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November 30, 2011 @ 2:10 am
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2011 In-Season Issue

Bucs Aren’t Living Up To Lofty Expectations In 2011

WRITTEN_BY Scott Reynolds Scott Reynolds
Scott Reynolds



Is Tampa Bay underachieving? A 10-6 record in 2010 appears to have been built with smoke and mirrors in Tampa Bay, which set expectations for the 2011 season way too high writes Scott Reynolds.

Why are the Buccaneers underachieving in 2011? That’s what Tampa Bay fans ask as they watch their team struggle through a five-game losing streak in a November not to remember.

The fact is that the Bucs aren’t necessarily underachieving. Is Tampa Bay playing up to its full potential on a week in and week out basis? No.

The Bucs could be playing like they did in Week 3 when they got an early lead against Atlanta and maintained it all the way throughout a 16-13 home victory en route to a 3-1 start to the 2011 season.

Tampa Bay could be playing as well as it did when it played a complete game on offense and defense and special teams in beating New Orleans 26-20 at Raymond James Stadium before a three-game losing streak ensued.

But teams that have the youngest roster in the NFL and play the hardest schedule in the league typically won’t do that, nor should they be expected to. The mark of great teams is consistency. The mark of not-so-great teams is inconsistency.

The Bucs are consistently inconsistent. Winning one week. Getting blown out another week. Losing a close game the following week. It’s maddening for the players, the coaches, the front office, Bucs ownership and, of course, the fans.

Unfortunately, the disappointment in a 4-7 season comes from unrealistic expectations that were born from a 10-6 campaign in 2010 that saw Tampa Bay overachieve and set the bar too high in 2011. A quick review of the 2010 season saw the Buccaneers get momentum after beating the Cleveland Browns on opening day.

Since that Week 1 victory, the Bucs never had a losing record. Yet a closer look reveals that not only did Tampa Bay beat just one team with a winning record – New Orleans in the season finale – it needed four fourth quarter comebacks to beat some rather bad or mediocre teams in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Arizona and St. Louis. Keep in mind that the Bucs also swept the Carolina Panthers last year, which finished with the worst record in the NFL and had the number one overall pick in the draft.

The Bucs finished 10-6, but could easily have been 6-10 had the outcome of those fourth quarter finishes gone the other way – the way they have gone this year.

If this isn’t evidence that the Bucs overachieved last year, or at least prove that they could just beat lesser teams, I don’t know what is. In 2010, the team crowed when the media wrote that despite having a winning record, the Bucs didn’t beat any upper echelon teams outside of the Saints in Week 17.

This year, the Bucs have been pointing out to the media how tough the schedule has been. Whether that is seen as a valid reason or an excuse for how the team has slipped below .500 depends on your point of view.

Bucs fans were dismayed that their team couldn’t pull off the upset at Green Bay this year despite a valiant effort that resulted in a 35-26 loss. Yes, the Bucs played the Packers competitively and had a puncher’s chance, but keep in mind that Green Bay is the defending Super Bowl champions and winners of 17 straight games. They are a great team. The Bucs reside somewhere around mediocre and should not have been expected to win that game.

Tampa Bay fans believe that the loss boiled down to the two controversial onside kick calls from head coach Raheem Morris and a dropped two-point conversion pass from tight end Kellen Winslow, when in reality the loss came down to the five scores that each team put on the scoreboard. Great teams score touchdowns on offense and hold opponents to field goals on defense. Mediocre to good teams score field goals and their defenses give up touchdowns. The Bucs scored three touchdowns and two field goals at Lambeau Field, while the Packers scored five touchdowns.

Expectations were raised too high this year by the team, but the Bucs can’t be faulted for that. Players, coaches and the front office have to go into every season – and every game – thinking that somehow, some way they will be victorious every week. And the team has an obligation to attempt to raise the excitement level of the fan base after a good year for the sake of trying to sell more season tickets.

Most media outlets, including PewterReport.com, actually had the Bucs taking a step back with a nine-win season, factoring in a tougher schedule that saw the once weak NFC West, which the Bucs swept last year, be replaced with the much stronger NFC North. The entire NFC South has struggled with the North this year, with the Bucs finishing 1-3 against that division.

PewterReport.com was adamant that the Buccaneers would not make the playoffs in 2011. Ten wins didn’t get Tampa Bay in the postseason a year ago, and nine victories certainly wasn’t going to get it done, either. Yet some overly optimistic fans didn’t take into account the harder schedule, the fact that Tampa Bay still had the youngest team in the league and that the NFL lockout prevented several young Buccaneers from taking the steps needed to grow between a breakout rookie year and a second-year campaign. The offseason between a player’s first year as a starter and his second year as a starter is widely regarded by NFL coaches as the most critical.

Some fans saw the Bucs win 10 games a year ago and assumed this team was ready to win 11 and the NFC South. They believed that Josh Freeman had arrived as an outstanding quarterback and that LeGarrette Blount could be penciled in for 1,000 yards and that Mike Williams could automatically score 11 touchdowns again. Yet Freeman has taken the same step back that St. Louis’ Sam Bradford and New York’s Mark Sanchez have as NFL defensive coordinators now have enough film on those quarterbacks’ tendencies and how to beat them.

An objective look shows that the Buccaneers aren’t totally underachieving this season. They have beaten lesser teams, such as Minnesota, Indianapolis, and they have beaten some good teams, such as Atlanta and New Orleans. And Tampa Bay has lost to a slew of division leaders, such as Green Bay, Houston, New Orleans and San Francisco and teams that are poised for the playoffs in Atlanta and Detroit. This is who the Buccaneers are – a mediocre to good NFL team this year, just like they were last season.

Perhaps the most damning loss was the team’s 23-17 defeat at Tennessee to an equally matched Titans team. The Bucs actually had a lead heading into the fourth quarter but were outscored 13-0 in the final 15 minutes and blew two last-minute potential scoring drives with turnovers by Freeman, who has thrown 16 interceptions in 2011.

Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik has told the media time and again that the team is not a finished product. Morris has said that Bucs are a work in progress. Some fans call them excuses when the reality is that given the evidence, there are valid reasons for a season in which the team does not have – and may not finish with – a winning record.

Where fans may have a valid gripe is that not enough was done in the offseason in free agency to bolster this team with veterans and make it more competitive in 2011. Of course that goes against the philosophy shared by Dominik, Morris and the Glazers, which is to stockpile the team with young talent through three draft classes (2009-11), allow those players the chance to gain experience through early playing time and then supplement the team with some top-notch free agents beginning in 2012.

The Bucs had a lot of fortunate things happen along the way to a 10-6 season a year ago. Looking back at the teams they beat and how they won those games, last year’s Bucs team probably would have finished 7-9 or 8-8 without the breaks going its way. With a tougher schedule this season and without the gift of good fortune, it looks like Tampa Bay is destined to finish 7-9 this year if it can beat Jacksonville and sweep Carolina, which aren’t certainties.

So watch the young Buccaneers play and grow over the final month of season, lower the expectations for this season, but be prepared to raise the expectations for 2012.

Last modified on Sunday, 04 December 2011 09:24

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Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds

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  • avatar

    I don't know about any of the other fans, but my basis for predicting the Bucs would go 11-5 was thinking the Bucs would be better and tougher to go along with their tougher schedule. Yes, I knew opposing DC's would have more film on Freeman and learn his tendacies, but I assumed Freeman would match that by learning to read defenses better. So long as I feel we have a young and talented team, head coach and GM I am going to continue to believe we'll be better the next game than we were the last. Likewise, I'll continue to think we'll be better the next season than we were the last. When the players get past their prime or the HC or GM show they don't know what they're doing then I'll become pessimistic.
  • avatar

    Bottom line, Morris better beat Car once,and Jax to keep his job. No one is expecting to win at Atl, or home against Dall. If we can win one of those, Morris get's next year, but if we lose 2out of the 3 against Car, and Jax, I don't see him coming back. Winning 2 of the next 5, isn't asking to much.
  • avatar

    I'm not sure if we can beat anyone right now. Why? Because I haven't seen any signs recently that we can make adjustments fast enough on OF and DEF. Just my opinion; but if we lose today, we will lose the rest of the games we play. I still believe that Freeman's injury started a lot earlier than the last game and that he just finally got hit enough in the last game that he can't go anymore. I still think he will be placed on IR Monday or Tuesday. Let him get his surgery as soon as possible. We need experiend OC and DC and there are plenty of them out there.
  • avatar

    Why do 3rd and 4th year LBs, CBs, and a veteran safety play so poorly vs. the run? I have a pretty hard time believing that the inability to maintain gap integrity and tackle isn't an indicator that the HC/DC is not doing an effective job. As I have said in previous posts, I don't care too much about the win/loss record, but making the same mistakes over and over and over and over is maddening!
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