Key 1. Eliminate Self-Destructive Tendencies
Playing virtually mistake-free football was a must for the Buccaneers to have chance at victory but this key failed on Tampa Bay’s first drive when after picking up seven yards and reaching midfield, quarterback Josh Freeman was hit from behind and fumbled the football. Whatever momentum the Buccaneers had in the first few minutes was lost and Tony Romo easily marched the Cowboys 66 yards a 7-0 lead that was never threatened.
The Buccaneers actually protected the football for the rest of the game and were only called for six penalties for 46 yards, one of their lowest totals of the season. But coverage breakdowns in the secondary combined with an inconsistent pass rush doomed Tampa Bay’s chances. An inept offense led by Josh Freeman’s Tebow-esque first half numbers (2-of-4 for 14 yards) also contributed to the 31-15 score and the Buccaneers eighth straight loss.
Final Grade: C
Key 2. Keep Your Heads Up
Again tonight a lack of leadership was clearly evident and when things began to unravel (Freeman’s fumble, an early 14-0 deficit) there was no one on the roster who was able to snap this team from its funk.
The body language of the players and coaches from the first Cowboys score only got worse as the score went from 7-0 to 28-0 by halftime. I do credit the Buccaneers for putting forth effort in the second half, managing to score two touchdowns, but let’s face it, the offensive score came against a Dallas defense playing soft quarters defense keeping everything in front of them.
Finding some veteran presence in the offseason should be this team’s biggest priority. Leadership doesn’t grow on trees and sometimes it’s not the worse thing to do to go out and purchase it.
Final Grade: F
Key 3. Rope In Romo
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo is as streaky as a player as there is in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers he was on a hot streak from his first pass until his last. At times it appeared Romo was playing as the “all-time” quarterback in a pickup game at any of the local middle schools in the Tampa Bay area. Drop back, little pressure, and deliver strike after strike.
In defense of Tampa’s secondary, losing Aqib Talib in the first quarter changed the defensive strategy and forced a shuffling of personnel that never quite seemed to get in a rhythm.
Pressure on Romo was strong at times as Tampa Bay recorded two sacks (Clayborn, Bennett) but Romo was able to escape it most of the night stepping up in the pocket or rolling away from the pressure.
Final Grade: D
Key 4. Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
Playing with pride and with an attitude were two things that seemed important for Tampa Bay to accomplish. To Tampa Bay’s credit not many people can argue with the effort. The “loaf” plays that were evident in the Houston contest didn’t surface tonight and in fact the hustle was best demonstrated when in the second half – with no chance to catch the Cowboys’ running back – Albert Haynesworth was still pursuing 15 yards behind the play.
A lot of talk this week in the locker room at One Buc Place was players saying they wanted to show the rest of the league that they were a better team than their record indicated. But after the 31-15 loss to the Cowboys it appears the talent is that of what the Buccaneers are – a 4-9 football team.
Saturday night’s loss was not a result of not trying, it was as Raheem Morris said in his postgame news conference – “just men beating guys.”
Final Grade: C
Key 5. Loose As A Goose
In this key I tried to convey that the overall black cloud hovering over this franchise was possibly creating pressure being felt by the coaching staff and passed down to the players. As the losing streak grows each week so does the pressure to break it – and the pressure to not make mistakes.
No matter the profession, when work is being done with the fear of making mistakes it usually tends to exasperate the situation. Josh Freeman and his coaching staff all claim Freeman is a better quarterback than last season, but the stats certainly don’t back it up. The third year signal callers interception issues really became apparent in the 48-3 loss at San Francisco in October and the cry in the media and from fans was Freeman was forcing balls. Since that time you can count the number of times Tampa Bay’s QB has went deep, and even his mid-level passes seems forced at times.
The Buccaneers needed to coach – and play – without fear of making mistakes to have any chance of upsetting the Cowboys. But instead play calling and execution seemed timid for the most part and the results speak for themselves.
Final Grade: F
At halftime, down by 28 points, the talk amongst the media in the press box wasn’t if Morris might be replaced, but more of how soon. Outscoring the Cowboys 15-3 in the second half may have given Morris another week, or perhaps the rest of the season. Changes are most certainly coming, but how drastic is the only question now.
Actual Final Score: Cowboys 31-15
Cook’s Prediction: Cowboys 30-21
Reynold’s Prediction: Cowboys 33-20
Horchy’s Prediction: Cowboys 31-20