TAMPA, Fla. — Gerald McCoy stared straight ahead in disbelief.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have allowed a NFL-high 101 points during a 1-2 start, and the four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle’s at a loss to explain why.
‘That’s a concern. It’s not good,” the seventh-year pro responded. “Defensively, we don’t worry about what the offense does. But regardless of what they do, if we don’t stop these teams from scoring, we’re not going to win. … We have to be better.”
The Bucs (1-2) have lost two straight games on the heels of a season-opening victory over the Atlanta Falcons, and quarterback Jameis Winston insists he has to play better if the team is going to be more successful. But so does a leaky defense that’s struggled to keep opponents out of the end zone through three games.
Coach Dirk Koetter reiterated Monday he feels the culture of the club has to change before the Bucs, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, will emerge as consistent winners.
The coach welcomed an opportunity to explain what he meant when he said the team’s culture “is not where it needs to be” after Sunday’s 37-32 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. “The best teams I’ve been on beat with one heart. They count on the guy next to them to do their job every time. They win and lose together,” Koetter said.
“We’re just missing something, and as my title suggests, it’s my job to speak up,” the coach added. “I feel like sometimes we find too many ways to lose a game, instead of creating ways to win games.”
The Rams rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit, then held on in the closing seconds after Winston threw his third TD pass and returned from a 69-minute weather delay to lead a potential game-winning drive. That ended when the quarterback was tackled from behind after a 10-yard scramble to the Los Angeles 5 on the final play.
While the defense helped build a first-half lead, returning an interception for a touchdown and forcing a fumble that led to another TD, the unit also allowed an offense that failed to score a TD in the first two weeks to get in the end zone four times. The Rams also scored on a 77-yard fumble return forced on Robert Quinn’s sack/strip of Winston in the fourth quarter.
“I told the team today, don’t point fingers. We had a lot of opportunities — offense, defense, kicking game,” Koetter said.
The defense has yielded six plays of 43-plus yards, more in three weeks than all of last season. Case Keenum threw TD passes of 44 and 43 yards for the Rams, who were outgained 472 yards to 320 while running 22 fewer offensive plays than the Bucs.
The turnovers that led to 13 first-half points were the first of the season forced by the Bucs.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “It’s positive we got the takeaways, but we can’t allow the explosive plays.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith, in his first season in Tampa Bay, said last week that players are still learning his system and that it’s too soon to draw any conclusions about how good the unit can be.
“This is all new for them, and I don’t think you can really say what kind of defense we’re going to be until we’ve got at least four games under our belt,” Smith said.
“There’s going to be growing pains,” the defensive coordinator added. “We’re playing some guys that have experience in the NFL, but they don’t have experience in our system that we’re trying to put together and have it evolve to be their system.”