Pin this loss on a hapless, unimaginative offense
This time, it was the Bucs offense that finished the game on its knees. For the life of them, the Bucs could not move. They could not breathe. They could not get out of their own way. In other words, they were bad.

Good thing they have all these new weapons, isn't it? Just think of how little they might have accomplished otherwise.

This was an offense? Only to your eyes. The Bucs were off-target and slow and out of synch and plodding and directionless. To use the local vernacular: If this had been a cattle drive, there would be a lot more vegetarians in Kansas City these days.

They were wayward. They were ugly. They were miserable. Even judged by the history of the Tampa Bay franchise, they were awful. They were Lars Tate bad and Jack Thompson bad and Dexter Jackson bad. They were Bruce Gradkowski bad and Alvin Harper bad and I'm-in-favor-of-executing-the-offense bad.

And so they lost, although at times, winning seemed just a few yards away. And so they lost, because throwing was too tricky and running was too hard and coaching was too complicated. They lost 16-10, even though the Cowboys seemed intent on handing the game to them.

They lost, because they could not move from here to the bottom of the page. They could not have found the end zone if they had fallen from the top of the goalposts.

By now, you might have thought this offense would be further along, given the new coaches and the added weapons and the fresh starts. That's why Sunday was so disappointing. For the first time in the Greg Schiano era, the Bucs looked lost.

"We have been further along," Schiano said. "We just didn't play very well today. I am confident this offense will play well and will score points."

Remember last week, when quarterback Josh Freeman was so impressive in the fourth quarter? This time, he was a scattergun from the start. He hit only 10 of 28 passes on the day (for 110 yards). Consider this: After Freeman completed a pass with 9:43 to go in the third quarter, he didn't complete another until the two-minute warning, almost 23 game minutes later. Those are the stats of a quarterback who played in a blizzard, not in a perfect day in Dallas.

Remember two weeks ago, when rookie running back Doug Martin had a 95-yard debut? This time, Martin rushed for 53 yards, but he averaged only 2.8 yards per carry. Even worse: Of his 19 attempts, 12 of them were for 2 yards or fewer.

Throughout history, not many of the Bucs offensive coordinators have built dangerous offenses. But most of them seemed to realize that the goal was to go forward. And when time was running out, they seemed to be in a hurry about it.

Perhaps that's why it was so confounding to see the Bucs with time running out. The Bucs fell behind by two scores (16-7) with 2:43 to go and they promptly went about establishing a running game. They ran Martin up the middle on first down: He gained a yard. Then, with the what-was-that-all-about call of the week, they ran Martin again on third and 9: He lost 2. To be fair, Freeman said the Bucs' headphones weren't working. Then again, what was?

"Offensively, we struggled today, and everyone is part of the struggle," Schiano said. "Coaches. Players. Quarterback. Tackle."

That was the plan, remember? It was the offense that was supposed to lead this team. The new weapons were supposed to help the quarterback play efficiently. The running back taken in the first round was supposed to recharge the run game.

None of that happened Sunday. Once, the Bucs took the ball at their 49 after an onside kick by Dallas. After three plays, and four penalties, the Bucs punted on fourth and 15.

Then there was the sack when Michael Bennett forced a fumble on the Dallas 31. That play is sure to be debated with the replacement refs discussion, because if it had been called correctly to begin with, Eric Wright would have jogged in for a touchdown.

In Tampa Bay, however, people are sure to notice that the Bucs didn't move an inch with the opportunity. They ended up punting on fourth and 20 after a holding call. And so it went. There are statues in the garden that were more likely to score a touchdown than the Bucs were for the last three quarters of Sunday's game.

"Each play, there was a reason why it didn't work," Freeman said. "Maybe one time it was a guy who's covered up, or it's a pass where me and the receiver weren't able to hook up."

Blame the quarterback. Blame the coach. Blame the running back. Blame the obsession on controlling time of possession. Blame society. If these Bucs are going to move up, however, shouldn't they start by moving forward?

About the writer
Gary Shelton has been writing for The Tampa Bay Times for more years than he probably cares to remember and adds feature opinions on all sports outside of the Buccaneers. But during the season in Tampa Bay, he is at each game offering a diverse view on the on and off-field activities. He came over to London for the International Series game in 2009 and produced a front-page feature on the Bucs UK.