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There are only 2 (both divisional) games left on the schedule for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and all they can do now is play spoiler. That same role of spoiler also included Monday night against the Falcons, so 3 divisional games to end the year, and it could be the last 3 Dirk Koetter sees as head coach.

Well if the Bucs wanted to show that the team is playing for Koetter, they certainly went down swinging in their 24-21 loss. The clear favorite Atlanta team didn’t have much of a struggle moving down the field, though the Bucs were able to keep persistent and hang tough. A last-second missed 53-yard field goal by kicker Patrick Murray was all that kept the Bucs from playing in overtime. Tampa is just cursed at the kicker position.

The effort put up by a team that was missing Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy, and early in game injuries by DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard was gutsy, to say the least. Tampa has lost many close games before, but not against an opponent like this. The Bucs put up a meaningful effort.

Now was this effort enough? Will it be carried over to the final two games? It certainly won’t be easy going against the Panthers and then on the road to the Saints, both team’s playing for something.

The problem is, we have seen too much “bad” before we finally got to the good. Koetter, known as an offensive guy, came from being the offensive coordinator of the Bucs before upgrading to head coach at the start of last season. This season they were supposed to be an offensive MACHINE. What unfolded was the classic “on paper it looks good”, but seeing is believing.

This offensive-minded coach has led the Buccaneers to only 2 games reaching the 30 point mark. In fact, Tampa has failed to get over 21 in their last 4 matchups. One reason for this, bizarrely enough, is that Mike Evans hasn’t been controlling the game with receptions, despite the addition of DeSean Jackson. He was supposed to open up the field for Evans to ball out larger than he already has. Evidently so, it hasn’t been the case.

Last season with no other threatening wide receivers around him, Evans was understandably targeted heavy, but that also comes with more double teams and defensive strategy around him. Jackson and the drafting of Chris Godwin were brought in to make Evans even more lethal. At least if big Mike was going to get less involved in the game, it would because of more playmaking by his teammates and more points. This isn’t happening, in fact, the Bucs are scoring less than last year, and now Evans checks out of games once things aren’t going his way, much like most big-time receivers do.

For Koetter, this is a major problem if you stake your reputation on offense. Another factor of the trouble in paradise is the regression of both running back Doug Martin, and Quarterback Jameis Winston. Though Winston seems to be turning the corner and attempting to get in the right direction, Martin has underperformed and was benched 2 weeks ago for fumbling, followed by not even dressing on Monday for violating team rules. Martin has not done anything to save his job on this team, and Winston is closely towing the line.

There were some positives coming from Monday’s loss. As just mentioned, Jameis Winston looked like his old self again, throwing for 299 and 3 touchdowns. Most importantly though, he did not turn the ball over. Another promising job on the field was Peyton Barber in the starting running back role. Barber may have only had 13 carries but he averaged 4.1 yards per game and ran very hard into the hole, I like a mean runner. He did have one very costly fumble early in the game, that’s just how the Bucs season has gone.

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An enjoyable moment that also happened was that “Hard Knocks” star Riley Bullough had some playing time because of the David injury. It was nice to see him earn a chance after being placed on the practice squad at the end of the show.

At halftime, the Buccaneers were trailing 17-7 and things weren’t going their way. They could have easily fell of the wagon and let the game completely get out of hand. The psyche of the team that game is another positive to build on. Tampa has nothing to play for while Atlanta does, the Bucs didn’t make it easy and that’s important.

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With two games left, it might be all she wrote for Koetter. He probably needs at least one win and definitely two well-played games to think about keeping his job. Will the Bucs fire him either after week 17 or just before? My guess would be yes.

Personally, if I were GM, I’d give him one more shot next season and let him prove that 2017 was an aberration. It’s important to also think about how it affects Jameis Winston. Koetter has pretty much been the only coordinator he’s ever known. While he’s battled through injury and subpar play this year, if he has to start completely over learning a new offense and schematics, it could be detrimental in his attempt to grow as a quarterback.

However, I am not the GM and football is a win now league. The Buccaneers, in particular, have been quick to pull the plug on coaches who aren’t working out. Since newly Bucs ring of honor inductee Jon Gruden (congrats coach!) was let go in 2008, the Bucs have had 4 separate coaches who have lasted only seasons of 3, 2, 2, and now Koetter’s 2. That track record doesn’t bode well for Dirk Koetter and his 2018 aspirations. But maybe it’s time for the Buccaneers to reevaluate their decision making.

Sports Al Dente 2019

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