Bucs' worst loss of all: their own identity
Normally, I'd recommend patience. I'd say everyone knew the Tampa Bay Buccaneers weren't going to be rebuilt in a day, or a season, or maybe even two. But having patience comes with the prerequisite of seeing the Bucs steadily improve, giving reasonable hope for better days ahead. If you watched any or all of Sunday's 26-3 loss to the New York Jets, you saw none of the above.
You saw no reason to think the Bucs have a chance to turn this around next week, or any week. Your best hope is that they remain classically bad enough to secure draft rights to Nebraska man-mountain Ndamukong Suh, but even if they do I wonder if this same cast will be (or should be) here to coach him.
This was awful, they're inept, and the best thing we can say is that they're one game closer to the end of this miserable season. "Obviously, not the results you were looking for," head coach Raheem Morris said.
Obviously. Losses like this one scream for regime change. I think fans have been patient, to be perfectly honest. I think most people understood that this would be a rebuilding season with a rookie quarterback and they were prepared for the worst. I'm not sure anyone was prepared for this, though.
They weren't prepared for a 1-12 record. They weren't prepared for Josh Freeman's 12.1 passer rating Sunday, which was a great improvement over his 2.8 rating (not a misprint) for the first half of the game.
They weren't prepared for an offense that generated just 124 yards, including 15 in the first half – 9 yards passing, 6 on the ground (hey, nice balance!).
They weren't prepared for a team that, trailing 19-0, chose to kneel on the ball at its 35 at the end of the half rather than at least heave the ball toward the end zone (three words: potential pass interference).
They weren't prepared for a team that chose to run off the field for the dressing room rather than accept a penalty against the Jets on that final kneel play.
Solutions? We could start by firing everybody, beginning with the owners and working our way down.
Freeman threw three more interceptions Sunday, giving him eight in the last two weeks. That's bad, but what's worse is how off target he was all afternoon. It's logical to expect he'd take steps back in his development but what's happened lately has been a dive off the cliff. "Josh has to go out there and learn the hard way," Morris said, "and it has been the hard way the last two weeks."
There is the hard way and there is clueless. Freeman looks clueless. "It's all on me. I'm the quarterback," Freeman said. "I've got to find a way to go in and look at these protections and get something down."
A noble sentiment, falling on the grenade like that, but I don't know how offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Greg Olson escapes blame. So fire Olson, you say? That'll solve it?
You'll need a replacement, though, and you tell me what kind of difference-maker the Bucs can hire as long as Morris remains in charge. That's not a call for his head as much as it is an observation. A coordinator like, say, Charlie Weis or someone of that caliber won't sign on for this shipwreck because a year from now they might be out of a job when the Glazers inevitably decide this isn't working.
You say the Glazers won't fire Morris because they still owe two years on the contract extensions they foolishly gave Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen at the end of the 2007 season. They're certainly not about to pay Gruden and Morris NOT to coach, right?
Well, just take a look around. The crowd was announced at 62,731 for this game but the total inside Raymond James Stadium was 49,012 – nearly 14,000 no-shows. I'm guessing the exodus of season-ticket holders and sponsors after this season will look like the fall of Saigon, unless the Glazers do something bold. Bold, as in Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan – bold like that.
What can you say about a game plan that appears to have been made up on the back of a napkin? To wit, trailing 19-3 in the third quarter the Bucs recovered an onsides kick. Bold move, successful, nice play. But then on fourth-and-2 at midfield on the same series, they chose to punt. Whatever buzz that had been generated by the onsides kick fizzled and went kersplat.
Morris said he wanted to pin the Jets back with an idea toward getting the ball again at midfield. It didn't happen. New York was able to drive close enough for a field goal attempt (it missed) while chewing up 61 yards and nearly seven minutes of clock time the Bucs didn't have. Game over. What's it gonna be?
That's the real problem here. This team has no identity, no sense of who it is. You tell me the defense is playing better, I'll counter that they've faced backup quarterbacks in four of the last five games, including Sunday – and lost to them all.
Like I said, I normally recommend patience. But this team has burned through two coordinators, three quarterbacks, and whatever good will remained among its fan base. When this team and coaching staff turns in a game like this one, patience is off the table. That is, assuming anyone still cares.
Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune 14 December 2009