2 Point Conversion: Are Bucs Ready for Cowboys?
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 points in the second half to win the season finale 30-17. NFC South champion Tampa Bay focused on resting the 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 has plenty of work in Atlanta
Fans may be upset 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 be even more disappointing when the Bucs have a one-off in the playoffs next Monday night with a loss to the Cowboys. But that’s another column for another day.
The positive distraction from the Bucs’ loss is that Tampa Bay scored in the opening with possession, something it rarely does. Bucs quarterback Tom Brady did a good job despite playing behind an offensive line made up of several reserves. Brady completed 13 of 17 passes (76.5%) for 84 yards and a touchdown, leading Tampa Bay to 10 points before giving way to Blaine Gabbert.
More importantly, the Bucs came out of the game relatively unscathed from an injury standpoint, which took precedence over winning the game. Center Robert Hainsey squeezed his hamstring and was immediately taken out of the game after 13 snaps. Nick Leverett replaced Hainsey, who should be ready for Monday night’s Cowboys game.
EXPLANATION 2: Cowboys end their season on a downer
While Dallas finished with an impressive 12-5 record, the Cowboys finished on a sour note, losing the season finale in Washington 26-6. With a 19-3 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 1, the Cowboys did not start or end the season well. While Dallas was 3-2 in his last five games, the Cowboys had to rally late in the fourth quarter to come back and beat the simple Texans, 27-23, in Week 14. Then Dallas lost in overtime in Jacksonville the following week, 40-34.
The Cowboys played inspired football by beating the Eagles 40-34 in Dallas, but that was without Jalen Hurts at quarterback. A 27-13 win over a fast-growing Tennessee team in Week 17 doesn’t look that 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 has played in, including one against the Bucs in Week 1. His most recent interception was a pick-six in Washington on Sunday.
The Bucs have beaten the Cowboys in the past two season openers, dating back to Tampa Bay’s 31-29 victory at Raymond James Stadium in 2021. The Cowboys have not won a playoff game since the 1992 NFC Championship Game.
2 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Did the Bucs backups show the team anything?
Absolute. The drop in talent among most starters and reserves is significant, based on the second-half loss to the Falcons. Still, Tampa Bay’s makeshift offensive line yielded just two QB hits — and no sacks — both coming from starters Shaq Mason and Robert Hainsey on Sunday. While the team’s offensive linemen played quite well, particularly left tackle Brandon Walton in pass protection, the rest of the reserves stank.
The Bucs need to find some new better inside linebackers as neither KJ Britt nor JJ Russell played well. If Tampa Bay loses Devin White or Lavonte David, the defense will be in trouble. Britt had seven tackles against the Falcons, but five were assists. He had a Pro Football Focus grade of 37.8, while Russell was the worst rated Bucs defenseman in Atlanta with a grade of 28.8. 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, giving him eight misses on the season, according to PFF. That’s the fourth most defending this year, and his 32% missed tackle percentage was the third worst on the team. That is undoubtedly an area McCollum needs to work on.
Sunday’s game will give the front office and scouting staff a little more insight into rookies like McCollum, defensive tackle Logan Hall and Luke Goedeke, who tried his hand at right tackle where he played at Central Michigan. That information can be used to help the team assess some needs in free agency and the NFL Draft. Based on much of the game, the Bucs could use some upgrades in several positions in 2023.
QUESTION 2: What did we learn from Trask’s NFL debut?
Not much, except that Kyle Trask, the third-string quarterback, doesn’t seem ready to compete for a starting job in Tampa Bay anytime soon. Trask completed 3-of-9 passes (33.3%) for 26 yards and a paltry 1.6 QB rating in his first regular season play. Admittedly, Trask didn’t get any practice reps with the starters during the week and probably wasn’t fully prepared for the few reps he got. Still, a go route is a go route, a slope is a slope, and an out route is an out. And Trask missed more throws than he made.
Considering that Trask failed to beat Blaine Gabbert in training camp and the preseason speaks volumes. Gabbert looked good with 6-of-8 passing (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 measure his progress in my most recent SR’s Fab 5 column. But that didn’t get off the ground. Now it seems he is even further from being willing to compete for the runway one day.
In fact, Trask must first show that he can win the backup assignment in Tampa Bay. It should not be awarded to him next year just because the contracts of Gabbert, Tom Brady and Ryan Griffin have expired. Trask should prove himself worthy of moving up the depth chart in 2023 – not just of course, as he may be the only QB left on the roster. Add to that the fact that next year Trask will learn an all-new offense and start over with a new playbook, and it may be time for the Bucs to consider a new QB of the future starting in 2023.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTIONS 1: Bucs take advantage of the Monday Night Playoff Game
Some Bucs fans are complaining about the team playing the Cowboys on Monday night, giving Tampa Bay a short week as it defeats Dallas and advances to the NFC Divisional Round. Keep in mind that the Los Angeles Rams played their first Monday night playoff game last year, winning and beating 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 but rather pointless tidbit. But what doesn’t make sense is the extra day or two of rest the injured Bucs starters will get with their Monday night playoff game instead of Saturday or Sunday afternoon. That will help heal Robert Hainsey’s sore hamstring, and give players like offensive tackles Tristan Wirfs (ankle) and Donovan Smith (foot) more time to rest, alongside defensive tackle Vita Vea (calf), safety Mike Edwards ( hamstring) and cornerbacks Carlton Davis III (shoulder) and Jamel Dean (toe).
Don’t worry about the possible next game in Philadelphia in the next round. The Bucs need to get their act together and win the Wild Card playoff round before worrying about playing the Eagles in a short week. Plus, that game was likely to be played Sunday night, so Tampa Bay will only be one day short — just like the Rams did last year.
PREDICTION 2: Jensen will not return for the postseason
This is just a guess, and I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think Ryan Jensen will return to the active roster in the postseason. I just haven’t heard enough positive things from the real world about Jensen’s stamina and overall health. The Bucs have one more week to put him on the active roster or he will 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 should be able to play 60-70 snaps on game day. The Bucs don’t practice to packed houses this time of year. Some drills are even walk-thrus or slow tempo to keep players healthy. Jensen has not played football for almost six months and the team could do better at this point to get him fully healthy for the 2023 season.
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