No way for Bucs to justify poor starts
They had two weeks off and they didn't begin to look ready when Sunday's game began. Sooner or later _ and it's later _ that's preparation, that's coaching.

They had two weeks and they had no sense of urgency. How is that not coaching?

Throw in undisciplined play, some more penalties, and some very goofy, losing play calls _ like that Josh Johnson wildcat third-down disaster or that Josh Freeman quarterback sneak, both of which led to settling for field goals.

Throw in some lousy defense and some lousy balls from Josh Freeman, add it up and the Bucs were 27-16 losers to the New Orleans Saints. Add it up and Raheem Morris' club is 4-4.

Nearly every game this team plays, it shows up late. It happened again Sunday. For the eight time in eight tries, Greg Olson's magical mystery offense didn't score a touchdown in the first quarter. Soon the Saints led 14-0.

The Bucs did come back, and even seemed to have half a chance in the final quarter. That's their act. "We just came up short at the end," Bucs offensive tackle Donald Penn said.

No, they came up short at the beginning. This bunch is clueless during the week, clearly.

How does that not speak to coaching? Yes, players need to execute. But how does out game-planned, out-foxed and out-energized when a game begins not speak to a lack of something at the top, or least an inability to pass it on to the players?

There's something missing, and Morris and his staff haven't hit on the fix. What's going on here?

"There have probably been plenty of thoughts that have been bounced around this building," said Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, who blames it on players' execution. "We've been able to adjust and get back in games, but good teams don't start slow like us. Average teams start like us. The best teams come out and fast break from the get-go."

New Orleans, which was smarting from the loss in Tampa three weeks back and an embarrassment last weekend in St; Louis, grabbed this game at the start and never truly let go.

It's more than a lack of execution, though I'm pretty sure the Josh Freeman of 2010 hits either Kregg Lumpkin or Erik Lorig for touchdowns instead of missing them Sunday, meaning the Bucs settled of two more field goals. Conor Barth outscored the offense Sunday, 10-6.

It's more than talent, or a lack of talent, though our minds did wander as we watched all those Saints puzzle pieces, particularly as Darren Sproles raced through the Bucs defense Sunday. Hey, Glazer guys, hey, Mark Dominik, why didn't you get one of those this offseason?

Anyway, all that being said, it's clear that Morris and his staff can't get it together by game time. Well, not entirely. I'm still shaking my head over that Josh Johnson run call on third and four late in the second quarter from the New Orleans 23-yard line, with the Saints up 14.

Johnson was stuffed and the Bucs settled for the field goal, as they did in the fourth quarter after Freeman was stuffed on a sneak right before throwing an incompletion to the now seemingly irrelevant Mike Williams. Those plays calls mystify.

The penalties are another matter. Some of them, like the personal fouls, are simple. "It's just selfish, undisciplined football," Morris said.

Morris and his coaches aren't getting through to these young players. It's not 2010, it's not 10-6 anymore. It's time to grow up. Maybe some guys need to sit. Maybe Morris needs to take charge of this. Maybe he needs to instill more discipline in general _ or urgency.

Saying 4-4 is "right in the hunt," after Sunday's game, that doesn't help, if you ask me. A 3-1 start has now been replaced by a 1-3 slide. The Bucs are all even, but it feels like they're behind. There's a lot of that going around with these guys, and the guys who coach them.

About the writer
Martin Fennelly has been The Tampa Tribune's leading sports columnist for many years and is always on hand with a topical and witty opinion on any Florida sporting event. He was named the Bucs UK's Writer of the Year four consecutive years from 2001 to 2004.