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Best and Worst of Week 12: Back-to-back losses leave much to be desired, and much to be confident about

kk Following the first two quarters of the 2020 NFL Season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stood proud with a 6-2 record looking to make a strong push into November. After going 1-3 in the third quarter, they now enter the final stretch of games needing to win three out of four to secure January football for the first time since 2007.

A 27-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs has created quite the stir as some look at the early struggles as a sign to be concerned, while others look at the second half 17-7 advantage for the Bucs as a confidence builder.

There are good and bad in all games, and in one this lopsided depending on the half you watched, it’s never been more true.

ROB GRONKOWSKI

Targeted seven times, Tom Brady’s favorite tight end was a bright spot on Sunday afternoon bringing in six catches for 106-yards.

The duo connected for their first big play of the game in the second quarter, and the 29-yard play got the Buccaneers into scoring range from the Kansas City 37-yard line.

One play later, Brady found running back Ronald Jones II on a short pass off play-action, and 37-yards later the Bucs were celebrating their first score of the game.

Down thirteen in the third quarter, Brady again connected on a big play with Gronkowski, getting the ball down to the Chiefs’ 5-yard line following a 48-yard gain.

Unfortunately, the drive stalled out as Byron Leftwich turned to Leonard Fournette on two straight plays for a net loss of three yards before Brady misfired to Gronkowski on third and goal. More on this later.

MIKE EVANS

The Buccaneers’ No. 1 wide receiver continues his dominance at the top of the all-time list of receivers in franchise history.

Despite bringing in just three of his nine targets, Evans tallied 50-yards of offense and two touchdowns for the Bucs.

The two scores brings his total on the season to eleven, which was good for second in the NFL, tied with Davante Adams and Adam Thielen, and trailing only Tyreek Hill (13).

In his seventh season, Evans now has three double-digit touchdown seasons and is one score from matching his career high heading into the final four games of the year.

Two more touchdowns or more in the final stretch for Evans would set a new franchise record for receiving scores in a single season, breaking the current record held by – well – Mike Evans.

SIGNS OF LIFE

As mentioned in the beginning of this, some are looking at the loss to the Chiefs as a sign the ship is sinking. Others see the second half as a premonition of better days, and better football, to come.

Outscored 20-7 in the first half, the Buccaneers were outgained by 246-yards of total offense, 237-yards passing, and nine yards rushing. Tampa Bay converted just 20% of their own third-down attempts, and stopped the Chiefs just half the time.

In the second half, Brady and the offense converted half of their third down attempts, matching their opponent.

However, in outscoring the Chiefs by ten points in the second half, the Bucs also outgained their opponent by 120-yards, 123-yards passing, but were bested by three yards rushing.

Conventional wisdom is going to say Kansas City stepped off the gas a bit, relying on defense and the running game to milk the clock and turn time against the Bucs. The numbers would support this argument as Mahomes dropped back to pass on 70% of his team’s first half snaps while doing so on just 53% of their second-half reps.

After running the ball just seven times on 42 snaps in the first two quarters, Kansas City ran it thirteen times on 30 opportunities in the third and fourth.

Of course, one of those ‘runs’ was a kneel down to end the game, and two more were scrambles by Mahomes. If you count those two drop backs, the Chiefs called passes on 60% of their second-half plays.

So, did the Chiefs lay off in the second half? Or did the Buccaneers force their opponent off the field at a better rate. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Either way, if this team finds a way to consistently hold high-powered offenses to just seven points in a single half, I like their chances of making a run.

IGNORING CHIEFS’ WEAKNESSES

Coming into Week 12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II was the league’s fifth-leading rusher. Coming out of Week 12, he’s actually the fourth-leading rusher before the final two games of the week, and trails only Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans), Dalvin Cook (Minnesota Vikings), and James Robinson (Jacksonville Jaguars).

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Of the four backs, Jones is averaging four carries or more per game fewer than each of the other three. If you add 48 carries at his current yards per average rate, Jones’ numbers project to 1,065-yards, which would rank him third by nearly 200-yards over Robinson instead of being fourth by 70.

Now, we’re not just talking about running the ball for the sake of running the ball. Entering the weekend, the Kansas City Chiefs’ run defense was performing substantially worse than their pass defense.

Early in the game as the Buccaneers defense was reeling and trying to figure out how to better defend Tyreek Hill, the offense was on and off the field in 1:32 or shorter on three straight drives. Each of those drives resulted in three-and-outs for the Bucs offense, and the counter possessions saw the Chiefs put up fourteen points in the process, earning a 17-0 advantage.

Choosing to attack the strength of the Chiefs defense, Brady threw the ball seven times on those three drives compared to just two carries.

In a game where keeping Mahomes and the Chiefs offense off the field as much as possible was absolutely critical, the Buccaneers game plan execution resulted in short possessions and little time for a struggling defense to get adjustments put in place.

Tampa Bay didn’t have a single possession hold the ball for longer than two minutes until their fifth of the game. From that drive on, the Bucs outscored the Chiefs, 24-10.

PLAY-CALLING

Remember when we were consistently complaining about penalties and the Buccaneers were winning? Tampa Bay did commit their share of penalties in this game, but were outdone by the Chiefs by a margin of two flags and nearly thirty-yards.

It wasn’t good enough, obviously, and play-calling is now the new ‘p’ word many around the team are pointing at to explain the struggles.

Referencing the series we mentioned earlier, the Buccaneers finished their first drive of the second half with a 26-yard Ryan Succop field goal. Points are always good, but the way these points came about marked a series of frustration.

Brady and the Buccaneers got into goal-to-go here because of two runs by Jones and two passes to Gronkowski.

On first and goal, the Bucs dialed up a running play with Leonard Fournette who danced at the point of attack and backed into a tackle for just one-yard gained. Then, on the next play, Leftwich dialed up a misdirection pass to Fournette which sputtered and was taken down three-yards behind the original line of scrimmage.

Tampa Bay finally went back to one of their proven weapons by targeting Gronkowski in the back of the end zone. Having to throw over the heads of two Chiefs defenders though, the pass sailed over Gronk, and following some yelling between Brady and Chris Jones the Bucs took the three-points from Succop.

It’s not the only time in this game where play-calling and scheme were brought into question, but it might loom as the biggest sequence as four-points left on the field looms large in a three-point loss. Especially when you choose to lean on the running back who has the fourth-best yards per carry on the team, and second-best yards per catch among running backs.

USING THE OKAY CHINA

I wasn’t the biggest fan of bringing in Leonard Fournette to begin with. I did believe he had talent remaining that the Jacksonville Jaguars either hadn’t taken advantage of, or snuffed out with their organizational issues. And to be fair, I did think – or hope – the Bucs coaching staff and roster leaders would be able to get the best out of him.

However, when I turned on the tape, what I saw is a running back way too big to run as tentatively as he does. With Jacksonville I watched play after play where Fournette was taken down softly by one tackler, willingly stood up bracing for the Calvary, or happy to run out of bounds with a much smaller defensive back escorting him to the sideline.

When he ran hard and with conviction you could see the talent and ability that made him a top draft pick for the Jaguars those years ago. Problem is, you don’t get the hard running Fournette enough, and neither have the Buccaneers.

Despite all of this, Fournette still out-snapped Jones by twelve reps, getting on the field for 56% of the offensive opportunities while the fourth-leading rusher saw the field just 36% of the time.

Honestly, it’s a testament at this point Rojo hasn’t said anything about his lack of usage publicly.

There’s something about Fournette this coaching staff wants to be true, and it just isn’t.

Poll

What was THE WORST part of Week 12?

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    Ignoring Chiefs’ Weaknesses

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    Play-Calling

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    Using the ‘Okay’ China

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Poll

What was THE BEST part of Week 12?

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    Rob Gronkowski

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    Mike Evans

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    Second-Half Signs of Life

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