TAMPA, Fla. — The 2022 Buccaneers season remains a constant disappointment.
A turbulent offseason riddled with inconsistent play as a star-studded roster is relegated to a 5-6 record.
Until the team can stack wins together, the performances against Dallas and Seattle are looking like outliers versus their identity.
Before jumping into the criticisms from Cleveland, maybe the only break the Buccaneers have gotten all season is the fact they play in the NFC South. So, despite the litany of concerns, we cannot lose sight that this team is still in control of its own destiny.
As the poker players say, all it takes is a chip and a chair.
"If you get in and get on a run, you don't know what's going to happen," Tampa Bay first-year head coach Todd Bowles said Monday afternoon at his weekly press conference.
When we look at the six losses during the year, none rests on the shoulders of Bowles more than the loss against the Browns.
For the record, Tom Brady is now 218-1 when leading a contest by 7 points or more in the final 2 minutes of regulation.
And it was not by coincidence.
Bowles' mentor, Bruce Arians, lived by the 'no risk it, no biscuit' mantra, Tampa Bay won a Super Bowl that way, but at multiple points in this contest, Bowles played it safe.
In the fourth quarter, with a 4th-and-2 on Cleveland's 37-yard line -- he elects to punt. While Tampa Bay was playing tremendous defense and ultimately got the stop, the punt changed field position by 17 yards. It took three plays for the Browns to regain the yards back lost from the punt. If the Bucs converted that fourth down, there is a safe bet Ryan Succop would have had a field goal opportunity and made it a two-score game.
"Again, the defense was playing well," Bowles said. "The offense wasn't playing and moving the ball as well so we tried to play to the strength of our defense and get the ball back if we can back them up."
And in Bowles' defense, the Buccaneers were 4-of-15 on third down. The head coach had plenty of reasons to be concerned about converting. On the other hand, Tampa Bay was 3-for-5 on third and fourth down when needing two yards or less against Cleveland.
"I saw how the game was going. I trusted our defense to get the ball back and I felt we can get the ball in field position and still go down and get a score," Bowles said.
Now, let's go to the final Browns offensive drive in regulation. Bucs linebacker Lavonte David makes an all-world tackle on David Njoku to force a 4th-and-10.
Here are five true scenarios in play:
1. Browns do not covert and Bucs win
2. Browns score a touchdown and kick an extra point
3. Browns score a touchdown, go for two and convert
4. Browns score a touchdown, go for two and fail to convert resulting in an onside kick to seal the game.
5. Browns gain a first down at the 2-yard line, call their final timeout or spike the ball with roughly 60 seconds left.
Besides the first and fourth scenarios, the other three would have required the Buccaneers to salvage as much time as possible in case they needed to go down the grass and win with a game-winning field goal (or touchdown).
Instead, Todd Bowles elects to not use one of his three timeouts and let the Browns waste 37 seconds for David Njoku to make the touchdown grab of his life with 32 seconds left.
Bowles explained why he did not call for a timeout.
"We didn't want them to talk about it. We wanted them to just line up and play and go, so we let it go."
Let the record show Cleveland had a timeout. So it is perplexing how this argument holds water when the Browns could have stopped the clock. Bowles also had the option to call a timeout before the fourth down snap to take a look at the formation.
Regardless, imagine what Tom Brady could have done with 60 or so seconds and two timeouts to get a field goal?
After Rachaad White picked up a small gain on first down, Tom Brady fires a dart to Julio Jones. That put the Bucs at Cleveland's 48-yard line...with eight seconds left.
"We said if we didn't get yards on the first down, on the first play, we wouldn't call a timeout. We'd probably let the clock run and if [Tom Brady] saw something he could throw it," Bowles said. "But we didn't get any yards on the first play, we got one or two yards with Rachaad [White] and we were backed up. If we'd have thrown a pick and the ball would have went the other way and they had to kick the winning field goal…we felt better going into overtime so I didn't do it."
Tom Brady has thrown two interceptions in 470 passes this season.
Good for .4 percent.
In his Bucs career, he has thrown 30 interceptions on 2,028 pass attempts.
Good for 1.5 percent.
With Tom Brady, you have to wonder why Bowles is thinking about the worst-case scenario versus the best-case scenario.
The only logical explanation is a lack of trust in the offense Sunday, even though he said he is confident in the offense on Monday.
Is the game 100 percent Todd Bowles' fault? It is hard to give him that much credit. The Bucs committed nine penalties for 70 yards. Offensive tackle Donovan Smith committed a brutal one in overtime after Tom Brady made a miraculous flip pass to Rachaad White on third down.
Also, Brady and wide receiver Mike Evans are completely unconnected. In the last three games, Evans has been targeted 26 times only hauling in 12 catches. A lot of the issues seem communicative, but Brady missed a golden opportunity to seal the win in overtime missing his wide receiver deep on the play Tristan Wirfs got injured.
And the sad part about all of this is Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr. got injured playing in overtime, a situation that probably should have been avoided on multiple accounts.
Wirfs will miss three to four weeks with a high ankle sprain. Winfield Jr.'s status for Monday night is in doubt against the New Orleans Saints.
During Bowles' introductory press conference, he said he was going to run the show his way and after Sunday, that way is heavily called into question.
For Bowles, you cannot lose what you don't put in the middle.
But you cannot win much either.