Bucs' loss to Cowboys hurts Dirk Koetter's job security

With a 27-20 loss to the host Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 5-10. It is their second double-digit losing season in three years under coach Dirk Koetter.

Tampa Bay now has double-digit losses in seven of the past 10 seasons.

The Bucs "haven't ruled out keeping Koetter," according to an NFL Network report, despite the mounting losses and the issues that have plagued the team in three years under his guidance. His teams have struggled on offense, they have had high turnovers, and clock management has been a consistent issue.

The main argument for keeping Koetter is that the Bucs' offense has been so successful in producing yardage. Their 416.6 yards per game heading into Week 16 ranked third-most in the league.

But the Bucs were also 10th in the league in scoring heading into Sunday, and they have struggled against the league's better defenses, averaging 15.3 points per game in Weeks 14-16 (the league average from Weeks 14-15 is 19.32).

"It's frustrating to move the ball like that and not get touchdowns. That's what you have to do," Koetter said Sunday.

The Bucs' struggles became painfully evident in the fourth quarter, when they had two delay-of-game penalties in the red zone.

Koetter contemplated calling a timeout when it was fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 2-yard line. The Bucs turned the ball over on downs.

"I did think about a timeout, and I saw the clock," Koetter said. "We were gonna throw it anyway. I just didn't know about using the timeout, and sometimes being back further gives you more route options anyway, so ... I also thought we were gonna get the ball snapped. ... We didn't do a good job there."

Earlier in the game, the 6-foot-4, 231-pound Jameis Winston fought his way for 4 yards to the Dallas' 2-yard line, setting up a Jacquizz Rodgers rushing touchdown, so Koetter's rationale is puzzling.

"We had those delay-of-game penalties ... on me," Winston said. "And I've just gotta ... I don't know. I don't know what happened with the clock. I've just gotta call it faster and get the ball out. Because that hurt us in terms of being fourth-and-6 and fourth-and-1. I've gotta do a better job with operations."

For all the one-score games the Bucs were in and lost in 2017 (they went 3-7 in such games and are currently 13-17 in such games under Koetter), decisions such as that can affect a team, and it did on Sunday, as the Bucs were 2-of-4 in the red zone.

That falls on Winston, too, who as a fourth-year quarterback has been in the same system since he entered the NFL.

"I knew where [the clock] was," Winston said. "I just thought it was quick. I just ... I don't know if we got 40 seconds or 25 or 15. I just thought it was quick, and obviously I've gotta be aware of that ... so I wish I had that one back."

That was at the end of a 9:26 drive.

"We put a lot out there to move the chains," wide receiver Adam Humphries said. "[With] long drives, a lot of plays, you get tired. You want to ultimately be rewarded at the end with points and a touchdown. It is unfortunate to come out of those long drives without points."

The Cowboys capitalized big time on the Bucs' turnovers, scoring 14 points off of them. At the end of the first quarter, on third-and-5, Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory blazed by left tackle Donovan Smith, sacking Winston and forcing a fumble. Jaylon Smith recovered it and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown.

In the third quarter, a botched exchange between Winston and Bobo Wilson on a jet sweep led to a Wilson fumble that Gregory recovered, setting up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to Michael Gallup to give the Cowboys a 27-13 lead.

"We had one in the first half that hurt us and one in the second half that hurt us," Winston said. "That's tough to bite, but it happened. Those are things we know we can fix."

Penalties and protection were another issue. Winston was sacked three times and hit eight times, and the offensive line was responsible for five penalties (four holding calls and a false start).

"We had the holding penalties -- three in the pass game and one in the long run by Peyton [Barber] -- that hurt us a lot in that drive," Koetter said. "But holding penalties aren't discipline. Those are those guys giving their all to protect the quarterback. That's not a discipline issue. It doesn't mean you like them, but that's a really good rush team we played today, and our offensive line played their tails off. I mean, in a perfect world, we wouldn't be throwing it 48 times, but we did."

With the loss, the Bucs moved up two spots, from No. 8 to No. 6 in the 2019 NFL draft order. The No. 6 slot is in Mike Evans territory, so the Bucs could net a major impact player.

That bright spot doesn't make the losses any easier to stomach, however, especially for Bucs fans who are receiving their season-ticket renewals this month. The Bucs have one more game to play, and beyond 2018, fans can hope management figures things out.