Many thought Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard was turning the corner. He recorded his best game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10, as the former Alabama star caught four passes for 47 yards and his first touchdown of the season. With the division leading New Orleans Saints next up on the docket, Howard had an opportunity to build on that performance, and possibly lead the Buccaneers to an upset win.
Howard instead took a major step backwards.
During the first quarter on Sunday, Howard attempted to reel in a pass from quarterback Jameis Winston over the middle. Before he secured the catch, Howard turned his head to account for an approaching defender, and the ball slipped out of his grasp. Without looking, Howard attempted to secure the ball against his hip, but the ball shifted behind his back. Howard then tried to turn it into a behind-the-back catch, but the ball popped up and was intercepted by Demario Davis. The following play, Michael Thomas caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to extend the Saints' lead to 13.
It was a big turn of events in the early stages of the matchup. The Saints had already converted two field goals while the Buccaneers had run just four plays before Howard's embarrassing drop.
"I had it and I tried to cut upfield and then next thing I know the ball gets loose and I start bobbling it and it gets behind me some kind of way, which is crazy," Howard said, via The Tampa Bay Times. "It all happened too fast."
Howard wasn't targeted again during Sunday's 34-17 loss, while fellow tight end Cameron Brate caught a team-high 10 receptions for 73 yards. This year as a whole has been a disaster for the former No. 19 overall pick. Everything seemed to be looking up coming into this season, but he's fallen flat.
Howard caught a career-high 34 receptions for 565 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games last year. His season was cut short due to injury, but when Bruce Arians was hired in the offseason, many pegged Howard as someone Arians would rely on to help Winston's development. So far, however, Howard has caught just 17 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown.
"It's hard to say (what's wrong)," Arians said when asked about Howard on Sunday. "He's a talented, talented guy, but it's not showing up on Sundays."
At 6-foot-6, 251 pounds and armed with exceptional speed and good hands, Howard still has time to turn it around. He has all the makings of a star tight end, but needs to do something to gain the trust of this new coaching staff.