The Pewter Reporters sound off on the conclusion of the 4-12 Buccaneers' 2011 season, which ended in a horrible 45-24 defeat at Atlanta, and the future of head coach Raheem Morris and the players.
Publisher Scott Reynolds
• It’s crystal clear that the Buccaneers have to fire head coach Raheem Morris on Monday following a 45-24 beatdown at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. As the person in charge of not only the defense, but also the entire team, Morris’ Buccaneers trailed the Falcons 42-0 in the second quarter before finally scoring a touchdown before halftime.
The Buccaneers have not been competitive in months and have lost 10 straight games. No head coach – whether his name is Raheem Morris, Jon Gruden or Tony Dungy – should be allowed to survive a 10-game losing streak in the NFL, especially three years into a head-coaching career.
That’s really all that needs to be said. Morris helped the Bucs overachieve last year in a 10-6 season that was largely done with smoke and mirrors. Morris even admitted as much last week in a press conference. This year, the 4-12 Bucs showed that the lack sufficient talent to make the playoffs, but really underachieved.
Tampa Bay wasn’t really a 10-win team last year in a season that saw the Bucs have four fourth-quarter comebacks against the likes of Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Arizona. The Bucs had everything go right last season, but were really a seven- or eight-win team without all of the lucky bounces.
This year, the Bucs aren’t as bad as a four-win team. But sloppy, undisciplined play from the players and poor coaching has helped rob this Tampa Bay team of another two or three wins during a season in which the Bucs played a much harder schedule.
In three seasons as the Bucs head coach, Morris finished with records of 3-13 in 2009, 10-6 in 2010 and 4-12 in 2011 and a cumulative record of 17-31 with no playoff appearances. But most importantly when it comes to making the decision about which person will lead the team in 2012, the Bucs didn’t show any improvement over the last 10 games, which were all defeats.
Let the head coaching search begin again in Tampa Bay.
• Has Ronde Barber played his last game in Tampa Bay? The contract of the 36-year old cornerback expires at the end of the season, and the fact that the Bucs will likely have a coaching change in the coming days with Raheem Morris’ expected departure only clouds his future with the team.
Barber, who played in his franchise-record 225th game on Sunday, which topped Derrick Brooks’ mark of 224 games, has suited up with the Buccaneers for a team-record 15 seasons. His season ended prematurely on Sunday as he sustained a broken hand and had to watch most of the second half on the sidelines in street clothes.
The legendary Barber has been to five Pro Bowls (2001, 2004-06, 2008) played in 199 consecutive starts and has a team-record 43 interceptions and 27 sacks. He finished the 2011 season with a team-leading three interceptions and indicated after the game that he may not be done playing yet, which is a good sign for Buccaneers fans.
On a team that lacks sufficient experience and leadership, the Bucs could use Barber back next year – regardless of who the new head coach is. Outside of Aqib Talib, who will be in a contract year in 2012, Tampa Bay lacks talent at the cornerback position. Barber is still playing at a relatively high level – certainly better than E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis and rookie Anthony Gaitor – and should be given another one-year contract.
• Give lots of credit to fourth-year cornerback Elbert Mack, who had the second interception of his season on Sunday, returning a Chris Redmon pass 40 yards for a touchdown, which was the first of his NFL career. Mack, who is the team’s dime cornerback, got more playing time in the second half due to Ronde Barber’s broken hand, which occurred in the first half and notched his fifth career pick.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Mack hasn’t been able to beat out the bigger 6-foot, 190-pound E.J. Biggers for the nickel cornerback position this year, but has outplayed him in my estimation. He certainly outplayed Biggers, who whiffed on tackle attempts on Michael Turner’s 81-yard touchdown run and Julio Jones’ 48-yard touchdown catch, on Sunday.
Mack finished the game with five tackles, one interception for a touchdown and one pass breakup, while Biggers failed to record a tackle, a pass breakup or any statistic. Biggers’ name was nowhere to be found on the stat sheet at the end of the Bucs-Falcons game.
When several of his teammates clearly quit in frustration on Sunday, Mack showed up as he always does. In hindsight, the gritty and determined Mack should have been given the chance to be the team’s nickel corner. Biggers, who lacks playmaking ability, finished the 2011 season with 27 tackles, two interceptions and six passes defensed while receiving less than half the playing time of Biggers, who posted 48 tackles, 10 pass breakups and just one interception.
• Another Buccaneer that stepped up on Sunday was wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe, who finished the Falcons game with a career-high eight catches for 53 yards and a personal-best two touchdowns. Briscoe started in place of the injured Arrelious Benn and was the Bucs’ possession receiver against the Falcons, finishing the 2011 season with six touchdown catches, which led the team.
Starter Mike Williams, who only caught three touchdowns in 2011, was recently shut out of the Cowboys game without a reception and had just one catch for 31 yards at Atlanta. Is it safe to say that Briscoe is just as good a receiver? He certainly has been more productive than Williams down the stretch.
Despite being third on the depth chart along with Preston Parker, Briscoe finished the 2011 season with 35 catches for 387 yards and six TDs despite receiving half the playing time that Williams, who had 65 catches for 771 yards with three touchdowns, did.
The reality is that the Buccaneers have a collection of players who are no better than second or third receivers in Williams, Briscoe and Benn. Preston Parker, while productive in 2011 with 40 catches for 554 yards and three touchdowns, is more of number-three receiver.
While taking a hard look at LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson with the team’s top 5 draft pick, Tampa Bay should also strongly consider Oklahoma State Justin Blackmon as the Bucs need to upgrade their speed and playmaking ability at wide receiver to help Josh Freeman.
• Aside from the play of cornerback Elbert Mack and wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe, the Buccaneers also received decent play from young safeties Larry Asante and Ahmad Black. Asante played most of the game for Sean Jones, who was pulled after missing a tackle on Jones’ 17-yard touchdown, and showed some promise by leading the team in tackles with a career-high seven and forcing a goal line fumble with a hit on rookie running back Jacquizz Rodgers that Black recovered at the Tampa Bay 1.
Black, who replaced Tanard Jackson, who missed an interception and a tackle attempt on Jones’ 48-yard touchdown, finished the game with a career-high three stops. Jackson, who missed 19 straight games and spent more than a year away from football due to an NFL suspension for a third failed drug test in 2010, has struggled in pass coverage and with his tackling in the run game.
While Jackson signed a one-year contract extension through 2012, Jones is in a contract year and should absolutely not be re-signed. He has given up more touchdowns (at least half a dozen) than he has recorded interceptions (zero), and has missed big tackles than he’s made. Jones is simply not a starting-caliber NFL safety, and the team should bring in a veteran to compete with Asante and Black for the starting job in 2012.
The Bucs should also open up the competition for the starting free safety job and force Jackson to earn his way back on the field after a sub-par season in which he looked like a shell of his former self.
• The sloppiness of this football team continues to be astounding. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, James Lee whiffs on a cut block by defensive end John Abraham, who sacked quarterback Josh Freeman, stripped him of the ball and recovered it at the Tampa Bay 16 to set up a Falcons touchdown. Lee was also beaten by Kroy Biermann for a sack on the first third down of the game. He was pulled in the second quarter in favor of Demar Dotson.
And if you think that was bad, how about tight end Kellen Winslow taking out running back Kregg Lumpkin on a crossing route, allowing Curtis Lofton to intercept Freeman and return the pick 26 yards for a touchdown to put Atlanta up 35-0. Yes, that’s right. Winslow knocked Lumpkin, his own teammate, down on the play, and Lumpkin was the player Freeman was trying to throw the ball to.
The lack of talent on this Buccaneers football team really became apparent down the stretch. Lumpkin is not an NFL-caliber running back and there is no way general manager Mark Dominik should have allowed Lumpkin to be on this team this year.
The same could be said of Lee, who had a horrific preseason by giving up hordes of penalties and sacks. He should have been cut and made an example of in September. When given the opportunity to start in place of Jeremy Trueblood on Sunday in Atlanta, Lee resembled the same mistake-prone player that he did in the preseason.
Dominik also failed to upgrade the talent at safety and cornerback as Sean Jones, E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis failed this team miserably in pass coverage this season.
The same could be said at linebacker where Mason Foster struggled with a mix of production and missed tackles and blown assignments. As soft as he played, having Barrett Ruud around for another year to show him the ropes at middle linebacker would have made sense.
Weakside linebacker Geno Hayes wasn’t given any competition as Dominik wanted to see what Hayes would do in a contract year. That backfired as Hayes was pulled from the starting lineup for two games and didn’t make nearly as many splash plays as the team was counting on.
Strongside linebacker Quincy Black was given a five-year, $29-million contract extension, and it’s clear that he isn’t worth close to $6-million per year.
The offense lacks speed and playmakers at the wide receiver and running back positions, and outside of a few games, the fumble-prone LeGarrette Blount didn’t look like a feature back in 2011 and needs competition in 2012.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done in Tampa Bay in the coming offseason. Stay tuned to PewterReport.com for lots of twists and turns when it comes to the team’s roster.
Bucs Beat Writer Mark Cook
• With a salary of nearly $9 million coming to him in 2012, you have to wonder if Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow will be back next season. Will the new coach, if there is a change made, want to start the rebuilding process over? Do Winslow’s knees have a little more life in them? Based on Sunday’s performance combined with his season stats you would like to think the Buccaneers plans would be to keep the former Miami Hurricane.
Winslow, who has drawn his share of criticism this season for untimely penalties and a lack of production in some games, has still had a good season for the Buccaneers. With his seven catches for 56 yards at Atlanta, Winslow finished the season with a team leading 75 catches for 763 receiving yards. The 75 receptions are the second-most in a single season by a Buccaneer tight end and the 763 yards are the third-most by a tight end in a single season in team history.
People can question Winslow’s attitude, his personality and quick temper, but no one should question his desire and what he puts his body through each week to play. Each day in the locker room after practice you can see the pain on his face as he sits in front of his locker stall grimacing trying to recover from the workout, stretching, applying topical ointments and other remedies before hitting the showers.
With the body of a player much older than the 28 years that he is, days like Sunday in which he was drilled on several occasions but was able to bounce back up, makes you wonder why Winslow puts himself through the process week after week.
From the Buccaneers perspective you would think Winslow would be welcomed back with open arms. Rookie Luke Stocker and Zach Pianalto haven’t set the world on fire and Tampa Bay can’t afford to lose what little firepower they have on offense.
• After surrendering 45 points to the Falcons on Sunday the Buccaneers defense now has the dubious distinction of giving up the most points in team history. That’s correct, worse than any of the bad 1980s defenses, worse than the defense that presided over a 0-26 record in the franchise’s first two seasons, and worse than the 2-14 years.
Entering the 2011 campaign, no one could have imagined the decline shown by Tampa Bay’s defense this season. With players like defensive ends Adrian Clayborn, and Da’Quan Bowers brought in to supplement other high draft picks like defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, it seemed unfathomable that the Buccaneers wouldn’t at the very least equal last season’s defensive numbers.
And add in the fact the Buccaneers brought in former NFL star pass rusher Keith Millard and run-stopping specialist Grady Stretz and the Buccaneers seemed primed to take a step forward.
Injuries were a factor (McCoy, Price, Black, Talib, Foster) but every team in the NFL has injury concerns during the course of a 16-weeks season. The starting talent was lacking somewhat but the lack of depth may have been the biggest factor is the team’s decline.
Normally when a defense is this bad the coordinator is fired, unfortunately for Raheem Morris he also holds that title and while it is doubtful he will fire himself. The decision has probably already been made for him.
• Few players even won the hearts of Buccaneers fans the way John Lynch did. With an easygoing, civic-minded personality off the field, Lynch grew into a demolition machine on the gridiron. Lynch, a draft pick in 1993, was part of the Tampa Bay turnaround culminating in the team’s lone Super Bowl in 2002 and prided itself on defense. So it must have been extremely painful for Lynch, who did Sunday’s television commentary for Fox, to see how far the Bucs defense has fallen since he patrolled the secondary. It must have cut him deep to see poor tackling, lack of effort and the overall absence of talent. Lynch pulled no punches and was critical of the lack of talent and the lack of effort he saw at times and you could almost hear the frustration in his voice.
When asked by broadcast partner Dick Stockton if he thought Morris should be fired, Lynch chose the high road refusing to answer, deferring that decision to the Glazer family. But he certainly couldn’t make the case for the team keeping Morris at the helm given how poorly the defense and the team played in Sunday’s 45-24 loss at Atlanta.
Bucs Beat Writer Andrew Scavelli
• Tampa Bay’s performance against the Atlanta Falcons in the first 23 minutes of Sunday’s game was the worst stretch of football that I have ever seen. With a score of 42-0 within the first quarter and a half of play, I don’t think the game could have played out any more horrific, not even in a Bucs fan’s worst nightmare. In fact, the last stretch of 10 games the team has played could be summed up as a fan’s worst nightmare, and right now, the team and their fans just want to wake up from this bad dream.
At this point, most fans are tired of hearing about this season to forget. Those who were brave enough to sit through every game the last half of the season have seen enough and are now looking for solutions. Let’s not dwell on the past any longer. Instead, let’s look to the immediate future and I’ll give my opinion on what the team should do in the coming days.
A big topic of debate among fans right now is the question of who on the coaching staff and in the front office should stay and who should go. So, who should take the blame and who is the most responsible for this debacle?
Everyone within the organization should take an equal share of the blame and no person in the front office or coaching staff has done anything to deserve the opportunity to stay on board the Buccaneers’ ship. It’s very hard to make the case for anyone to stick around in the organization after posting a record of 17-31 (a .354 winning percentage) in the last three years.
It’s very easy for fans to point the finger at head coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Greg Olson, but the talent level on this team is also not where it should be at this point. The front office has had three drafts and free agency periods to upgrade the talent level, but this team has only gotten worse in that department than what they inherited in 2008.
Morris and Olson have not been provided with the players and depth they need to compete nor have they been given some players that they wanted and players that fit their systems. I am not in any way trying to deflect blame from these coaches that they rightfully deserve, but on the same note, I don’t think it would be right for them to fall on the sword and take all the blame for the front office’s shortcomings.
I do believe that a house cleaning at One Buc Place might be the best move to make and it goes without saying that drastic changes have to be made to better the team and keep the rest of the squad’s fragile fan base together before they lose the supporters they have left. I think it would be very difficult for the team to justify getting rid of the coaching staff but keeping the current front office intact.
• Speaking of change, most fans argue over which change is most necessary – changes within the coaching staff or changes to the roster. Both need to have a big turnover, but the biggest change of all must be the culture at One Buc Place. A new coaching staff could very well help create a culture that will give the team a better opportunity to win games and veteran players could also have a huge role in a culture change, just as Hardy Nickerson proved when he was signed as a free agent from Pittsburgh in 1993.
One thing that went out the door with Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen’s firings was a great work ethic. Sources have told Pewter Report that the players and the coaching staff are putting in only half as much time as the previous regime, and that’s not a good recipe to win games.
When you are not preparing for games as hard as your opponents, chances are you will not win and the team’s lack of preparation has shown on Sundays. It was not too long ago that players on this team would spend hours of their own time watching film and doing their own preparation on top of what they did with the team, but now many players fly out of the building as soon as they get the chance.
The team-issued iPads are a great tool that players can use to watch game film on their own time if they don’t want to stay in the building any longer, but I believe many players lack the maturity to use these devices for what they were intended for. If the players don’t have the motivation to work on their own time, then that is a big problem.
This all goes back to one of Gruden’s famous sayings about “football players” and “football playas.” “Football players” love football and work hard at their craft and “football playas” care more about money and their off-the-field life as someone who is in the NFL. The culture Morris created at One Buc Place has developed more “football playas” than “football players.”
Sources have told Pewter Report that the last thing on the minds of many players is football once they leave the building. There are some players that are just happy to be in the NFL and enjoy everything that goes along with that instead of winning football games. More than a handful of players are just collecting game checks and don’t care enough about wins because football isn’t the biggest pat of their life.
This was very apparent in the locker room as players were blasting music and clowning around this week, not looking like a team that cared that they were going through a nine-game losing streak and playing an embarrassing brand of football. Many of these young players just don’t seem to have enough pride. If they are provided with veteran players and a capable coaching staff around them this offseason, hopefully many of them will learn how to care and learn to believe that it’s not okay to lose. The bottom line is that there needs to be a lot more professionalism from this team on every level.
• Former Tampa Bay legendary linebacker Derrick Brooks is the first player that comes to my mind when I think of what a professional athlete should be. There aren’t many players left in the NFL with Brooks’ work ethic and aside from the great Lee Roy Selmon, I don’t think there has ever been a player as special as Brooks to go through the organization.
That’s why I think the Bucs should bring back Brooks. Not as a player, of course, but as the team’s new President of Football Operations. I believe that this move makes sense in every way and I think this would be the perfect move for the Bucs to make at this point in time.
First off, take a look at the Denver Broncos organization and what they did with John Elway this past offseason. Elway provided a huge spark and a renewed energy for the Broncos’ fan base that was falling apart, much like Tampa Bay’s fan base. This would be a great public relations move for the team, as it would generate a ton of excitement and give the fans back one of their all-time favorite players.
The big difference between Brooks and Elway is that Brooks actually would have experience as a team president because that is the current role that he has with the Tampa Bay Storm. In fairness, Elway was a co-owner of the now defunct Colorado Crush Arena Football League team, but was not as hands-on as he is with the Broncos.
Brooks, like Elway, is very intelligent and has as much football knowledge as anyone in the front office. I don’t think he would have any problem assisting a general manager to build a team in his image and helping to assemble a coaching staff. I know that I would trust Brooks more than anyone to make these very critical decisions looming in the team’s future.
Brooks would also go a long way in helping to bring professionalism back to the locker room. The 11-time Pro Bowl selection would be someone the players can look up to and serve as a great leader and role model for the team. Brooks would show players how to do things the old Buccaneer way and tell them to pull up their pants and tuck in their jerseys. Sometimes it’s the little things that matter in order to be a professional.
This move also would bring one of the most respected figures in the Tampa Bay community back to the Bucs organization and give them a great face to represent the team. Brooks would bring a lot of class back to the organization and is a leader that the fans can get behind. In his new role, Brooks can be the spokesperson for the team and speak on behalf of the owner and the general manager if they don’t wish to talk, and the fans would be provided with a voice from the team’s front office that was previously missing.
If I were the Glazers, I would do whatever I could to get Brooks back in the door. Brooks’ first assignment would certainly be a big one as he would hand-pick the regime he felt could lead the team into a promising future. If Elway can help to turn a team around like the AFC West winning Broncos, so can Brooks.