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Today is a day that Lavonte David and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would like to forget. Week 1 of their fresh season is in the books; and if the books had a box labeled “ugly,” it would be checked off. The Bucs started the game as if they were stuck in the preseason.
During their first six-play possession, they were flagged three times. On their second possession, quarterback Josh Freeman fumbled and was forced to kick the ball out of the end zone, resulting in a safety. Their third possession was a three-and-out.
From there on, besides an interception from Freeman, the Bucs seemed to have most of the momentum. Their defense forced two turnovers from the New York Jets' rookie quarterback Geno Smith, and it appeared that Josh Freeman was going to have another come from behind win added to his resume. But then, with 38 seconds left, Smith drove his team to midfield. With under 20 seconds remaining, and still out of kicker Nick Folk's range, Smith scrambled out of the pocket and picked up as many yards as possible in hope of entering field goal range. As Smith made his way out of bounds in order to stop the clock, he was shoved late by Lavonte David resulting in a fifteen yard penalty. This put the Jets into field goal range, and Folk did what he was paid to do and drilled the 48-yard field goal with two seconds reaming.
As David made his way to the sideline with his head hanging, he was met by defensive assistant Bryan Cox. Cox consoled David and lifted David's head up as it was seemingly drawn to the ground. Football is a team game, and if one thing is certain it is that David is not the sole reason why the Bucs lost the game. The team simply did not play to its potential, and it has a lot of it. If the Bucs start playing at a high level, they could make a serious run this season. They have that much talent. Football has proven time and time again that an elite quarterback is not a necessary catalyst to make a run at the Super Bowl (see Mark Sanchez, Rex Grossman, Trent Dilfer). If the defense is stingy enough and the running game is there, it is possible.
So, by that equation, as long as Freeman protects the ball and the defense eliminates mental mistakes, there is no reason why Tampa Bay cannot make some noise in the ostensibly wide open NFC. In the back field they have a stud running back in Doug Martin who was fourth in the league in all-purpose yards last year. On the right side of the field they have Vincent Jackson who lead the league in yards per catch with 19.2 last year, and on the left side, a solid number two receiver who was four yards shy of 1,000 last year in Mike Williams.
On the other side of the ball, the Bucs look scary. Last year the Bucs were the number one rush defense in the league, and, minus 47 yards rushing from Smith, they looked just as stout today. But where they needed to improve on from last year was their pass defense. Tampa Bay was ranked last in pass defense, but used the off season to rectify the problem. They traded for All-Pro cornerback Darrell Revis, who looked like his old self in limited action today. They stole All-Pro Dashon Goldson from the San Franciso 49ers and signed him to a five-year deal. Goldson had seven tackles and three bone crushing hits today (two of which hell will get a call from the league about). Then they drafted cornerback Johnathan Banks out of Mississippi State in the second-round who contributed three tackles today. Smith nor any of the Jets' running backs picked apart the defense. A safety, several drive prolonging penalties, and an interception propelled the Jets to their 18 points. So do not lose hope in them just yet.
The pieces are there. The window of opportunity is there. Now it is up to the players and coaches to lift themselves up, dust themselves off, and get back after it. They definitely have a long week of practice ahead of them, but they will have an even longer season ahead of them if they do not build off of this loss and come out strong against the New Orleans Saints next week.