In this FREE edition of the Pewter Report Roundtable, the Pewter Reporters sound off on Tampa Bay's 41-14 defeat in Jacksonville, which is the team's seventh straight loss as the Bucs are now 4-9 on the season and are assured of a losing season. If you like this weekly premium Pewter Report column and would like to become a Pewter Report-Pewter Insider subscriber and receive over 200 premium stories per year for just $10, including 10 issues of the Pewter Report digital magazine, please call 1-800-881-BUCS(2827).
Publisher Scott Reynolds
• Forget the fact that the Buccaneers were hammered 48-3 by the San Francisco 49ers. Tampa Bay lost to a playoff-bound 10-win team. Nevermind the fact that the Bucs were destroyed at home by Houston by the score 37-9. Despite losing two starting quarterbacks, the Texans are atop the AFC with a 10-3 record.
Those lopsided losses are forgivable now that we know that Tampa Bay is even more young and inexperienced than we expected, and not nearly as talented as we thought. The Bucs have had three weeks of unforgivable, inexplicable losses to teams that supposedly were on par with the Bucs or perhaps even inferior.
Let’s start with a 23-17 loss at Tennessee that saw Tampa Bay surrender a fourth quarter lead and turn the ball over twice in the final five minutes as the Titans scored the final 13 points in a comeback win over the Bucs. At the time, that was the worst loss of the season for Tampa Bay.
Then came an embarrassing, 38-19 shellacking of a team on the way down – the Buccaneers – by a team on the way up – the Panthers. Despite having a worse record at the time, Carolina out-coached, out-played and out-classed Tampa Bay. That made the loss to the Panthers the worst of the year for the Pewter Pirates.
But Sunday’s 41-14 loss at Jacksonville actually trumped all other eight defeats by Tampa Bay. And the fact that the Bucs are in the downward spiral of each loss becoming worst than the last, I’m afraid that the organization’s goal of showing improvement at the end of the season won’t be achieved. That will likely cost head coach Raheem Morris his job, and any coach that loses 10 straight games at the end of the season – which the Buccaneers will with games against Dallas, Carolina and Atlanta on the horizon – should be fired.
It’s unfortunate that general manager Mark Dominik and the front office overestimated the talent on Tampa Bay’s roster and decided against going the free agent route this offseason because the lack of leadership on this team is evident in the way the Buccaneers cannot respond to adversity, such as seeing a 14-0 lead turn into a 28-14 deficit in the span of 7:32 at the conclusion of the second quarter. The lowly Jaguars scored an unheard of 41 straight unanswered points on the Bucs.
This team is not getting better, it’s getting worse. It went from losing a fourth quarter lead in Tennessee two weeks ago to losing a two-touchdown lead to a supposedly inferior team. Not only do penalties (12 for 97 yards at Jacksonville) remain to be a season-long plague, now the turnover bug has infested Tampa Bay. The Bucs coughed up the ball a season-high seven times on Sunday, and have now had a startling 17 turnovers in the past three games. That is abysmal.
Morris did a very fine job last year, but with quarterback Josh Freeman turning into a turnover machine this year with 18 interceptions and six fumbles, and having the youngest roster in the league for the second straight year with two rookie starters at defensive end in Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers and a rookie starter at middle linebacker in Mason Foster, I’m afraid the 35-year old head coach is in over his head this year.
Morris has not figured out a way to stop the penalties, nor has he found a way to get his defense to tackle better, create more turnovers and hold opponents to field goals rather than touchdowns. He and his staff have not figured out a way to score more points or get off to better starts offensively. It just isn’t happening and Bucs fans are becoming more disenchanted by the minute as they see their team moving in the wrong direction.
I like Morris and would like to see him stay on for next year and actually have the chance to coach a more veteran team – and a more talented team – in 2012. But given the disastrous end to the season and the public pressure for a coaching change, I think the Glazers will cave in, abandon their plan of building a young team around a young head coach and make a coaching change at the end of the season to appease the fan base and sell more tickets. If they do, I cannot disagree with that decision.
• If the Glazers are going to fire Morris, conventional wisdom suggests that they probably should do it sooner rather than later to get a jump on the coaching search against other competing teams. Jacksonville has already fired their head coach and is actively looking for Jack Del Rio’s replacement, and there will likely be regime changes coming in Miami, Indianapolis and other NFL cities, too.
But the Glazers have secretly conducted a coaching search in the past. When ownership was contemplating firing head coach Tony Dungy after the 2001 season if the Bucs couldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs, which they didn’t with another loss at Philadelphia, the Glazers had supposedly lined up Bill Parcells as Dungy’s replacement.
The problem was that the Glazers thought they reached an agreement with Parcells, only to have him back out in the 11th hour due to the fact that the Buccaneers were facing salary cap hell as early as 2003, and the window for winning a Super Bowl was deemed to be too narrow and ready to close.
Sources tell Pewter Report that Bill Cowher would likely not be coming to Tampa Bay for multiple reasons. The first of which is that he would like to step into a situation with a veteran team that is ready to win now. The Bucs clearly don’t fit the criteria. Sources have told Pewter Report that Cowher, whose ego is much bigger than you might think, would prefer to take over one of the New York teams – possibly the Giants – or a larger market team than Tampa Bay.
The second reason is that Cowher believes in the 3-4 defense, and Tampa Bay doesn’t have the personnel to play that scheme. The fact that the Glazers have doled out millions and are scheduled to fork over tens of millions of dollars to a pair of first-round picks in Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn and second-round picks Brian Price and Da’Quan Bowers – all of whom were drafted for a 4-3 defense – makes it unlikely that the Glazers would even want to pursue Cowher.
If Morris were to be fired before season’s end, which I believe is highly unlikely, who would replace him? Offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who has his hands full with an underachieving offense, or defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake?
Lake would probably have to take over as Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator, too, because Morris handles that role in addition to the duties of being head coach. That would be a mighty difficult feat for Lake.
Expect Morris to survive the last three weeks of the 2011 season, but that might be it as Tampa Bay is staring at a 4-12 record that will almost assuredly feature 10 straight losses to end the year. That would be more consecutive losses than either Leeman Bennett, Ray Perkins or Sam Wyche ever encountered.
• With at least a half sack in the last four games, defensive end Adrian Clayborn has become a reliable pass rusher as a rookie. Clayborn recorded another sack on Sunday in a third down situation and now leads the team with 6.5 QB captures.
You can see that Clayborn has really improved this season and the fact that he looks like a real quality NFL player this early in his career bodes well for the franchise. In a disappointing season, Clayborn has been one of the few bright spots.
It was also good to see middle linebacker Mason Foster come up with a splash play. It’s been awhile since the rookie come up with a turnover, but his clutch interception in the end zone in the third quarter denied Jacksonville the chance for points as he collected his first career pick.
Foster now has an interception, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and two sacks on the season. While it would be great to see him cause more turnovers, it should be noted that he is still learning how to play middle linebacker and understand all the nuances of the position and expectations that comes with it.
• Tampa Bay’s roster lacks proven talent. It has tons of potential in players like linebacker Mason Foster, defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers, and wide receivers Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn and others. But I define proven talent is someone that has played at a high level for several years, such as cornerback Ronde Barber or right guard Davin Joseph.
Let’s face it. The only players playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level are kicker Connor Barth, who is hitting 92.3 percent of his field goals this year, Joseph, who actually have up a sack in Jacksonville, and perhaps Barber, who recorded his team-leading third interception of the year against the Jaguars.
After a hot start, free safety Tanard Jackson doesn’t look like the T-Jack of old in the run game and he’s not making many plays in the passing game, either. Strong safety Sean Jones gave up a 62-yard pass play to tight end Marcedes Lewis and should not be re-signed. He’s not a starting caliber player, and neither is linebacker Geno Hayes, who is way too inconsistent and doesn’t make enough splash plays.
Jacksonville cornerback Ashton Youboty, who was actually signed and cut by the Bucs earlier this year, appears to be better than E.J. Biggers, who gives up too many plays to receivers and doesn’t make enough plays on the ball. Youboty had eight tackles and returned a fumble 38 yards for a touchdown last week at Houston. Then had two pass breakups and an interception against Tampa Bay. Biggers has just one pick on the year and only two in his three-year NFL career.
On offense, there are a ton of number two and number three receivers, but not a true number one receiver, and no real reliable playmakers outside of running back LeGarrette Blount, who has trouble holding on to the ball lately. There is a lack of speed and explosiveness missing from all three the skill positions – running back, wide receiver and tight end.
I don’t think the Buccaneers are necessarily underachieving this year from a talent standpoint. I think they overachieved last year and that this season is actually a more true representation of the talent level. The Bucs need their players that have promise to step up and fulfill that promise, and the players that are mediocre – and there are quite a few of them – to be replaced with more talented veterans and draft picks.
At the start of the 2011 season, I thought the Bucs could become a consistent playoff contender as early as 2012. But I now think the team is two years away from becoming that caliber of a team, and it will take an influx of free agent help to achieve that feat by 2013.
Beat writer Mark Cook
• The unimaginable took place Sunday as the Buccaneers not only lost but were thoroughly embarrassed by a bad Jacksonville football team. And when I say bad, I mean terrible.
No disrespect to the Jaguars organization but this team was ranked dead last in total offense coming into Sunday’s game averaging a paltry 260.1 yards per game. Bucs fans are losing their minds with the Tampa offense which was ranked 18th in the league with a 331 yard per game average. But Sunday rankings and stats meant nothing as the Buccaneers, after racing out to a 14-0 lead, completely imploded giving up an unanswered 41 points.
The wheels began to fall off in the second quarter when after already fumbling one punt, Preston Parker fumbled another that was returned for a touchdown by Jacksonville and the momentum of the game was never recovered.
Just when you think the Buccaneers have reached a new low (Houston, Tennessee, Carolina games) they dig deeper and find an even more crushing defeat. But this one may not be surpassed.
A team that fired head coach Jack Del Rio a couple weeks ago, a football team that is in the midst of an ownership change with whispers of relocation, a team that was starting a rookie quarterback completing less that 50 percent of his passes and a team that scans the waiver wire weekly for starters due to the fact that a league-most 25 players are on injured reserve had no business beating Tampa Bay on Sunday.
This loss at Jacksonville may go down as one of the worst of Morris’ tenure and one of the worst in franchise history.
• What started as a great story about a young man who overcame many self-inflicted wounds to achieving his dream of playing in the NFL, the Preston Parker story is becoming one that may have an unhappy ending.
Parker came to the Buccaneers as unsigned free agent in 2010 and against huge odds battled his way onto the roster. His story of being dismissed by Bobby Bowden for several violations of team rules while in Tallahassee is well documented. Parker has been a model citizen since signing with the Buccaneers, but again faced an uphill battle coming into training camp this season.
With a good camp and decent preseason, and a willingness to return kicks, earned another spot on this year’s team. Surprisingly, Parker emerged as a key third-down receiver early in the season and continues to be one of the leagues’ best on third down. His three touchdowns is tied for the lead this year in Tampa Bay.
But with two critical fumbles on punt returns, one that was returned for a touchdown, Parker made the mistake that gets a player benched quicker than anything.
But looking back over the season you could almost see this coming. The former Seminole/North Alabama star has had trouble holding onto the ball this season but has been fortunate to only have one of his fumbles lost this season before Sunday’s game.
Sunday at Jacksonville the bad habit reared its ugly head again and it may cost Parker a seat on the bench. Parker leads the Buccaneers in fumbles with eight (three lost) after Sunday and chances are we will see Micheal Spurlock as the primary punt returner for the remainder of the season.
Fortunately for Parker he has stepped up in the passing game and if this coaching staff stays intact Parker will have a good chance to keep a roster spot in 2012. But if a coaching change does happen you can bet every fumble this season will be taken into account.
• While everyone is piling on Raheem Morris for the struggles of this football team blame must be shared throughout the organization. The directive to field the youngest football team for the third season in a row came from above, and I would venture to guess if Morris would of had full control we would have seen an entirely different roster.
Morris like most coaches, has an ego to the point where he feels he can coach anybody up, but this roster of young players would be a challenge even to a fantasy coaching staff of Vince Lombardi, Don Shula and Tom Landry.
The biggest downfall to a young roster is a lack of leadership and I think the last three weeks – heck, even the entire season – Tampa Bay has been hurt most by the inability to overcome adversity. That is where veteran football players come in. Sunday when things started going south in the second quarter you could almost feel the panic and the “here we go again” theme echoing on the Buccaneers sideline. Do you think that happens if Hardy Nickerson, Derrick Brooks or even a John Lynch would have been on the football field in Jacksonville?
But who does this Buccaneers team have that can take on that role? Exactly. No one. And remember that veteran cornerback Ronde Barber is not a vocal leader and has never wanted to be one. It’s not in his nature.
I’m not sure you can blame the head coach for that. It’s not like veterans were cut at the end of training camp. The fact was there just weren’t any on the roster to be cut – or kept – for that matter.
Morris has certainly made his share of errors, which in the end may end up costing him his job, but having the youngest team in the NFL is something he shouldn’t take the heat for. That falls squarely on the shoulders of the Glazers and general manager Mark Dominik for not doing enough to help their head coach in free agency.
Beat writer Eric Horchy
• To put it bluntly, this Buccaneers team has not responded well to adversity.
It’s too assumptive to say that players gave up or quit trying on Sunday, especially considering that that’s one of the more damning things athletes can be accused of doing. But this certainly wasn’t the first time the Bucs’ have been put up against the ropes and it definitely wasn’t the first time they failed to get back in the fight.
At this point, though, I'm not quite sure which scenario would be worse: That youth and immaturity allow the team to give up and lie down, or that its full-on effort is just nowhere near good enough to win NFL football games on a consistent basis.
That game was far from over at halftime with Jacksonville leading 28-14. But as the third quarter wore on it just started feeling as though the harder the Bucs pushed, the deeper they got themselves into it. It was like a quicksand analogy playing out right there to watch in real time.
It’s unfortunate that running back LeGarrette Blount ultimately gets lumped into the turnover discussion because he looked to be running as though he was trying to singlehandedly carry this team on his back. That 23-yard third-quarter run was pure strength and determination and Blount played like that all day, but in the end it was just another turnover.
For a team desperate to grab a victory, the offense’s collective production over the final two quarters could probably be put up there with the worst moments of a disappointing season. Two-score deficits aren’t shrinking when three possessions are given away and only one – one – play is snapped in enemy territory.
• One Buccaneer that probably won’t be requesting game-tape duplicates for video scrapbooking purposes is left tackle Donald Penn.
Sunday was far from a shining moment for the offensive line’s anchor and the trouble started right away when he was flagged for a false start that nearly derailed Tampa Bay’s first first-quarter touchdown drive of the season. The penalty turned a third-and-6 from Jacksonville’s 41 into a third-and-11 from the Jaguars 46.
Similar to the Bucs as a whole, Penn’s second quarter got a whole lot worse and the unflattering moments happened on back-to-back series.
The first was the flattening that came on another third down. All 335 pounds of Penn was bulled straight over and thrown back to the turf by fourth-year defensive end Jeremy Mincey. Pancake stats are for O-linemen, but Mincey basically recorded one with that. Freeman didn’t get sacked, but he was flagged for intentional grounding on the play and the Bucs were forced to punt.
Apparently Mincey wasn’t done with Penn, because he worked him over again just two Tampa Bay snaps later and Michael Koenen couldn’t punt the Bucs out of this mishap. Mincey put the initial pressure and blindside hit on Freeman at the Tampa Bay 1-yard line and linebacker Darryl Smith shot in to record the sack and forced fumble that Jacksonville recovered for the eventual game-winning touchdown.
Everyone has bad days and one game doesn’t change the fact that Penn is an integral ingredient to a unit that’s been mostly steady and reliable. But that was not a pretty day for big No. 70.
• Even head coach Raheem Morris, the man who repeats one phrase so often his future biography should be titled “Stats Are For Losers,” has broken character at times to say turnover differential is an influential number.
Sunday was an exaggerated example of why that is. The Bucs defense created two Blaine Gabbert interceptions. That’s a nice plus. The offense and special teams combined for seven fumbles or interceptions. That’s a huge minus.
What really makes the mistakes hard to swallow in hindsight is how the Tampa Bay defense held up against Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars running attack. During the Bucs’ six-game skid leading up to Sunday, the defense had been allowing an average of 168.8 yards.
Limiting the NFL’s leading rusher to 3.1 yards per carry and 85 total was a successful execution of a defensive priority. That should have helped place more of the offensive onus on Gabbert’s rookie shoulders. But instead of pressuring Gabbert into feeling like it’s all on him and one mistake may ruin the game, Tampa Bay’s offense continually let him know that he has plenty of wiggle room.
Turnovers allowed Gabbert to gain and then retain confidence by starting four drives in Tampa Bay territory because he wasn’t particularly sharp in the early going. Through Jacksonville’s first five drives spanning into the second quarter, Gabbert was only 2-of-7 for nine yards and an interception and he was sacked once. He looked like the inconsistent, low-completion-percentage passer he’s been all year and he was losing 14-0.
Return man Preston Parker and the offense then did the Tampa Bay defense no favors from there on out. Gabbert was allowed to start settling in and finished the half by completing nine of his next 11 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown. He ended up going 19-for-33 overall with 217 yards, two scores, two picks and a respectable 72.4 passer rating.