Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Bucs underachieved, but Koetter returns
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a dramatic finish to one of their most disappointing seasons ever. Jameis Winston threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to rookie Chris Godwin for the game-winning touchdown to beat the Saints 31-24.
They finished 5-11 despite all the expectations that were so well chronicled on Hard Knocks.
"I was so confident in the beginning of the year," Winston said. "A lot of us were confident and the hype was for real. It really fuels me because it lets us know just because the hype is there, it doesn't really mean anything. We got to go out there and play on the field. And I said that a lot, like, yeah, we've still got to go out there and play. But that's just a true testament, no matter what someone can say about you, even if someone can bring you down, you still got to go out there and play to prove your pudding every single play and just in the offseason or not just for Hard Knocks and not just at the end of the season. It's every single play you've got to prove your stuff."
The fact that the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, decided to stick with head coach Dirk Koetter after a 5-11 season that included a pair of five-game losing streaks, was a surprise to many.
This may be as well: Koetter says he plans for Mike Smith to return as defensive coordinator and Todd Monken to be back as offensive coordinator/receivers coach.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Bucs got a lot of big contributions from their draft class. Tight end O.J. Howard tied for the club lead with six touchdown receptions and blocked well in the run game. Safety Justin Evans became a starter and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. Wide receiver Chris Godwin played great on special teams and emerged as a real threat at receiver after the injury to DeSean Jackson. Linebacker Kendell Beckwith stepped in as a starter with injuries to Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David and was among the team's top tacklers.
WHAT WENT WRONG: The Bucs simply could not close out games. They were 3-7 in games decided by one score. They could not rush the passer and that was the biggest problem. Tampa Bay was last in total defense and in sacks with only 21. The injury to defensive end Noah Spence and the ineffectiveness of defensive end Robert Ayers, who had only two sacks, was the story.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: There were a lot of candidates. Kicker Nick Folk. Defensive tackle Chris Baker. But through no fault of his own, the most disappointing player was wide receiver DeSean Jackson. A big-time play-maker his entire career, the Bucs simply couldn't get the ball to Jackson down the field. He finished with 50 catches for 669 yards and his 13.4 yards-per-catch average is more than four yards shy of his career mark.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: At the end of the season, running back Peyton Barber emerged as the Bucs' leading rusher. He only started the final five games after a Doug Martin suspension. He began the season as the No. 4 running back behind Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims. All three of those running backs are likely to be gone next season.
ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: Offensive coordinator/receivers coach Todd Monken is emerging as one of the better position coaches in the NFL and could be a head coach one day. Monken, who was the head coach at Southern Mississippi before joining the Bucs, has done wonders with Mike Evans and has helped other emerging receivers. As offensive coordinator he doesn't call plays, but he does work on game planning.