<
>

Bucs eager to erase bad feelings after 'embarrassing' loss to Cardinals last year

TAMPA, Fla. -- If you ask around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room, the Arizona game in Week 2 last year is still somewhat of a sore subject. They turned the ball over five times and lost 40-7. Quarterback Jameis Winston threw four interceptions.

Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin was done by the first quarter with a hamstring injury, as was defensive end Robert Ayers with an ankle injury. Cecil Shorts III and Luke Stocker both left with injuries too.

"They stomped us out last year," said wide receiver Mike Evans, who was the intended target on two of those interceptions. "We got blown out. I learned that we've gotta be better."

Added tight end Cameron Brate: "We were pretty embarrassed out there. We didn't play our best game. It doesn't get much worse than that."

Head coach Dirk Koetter admitted that it was the type of loss that keeps him up at night, even a year later.

"They just physically got after us. We turned it over way too many times," Koetter said. "They physically beat us, they took advantage of all of our mistakes. We didn't show up to play that day and we didn't do a good job of coaching either."

It stung for a while for Brate.

"It was tough, especially with such a long flight," Brate said. "When you play such a bad game, it really lets you sit there and kind of reflect on everything you did poorly. But it also gives you a chance to think about what you can do better and the opportunities you still have ahead."

The Bucs had come off a 31-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1, exploiting the Falcons' deep zone dropping defense with check-downs. Against the Cardinals, there were no check-downs to be had because the Cardinals blitzed so much -- 30 of 76 snaps to be exact, more than any other team the Bucs faced last year.

The Cardinals spent most of the game in man coverage. Typically, that's when the Bucs would run the ball, but Martin's absence prevented that, as did playing from behind the entire game.

At times, Winston was off-target, and on other occasions receivers weren't particularly strong in their route running. On Winston's first pick, it almost looked like cornerback Patrick Peterson was the intended target on a deep pass to Mike Evans. On the second pick, Winston tried to connect with Vincent Jackson on a bench route and failed to get the ball outside.

"It was a tough loss," said Ayers. "It kind of exposed us a little bit to where other people started doing what they're doing and we spent a lot of time trying to correct that instead of get better."

On defense, the Bucs pressured Carson Palmer on only seven of 65 snaps. Even on the 14 snaps that they blitzed, they couldn't get to Palmer. He was sacked one time by Noah Spence. They didn't fare much better on third-and-longs either.

"The way they attacked us, other teams were trying to do similar things as far as pushing the ball downfield and protecting up," said Ayers. "That's what they kind of [did] -- they protected up and they tried to take deep shots. Last year, a lot of other teams tried to do the same things, with running and running and then trying to take shots and stuff."

It's a much different Bucs team than the one that traveled to Glendale last year. They've upgraded personnel on both sides of the ball and they won nine games last year. But there are lessons that they can take with them heading into Round 2.

"We’ve just got to be real physical as receivers and tight ends," said Evans, who expects to get a heavy dose of work against Peterson again. "We’ve got to be real physical and get open. ... And we've got to run the ball."

Keeping Winston's pocket intact is also vital, especially with so many blitzes.

On the defensive side of the ball, it's about creating pressure and communicating, from the front-seven to the back-end with the cornerbacks and safeties.

"It’s something that we didn’t do well at the beginning of the season and it was very apparent going into halftime," said defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who pointed out the second-and-1 from the Arizona 49 that resulted in a 51-yard touchdown. "We had a blown assignment -- a mental error -- where we gave up the long touchdown pass. It kind of snowballed from there."

They also have to contend with Palmer's ability to slide around in the pocket and extend plays. There's also running back Adrian Peterson, whom the Cardinals traded for this week. He can get to the second level with ease. Gap integrity is paramount. Wrapping up and finishing tackles will be equally important.

Said Smith: "I hope that the guys will have a good memory of it in terms of that’s a good football team and they can put points up at will and they can throw the ball around the yard."