Bucs' transition phase in full regression now
Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times, published 17 December 2012

I would hereby like to take back every compliment, especially the sincere ones. I want to apologize for every positive feeling I may have foolishly passed on to others.

I wish to withdraw my earlier suggestion that this team was on the brink of turning things around. Evidently, it was all an illusion. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are, and remain, a bad football team. Not only that, but they seem to be getting worse.

After watching the bumbling, backsliding Bucs get booted by another bad team, the New Orleans Saints, what other conclusion is possible? The Bucs lost 41-0, and it could have been worse. All in all, it was as if Sunday was Raheem Morris Throwback Day, and you may feel free to debate whether this season's Game 14 was even worse than last season's. And furthermore, ouch.

The defense isn't any good, and the offense is moving in the wrong direction. The corners can't cover, and the linemen can't block. The quarterback can't throw straight, and the linebackers are invisible. There is no pass rush, not even when the safeties blitz from 30 yards away. Judging from the sideline tiff between assistant coach Bryan Cox and linebacker Adam Hayward, you may assume the toes are no longer on the line.

It was the fourth straight loss by the Bucs, and at this point, who knows if they will win again this year? A season that seemed so promising only a month ago has had much of the hope stripped from it. The momentum is gone, and the end zone is a faraway place where no Bucs visit, and the only way you are allowed to mention the playoffs is if you point and laugh as you do it.

For a team that is hoping to grow into something special, this is the worst time of the year to regress. This is the time when a young team wants to finish strong and stake a claim on the seasons to come. This is the time when a team with a new coach should start to understand what is being asked of it.

Instead, this team looks like an out-of-control car rolling backward. Nothing good can come of it. The Bucs were worse this week than last week, and worse last week than the week before, and so on. It is a season being played in reverse.

"Well, the result would say that we are (getting worse)," coach Greg Schiano said. "I think there are some factors to throw in there, but I don't feel like we are. I feel like the understanding of what we are doing is getting better, but it doesn't show on the field. "If I am someone not in the organization, I say it's not getting better."

Here's a question: Even if you are inside the organization, what progress have you seen lately? Josh Freeman? He seemed to have it going for a while this season, but lately, his play has been a blend of wild throws and wayward decisions. His quarterback rating was only 37.5 Sunday, and by the time Schiano pulled Freeman in the fourth quarter, you wondered what took him so long.

Running back Doug Martin? Once again, he was trying to run for daylight in a darkened room. Martin ended up with only 16 yards and a 1.8 average.

And the defense? Once again, it was like watching slow players chase fast ones. More and more, this looks like the defense we saw in the Jim Bates era, when he was asking too many flawed players to do things they simply were not capable of doing. Most of Sunday, the Bucs seemed to play right into the hands of Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

By now, you hoped the Bucs would be further along. In football, there is often a transition year that a team uses to springboard itself to better days. In 1971, Pittsburgh won two of its final five, a fairly good run for the Steelers in those days, but afterward, they went to the playoffs eight straight seasons.

In 1980, it was the 49ers, who finished 3-2 and then went to the postseason nine times in their next 10. In 1990, it was the Cowboys, who went 4-2 down the stretch and reached the playoffs in eight of their next nine seasons. Even the Bucs of 1996, Tony Dungy's first year, had the formula down. The team won five of its last seven, and the best era in Bucs history began the next season.

That was the hope for this year, that with Martin and Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy and Mark Barron and Freeman and Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, this season would boost the Bucs into the status of contenders for next year. Instead, doubt has replaced promise, and losing has replaced winning. "We're definitely not going in the right direction," defensive tackle McCoy said quietly. "There are ample opportunities out there. We're just not doing what we're supposed to do."

It is amazing how quickly, and how decisively, this season went south. A month ago, people were suggesting this was the best offense Tampa Bay has ever seen. Now, it can't manage a point against the worst defense in the NFL, a defense that gave up 52 points a week ago.

Something is wrong here. Something greater has been lost than four straight games. Direction. Promise. Momentum. Most of all, hope.