- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: For the second straight week, the Bucs got to the corner and couldn’t quite turn it. There’s no question the Bucs are on the right path, but this was another game in which they showed they’re not ready to beat a good team. But they’re close. They lost by a point to Atlanta last week, and they controlled the Denver game for the first half before the Broncos took control by scoring 21 points in the third quarter. At 6-6, the Bucs remain in the playoff picture for this season. But the postseason might be a more realistic goal for next season. Somewhere along the way, the Bucs have to figure out how to beat good teams if they truly want to take the next step.
What I liked: The way Tampa Bay compensated for its problems in the secondary in the first half. The Bucs held Peyton Manning to one first-half touchdown pass, and that was to defensive tackle Mitch Unrein. They were able to keep their young cornerbacks from getting exploited, and that was largely because Tampa Bay’s offense did such a nice job of controlling the ball and keeping Manning off the field.
What I didn’t like: The offense went completely cold in the third quarter. That gave Manning an opportunity to pick on rookie cornerback Leonard Johnson, and the complexion of the game changed rapidly.
What else I didn't like: The Bucs put virtually no pressure on Manning. They are without defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who is out for the season with an injury. But ends Michael Bennett and Da'Quan Bowers and tackle Gerald McCoy can generate a pass rush. They didn't do it against the Broncos, and that's why Manning hung the secondary out to dry.
Injury watch: Kickoff returner/reserve cornerback LeQuan Lewis went down with a knee injury, which didn't look good, late in the fourth quarter. If Lewis misses any time, the Bucs might turn to rookie running back Michael Smith as their kick returner.
It happened again: Remember early in the season when the Bucs still were going hard against the New York Giants with Eli Manning lined up in the victory formation? The Bucs did the same thing to his brother. Peyton Manning took a knee twice at the end of the game, and the Bucs came after him. Manning didn't get touched, but his offensive lineman didn't react kindly, and there was some pushing and shoving with Tampa Bay defenders. Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano talked to Manning after the game, but it wasn't clear whether the quarterback had any problem with Tampa Bay's tactics. I'm sure Manning will be asked about it in his postgame interview.
What’s next: The Bucs host the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday.