It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. Tampa Bay’s 30-10 loss in New Orleans was embarrassing on so many levels from the fact that the Bucs defense could not stop rookie running back Alvin Kamara, to the fact that the offense could only muster up 10 points after trailing early 9-0 due to a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Did I mention defensive end Will Gholston getting carted off with a neck injury, quarterback Jameis Winston exiting early after another big hit on his injured shoulder, or a sideline brawl that wide receiver Mike Evans instigated? There is so much ground to cover about this game, but let’s start with the elephant in the room – Dirk Koetter’s job security, which is as tenuous as ever.
So now the Bucs sit at 2-6 on the season with Jameis Winston’s injured throwing shoulder hurt once again. Will the Bucs win another game this season? They are certainly capable from a talent standpoint, but this team seems as lost as their coach right now. No one, including Koetter, has the answers for why the offense and the defense have played so lousy all season.
The Glazers have seen this all before. Brutal losses like the one in New Orleans and the one a few weeks ago in Arizona must bring back painful memories of awful defeats suffered in the Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith eras. It seems as if there is a curse on the Buccaneers that has lasted a decade, which was the last time Tampa Bay made the playoffs. Oh, there have been teases, like a 10-6 playoff-less season under Morris before his 4-12 encore. A 6-4 start under Schiano before his second and final season began with a 0-8 record. After a dismal 2-14 first season, Smith got the Bucs to 6-6 before a season-ending collapse turned into a 6-10 record.
Bucs DC Mike Smith and former head coach Jon Guden – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
I issued a warning a few weeks ago after the 38-33 loss at Arizona when I wrote With Gruden Lurking, Koetter Needs To Turn Bucs Around In A Hurry. Now I’m wondering if the Glazers believe the only person that could lift the “Jon Gruden Curse” is Gruden himself. Any other “hot commodity” coordinator may turn into the next Koetter and not work out. Of course Gruden may not work out either in his second stint in Tampa Bay, but sometimes the devil you know is better than the one you don’t.
Gruden has a lot of things going for him, too – aside from being the only coach in Tampa Bay to win a Super Bowl championship and three NFC South division titles, being the all-time winning coach in Tampa Bay history, and the next inductee into the Bucs Ring of Honor. Gruden has stayed current with all of the trends in pro and college football through his gig at ESPN where he’s the Monday Night Football color analyst, and knows college personnel as the host of Gruden’s QB Camp and by being a draft analyst on ESPN’s NFL Draft coverage.
Without a healthy Winston, there will be no turnaround in Tampa Bay this year, and I would expect that the Glazers have seen enough. I bet they will reach out to Gruden at some point to talk, maybe later this season or maybe after the season. And I would bet Gruden, who still lives in Tampa, would listen.
I sat in his FFCA (Fired Football Coaches Association) office before the start of training camp and heard how much he still loved the Bucs and saw the fire to coach still burning in his eyes. I reported that Gruden was preparing to coach again, and I have no doubt he will soon – and possibly here in Tampa.
Gruden had his down seasons – a 5-11 campaign in 2004 and a 4-12 record in 2006 – but had four winning seasons, too, including his final two, in which the Bucs went 9-7. Tampa Bay had three home playoff games and years of sellouts on his watch. Don’t forget that this is a business and the Glazers are businessmen – highly competitive businessmen. They want to win just as much as the front office, the coaches, the players and the fans want to. The Glazers are sick and tired of the losing and I bet they swing for the fences to get a guy that can make a splash and take the Bucs to the next level … like they did in 2002.
STATEMENT 2: Koetter Has Lost Control Of The Bucs
Hiring Koetter to replace Smith seemed like the right move to make at the time that I called for it during the 2015 season. It made sense because the Bucs had a 4,000-yard rookie quarterback in Winston, a 1,400-yard running back in Doug Martin and a 6,000-yard offense, which ranked fifth in the league, in Koetter’s first year as offensive coordinator. Giving Winston and the young offensive players some continuity seemed like a good decision at the time. Koetter was worth a try.
Unfortunately, Koetter’s second year is going the way Schiano’s second year and Smith’s second year went – down the tubes. It’s clear that he doesn’t know how to right the ship at this point and turn it around. Instead, the Buccaneers are a sinking ship that won’t make the playoffs (again) and will be in contention for a top 10 draft pick (again).
Koetter’s offense is going nowhere, scoring a total of 13 points in two games and going seven quarters without a touchdown until the touchdown catch by Luke Stocker (LUKE STOCKER!) put more than three points on the board for the first time since the Buffalo game. Ryan Fitzpatrick-to-Stocker was the combo no fantasy football team owner saw coming on Sunday, but I digress.
When I called for Koetter to give up the play-calling duties it wasn’t just to spark an offense that is only smoldering right now. It was so he could try to spend time fixing some of the problems on both sides of the ball without having to worry about game-planning throughout the week or calling plays on game days. Koetter’s full attention needs to be on the entire team right now so he could show some leadership.
Koetter has lost complete control of this team – and does NOTHING on the sidelines while his team is literally brawling. Lack of leadership. pic.twitter.com/HLMXJjIqoy
Unfortunately, this video clip shows a bewildered Koetter casually walking on the sidelines while his players are literally brawling with the Saints just a few yards away. I would expect that type of demeanor from Smith – but not from Koetter. At the very least, he should have benched wide receiver Mike Evans for starting the brawl, or called everyone over for a quick, impromptu team meeting on the sidelines. Something to show that he still has control of this team. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any leadership there. Did you?
It seems like the Bucs players are quickly losing faith in Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith – at least it looks that way on Sundays. They like Koetter, who is a fun coach, but they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel this season. They don’t see how this gets better or how Koetter fixes it. That’s apparent in the way they play. Keep in mind that the Bucs players liked Morris, too – all the way until the end of his tenure during that 10-game losing streak.
TWO PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Should The Bucs Shut Down Winston For The Season?
Yes. After being a first-round draft pick in 2009, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford played in a total of only 13 games in his first two NFL seasons due to injuries in both shoulders. Stafford suffered four A/C joint dislocations, which is similar to what Winston has, over the 2009 and ’10 seasons and ultimately needed surgery to fix it.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Getty Images
Forget what Winston wants to do. Forget what Koetter or general manager Jason Licht want to, too. If I’m the Glazers I am shutting down my star quarterback – the face of the franchise – and living to fight another day. Winston is 23 years old and has plenty of football ahead of him. I want him 100 percent healthy for the offseason when there very well could be a new head coach in place to install a new offense. If I’m the Glazers, I don’t want Winston’s arm in a sling in April, watching a backup quarterback go through play installs in the OTAs or mini-camps.
It might be different if the Bucs were contending like they were supposed to be this season. Instead, Tampa Bay is 2-6. That’s TWO-DASH-SIX for you Sam Wyche fans. No one likes to throw in the towel and surrender a season. It sends an awful message to the players and the fans. But the players had half the season to avoid this situation and they didn’t get the job done, so here we are.
At this point, see what Fitzpatrick can do as the starter and activate backup quarterback Ryan Griffin to the active roster from injured reserve. Give Griffin an opportunity to play some during the second half of the season to see what he can do in a regular season game with the starters. If the losses continue to mount with Winston in the lineup – like they probably will – at least the Bucs will have a high draft pick to spend on a left tackle or a defensive end.
QUESTION 2: Why Did We See Barber At RB, Pamphile At LT?
One of the (few) right calls by Koetter in Sunday’s loss was to bench Martin, who rushed for just seven yards on eight carries, in favor of seldom-used backup Peyton Barber. Martin didn’t do a good job of following his blocks and did too much dancing in the backfield on Sunday and Koetter went with the more decisive, north-south running that Barber brings.
Martin should’ve followed his blocks into the designated hole. Can’t cut back on a zone play into the unblocked defender. That’s on Martin.
Barber finished with a season-high 34 yards on 11 carries, in addition to two catches for 20 yards. He might see more action next week against the New York Jets as a result of his efforts on Sunday in New Orleans.
As for left tackle Donovan Smith, he exited in the third quarter with a knee injury, according to Koetter. Smith continues to struggle in pass protection and gave up a sack before departing, and also gave up the hit on Winston’s shoulder that caused him to leave the game. Kevin Pamphile replaced him at left tackle and also surrendered a sack.
It is unclear how severe Smith’s knee injury is and if he’ll be able to play against the Jets next Sunday. Smith hasn’t shown the progress the team expected him to make this season and he’ll be entering a contract year in 2018. However, the Bucs may have seen enough of Winston getting hit and sacked by Smith’s poor pass protection and may address the left tackle position again in the 2018 NFL Draft.
TWO BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: McCown Smacks The Bucs Around Next Week
You know this is coming. Former Bucs quarterback Josh McCown, who was beaten to a pulp during the 2014 season, returns to Tampa Bay with the New York Jets – his seventh team in his 13-year career – to face his former squad. McCown replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was the Jets quarterback the last two years, and will likely face Fitzpatrick on Sunday at Raymond-James Stadium. Oh, the irony.
The 38-year old McCown has guided the Jets to a surprising 4-5 record and is completing a career-best 70.4 percent of his passes for 1,980 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His 96.1 percent QB rating is higher than Winston’s 88.3 QB mark. McCown has also scrambled and rambled in for three touchdowns on the ground, too. I’m predicting a Jets win and revenge for McCown, who throws for one touchdown and runs for another.
PREDICTION 2: The Bucs vs. Falcons MNF Game Gets Really Awkward
Although it’s not for another six weeks, I bet Tampa Bay’s home game against Atlanta on Monday Night Football gets really awkward for not only the Bucs but for Gruden, who will be calling the game for ESPN. Not only that, but Gruden will be inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor at halftime and will likely meet with the media shortly thereafter where he will undoubtedly be asked about his potential candidacy for Tampa Bay’s head coaching job should the losses continue to mount and Koetter’s job remains in jeopardy. Gruden likely will lay low until then and not talk to the media outside of his ESPN gig on Monday Night Football as the losses pile up in Tampa Bay.
Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
What will the Glazers say when standing next to him, inducting him at halftime of the Bucs vs. Falcons game? Will they use that occasion to publicly court Gruden out of retirement (provided that they don’t put some feelers out to him first)? “We’d like to recognize the greatest, best, most winning, most awesome head coach we’ve ever had in Jon Gruden by enshrining him in the Bucs Ring of Honor tonight – because he’s great, and awesome and the best and won a lot of games here in the past … and may again in the future, I mean, who knows? (Nervous chuckle) Right, Jon? (Wink)”
When Gruden studies the tape for the Bucs vs. Falcons contest as he prepares to call the game for Monday Night Football, he might have an ulterior motive as he reviews film on Tampa Bay’s personnel, too.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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