Ex-Bucs head coach Lovie Smith - Photo by: Getty Images
It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
In the case of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, no statement could be more true.
A four-game losing streak, with a schedule set up for success, the Buccaneers tanked in their bid to become relevant again and make the playoffs. Big time.
Sadly though, this wasn’t an aberration, but instead a pattern dating back to 2008 when the Buccaneers at one point were talking home field advantage through the playoffs. Instead the Jon Gruden-led, Monte-Kiffin-leaving-the-defense-in-a-funk Bucs, dropped their last four games including losing to a rookie Raider quarterback named Jamarcus Russell. Ouch.
And since that disaster of a disappointment season that eventually cost Gruden his job, the Buccaneers are 7-31 in games in December through the end of the season. 7-31. You almost have to try and not win football games to be that bad.
Under head coach Tony Dungy the Buccaneers were notorious for slow starts. 3-4. 4-4. 3-5. Then only to rally over the months of November and December to make the playoffs each season, except his inaugural 1996 and the 1998 season. Although, even in 1996, the Buccaneers began the year 1-8 only to finish strong with a 6-10 season, winning five of their last seven, creating positive momentum heading into 1997, a year that saw the Buccaneers reach the playoffs for the first time since 1982.
Coaches will tell you that playing your best football in the months of November and December are crucial for success. Lovie Smith is on record saying the football season starts in November. So far under Smith the Bucs are just 5-13 over the last two months of the season with four of those victories coming this season.
Buccaneers rookie quarterback Jameis Winston wasn’t happy about the most recent four-game swoon following Sundays 38-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
“Right now I’m not worried about wins and losses,” Winston said. “I’m worried about getting a mentality and getting everybody on the same page and bouncing back. Ending the season 0-4 – we have to cut that. We can’t end the season 0-4. We’re way better than that.”
Smith talked about the expectations coming into the last four games and the team being 6-6 and in the thick of the playoff race.
It’s disappointing, but we weren’t a good football team this last four games,” Smith said. “We’re better than that, we will be better than that but how we played the last four games of the season it’s not like we can complain an awful lot. There are of course reasons why and these things we have a little bit of time to figure out.”
Despite the four-game skid off the the playoff cliff, Smith continued his glass-half-full mentality.
I think as a football team, you wanted that momentum,” Smith said. “We did, in the worst way. I think as you look at our foundational pieces, that’s what we have to build on. We have a lot of foundational pieces for success in place right now. After you get by the disappointment of the day and start analyzing it that way that’s why I think we have improved as a ball club and we are headed in the right direction.”
Will the Buccaneers turn things around in 2016? If you believe Winston, it will happen.
Just build on the positives and eliminate the negatives,” Winston said. “We are going to create a mindset this offseason, I guarantee it. We are going to create a winning mindset, a mindset that you would never give up… a relentless mindset of being able to persevere over adversity. We are going to have that next year.”
Later in the press conference Winston may have ruffled a few feathers of his teammates, but said nothing that most fans haven’t been thinking themselves.
“Losing four games no way in the world can possibly drive somebody. It’s in here(pointing to his chest). It’s inside your heart. This game is about will. This game is about taking things, so you have to at least try to take a win. You can’t go 0-4 at the end of the year.”
Winston was adamant that the onus to win games down the stretch is on the players, not the coaches.
All my coaches mean a lot to me, all my coaches,” Winston said. “All my coaches are going to be a part of that. Coach Koetter is an amazing coach. Coach Lovie is an amazing coach. All our coaches helped us get… if you look at this team, and you look at where we came from, if we didn’t have the good coaches, if our coaches weren’t on our butt, we wouldn’t have won six games, I guarantee you.
“Because I guarantee you there are some of our coaches that want it more than some of our players, and that is the bad part. That’s the bad part. Our coaches want it. They want it. I guarantee you they are up there working hours. Don’t even get to see their families so I’m not here to talk about coaches. I know our coaches want it. We need to get our guys to put in the work like our coaches put in. and that’s how you are going to be successful.”
A powerful statement from a rookie quarterback. So, who stays and who goes? Winston seemed to imply not everyone was on the same page this season. The Bucs front office and coaching staff need to weed out those who aren’t onboard with what the team is trying to accomplish. Sure, most players want to win. But how much work are they willing to put in to get the end result? Winston basically drew a line in the sand. Follow, lead, or get out of the way.
The Glazer family will now decide if they believe Smith is the person to do the job. Chances are Smith gets another year to prove he can turn things around. If you believe Winston, then Smith deserves the opportunity. But whoever wears the headsets in 2016 and roams the sidelines at Raymond James Stadium, it is quite clear. If the Bucs want to make the playoffs in 2016, they must be better in the last part the season.
Unfortunately for the Buccaneers they started with a 28-point loss to the Titans, and ended the season with a 28-loss to the Panthers. Until they get their December issues corrected the Bucs will continue to be mired in mediocrity, or even worse.
And if it is in fact a heart problem, then Dr. Licht, Dr. Smith and even new resident Dr. Winston, can’t get started soon enough performing a few transplants. If Winston gets his way, the late season fades will be a thing of the past for Tampa Bay.
And like they say, it’s not how you start, but how you finish.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]
They began with a loss to the worst team and ended it with one to arguably the best. What does that say? That it’s up to them.
Well Guys-The nO#1 pick has done things this year, and looking forward to see who Tampa adds thru Free Agent and the rookie class of 2016. I’ve seen teams come and go. But at 70 years old I would like Tampa reward the fans who pay good money to follow them-GO Bucs hasppy 2016 GL Hicks a native of Tampa bay.
Seems like the perceptive young quarterback is sending a message to Jason Licht and staff to rid the team of Lovie’s F.A. veteran defenders and replace them with guys like Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David. I wonder what Gerald McCoy would bring in a trade.
Every picture of Lovie on the sideline, he’s alone staring up at space. What the hell is he looking at?
That’s not just every picture surfer, that’s his actual game face. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen any emotion or even movement from the guy. Maybe if he stuck up for his players to the refs and showed them he had their back, they would play harder. I for one am so happy
Jameis called them all out. He’s right. Too much of a losers mentality in one bucs place and it’s time to win, not “have fun” like McCoy stated in his lame pregame speech
I’d be fine with getting rid of McCoy if the trade value and deal was in our favor. Have no doubt he’s a good guy and great father, but as a player I can’t stand him. You don’t have to be a dick like Sapp but you have to have passion to win like Sapp. No way winning is that important to him. Add in some of his odd statements and how he’s looked on sidelines at times…..plus can’t stay healthy. Be fine sending him and his floppy hat packing.
Hmm this is a tough one. Gerald has produced, but i personally can’t stand his “let’s just have fun” attitude.” He was injured this year as well, but as you stated , that’s nothing new. You could easily get a first rounder for him, and that would be the only way I would trade him.
After watching Winston Press Conference and thinking about it overnight; I have changed my thoughts about Lovie and support giving him another chance. I trust Winston and when he basically says all the coaches are all in and working hard to get the wins; then says that some of the players need to do the same says alot as to where the real problem is. I think we all screwed up with the thought this team could turn it around in just two years. We have to be rid of players who aren’t pushing themselves hard enough at the NFK level. First thing I would do is contact Evans Agent and ask Evans to go into anger management program and learn to take the emotions and convert it to more positive energy. Lee Roy Selmon and Derrick Brooks are perfect examples of how you do it. i hope to see a lot of players staying in town and working out here with many of the other players from the Bucs and other teams. Heck I think the other owners on other teams do the same as this would improve off season friendly competitive exercising. Go Bucs!
Here is what I would do this offseason if I were Licht and Lovie (assuming Lovie is back):
DBs – I would replace the entire secondary coaching staff (including is son, Mikal). This has been an underperforming position that has seen players regress instead of progress. While this is on players, the coaches definitely had a hand in the issues. Keep Adjei-Barimah, Moore, and Banks and try to get Verner to accept a pay cut into the 2-3 million range. Add talent through the draft and free agency (mid-level free agents, CB and S, whom the scouting department think my flourish in our system). Let everyone compete and keep the achievers. Also, adjust the coaching so that CBs are no longer always playing head up to outside shade, allowing teams to repeatedly complete slants and crosses (easiest throws for a QB to make). Force more passes to the outside perimeters, a harder throw because of the need for accuracy and arm strength. Also, gives the CBs better opportunities to undercut the throws.
Keep the LB and DLine coaching staffs intact. Cullen and Nickerson did an excellent job and need to continue developing the players. I would give Carter a serious look at SLB this upcoming year. He played very well when he was on the field.
DEs – Keep Smith, Gholston, and Jones, infuse talent through a high draft pick or two and some free agents. While Smith is a nice player, I don’t think he is a top flight DE that causes matchup problems. I think he would be an excellent rotational player who can rotate in on passing downs to provide extra pressure (this also might help him with his injury issues by limiting his snaps).
DC – We need to get a topflight defensive coordinator. I would love to see Rod Marinelli become available and take over the position, but either way, we need someone who can take over the position full-time and relieve Lovie of these duties, allowing Lovie focus on his Head Coaching duties.
HC – Lovie needs to spend the offseason working on in-game strategy and decision making. He was at his worst in close games, seeming to miss when to go for it or punt and allow the defense an opportunity to make a stand. He essentially needs to study the decision making progression of his former protégé, Ron Rivera, and progress. Carolina seemed to improve markedly around the time that Rivera’s decision making changed, accepting more risk. I’m not saying this is the only reason, but I think it definitely played a part in the evolution of the Panthers as a team with confidence.
Sorry for the long post.
Side Note: The only way I see Lovie getting fired is if another team is intent on hiring Koetter this offseason. In that situation, I think there is a chance the Bucs fire Lovie and promote Koetter in order to insure continuity for Winston to help his growth.
Scubog, I usually agree with a lot of your posts but question the one where you wondered about trading McCoy.
First of all, who do you replace him with who is better. Right now he is our best player on the DL.
Secondly, this article is questioning the heart of players on the team.
Do you question the heart of a player who is playing with a torn rotator cuff and a broken hand?
This team needs to keep Conte, McDonough, Moore and Tandy. Possibly Banks. The problem is with all the players I mentioned, they were all starters.
Probably backups on a lot of other teams.
Just posing the question drdneast. Don’t get your cape, as defender of all things Buccaneers, in a wad. To get something one must give up something. For the record I think GMC is a great player when healthy and a pretty good one when injured. However, his presence has not resulted in a dynamic defense by any stretch because the rest of the players on his side of the ball, including the list of secondary players you cited are mediocre at best. Plus, I wonder to whom Jameis is referring when he speaks about will to win. What disturbed me, other observers and perhaps you, was the Atlanta game when GMC went out for the OT coin flip. The look on his face was very somber as if defeat was all but assured. I’m just not sure he’s the leader of the defense when a rookie 4th round Draft pick seemingly made strides to overthrow him.
I’m not saying Licht should actively seek trade offers, but I suspect he’d listen. Would you trade him for the # 1 pick, take Joey Bosa, put McDonald at his spot and Spence at nose?
Nice thoughtful posts and agree with your coaching and personnel moves except for Verner.
Unfortunately Mikkal Smith isn’t going anywhere and Verner needs to go. He has gotten fat with his big deal and lacks the zest and passion (heart0 for the game.
The best thing we could do for GMC is to remove the captain title this offseason, bring in some legit competition(Nick Fairley) for his job and make him go to work and earn snaps like everyone else. He has been gifted his spot in the lineup, rightfully so, but this team needs more competition and I dont think he should be excluded from that equation. Adding a Fairley type player would also decrease the amount of snaps he plays during the game/season and hopefully will result in a fresher, more productive player. I just can’t see a team as devoid of talent as we are on the defensive side of the ball losing arguably our best player on D. We simply can’t afford to lose a player of his caliber even if the most fiery thing about him is that red patch in his hair.
Alot of good thoughts here. I believe many of us see we have turned the corner and this next season we will finally have more wins than losses. Go Bucs!
Sorry Horse….I see the same thing next year as this year with Lovie’s defense. Mediocre is the norm for this team. I most likely will be in the ground before I see Lovie and Buc’s in the platoffs.
Isn’t it ironic that Jameis sounds so much more like an experienced HC should than Lovie?
To keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is foolish. I really hoped the Glazers would recognize the mistake they made with Lovie and remedy the situation but it appears stubborness/reluctance to admit they were wrong again has clouded their judgement.
It saddens me to think that the team and community will be forced into putting up with a lackluster coach who repeats the same old rhetoric week after week for at least another year.
I certainly hope that Dirk Koetter remains with us as OC despite the fact that he deserves to be promoted HC.
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