Lovie Smith’s and Josh McCown’s return to Chicago was going as planned. The offense was picking up right where they left off in Washington. McCown was making big plays down field with Mike Evans on a 19-yard touchdown. Vincent Jackson made a tremendous 26-yard catch on 3rd & 23 that led to a field goal to close to halftime. Even the running game was looking effective with Doug Martin and Charles Sims. The defense allowed just 68 yards in the first half. The defensive line was getting consistent pressure, sacking Jay Cutler 3 times in the first quarter, including the strip sack from Gerald McCoy. Matt Forte couldn’t get anything going, and the Bears receivers were being held in check.
The Bucs were in command 10-0. All seemed well.
But then halftime took place. The rain began to fall. It rained and it poured on the Bucs, and the Monsters of the Midway took over. Tampa Bay’s offense came out flat going 3-and-out on it’s opening possession. The Bears came right back scoring quickly. From there, complete implosion. The 3rd quarter turned into a nightmare. Josh McCown was stripped of the football, resulting into a Matt Forte touchdown. On the next drive, McCown threw an interception to safety Ryan Mundy, leading to another Matt Forte touchdown.
“The first drive, first series of the second half, that was the time that really we lost the momentum then,” Lovie Smith said following the game.
The Bucs panicked at the worst time. Another fumble by Vincent Jackson in the red zone didn’t do any favors in trying to mount a comeback. In the end, the offensive mistakes caused too much damage, resulting in a 21-13 Bears victory. It was not the performance or the outcome Lovie Smith had hoped returning to Soldier Field.
“A lot of great memories, but this is a bad memory right now,” Smith said.
The two people who should know what it’s like to play in these conditions, in Chicago, are Lovie Smith and Josh McCown. Yet Sunday it looked like they hadn’t been back in a decade.
“We’re used to playing in the rain,” Lovie explained afterwards. “We probably would’ve had a little bit more trouble if we were dealing with cold weather. We were really right at home in this.”
They’ve had a tough time feeling at home no matter where they’ve played. The fact is, Lovie Smith has yet to win at home as head coach of the Buccaneers. It will be 2 full years this upcoming Tuesday since a Lovie Smith coached team will have won a home game, albeit taking the 2013 season off. If anything, they feel most at home on the road.
As for the quarterback, say what you will about Josh McCown. The bottom line is he has a gunslinger mentality. He was erratic today yes, but quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo is relying too heavily on him, putting the ball in his hands too much. McCown was sacked 5 times, was hurried 13 times, and yet Arroyo still kept on trying to air it out. Tampa Bay must find a consistent running game. The problem is, they don’t run it enough.
The Buccaneers called just 20 designed running plays today versus 50 passing plays. Unless you have Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers at the helm, don’t expect to win many football games with those numbers. The game was never far out of reach to abandon the run game.
Doug Martin and Charles Sims each had a couple of good runs in this game. I know Martin hasn’t been the same since 2012, and Sims is still a rookie. But they will not be able to run effectively until Marcus Arroyo gives them more opportunities to break out. More importantly, it would lift the burden off Josh McCown somewhat.
The defense did its job for the most part. LB Lavonte David missed his first game in his NFL career with a hamstring injury. And yet the Bucs didn’t miss a beat. The Bears offense mustered just 204 yards of total offense. Jay Cutler passed for a measly 130 yards. Matt Forte, while scoring twice, averaged less than 4 yards per carry. Chicago’s leading receiver was tight end Martellus Bennett for 37 yards! Again, without Lavonte David!
Sure, maybe holding them to one field goal may have been different. But this game was all about the turnovers, preaching to Lovie’s quire. I like the aggressive approach, it’s something the Bucs have truly never had on offense. But part of being aggressive is finding a balanced approach that lets the entire offense thrive. The Bucs are still searching for that balance. Until they do, performances like today’s will continue.
Josh McCown will get the brunt of the blame, but this is who he is, a gunslinger. When you depend on a gunslinger too much, you take the risk of things coming down hard on you.
When it rains, it pours. It did Sunday.