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December 24, 2009 @ 9:15 am
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Dirty Dozen

Written by Hugh
Hugh MacArthur


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Pewter Report president and avid Tampa Bay fan Hugh MacArthur offers up 12 takes on the Buccaneers in his Dirty Dozen column. Should Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik stay on in 2010? How did the Glazers lose fan support? Can the Bucs beat the Saints? The answers and more are inside the Dirty Dozen.
Some long-time readers may remember a column I used to author for PewterReport.com called the Dirty Dozen, which included my take on the Buccaneers and the NFL as seen through the eyes of a fan. I tend to leave the hardcore reporting and daily coverage of the Buccaneers to the able and experienced staff of Pewter Report, but occasionally like to offer up my thoughts on what I see regarding the Bucs and other teams each Sunday.

Alas, the time constraints of my day job outside of owning Pewter Report, Inc. forbid me to publish a Dirty Dozen on a regular basis, but I hope you enjoy this edition and I'm sure I'll be checking in with another column or two at some point during the offseason. Until then, enjoy the Dirty Dozen and the holiday season, and thank you for your continued support of Pewter Report and PewterReport.com. We have some big, exciting changes coming in the months ahead centered around a new PewterReport.com website.

1. While taking a far-too-long break from putting together this column, I have been thinking about the state of our Bucs this holiday season. Is it me, or is there more harsh opinion in the world this year? Maybe it’s the economy, or the political wranglings in Washington, but I sense less patience and more sarcasm in general. I sense these feelings about our Tampa Bay Buccaneers in particular. The fishwraps seem inclined to call out coaches and front office types and demand heads on a plate less than a calendar year into their tenure. Judging from the comments across many sites, including PewterReport.com's active message boards, some fans feel the same way. Certainly 2-12 is a huge disappointment. I called on this team to compete for the NFC South title myself before the season following a 9-7 campaign last year. But, is it time to throw the baby out with the bathwater? My answer is no. Not yet.  

2. One big reason it isn’t time for heads to roll is that those that would do the rolling bear some responsibility for what we have seen this season. Yes, I am talking about ownership. As I sat and watched the stadium empty against the Jets, just a few doors down from where the Glazers were sitting, I couldn’t help but wonder what they were thinking. The Jets game was disturbing. It was awful. The stadium was not full at the start, and by the fourth quarter the few who were left wore Gang Green colors and chanted J-E-T-S far more times than I cared to hear. Beyond the panic of seeing a stadium devoid of Bucs’ fans, what was a Glazer to think?

a. What I thought was that the roots of this Jets game go back well beyond this season. They go back beyond last season. In fact, the roots stretch all the way back to February of 2008. That was when the Glazers got an idea. A perfectly awful idea. They raised ticket prices. Not a little, but a lot. Prices went up 30 percent or more for many seats. Fans were rightly outraged. Many did not renew their seats. That 100,000 name waiting list, if it was ever reality, became more mythic that day.

b. I had already noticed a difference in fan passion just a month before, in January of 2008. I noticed it during the Bucs vs. Giants playoff game after a 9-7 season in 2007 produced the NFC South title. It wasn’t that the stadium was empty for the game. It was full. It was that too many Bucs fans came dressed as Giants fans. There was too much blue. It was a shock to the system.  How did all of these Giants fans get into RJS? I didn’t see many Redskins fans during the 2005 playoff game. I didn’t see many Redskins fans during the 1999 playoff game. I didn’t see any 49ers fans during the 2002 playoff game. It was disconcerting to see so many of the enemy in our home stadium. It was especially disconcerting that Giants fans could apparently get tickets (and good ones) with relative ease. Home field advantage died a bit that day.

c. So, there was "no joy in Mudville" as early as January of 2008. It has to be one of the great customer misreads in franchise history to respond by raising ticket prices 30 percent just one month later.

d. Want to understand just how high these ticket increases were? Well, they resulted in the second highest average seat price in the NFL. The New England Patriots are first. That’s right, the Bucs were the second-highest. Higher than the New York teams. Higher than Chicago. Higher than Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco and Washington. Boston’s rank in U.S. GDP per capita? Fourth.  Tampa Bay’s is 47th. Think about that. The 47th-highest GDP per capita city pays the second-highest average seat prices in the NFL, according to Team Marketing Report.

e. The 2008 season started out fine. A 9-3 record produced hopes of a number two seed and a deep playoff run. You know what happened after that – 0-4. But, the worst part of 0-4 was the last game against the Oakland Raiders. Oh, the on field result was bad, but the very worst part was the 10,000 or so Bucs fans that came to the game not dressed in enemy colors, but dressed as empty seats. With the season on the line and essentially a win-and-you’re-in game against the horrible Raiders, the Bucs couldn’t get a full-fledged 65,000 fannies in seats? If there was any doubt that change had come, it was long gone by last December.

f. Then came the front office / coaching debacles. If head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen deserved to be fired, then they were fired too late. Maybe Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik were the right choices to take over (more on that later), but what is undeniable is that much of the new talent to form a coaching staff or fill out a front office was long gone by the third week of January when the Glazers’ pulled the trigger. A staggering 11 NFL teams changed coaching staffs after the 2008 season. The Bucs were the last to do so, and the last to fill needs. Losing senior assistant Kevin Demoff, who was to be Dominik's righthand man, to the Rams compounded the front office problems.  

g. More coaching debacles. Apparently people other than Morris and even other than Dominik had a say in who his coaches and coordinators would be.  At least two horrible decisions resulted: the hiring of Jeff Jagodzinski as offensive coordinator and the hiring of Jim Bates as defensive coordinator. I am sure they were trying to help, but when owners get involved beyond a certain point (see Daniel Snyder, Jerry Jones and Al Davis), bad things usually happen to their franchises.

h. So, somewhere along the line the social contract between the owners and the fans got violated. I’m actually pretty sure the Glazers’ didn’t want that to happen. Who would? But happen it did, and fix it they must if they are to keep the team and keep it in Tampa. There is a palpable feeling among fans (aided and abetted by some in the media) that the Glazers do not want to spend the money necessary to field a competitive team. Articles touting that Tampa Bay was dead last in the NFL in cumulative spending on players during the last five years don’t help. Number 2 in ticket prices. Number 32 in player spending.  When you are 9-7 and flirting with the playoffs, this situation causes murmurs. When you are 2-12 and flirting with the top draft pick, this situation causes roars that not only shake down the thunder, but also echo across the season ticket base. Much higher prices for a poor product are a bad combination. This is what has happened since that fateful ticket hike in 2008.

3. But, beyond whatever responsibility ownership bears for the current product on the field, do the Buccaneers have the right front office and coaching staff to excel? My honest answer is, I don’t know. One can certainly point to mistakes in both areas that have hurt the team. Re-signing Michael Clayton was a mistake. Signing Byron Leftwich was a mistake. The overall handling of the quarterback situation in the offseason was a mistake. The list of errors is long.  But, there have been good things. It’s early, but the 2009 draft class looks like it could be the best one in years. Heck, if Josh Freeman becomes the franchise quarterback we all want him to be, it will be the best Buc draft class ever. Trading for Kellen Winslow was a good move. Cutting a bunch of veterans and team leaders, not one of which is currently on an NFL roster (pardon me ... Joey Galloway and Cato June, who has yet to do anything this season), was a gutsy, but good move. Morris calling defenses seems to be a good move.

4. So, it’s hard to tell, isn’t it? I mean, Dominik and Morris have done some good and some bad. They are new to their respective job titles. But, they had a lousy hand to start with, didn’t they? I mean, if this was Texas Hold ‘em, they might not have been dealt a two – seven off-suit, but they certainly had no better than a Doyle Brunson before their opening bid (my apologies to the non-poker players). So, my vote is for continuity. Give Dominik more resources in the front office if he needs them, and make sure Morris is happy with all of his coaches and their approach to the game. Time to invest for the long haul.

5. And, speaking of Freeman, can we give the poor kid a chance? Why is it taking so long for Tampa Bay to warm up to this guy? Why am I reading the fishwraps wondering if he is going to be a good pro after seven starts? Seven! Good Lord, can we give the kid a season or two before we pass final judgment? Funny how everybody says, “Oh there will be tough times for a rookie quarterback,” and then when the tough times come, suddenly the kid can’t play?! Look, he can play. Know how many 6-foot-6 quarterbacks there are in the league with Freeman’s arm and athleticism? Very few. He also seems to be mature and intelligent. But, remember, he’s 21 years old! When the kid finally got mad in the second half against the Seahawks he looked like a force of nature, especially with his determined running. Will he be a great pro? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you something: nobody else knows either, and it’s far better for all of us as fans if he does become a great pro. So, how about we root like crazy for the guy until he proves us wrong?

6. I once compared the realization that you have a bad football team and recovering from that to become a good football team, to the five phases of death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Obviously, you need a happier ending than death if you’re a football team, so I edited the sequence to go denial, fear, anger, hope and confidence. I looked at the first two games of this season as the denial phase, which was Leftwich and the “we’ll be all right” press conferences. When Josh Johnson entered the fray, we officially moved to the fear phase. The coming of Freeman was ensured at this point. I have been waiting and waiting since that time for the coming of anger. The Bucs have been in the fear phase for a long, long time. The fans could sense the lack of confidence and many openly wondered how badly the Bucs would get blown out from week to week. Was this team ever going to get angry? Was it ever going to say “I’m mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore?” I think that maybe, just maybe, we saw the anger phase begin during the second half of the Seahawks’ game.

a. The Cory Redding cheap shot on Freeman while the whistles were blowing during a false start finally ignited this team. Freeman was angry. Hadn’t seen that emotion from him on the field before. Donald Penn was angry. There was pushing and shoving.

b. And lo and behold, there was some fight in the 2009 edition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A team that had been pushed around all season and certainly all during the first half on Sunday, wasn’t going to take it anymore.

c. The Seahawks rushed for 118 yards in the first half, and just 10 in the second half en route to being shut out.

d. The Buccaneer offense scored 21 unanswered points in the second half, and when they got ahead, they put their collective foot on the necks of the Seahawks and pushed down.

e. You think the Seahawks had any shot of stopping a 6-foot-6, 260-pound freight train on that quarterback draw for a two-point conversion? Me neither.  Bring back those third-and-shorts from the first half and let Freeman run the QB sneak.

7. So, will we see continued anger or perhaps even hope in New Orleans on Sunday? No idea, but I don’t think we’ll see regression to fear again. This team is irritated, and as last week showed, that’s a good thing.

8. Sammie Stroughter, I will miss watching you the next two games. Is this kid a gamer or what? Punt returns, kick returns, clutch catches. He is one tough football player. Absolutely love him and look forward to watching him develop next year.

9. Yes, the wins are more important than the draft position. They just are. Fans can debate, but coaches and players try their best to win every single week. What goes on the film helps decide who keeps or loses their job next year.  Regardless of where the Bucs pick, they will likely have the chance to get the top player at a certain position. The team has enough needs that making a good choice will yield excellent results.

a. And yes, I know that Gaines Adams was the top-rated player at his position in 2007. I just wish the Bucs’ scouting staff and Monte Kiffin knew that all the defensive ends coming out that year were going to be lousy, so picking Gaines was essentially choosing the tallest midget.

b. Did you know that the Bucs passed on Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Darelle Revis, and Jon Beason, among others, to take Adams in the first round? It wasn’t like there weren’t any top-notch players available when the Bucs picked at No. 4. It’s about the scouting, people.

c. And can we please stop with the Ndamukong Suh as savior stuff? The reality is most fans (and some in the media, but not Pewter Report) have seen the kid play one game. He had a career game against Texas. He was great. He has always been a very good player, but for him to suddenly become the consensus number one pick and in at least one genius pundit’s mind the best defensive tackle prospect to come along in 30 years, may be a bit ridiculous.

d. Look, I hope the kid (for his sake) is the next coming of Warren Sapp and Albert Haynesworth all rolled into one, but is it worth pointing out that outside of the Texas game, the combined record of teams he recorded a sack against (and most of those tackles for loss) this season was 29-43?  That only one of those teams had a winning record (four-loss Missouri), and that he didn’t record even two sacks in any other game during 2009?

e. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love for the Bucs to have a shot at drafting Suh, but isn’t the hype a little silly?

10. Does anybody know which teams are good from the NFC? At the beginning of the season I thought Chicago, the Giants and (ahem) the Seahawks were the class of the conference. This is why I keep a day job. Now, I couldn’t tell you if Philly, Dallas, New Orleans, Minnesota or even Arizona is likely to emerge from the scrum in January. I can’t help thinking that the Saints are over-rated. Right now I like the Eagles. Check back next week when I change my mind.

11. The AFC is also odd. Is there a less compelling, dominant team through 14 games than the Indianapolis Colts? As shaky as they have been, will the Colts feel very good if the Patriots come calling at Lucas Oil Stadium in January? How about the Chargers, who have made a habit of beating them the past few years? And if the Baltimore Ravens wind up as the number six seed, would it surprise you if they beat any team seeded above them? Me neither.

12. I wish all Bucs fans a peaceful, healthy and happy holiday season. However you celebrate, I hope you enjoy time with friends and family. For those unable to be with friends and family, Godspeed a quick and safe return to them. Personally, I am hoping for a number 5 jersey under the tree. Happy Holidays!

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