After sturdy start, Bucs defense struggles to get off field vs. Ravens
Initially, a sense of resurgence wafted through the warm evening. For the better part of a half, the Bucs defense had Lamar Jackson - and its critics - on the run. Shaquil Barrett was getting in Jackson's grill. Lavonte David was causing disruption in the solar plexus of the secondary. Jamel Dean was deflecting passes in the end zone. This was Bucs defense circa 2020, or even 2002.

But the chronic offensive futility sapped the defense of its first-half fuel. By the second, the Bucs were gassed. Then gashed. "They've been playing great all year, actually," receiver Mike Evans said. "I know they gave up some big runs later in the game, but that's hard to do. We're not getting points. We've got to get more points early on, and we have to start fast on offense to help our defense out some."

Problem is, complementary football - a buzz phrase around Bucs headquarters - remains as scarce as touchdowns these days. Clearly fatigued down the stretch, the Bucs surrendered 204 rushing yards in the second half of their 27-22 loss to the Ravens.

"In the second half, we just called a lot more run plays and our guys blocked their tails off," said Jackson (nine carries, 43 yards), one of four Ravens to gain at least 33 yards on the ground. "And our running backs were hitting the holes and doing what they're supposed to do."

By night's end, the Tampa Bay defense had logged 38 minutes, 23 seconds on the Raymond James Stadium turf while its offense - which punted on five consecutive possessions at one point - totaled 21:37. "We train for this," coach Todd Bowles said. "So that's not an excuse for us."

Players and staffers weren't using an assortment of injuries as an alibi either. Three members of the secondary rotation (Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Antoine Winfield) didn't suit up, nor did veteran tackle Akiem Hicks. Early in the second half, they were joined by outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who suffered what may be a season-jeopardizing Achilles injury. "I ain't fixing to use injuries as an excuse," David said.

To be sure, the current ailments transcend foot injuries or fatigue. A depleted depth chart can't explain the missed run fits, shoddy communication or even suspect scheming. In their last two games - including in Carolina against a makeshift Panthers offense - the Bucs have surrendered 343 total rushing yards after halftime.

"(The run defense) wasn't very good in the second half," Bowles said. "The first half, I don't think they tried to run as much. I thought we missed some tackles early on, and then in the second half I thought they had some good runs, and we've got to get better all the way around."

David was even more candid. "I don't know what it is, but I told them last week, it ain't no more looking in the mirror, you've got to dig in your soul and pull one out," he said. "Whatever you think you're doing, it ain't it. Whatever you thought you were doing, it ain't it. You've got to find a way to get better some way, somehow."

Joey Knight, The Tampa Bay Times, published 28 October 2022