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. The Buccaneers lost their third division game of the season in Atlanta, 34-20. This brings up some controversial decisions that may need to be made very soon.
Bucs beat writer Trevor Sikkema shares his thoughts.
TWO BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith will not be coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next season
It’s over – it has to be.
There are a lot of excuses to be had for the season. For one, PewterReport.com has learned that quarterback Jameis Winston has been hurt for a while, even before the Arizona game, and that the team continued to play him until he was really hurt in Arizona. That along with a string of other injuries such as Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, Noah Spence, Josh Robinson, Vernon Hargreaves, Will Gholston and Robert Ayers all make for a big ol’ plate of “not my fault.”
But, you know what? I don’t buy it.
Players being hurt don’t make bad play calls. Players being hurt doesn’t make a defense so soft that teams with actual talent are running you out of the building. Players being hurt aren’t calling stunts and delayed blitzes. Players being hurt aren’t being so predictable on offense that fans in the stands could shout out the plays just from who is on the field. Players being hurt doesn’t call zero targets to tight ends in the first half. Players alone don’t give up over 500 yards of offense, 253 of them going to just one guy. That’s collective.
That’s coaching; that’s Koetter; that’s Smith.
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Let’s admit it: we all got lost in the hype from last season. Even if you were more cautious than others, no one predicted this. We were all fooled by the five-game win streak last year. We were fooled to believe that just bringing in talent meant an automatic upgrade from the previous record. We all thought it would be easier.
It’s not. Nothing is in this game. It’s all earned, and it starts in July (more of something Koetter didn’t do with one of the softest training camp programs we’ve seen). The players weren’t ready for the year once the good teams came calling, and now that they’ve warmed up and can at least hold their own, when healthy, it’s too late.
No one wants a constant carousel of coaches. Koetter is in his second year, but leaders are judged as much on how they handle adversity as they are getting to mountain tops. Here we are in a nightmare season and all Koetter can say is that they have to continue to stay the course and keep working on the very scheme, schedule and philosophy that got them in this mess in the first place.
That tells me he just doesn’t get it.
Maybe Koetter and Smith will be scapegoats more than the actual source of all this. Who knows? But, the reality is that you can’t go into next year with this staff. You just can’t. They’ve done some good things, but this is the NFL, and what they’ve done with what they’ve been given hasn’t been enough.
STATEMENT 2: This team is shooting too low
From the beginning of training camp, heck, even during the early offseason, the key word with this team was “playoffs.”
After each practice week, each preseason game, each loss and each win, players, coaches and anyone else around the organization kept using the word “playoffs” as the goal for this season. We as the media were guilty of it, too, making it easy on ourselves to write the fact that the Buccaneers haven’t made the playoffs since 2007. But, that goal has bothered me.
Why was reaching the playoffs the goal? The goal is the Super Bowl. The goal is a world championship. Speak it; believe it; will it.
Now, I know your first response to that is, “Trevor, if they make the playoffs they have a chance to win the Super Bowl, that’s the whole point.”
To that, I have a story.
I stayed late at One Buc Place after one of the Buccaneers training camp days back in August to work on an article. As I was writing, a familiar Bucs face walked into the media room. It was former Buccaneer wide receiver Michael Clayton. I said hello to Clayton and introduced myself, meeting him for the first time. He was there for part of his news show and I was asking him about that. Then we got into just casually talking about the team and how they looked, how we thought the season was going to go.
At one point, Clayton sort of stopped and leaned his head back. I knew he was about to say something good. He then asked me, “What do you think about this team and its goal?” I responded with something like, “Well, the players and coaches all want the playoffs.” And he responded, “That’s just it. That’s what I don’t like.”
I was a bit confused, but I was intrigued.
Clayton went on to talk about his time with the New York Giants, the team he won his only Super Bowl ring with. In that 2011 season, the Giants finished with a 9-7 record, in fact, they even lost four games in a row in the month of November. But Clayton told me that no matter what their record was, no matter what their result was each week, they all had the same goal – it was a Super Bowl. Clayton said they all talked about it as if it was real, not just some shallow media quote about the goal being a title. No, he said that him and his teammates said it and they meant it.
In the end, they were right.
The Buccaneers need to take notes. The playoffs are not the goal. The playoffs are a path for the goal. The goal isn’t to get to the dance. The goal is to ask the best looking person out onto that dance floor and steal the show.
The goal is not the playoffs. It’s the Super Bowl. Believe it; speak it; will it to be.
TWO PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: How quick could a new coach turn this around?
Ah, yes, good question, Trev, good question.
In a bit of a cop out answer, it all depend on who the guy is.
Let’s take Jon Gruden, for example. We don’t know how Gruden will be as a play caller or what he will be like on the field. He hasn’t coached in 10 years, so anyone trying to correlate what he was like with what he might be like now, in that aspect, is just talking to the wind. What you should rather focus on is who this person might be as a leader.
Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Gruden was brought back to One Buc Place this summer for a press conference held on behalf of him getting into the team’s Ring of Honor later this year. During that time, Gruden spoke to the media both at the podium and off of it, but we were also told that Gruden did have a brief word with the Buccaneers players, too, which was right around the time of Hard Knocks. From those around, Gruden’s message was a simple one: win now – they’re good enough to do so. But, even though the message ultimately didn’t come to fruition, those who were there said that every eye and ear in the room was glued to him. Each person was hanging on every word.
That’s the kind of guy the Buccaneers need. They need someone who the players respect. I don’t think they trust their current coaching staff anymore – they certainly aren’t playing like it. A guy like Gruden can not only be a leader in his experience and expertise, but in his command of a room.
Whether it’s Gruden or someone else, this Buccaneers locker room is going to need a guy they can look up to. Right now they’re lost. They know they’re good, but even though they speak of playing together, they’re not like a championship team needs to play.
They need a leader.
QUESTION 2: Will Todd Monken finally get play-calling duties?
It’s 4th-and-1. Down just seven. The ball on Atlanta’s 18-yard line. Just one yard.
A pass 15 yards down the field?
“I told the players I should’ve given them a better play,” Koetter said. “That’s on me.”
It wasn’t the first boneheaded play Koetter has called this season, and it likely won’t be the last – or will it be?
It should and that’s because offensive coordinator Todd Monken should take over the play-calling duties. Monken led Top 3 offenses in all of college football in back-to-back season at Oklahoma State. He knows what it’s like to light up a scoreboard, and where he hasn’t had much experience in the NFL with his hand in the calls, I think it’s time we see what he can do.
Koetter referenced at the end of last season that he did think about relinquishing play calling duties, but ultimately did not. Here we are with the Bucs to 4-7, will Koetter think of doing it again?
He should, for the better of the team. He clearly has a lot on his plate as the head coach and play-caller. Giving up some of that might let him think with a clearer mind. But, unfortunately giving up such duties now would only worsen his case to be retained with the season at what it is right now – unless if the Bucs win out.
Koetter should give up play-calling, but will he?
TWO BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Ryan Griffin will play more games the rest of this year than Jameis Winston
Right now the Buccaneers sit at 4-7. It was reported that Jameis Winston’s shoulder is “rapidly improving.” However, I think that was all talk in hopes that the Bucs were going to win the game in Atlanta on Sunday.
Winston wants to come back to play, you know he does, but should he? I say no.
At 4-7, the season is over. They would truly have to run the table to stand a chance, and they’d also need some help from other teams, too. Knowing that, and knowing that if Winston plays they would only be tarnishing their draft spot, why risk his health anymore?
Bucs QB Ryan Griffin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
With the loss to Atlanta on Sunday, I think that there’s a better chance we see Griffin start more games than Winston form here on out. Ryan Fitzpatrick is just on a one-year deal. He isn’t coming back next year. The team would be wise to see what they really have in Griffin, who hasn’t had any real-game action at all yet in his career.
I think it’s a win all around. For one, you keep Winston healthy. You also don’t let him play quarterback as his current investigation is going on. Griffin also gets some quality starts and you’ll likely still get a Top 10 draft pick as consolation for a season of promise gone awry.
PREDICTION 2: This offseason is going to be a slow burn
Speaking of investigations, the nightmare season for Bucs fans might be just getting started. This Winston investigation isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s likely to linger into the offseason and perhaps even into the 2018 season.
Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott – Photo by: Getty Images
Think about it. The NFL gave Ezekiel Elliott a six-game suspension and he wasn’t even charged with a crime. The NFL also gave Tom Brady, its golden boy, a four-game suspension for just tampering with evidence. Ben Roethlisberger even got a six-game suspension back in 2010, and that wasn’t anywhere near what the political climate for tolerance is now. You really think there’s any chance the NFL lets Winston off the hook here without a suspension, especially know he has a history of another accustion?
Unless there is some kind of concrete, indisputable evidence that saves Winston from this situation, no mater how it plays out legally, Winston is looking at a suspension, and the slow burn in all this is that it’s not going to come this season. If Winston is going to get suspended it will likely start at the beginning of 2018.
And adding insult to injury, if the Buccaneers were to move on from Koetter and begin a coaching search, having a young franchise quarterback in place would be their most attractive sell to a big name coach that would bring that leadership they need. They might not have such solid selling point anymore.
It might be a bumpy six or eight month for Bucs fans coming up.