Bucs need to show signs season wasn't a waste
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 24 December 2012

They have a rag-tag offensive line and rag-tag secondary. They have one win over a team with a winning record. They're 0-3 in games decided by three points and 2-5 in games decided by seven points or less. They just didn't have enough.

But there's no excuse for the way the Bucs are going down the laundry chute. The losing streak is five and there's just one game left for this 6-9 team, next week in Atlanta against the playoff-bound Falcons' junior varsity.

Sunday, it was a 28-13 loss to the St. Louis Rams, who were eliminated from postseason contention, but didn't play like it. They ran up the score on the Bucs, before the Bucs rallied slightly, as only they can these days: two drives inside the St. Louis 10 without any points, bad play calls, bad quarterback, no clues at all, laughable, inexcusable, all of that. What about a field goal, say, one? There was tons of time left.

There is no way to say this team is finishing strong, that's it better than it was five weeks ago. Some Bucs are trying to peddle that drivel, along with the first-year head coach. Greg Schiano sees improvement. His players talked about how good they felt in practice, how hard they worked, how there's no quit, not like last season.

But if not quitting is what you're hanging your hat on at this point, well, doesn't that tell the story? See any growth lately? I don't.

Despite nearing the end of his fourth season, quarterback Josh Freeman is dissolving before our very eyes. He had an incredibly deceiving 372 yards passing yards on Sunday. He also threw four more interceptions, for eight in two weeks, or as many as he had in his first 13 games this season.

His head is full of mush. Maybe the Bucs should lock him up with a contract while the price is right. How does five years, $100,000 a year sound? Suddenly, No. 5 is a project again, the priority worry. I'm sure they're hidden somewhere, but there just aren't very many visible signs right now that the Bucs are better than they were.

The loss streak is five at precisely the wrong time. "You always say in December that you want to be playing your best ball," Ronde Barber said. "We obviously aren't doing that." Would you come back if you were No. 20?

This season has gotten away from Schiano and his coaching staff and they know it. That doesn't mean it has to carry over to next season. It really doesn't work that way too often. But where there was once a buzz about the Bucs, now there is silence. They're playing out the string and the string is winning.

Compare that to the Rams, who are finishing strong, having won four of five. They also have some important roster spots already filled: quarterback, corner, defensive end. They also have several high draft picks over the next two seasons because of the deal they made to let Washington move up in the draft to select Robert Griffin III.

Who would you rather be right now, the Bucs or the Rams? I still say that one-point loss in Tampa to conference leader Atlanta was the defining moment, where the Bucs went from a possible 7-4 record to the current five-game losers. They went all in that day and never recovered.

Have we really been able to say, since that game, that this team is getting better? Schiano blamed the last two losses on turnovers. He isn't ready for the season autopsy.

"That's more of an end of next week, when I'll look at the whole season 'OK, here's where we started, here's where we finished, the ups and downs,' " he said. "Right now, I'm not going to get into where we stack up. I do say this to our fans: We have good players in this program and we're going to get more and we're moving forward. We've got to find a way to win this game next week."

That would make seven. That seven matters, even against an Atlanta team that has clinched home field advantage in the NFC playoffs, which has absolutely nothing to play for tells you how suddenly desperate the Bucs are for any kind of sign that 2012 wasn't a waste. Losing out is for losers.