Weak NFC Is Wide Open as Flawed Tampa Bay Buccaneers Get Stomped on SNF

Brent SobleskiOctober 3, 2022

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady yells as he takes the field before an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
AP Photo/Jason Behnken

The NFC currently consists of the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles, then everyone else.

A sort of malaise hangs over the majority of the NFL. No truly dominant team has emerged. Even the Eagles were down a pair of touchdowns Sunday to the Jacksonville Jaguars before ripping off 29 straight points.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were supposed to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Instead, Tom Brady and Co. have started 2-2 after their 41-31 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football.

Back-to-back home losses to the Green Bay Packers, who are still trying to figure out who they exactly are as a team, and the Chiefs don't bode well for the Bucs.

Yet everything remains in front of Tampa Bay, and it's far too early to write such a talented squad off, especially when the GOAT resides behind center.

The Buccaneers played from behind all night long after rookie Rachaad White fumbled the opening kickoff, and the Chiefs quickly capitalized with a Patrick Mahomes' touchdown pass to his favorite target, Travis Kelce.

The game quickly snowballed as Tampa Bay struggled to contain the Chiefs offense—the same offense that made significant mistakes in last week's loss to the struggling Indianapolis Colts. Things can change rapidly.

"Our red zone defense was poor. Our run defense was poor. Our pass defense was poor. Our third-down efficiency was poor, and we played a poor game," head coach Todd Bowles told reporters after the loss. "That falls on me. I'll take that."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles wears Florida Strong tee-shirt during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles standing with his defense during Sunday's 41-31 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

Professional football is funny in a way. Performances don't always carry over from week to week.

The Eagles found a recipe for success. They have the league's best offensive line. The defense flies all over the field. Jalen Hurts is a legitimate threat as a passer and runner, which stresses opposing defenses to the breaking point.

A.J. Brown is everything the team envisioned as its WR1. DeVonta Smith is playing well. Zach Pascal adds a certain level of physicality at wide receiver. Everything is clicking in the City of Brotherly Love.

Meanwhile, multiple franchises own 3-1 records, yet questions still persist if some are any good at all. We're all looking at the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings and wondering if they really are the best their respective conference has to offer, even with their combined 9-3 record.

Tampa Bay is very much in the mix with this group based on how its immediate future currently stands.

An ugly loss against the Chiefs shouldn't be indicative of the entire team or the season. Mahomes made plays. Kansas City came out with an exceptional offensive game plan, as it tends to do. It's one of those games where those within the locker room can simply forget what happened and turn their attention toward the next contest.

A favorable lineup of opponents should certainly help matters.

Over the next three weeks, Tampa Bay faces the Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers. The Falcons barely made it past the Cleveland Browns this weekend despite Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney not playing.

The Steelers will have a rookie making his second start in the contest, assuming Kenny Pickett is now the guy after replacing Mitchell Trubisky in Sunday's game. The Panthers are struggling with the league's worst offense.

A 5-2 record is a strong possibility for the Buccaneers, especially as the roster's health improves. Left tackle Donovan Smith and wide receivers Chris Godwin and Julio Jones were active for the Chiefs contest. Those are steps in the right direction.

Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks could be back during the aforementioned stretch as he recovers from a torn plantar fascia in Week 2.

Obviously, the Bucs played from behind the entire night and abandoned the run, which resulted in Brady throwing for 385 yards. Mike Evans looked fantastic with eight receptions for 103 yards and a pair of touchdown grabs.

The 6'5" target remains one of the league's biggest mismatches, and the offense will only improve as Jones and Godwin get more reps by staying on the field.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) makes a touchdown reception against Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Jaylen Watson (35) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans with a touchdown reception. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Despite the outcome, the Chiefs knew what they were facing going into the contest.

"Yeah, they're one of, if not the best, defense in football," Mahomes told reporters last week. "They have a great coach, defensive coach with Coach Bowles, who's done it for a long time and been really good everywhere he's been.

"And they have great players in every phase: linebackers, D-line, secondary, and they've played together for a while, so they're going to kind of confuse you, give you different looks, and they're going to fly around and make plays. So, it's about us executing, getting the ball out of my hand and making these other guys make plays."

Mahomes certainly executed. If the play didn't work, the quarterback usually made something happen. But Mahomes is a one-of-a-kind talent. Tampa isn't going to face another top quarterback until Week 8 when Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens come to town.

Typically, the Buccaneers are one of the best coached and most aggressive defenses. Mahomes wasn't lying with his assessment.

Vita Vea is a powerhouse along the interior. Lavonte David and Devin White cover as much space as any two linebackers. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. has a nose for the football. The talent is there for the Bucs defense to bounce back quickly.

All of the mistakes and shortcomings can be highlighted, but in the end, the Buccaneers are still in first place in the NFC East with a 2-2 start and a 1-0 divisional record. And outside of the Eagles, no one has really separated themselves from the pack.

When looking at the Giants, concerns at quarterback—where running back Saquon Barkley was forced to take snaps in the second half because of injuries—aren't going away anytime soon.

Dak Prescott should return to the Cowboys soon, which will make them a difficult out. The Vikings didn't stack up well against the Eagles when the two teams played in Week 2.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 02: Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants runs with the ball against Trevis Gipson #99 of the Chicago Bears during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium on October 02, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Otherwise, who's really left to challenge for the NFC's top spots?

Aaron Rodgers continues to lead the Packers, even though the back-to-back league MVP is still finding a footing with his new receivers.

The reigning Super Bowl champs, the Los Angeles Rams, couldn't handle the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, only to beat two inferior teams in the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals. Still, this duo sits among the NFC's second tier.

The 2-2 Chicago Bears are a one-sided team with a talented defense but no confidence whatsoever in quarterback Justin Fields.

The Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals sport the same record. The former is currently flying high with Geno Smith behind center, but he can't possibly keep up his record pace of completing 77.5 percent of his passes for an entire season.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals' poorly concocted offense has been highly inconsistent. DeAndre Hopkins' eventual return from a six-game suspension should help the latter issue, though.

Maybe the one-win San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints or Washington Commanders make a run after poor starts. The possibility of that actually happening seems slight, with so many questions littering those rosters.

The Eagles got off to a runaway start. Even so, every other NFC team remains in the mix, no matter how they started.

The conference is just waiting for another top squad to emerge, and the Buccaneers are as good of a bet as any to be that team.

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.


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