After another loss, does Jon Gruden really want to return?
Rick Stroud, Tampa Bay Times, published 25 December 2017

Thatís right, this is a dear Jon letter. It seems like a good time to write you, Coach Gruden, after the Bucs just lost another heartbreaker, this time 22-19 to the Carolina Panthers. You always called them the North Carolina Panthers. Same guys, man.

Grumor has it you are considering leaving ESPNís Monday Night Football to return to the sideline. There was a report Sunday that you are even checking in with some of your former assistants to see if they are available.

Thatís a lot of smoke, and frankly, Dirk Koetterís head coaching seat with the Bucs is hot enough to start a fire. The word is, if Koetter is dismissed after next Sundayís season finale against the Saints, you would have a real interest in coaching the Bucs again. Let me take a few minutes to tell you what you would be getting yourself into.

This isnít anything like the Bucs team you took over in 2002 from Tony Dungy. You deserve all the credit in the world for winning Super Bowl XXXVII. Youíre in the Ring of Honor. So donít take this the wrong way. But this 2017 Bucs team doesnít have a championship defense like that one did. This Bucs defense had the best team in the NFC South on the ropes and then they took off the gloves. Started catching punches with their face.

Five times the Bucs have had the lead or been tied in the fourth quarter this season. They won one of them. It happened again Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. The Bucs were up 19-15 with 3:05 to play and the ball on the Panthers 31-yard line. It was fourth and 7. Koetter tried to make it a seven-point lead. But you know kickers, Jon. Remember when Martin Gramatica went from Automatica to Erratica? Patrick Murray missed a 51-yarder wide right, just like he did on the 54-yarder that wouldíve tied Atlanta last week. SMH. Kickers.

Anyway, Cam Newton took over at the Tampa Bay 41 and moved the Panthers like they were on skates. In four plays, they were knocking on the door. The Bucs got them to fourth and 3 at the 5-yard line. Then defensive tackle Chris Baker jumped offsides. Get this, right before the play he was told by Gerald McCoy and others to watch the hard snap count. "I just got anxious and made a bad play,íí Baker said.

You may have lost a headset over that one. Jonathan Stewart (heís in your nightmares), picked up the fourth and 1. Then Newton fumbled the shotgun snap but still ran for the winning touchdown. But Iíll tell ya what, man, this Jameis Winston is a hell of a quarterback.

As you would say, heís like a ride on the SheiKra. Winston has played amazing the past two weeks. His shoulder feels healthy. He shredded the Panthers defense, going 21-of-27 for 367 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Thatís the second 130-plus rating heís had in consecutive weeks. "It doesnít really matter if you have those games and lose,íí Winston said. "Like Iíve said, some unfortunate things have happened to us.íí

Youíve never had a young quarterback like Winston. Thatís got to make you want to quit the FFCA. But Winston still has trouble protecting the football. He lost three fumbles Sunday. He was sacked six times,. He dropped a snap. He swore he recovered the fumble that ended Tampa Bayís final drive, and went nuts when the officials gave it to Julius Peppers.

Heís got weapons, too. Mike Evans caught six passes for 107 yards. This rookie Chris Godwin didnít blink and had three catches for 98 yards. Oh, and they have DeSean Jackson, who was out Sunday. Somehow you got that App State receiver Dexter Jackson. The GM, Jason Licht, gets a lot of things right.

But this team doesnít know how to win. Itís tough for Koetter, who may be watching his dream die. "Itís the same stuff that wins football games every week,íí Koetter said. "Itís not an effort issue. Itís not a hustle issue. Itís not a physical issue.íí

Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander play their tails off. But thereís no Sapp, Brooks and Lynch. Anyway, who knows what happens. As you say, I donít want to get too deep and philosophical. Have a Merry (Jiminy) Christmas.