Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Panthers-Buccaneers Turning Point, Week 8: Ugly starts lead to bad endings

Jameis Winston fumbles during the second quarter Sunday. The Bucs have committed 12 turnovers after the first quarter this season, tied for the third most. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]

Jameis Winston fumbles during the second quarter Sunday. The Bucs have committed 12 turnovers after the first quarter this season, tied for the third most. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]

TAMPA — The Bucs are a mess.

Where to start?

How about the beginning?

On Tampa Bay's first play Sunday, Doug Martin barely carried the ball beyond the line of scrimmage.

On the second, Jameis Winston's pass to DeSean Jackson along the right sideline fell incomplete.

On the third, Winston targeted Jackson again, this time over the middle. The pass was high, but you wonder whether Jackson, sensing that he was about to get popped by a Panthers defender, didn't fully extend for the ball.

The Bucs had an opening on that third down. They just didn't execute.

So they punted. For the fourth time in their past five games, they ended their opening possession by kicking the ball to the other team.

If you had stopped watching there, you wouldn't have missed much. Here's a recap: The Bucs scored three points. Only the Cardinals, Giants, Jaguars, Packers, Rams and Titans had worse offensive outputs. That's because they didn't play.

Then again, one could argue the Bucs didn't, either.

This was supposed to be an explosive offense, something resembling the 2016 Falcons. Instead, it's the football equivalent of a "Bang!" flag gun.

Those Falcons started fast. They scored nine first-possession touchdowns. They won eight of those games.

These Bucs have yet to score a touchdown on their first possession. They're 2-5.

"Sometimes we are just not making the plays that are there to be made," coach Dirk Koetter said. "That happened in Buffalo last week. We ended up having to kick field goals on the first two drives. This last week we didn't get in position to even kick a field goal."

This isn't just a problem this season. Since Koetter took over the offense in 2015, Tampa Bay has scored three first-possession touchdowns. That's the fewest in the NFL.

Coaches, including Koetter, preach the importance of starting fast. And for good reason. Teams that score early win more often. Especially when they score touchdowns.

Since the start of the 2015 season, teams that have scored a touchdown on their first possession have won twice as often as they've lost. When they've kicked a field goal, the advantage hasn't been as great, but it has still been an advantage. When they've punted, more often than not they've gone on to lose.

Put another way: Teams that have ended their first possession with a punt have lost four times as many games as teams that have ended their first possession with a touchdown.

End event Record Win percentage
Touchdown 183-89 0.672
Field goal 105-90 0.538
Punt 277-356 0.438
Source: Pro Football Reference

That's not to say that games are over after a team punts on its opening drive. It's a disadvantage, but so are most drives that don't end in points. Each one is a lost opportunity.

It's worth noting that the Panthers also ended their first possession with a punt. They did, however, end the first quarter with a lead. And that's harder to overcome than you might think.

Since the start of the 2015 season, teams that have led after the first quarter have gone on to win about three-quarters of their games. When trailing after the first quarter, the Bucs are 5-13 — and 0-4 this season.

It's easier to lead than it is to chase. When a team falls behind, it becomes less balanced and more predictable. And when that happens, it becomes prone to mistakes.

Tampa Bay has committed just one turnover in the first quarter this season.

But it has committed 12 turnovers after the first quarter, including three Sunday. That's tied for third most.

That's not a coincidence.

Why are the Bucs a mess? They're playing from behind too often.

They won't make the playoffs, but that doesn't mean the season is lost.

The next nine games are critical for Winston and the offense's development.

But if the Bucs don't start jumping on opponents sooner, we're going to look at this four-game losing streak and realize it was the beginning of the end of more than just a season.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at Follow @tometrics.

Panthers-Buccaneers Turning Point, Week 8: Ugly starts lead to bad endings 10/30/17 [Last modified: Monday, October 30, 2017 5:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Brayden Point becomes 'the heartbeat' of the Lightning

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — A local TV crew set up shop in front of Brayden Point's locker stall the other day, waiting for the Lightning forward to be ready.

    Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) battles to catch up to the puck the offensive zone against the Dallas Stars during first period action at Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening (11/16/17). s  

  2. Fennelly: If this is true, Jameis Winston is done in this town


    TAMPA — Why should we believe this man?

    Jameis Winston, who in 2015 was drafted by the Bucs amid questions about his behavior at FSU, denies an Uber driver’s allegation he groped her last year in Scottsdale, Ariz.
  3. Jameis Winston accused of groping Uber driver


    TAMPA —- The NFL is investigating an allegation that Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston groped a female Uber driver in Arizona in March 2016.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) at midfield after an NFL game between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. The New England Patriots beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19-14. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  4. Bucs-Dolphins: Tampa Bay Times staff predictions for Sunday's 1 p.m. game


    Here's the Times' Bucs coverage team's predictions for Tampa Bay's 1 p.m. game Sunday at Miami:


    Cornerback Brent Grimes (24) celebrates an interception during the first half of the Bucs' win over the Jets. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. State college tidbits: Shula Bowl's a must-see


    Shula Bowl coaches

    None of the previous 15 FAU-FIU matchups had this much buzz. Both teams are bowl eligible, and both coaches are national names:

    FAU coach Lane Kiffin

    Record: 7-3

    FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2017, file photo, Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin gestures from the sidelines during an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin, in Madison, Wis. Kiffin never definitively said what his expectation was for his first season at Florida Atlantic, though one thing is absolutely certain.
He did not expect this.FAU is already 7-3, with six wins in a row. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash, File) NY172