Mental Errors Sink The Bucs In The Big Apple
By Christopher Scali
The crowd was roaring and the smell of football was in the air. The New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans were ready to go. But in this case, the Buccaneers were not. Tampa Bay laid an egg against the Jets in the final minutes of last week's loss and it was very tough for fans of Tampa to swallow. Embattled Bucs QB Josh Freeman threw for 210 yards and had one touchdown and two interceptions, and yet the team still had the chance to eke out a win.
During the course of this game, it was very hard for Tampa Bay to operate offensively. On the first play of the game, Freeman had to call a time out due to the crowd noise, which played a huge part in this game. I was actually at the game and I could not even hear myself talk as the fans seemed to be overcome by what can only be described as a Super Bowl atmosphere. Tampa Bay later finished off that first drive with a safety - not the best way to start a game. I was terribly disappointed in the way the Buccaneers played against the Jets as they also had 13 penalties for 102 yards and lost three fumbles. The Bucs were simply not in the game at all and it ultimately came to haunt them. Freeman looked like a deer in the headlights for most of the game and the Buccaneers had an overall sloppy performance.
The Tampa Bay offensive line allowed four sacks and the Jets defense was giving the Bucs a very hard time getting on a roll and moving the football. What seemed to light a fire under the Jets offense was a Doug Martin touchdown run and then a Mike Williams scoring grab. Once those events took place, I had a feeling that Tampa was going to run away with this Week 1 matchup, but of course, Freeman's struggles continued as he threw an interception that led to a Jets touchdown before halftime.
What was offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan thinking? There was 2:33 left before halftime, so Tampa Bay had no reason to try for a deep pass. Just run the ball until the clock hits zero and rely on your defense. The Buccaneers were very rusty during the course of the game and there was never a smooth drive. The Bucs struggled to get points. The only thing that really kept the Buccaneers in the game for so long was the team's special teams and defense. If the Bucs special teams and defense functioned like their offense, the score would have been much worse.
When the fourth quarter got underway, the intensity grew and neither team was out of the woods just yet. Freeman zipped a 26-yard strike to WR Vincent Jackson, who looked to be off the to the races. Fortunately for the Jets, LB Demario Davis had a touchdown-saving tackle that forced the Bucs to finish the drive with a 34-yard field goal. After this kick, Jets fans looked as though they were already accepting their first loss of the season.
However, QB Geno Smith and his teammates had one more drive left for New York. From his own 20 yard line, Smith found TE Kellen Winslow deep down the middle for a 25-yard gain. Seconds were ticking away and MetLife Stadium was roaring. The Bucs flushed Smith out of the pocket and no play was developing at all for the Jets - it looked as though the game was about to come to an end. But one particulary sloppy play was about to doom the Buccaneers. LB Lavonte David shoved Smith out of bounds after his short scamper that would have forced the Jets to try for a hail mary pass to win the game. David was charged with a 15-yard personal foul penalty that moved the Jets into field goal range and then kicker Nick Folk nailed the game-winning 48-yard field goal.
In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, David spoke of his lack of judgement when he said, “I wouldn’t have hit him if I thought he wasn’t going to stay in bounds.”
This was a very difficult calculation for a referee to make. Hopefully, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have learned a hard lesson from this game - when in doubt, do not touch the quarterback! But David’s play did not singlehandedly cost the Bucs the game - it was the team's tremendous amount of penalties, the safety recorded by New York and Freeman's interceptions.
The Buccaneers have a tough home game coming up this Sunday when the Bucs host the New Orleans Saints. Tampa will have its hands full with New Orleans and the team better be more mentally prepared for Week 2. Tampa Bay can't afford to start off 2013 with an 0-2 mark and neither can Freeman. If the offense gets off to another slow start, look for Freeman's seat to start to seriously heat up a bit.