In the Buccaneers’ 38-35 loss to the Giants on Sunday, Jay Cutler threw for 359 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Oh, Cutler doesn’t play for the Bucs? My bad. Let me check my notes.
Says here that Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick do, and, well, they’re pretty much the same guy. Too many interceptions. Too many bad decisions.
They aren’t quarterbacks who win. They are quarterbacks who beat themselves.
Sure, the Bucs on Sunday racked up more than 500 yards of offense for the fifth time this season. They’ve gained more passing yards than any team through 10 games in NFL history, more than even the 2000 “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams.
Maybe they’re not so bad. They lost to the Giants by only three points, after all. They’ve played in seven one-score games this season and a league-high 17 since the start of last season.
A bounce here, a bounce there, right?
No. No. No.
Forget all that. Forget the yards. Forget the close games. Forget the decisions on fourth down. Forget the kickers.
In the grand scheme, those things are meaningless.
Turnovers matter. They matter more than almost anything else except touchdowns. Simply put, the more touchdowns a team scores, the more likely it is to win, and the more turnovers it commits, the more likely it is to lose. More than 40 percent of a team’s win total can be determined solely by its turnover margin, according to ESPN.
It can’t be overstated: In a game in which each team has a limited number of possessions, every time a team gives the ball away that’s one less opportunity for it to score points and one more opportunity for its opponent to score points.
You know this, of course. You’ve been living it.
Not just this season. Or last season. You’ve been living it since 1976.
Since then, the Bucs have committed almost 1,400 turnovers. Only the Cardinals and Rams have committed more. It’s no coincidence that Tampa Bay has the NFL’s worst win percentage in that span.
This season, the Bucs have committed a league-high 29, and no one else is particularly close. The Bills and Jets each have committed 22.
They not only give the ball away but also never take it back. They’ve forced just six turnovers. Only the 49ers, their next opponent, have forced fewer (five).
It’s not luck. Bucs defenders often aren’t even in position to contest catches. Eli Manning threw 18 passes Sunday, and for the most part he didn’t have to throw the ball very far to find an open receiver.
Odell Beckham? Open.
Saquon Barkley? Open.
Evan Engram? Open.
Wayne Gallman? Open.
David Meggett? Open.
The Bucs have recorded a league-low 23 passes defended this season. Cornerback Brent Grimes had more than that by himself in 2016. To be sure, injuries and inexperience are factors. They’re flat-out undermanned. As a result, they’re playing a lot of zone coverages, which a veteran like Manning can easily diagnose and exploit.
So how bad is it exactly? If you’ve wondered lately whether Tampa Bay will win another game this season, you’re not being overly pessimistic. These Bucs have the mark of a winless or near winless team. They’re on pace to have the largest turnover differential ever. Yes, EVER.
Here’s the company Tampa Bay is keeping:
• The 1965 Steelers (minus-30 turnover margin, the NFL record): What are the Steelers doing sharing a list with the Bucs? This was before Chuck Noll. Before L.C. Greenwood. Before Mean Joe Greene. Before Terry Bradshaw. Before Mel Blount. Before Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Mike Webster, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Jack Lambert. In other words, in 1965 the Steelers weren’t yet the Steelers. Record: 2-12.
• The 1989 Cowboys (minus-25): This was Jimmy Johnson’s and Troy Aikman’s first season in Dallas. It also was Herschel Walker’s last. On Oct. 12, the Cowboys sent their best player to Minnesota in the largest trade in NFL history. Though the deal was panned initially, the draft picks Dallas acquired helped it build the core of three championship teams. The Cowboys tanked before all the cool kids started doing it. Record: 1-15.
• The 2000 Chargers (minus-28): The Chargers, like the Bucs, actually were trying to be competitive. But they had Ryan Leaf. They didn’t have much of a run game (1,062 yards), either. No team since has struggled as much, not even Tampa Bay. As a reward for its futility, San Diego received the top pick in the 2001 draft and then traded it to Atlanta. The Falcons took Michael Vick; the Chargers took LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees. Record: 1-15.
• The 2017 Browns (minus-28): The Browns followed up their 1-15 2016 campaign by losing every game in 2017. By going 1-31, they set an NFL record for worst win percentage over a two-season span, a record once held by the 1976-77 Bucs. Their next great hope: quarterback Baker Mayfield. Record: 0-16.
This Bucs free fall isn’t stopping. There’s not a quarterback they can turn to or a coach they can fire. There’s nothing between them and the bottom.
NFL standings: Tampa Bay edition
If the season ended today, this would be the order of the 2019 NFL draft (first tiebreaker is strength of schedule):
1. 49ers (2-8)
2. Cardinals (2-8)
3. Raiders (2-8)
4. Jets (3-7)
5. Giants (3-7)
6. Bills (3-7)
7. Bucs (3-7)
• The Bucs are hard to look at, and they’re not going to get any easier on the eyes next season. They have no plans to introduce new uniforms in 2019.
• ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Sunday that the Jaguars will consider trading All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey in the offseason. The team dismissed the idea in a report, saying “The Jaguars have zero intention of trading CB Jalen Ramsey. There is no truth to this rumor.”
The Bucs could use another cornerback or four, so they should jump in the Ramsey sweepstakes, right? A couple of things to consider: 1.) 30 other teams will be interested, so the price the former Florida State star will be high, likely astronomical. 2.) Tampa Bay has done this before — in 2013 with Darrelle Revis — and it backfired badly.
Granted, Revis was coming off a major knee injury, was 28 during that season and was playing under a coach and general manager desperate to keep their jobs. Ramsey will be 25 next season and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2021.
Ramsey is a playmaker, but he can be prone to allowing big plays, too, which we saw during the Jaguars loss to the Steelers on Sunday. Though he picked off Ben Roethlisberger twice, he also allowed a 25-yard completion late that set up a game-winning touchdown.
• Schefter also reported that the Browns are interested in interviewing former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for their head-coaching job. “No, thanks,” Rice said. Good call.
No word yet on whether the Bucs also will seek to raid George W. Bush’s cabinet and pursue Colin Powell.
• Tight end O.J. Howard, arguably Tampa Bay’s best player, suffered an ankle injury Sunday and didn’t return to the game. He was evaluated further today and is in the process of getting a second opinion.
• In his Bucs debut, Cairos Santos made all five of his extra points. That’s great and all, but before we hand him the keys to Tampa, let’s see how he kicks in front of the home crowd.
• Looking ahead to the 49ers’ visit, it will be a homecoming for Matt Breida, the former star running back at Nature Coast Tech High in Brooksville. Breida, who signed with San Francisco after the 2017 NFL draft (the draft in which Tampa Bay chose Jeremy McNichols in the fifth round), is enjoying a breakout season. He has gained 756 yards from scrimmage and scored five touchdowns. Bucs running backs Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Ronald Jones and Shaun Wilson have gained 814 yards from scrimmage and have scored three touchdowns.
Another Tampa Bay connection: Jeff Monken, the cousin of Bucs offensive coordinator Todd, recruited Breida to Georgia Southern in 2013.
• Sunday will be a reunion of sorts for Todd Monken and Nick Mullens, who has gone from practice squad player to 49ers starting quarterback. Monken recruited Mullens to Southern Mississippi in 2013, and two seasons later Mullens set school single-season records in touchdown passes (38), passing yards (4,476) and completions (331). He also holds records in career touchdown passes (87) and passing yards (11,994).
• It’s Thanksgiving week. Here’s a video of Ryan Fitzpatrick and wife Liza making chicken squares on Rachael Ray. “Chickeny, cheesy, croissanty — it’s got it all.”
What I got right
That the Giants would create explosive plays by throwing short passes and gaining yards after catches. Manning attempted only two deep passes, completing one for 41 yards.
What I got wrong
That the Bucs could beat the Giants with play-action passes. Fitzpatrick and Winston combined to complete 6 of 8 passes for 84 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Manning, however, completed all 10 of his passes for 155 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
Statistics in this report are from Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference. Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected]. Follow @tometrics.