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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers insist they are not as bad as they have played at times this season.
“My faith in these guys has never wavered. ... I believe in them wholeheartedly,” coach Todd Bowles said after the team’s third straight loss — the fourth in five games following a 2-0 start — dropped the Bucs (3-4) below .500 for the first time this season.
“We believe in ourselves as a team,” Bowles added. “And we know we’ll push forward and get better.”
That is becoming an all-too-familiar refrain from a sputtering offense, as well as a defense that ranks among the NFL’s stingiest in some key categories but also has a knack for breaking down in crucial situations.
The offense started slowly again in Thursday night’s 24-18 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Baker Mayfield rallied the team from a 14-point deficit, though ultimately the comeback bid ended with a Hail Mary pass falling incomplete in the Buffalo end zone and the Bucs once again claiming the offense is “close” to breaking through.
“We have the fight. We have the preparation. I don’t doubt what we are doing during the week. I don’t doubt what we are doing scheme-wise," Mayfield said. "Now, we just have to execute.”
Bowles, who was asked what is holding the offense back, agreed Friday.
“If it’s not missing a block here and there, then it’s a penalty here or there. We’ve got to clean it up together. It’s got to be clicking on all cylinders,” the coach said.
“Last week, it was one thing, this week, it’s another thing,” Bowles added. “We’ve just got to keep chopping at it and get better at it.”
Fourth-year safety Antoine Winfield Jr. arguably has been Tampa Bay’s most consistent player through seven games. He tipped a pass that defensive lineman William Gholston intercepted to set up the Bucs’ first touchdown against the Bills.
Since being drafted in the second round in 2020, the son of former Minnesota Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield Sr. has more sacks than any defensive back in the NFL (11) and ranks second among DBs in quarterback hits (16) and forced fumbles (8). He has two sacks and shares the league lead with three forced fumbles this season.
“The way he’s playing right now is unbelievable,” Bowles said. “For being so young of a player — he’s still early in his career — the things he’s doing right now is kind of like a seventh- or eighth-year player that’s doing it that’s been around for a while.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Penalties are undermining the team’s chances for success, especially on offense. The Bucs were flagged 11 times — matching a season high — for 73 yards at Buffalo. Eight of the penalties came on offense, including four for false starts.
“Ones that just drive you absolutely nuts are the pre-snap penalties. The ones that you can completely control,” Mayfield said.
“Pre-snap stuff is inexcusable. We have to get that fixed,” the quarterback added. “Guys have to be locked in.”
Despite the absence of a viable ground attack, Bowles insists the Bucs are encouraged by the progress of second-year running back Rachaad White, who had a team-leading seven receptions for 70 yards while rushing for 39 yards on nine attempts against Buffalo. That matched White's career best of 109 yards from scrimmage.
Third down was a problem, both offensively and defensively, against the Bills. The offense converted 4 of 15 opportunities, while the defense allowed Buffalo to go 7 of 13.
NT Vita Vea (groin) and G Matt Feiler (knee) did not play against the Bills. DL Logan Hall (groin) was limited after being injured during the game.
13. Despite playing one fewer game than some other statistical leaders, the Bucs are third in the NFL with 13 takeaways. Jacksonville (16) and Buffalo (14) are the only teams with more.
Travel to Houston to face the Texans on Nov. 5.
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