For about 5-1/2 minutes, it looked as if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally figured out their offense.

The Buccaneers drove 75-yards in nine plays to tie the Browns at seven points apiece in the first quarter. It was an immediate answer to the Browns’ opening drive that ended in six points, itself.

Byron Leftwich’s offense looked sharp, efficient, and punishing. Rachaad White took a handoff for a season-long 35-yards and Tom Brady connected with Julio Jones and Chris Godwin on back-to-back snaps. The latter reception represented the Buccaneers’ first touchdown of the game and it was because of exceptional awareness from left guard Nick Leverett, who occupied Myles Garrett just long enough for Brady to find Godwin on the backside of the play.

Overall, the Buccaneers offense looked really, really good.

And then everything fell apart. And in no other fashion than the 2022 style we’ve grown accustomed to, of course.

It started with the next two drives, which saw the Buccaneers offense back up its opening scoring drive with two three-and-outs. Both drives netted 16 combined total yards.

Fortunately, Brady and co. were able to get three points on the board before halftime and then, the offense looked alive during a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter.

But that would be all the scoring the Buccaneers would do for the rest of the game. The offense gained just 56 total net yards over their final five drives of regulation and the Buccaneers scored zero points as they watched the Browns tie the game and send it to overtime in the final minute.

It’s hard to blame the defense for the final touchdown that sent the game to overtime. For starters, the Buccaneers shut the Browns offense down in the second half. The Browns had six-straight second half drives end in either a punt or on downs. And, David Njoku’s touchdown catch -on 4th and 12 of all downs- was just a ridiculous play on his end.

The Buccaneers offense simply didn’t do its job and sustain drives. Once again, it hung the defense out to dry and the defense couldn’t close out the game. Sure, the defense should take part of the blame, but this loss is mostly on the Buccaneers offense.

At this point, we know what this team is: An average team, at best, that needs a lot to go its way in order to win. And the margin for error is about to become even slimmer with the upcoming loss of All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs.

But despite being simply mid, the Buccaneers have a great shot to still make the playoffs. Especially after the Atlanta Falcons’ latest loss. The Buccaneers, at 5-6, still hold the top spot in the NFC South and they have a top-10 schedule in terms of ease when it comes to the NFL’s remaining strength of schedule rankings.

Which puts the Buccaneers on track for a special kind of hell. You know, the one where a team has so many obvious deficiencies, but is on track to make the postseason because of an extremely weak division.

Why is this a problem for Tampa Bay? Well, making the postseason guarantees a draft slot of 19th or lower, which is not an ideal spot for a Buccaneers team that is very likely going to lose Brady to free agency (or retirement) and is currently $41 million over the cap in 2023.

Meaning, the Buccaneers will need a quarterback and they won’t have the money to spend on one and they won’t have a high draft pick to draft one.

Imagine if the Buccaneers finish with an 8-9 record but make the postseason. The three teams that finished with a similar record in 2021 picked 12th, 13th, and 14th, respectively, in the 2022 NFL Draft. Hell, the Buccaneers could even miss out on a top-10 pick if they somehow win the division with a 7-10 record.

So, there would sit the Buccaneers, in cap hell and with no premium draft picks to increase their chances of getting a young, cheap player (or players) who can come in and immediately provide a spark.

A team that, coming into this year, thought its championship window was still open for a couple of years.

No franchise wants an average roster, cap issues, no solution at quarterback, and then to top it all off – average draft picks. The Buccaneers will have to settle and they’ll have to settle a lot.

And that forumla is what keeps teams bouncing between 4-8 wins for years.

But, that’s how things are shaping up for the Buccaneers. Whether they like it or not.

Featured image via Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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