The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost 16-3 to Washington on Sunday, but just about every number save for the final score says the Bucs were the better team. They out-gained Washington in yards nearly two-to-one—it was 501 to 286 when the final whistle blew—and yards per play (7.5 to 5.2), and had nearly double the amount of first downs. So how did the Bucs, while playing what can broadly be described as a good game, not merely lose the contest but end up as Ass Team of the Week? By being very, very bad in lethally concentrated doses.
Before we get into the Ass Specifics, it’s worth noting that the game really was something of a statistical marvel. It should be straight up impossible for a football team to rack up 29 first downs and gain 501 total yards and never score a single touchdown. As it turns out, it pretty much is:
The Bucs managed to do this by playing like the Kansas City Chiefs whenever the ball was snapped anywhere between the 20-yard lines. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 406 yards and was zipping long completions all over the field; Chris Godwin couldn’t stop getting open; Peyton Barber was running people over; Jacquizz Rodgers was dancing around in the flats and embarrassing anyone who tried to tackle him. And then the team crossed into the red zone and suddenly all that genuinely thrilling football was replaced by pitiful stumbling. The nearer the Bucs got to the end zone, the less they looked like the Chiefs and the more they started looking like the New York Jets fighting off a powerful hangover.
This is going to be hard to believe but I promise it’s true: The Bucs had five trips to the red zone in this game, and those trips included a first-and-10 at the Washington 18, a first-and-10 at the Washington 12, a first-and-10 at the Washington 19, a first-and-10 at the Washington 10, and a first-and-10 at the Washington 2. They scored three points! They got three damn points out of all that!
The short way of explaining how this happened is that the Bucs missed two field goals and had a few ill-timed turnovers. But this sort of total failure is never simple, and does not just demand but deserves a deeper examination, one which will reveal that there was in fact a certain elegance to the Bucs’ pratfalls.
All offensive drives in the NFL, even fruitful ones, feature mistakes. A ball gets overthrown, a run gets stoned at the line, a wide-open receiver is missed, and so on. These are still humans, albeit fast and strong humans with high risk tolerance, and as such they still mess up all the time. Good teams are able to keep these sorts of mistakes isolated and make more good plays than bad ones. That’s how they win. The Bucs did in fact play more good football than bad football, but their singular achievement came by packing all of their mistakes into very tight pockets, from which disastrous results exploded. That’s how they lost, and how they were ass. Watching this game tape was like watching someone execute a perfect back handspring, and then step on a rake, and then try to shoot the rake, only to shoot themselves in the knee. And then they step on yet another rake. For three hours.
Take the Bucs’ second trip into the red zone, which ended with a missed field goal. Fitzpatrick led his squad from their own 37 down to Washington’s 18-yard line. Barber ran for two yards on first down, and then on second down Fitzpatrick pulled the ball down and scrambled, running toward what appeared to be a wide-open lane and an easy first down. And then he just.... turned?
A momentary mental lapse, but not a huge deal. The Bucs still had a fairly easy third-and-4 in front of them, and the offense was rolling. It stopped rolling when Fitzpatrick fired a pass at a wide-open Cameron Brate, who dropped what would have been a third-down conversion. Ah well, the ball was still at the 12-yard line, and an easy three points was on the way. That’s when kicker Chandler Catanzaro sliced a 30-yard field goal wide right.
The whole game was like this: just bad, dumb plays cascading into other bad, dumb plays and leading to worse, even dumber plays. Catanzaro missed another field goal from 48 yards out in the third quarter, a failure that perhaps could have been avoided if the preceding play had not been this stupefyingly wretched boner:
Here’s one doesn’t technically qualify for this game’s Hall of Embarrassing Red Zone Failures, but is hilarious and spectacular nevertheless:
The saddest sequence of the game, and the one most likely to be used as evidence of the fact that the Bucs were, perhaps subconsciously, trying not to score, came late in the fourth quarter. The Bucs had gone 80 yards in 10 plays, and had a first down at the 2-yard line. They were down 16-3, but 3:39 remained on the clock, and as noted earlier they hadn’t had much trouble moving the ball. It was possible to imagine them scoring, getting the ball back, and having a real shot at the win. On the first-down play Fitzpatrick found Mike Evans open in the back of the end zone, where he did this:
That’s a bad drop, but it still left the Bucs with three more opportunities to move the ball two measly yards and finally score a touchdown. They never got to take those opportunities, though, because Fitzpatrick got strip-sacked on the very next play, and Washington recovered.
Bucs fans may get an exemption, here, but we should all be proud of the Bucs for what they did in this game. Any team can go out there and butt up the field because their coach is in over his head or their quarterback is a tall drink of piss. It happens every week. But it takes something special to get your ass kicked at home, while playing far better than your opponent for most of the game. What the Bucs did on Sunday wasn’t good by any means—it was, in point of fact, very bad indeed—but it was unique, and therefore impressive. You may not live long enough to see another football team lose a game in this specific fashion, so show some respect for the craftsmanship that went into creating this particular turd of a game.