Bucs underachieved, but Koetter returns

Jan 2, 2018 - 3:35 AM TAMPA, Fla. -- 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, were the story.

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.

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. He had been a big-time playmaker his entire career, but 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.

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.

--CB Brent Grimes will be a free agent and said he hasn't decided whether to play or retire. But the Bucs made it clear to him Monday they would like him back in Tampa Bay next season.

"It was fun. It's tough to say that because we were losing, but this is a tight group," said Grimes, who tied for the team lead with three interceptions. "People are really cool. We have fun. We wish the record could say otherwise, but we have fun playing together."

Will Grimes be re-signed as part of an upgraded Bucs secondary for 2018? And what might that cost as he finishes a two-year, $16 million deal?

"I tried to give him a sell job this morning, and I told him we would love to have him back," head coach Dirk Koetter said. "I think Brent defies his real age, and there's been other guys around the league that have been able to do that. He's a free agent so he's in control of it, but we'd love to have him back, and I told him that."

--Jackson will spend more time working out with Winston in the offseason in hopes of improving their connection with the deep ball.

"With DeSean, we've got to continue to find our thing because he's such an unbelievable player," Winston said. "Not many quarterbacks get to play with a guy like that. So having a guy like that, you've got to work with him. DeSean and I have talked about our offseason program. Because we did work in the offseason, but not nearly as much as we want. With him coming to offseason workouts this year, he's a veteran guy, but we have to get our work in, man. Obviously, a lot of that has a lot to do with him being able to get the football in the way that he likes the football. That's going to be important. I'm going to sit down and talk to him and go through things with him."

--Wide receiver Mike Evans reached 1,000 receiving yards for the fourth straight season. With 55 receiving yards, Evans joins Randy Moss and Bengals receiver A.J. Green as the only receivers in NFL history to reach 1,000 yards in each of their first four seasons.

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