the Panthers and Ravens’ offenses in check until they got worn down in the second half — after constant three-and-outs by their own offense.

Bucs Hc Todd Bowles

Bucs HC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Head coach Todd Bowles said after Sunday’s game that they won’t blame any one side of the ball. But it’s clear that one side deserves more blame for the team’s 6-8 record this season, and it isn’t Bowles’ side of the ball.

“It’s a team game,” Bowles said. “If they turn it over, we need to get stops. If the defense gives up a touchdown, the offense has to come back and get one. It’s a team game. You know, we’re not placing blame on one side of the ball or the other. We’re in this thing together and we’re going to fight. We just can’t turn the ball over and when we do, we have to make stops.”

Tampa Bay Is Letting Games Get Away

The worst part is that the Bucs have shown flashes of promise on offense throughout the season. They’ve gotten out to leads in some games, but they ultimately finish right around their 17.6 points per game average. And when three-and-outs and turnovers begin to pile up, the unit seems to spiral, showing little ability to right the ship and get back on track.

Take Sunday’s game, for example. Once things began to go wrong on offense in the third quarter, it never felt like the Bucs could dig themselves out of it.

“It’s a game of ebbs and flows and they just had all the momentum there in the third quarter. We just couldn’t find a way to get back on track,” Brate said. “You have to do that, you have to move on, you have to forget about the play you messed up. Because, shoot, we still had a full quarter and a half after that to go and win the game and it just kind of snowballed from there.”

Bucs Qb Tom Brady And Oc Byron Leftwich

Bucs QB Tom Brady and OC Byron Leftwich – Photo by: USA Today

The same can be said for other games this season. Despite the offense’s struggles, the team has been within one possession in the second half in five of their eight losses, thanks in large part to the defense. In a sixth — their overtime loss to the Browns — they led in the fourth quarter and simply needed another field goal to put the game away. In all six of those instances, the offense couldn’t get out of neutral.

It’s hard to pin much on Bowles’ defense this season. That group has held opponents to 21 points or fewer in nine games. It also held the Browns under that mark in regulation before giving up the game-winning score late in overtime. But the offense rarely hits 20 itself, which is why the Bucs are where they are with three games to go in the season. Their winning recipe this year isn’t one they can continue to rely on, but at this point, it appears to be all they have.

“In football, all you can do is fight,” Bowles said. “You can fight, you can play smarter, you can coach smarter and we have to keep fighting. We understand what we’re doing is not good enough by far. It’s not even close to good enough and we have three games left to try to save our season.”

It’s fair to expect the defense to play better and put the Bucs in position to save their season. But can the offense hold up its end?

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