Well, it wasn’t Josh Freeman’s fault, was it?
With another anemic offensive performance, Tampa Bay blew a 10-0 halftime lead to lose 13-10 to a very bad, injury-ravaged Arizona team on Sunday. The Bucs are now 0-4 and their season is officially over in terms of making the playoffs.
To get to 9-7 and post a winning record the Bucs have to go 9-3 down the stretch. That seems impossible.
Just to get back to last year’s 7-9 record, Tampa Bay would have to finish the season with a 7-5 mark, which seems very improbable at this point.
So this is a Bucs life, huh?
The Cardinals came into the game with a 1-2 record, without three starting linebackers, a starting safety and the team’s starting nose tackle. Arizona lost star defensive tackle Darnell Dockett in the third quarter to a groin injury.
With six of Arizona’s 11 starting defenders on the bench, the Buccaneers offense generated only 111 yards and zero points in the second half.
Tampa Bay’s players played hard, but this loss isn’t on rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, who had two critical interceptions in Bucs territory in the fourth quarter, nor is it on running back Doug Martin, who averaged 1.7 yards per rush on 27 carries and fumbled at the 50-yard line.
Glennon looked like a good, competent rookie quarterback for three quarters in his first NFL start. He looked confident. He went through his progressions well – actually much quicker than Freeman has recently. And Glennon showed nice touch and velocity on his passes.
But Sunday’s loss – like the three others this season – isn’t because of the quarterback. Freeman had nothing to do with this. This loss was due to coaching.
Head coach Greg Schiano, and his staff of one thousand assistant coaches, struggle to make the necessary, in-game adjustments, especially on offense, to put their players in position to win games.
After loss after loss after loss, Schiano keeps saying, “We’re close, we’re close” in his press conferences, but that’s because the Buccaneers have a plethora of top-notch, Pro Bowl-caliber players on their roster with enough talent to make games competitive before blowing it at the end with questionable decisions by the coaches. The Bucs games are close because of the players and their ability – not because of the coaching.
With Martin, Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Carl Nicks, Davin Joseph, Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn, Lavonte David, Mason Foster, Mark Barron, Dashon Goldson, Darrelle Revis and others, Tampa Bay has the talent to be much better than its 0-4 record indicates.
The talent level is spread so well around the league that’s why Cleveland can be tied atop the AFC North at 2-2 even after trading its most talented player in Trent Richardson. That’s why a 0-4 team like the Buccaneers has lost three games by a combined six points. That’s why a team like Kansas City can have six Pro Bowlers on a 2-14 team under Romeo Crennel in 2012 and be 4-0 under a far superior head coach in Andy Reid in 2013 with basically the same personnel.
In press conference after press conference, Schiano keeps saying, “We’ll fix it” and “We’ll get it fixed” – but it never happens.
When was the last time Schiano and the Bucs coaching staff truly outcoached the opposition? Well, Tampa Bay is now 1-9 in their last 10 games.
Maybe it was in that win against Atlanta to end the season when the Bucs’ depleted secondary finally started playing more Cover 2 and less of the risky man coverage the Bucs played with regularity in 2012.
If it was coaching that led to Tampa Bay’s season-ending upset in Atlanta that’s all well and good, but winning one out of every 10 games is a 10 percent winning ratio, and that doesn’t cut it at any level – especially the NFL.
At some point, the coaching staff has to identify or create mismatches on offense or defense and exploit those matchups to win games. At some point, you have to outcoach the other team when the talent is even or close.
Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden exposed run-stuffer Barry Gardner in the 2002 NFC Championship Game, forcing him to cover slot receiver Joe Jurevicius, who burned the Eagles linebacker for a 71-yard gain down to the Philadelphia 5-yard line to set up a first half touchdown for the Buccaneers and key the team’s win. Gruden outcoached Reid that day and helped Tampa Bay win its first and only Super Bowl 11 years ago.
Did Reid outcoach Schiano and the Bucs last year in Philadelphia’s 23-21 come-from-behind win when Tampa Bay blew a 21-10 lead in the fourth quarter? You bet.
There have been seven fourth-quarter leads blown by Schiano, who is now 7-13 in Tampa Bay, and the Bucs since his arrival last year, including three this season in losses to New York, New Orleans and most recently Arizona.
If you didn’t think that the Bucs were going to somehow blow a 10-0 lead at halftime in the fourth quarter you need to take your pewter-colored glasses off and have your eyes checked.
Entering the fourth quarter, you knew the Bucs were going to keep running Martin up the middle without much success.
As a result you knew that Glennon was going to have to be put in position to keep throwing the ball to pick up first downs in the fourth quarter and he was bound to throw an interception, as most rookies do in their first start.
You knew that Glennon was relying on Vincent Jackson too much, targeting him 11 times on Sunday, but only connecting with him twice for 27 yards.
You knew it, and Arizona knew it.
So it came as no surprise when cornerback Patrick Peterson, who was covering Jackson, stepped in front of him twice in the fourth quarter to key Arizona’s comeback and set up a touchdown, and to prevent the Bucs from winning the game on the final series.
Where were the adjustments?
Tampa Bay’s longest run of the day was a fake punt rush by Goldson, a 22-yarder.
Take away Martin’s 12-yard run in the first quarter and he ran for 33 yards on 26 predictable rushes up the middle, an average of 0.79 yards per carry. The Cardinals game plan was simple – stop Martin at all costs with eight in the box and make the rookie quarterback beat them. It worked.
Yet the Bucs kept running Martin between the tackles to no avail.
The knock on Schiano at Rutgers was his in-game management, and he and his Tampa Bay staff, especially offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, continue to struggle.
Where were the adjustments?
Speedster Jeff Demps had a 14-yard run on an end around in the first quarter, but the Bucs never went back to that play – even though it worked.
There were times when Martin was smashed and tackled by two or three Cardinals defenders and looked completely gassed at times. Yet Demps didn’t get another carry, nor did Brian Leonard or Mike James to help Martin rest and not be so fatigued in the fourth quarter, which is when he fumbled. Why?
The Philadelphia Eagles and every other Bucs opponent this year will be selling out with eight defenders in the box to stop Martin, who Schiano will likely run into the ground before the season is over. If you think the Bucs offense is bad now, wait until Martin gets hurt. You haven’t seen a bad offense yet.
Where were the adjustments?
Due to ultra-conservative play-calling designed to have Glennon complete a higher percentage of passes and prove that Freeman’s inaccuracy was the problem, the Bucs’ longest pass play was a 20-yard catch-and-run by fullback Erik Lorig. Freeman was watching from his suite and probably wondering where those higher percentage shallow crossing routes to Kevin Ogletree and Mike Williams were, and the flare passes to Leonard on third down were in the first three games of the year.
Where were the adjustments?
Where were the shots downfield to Jackson and Williams to take advantage of the Cardinals bringing safety Yeremiah Bell in the box to stop the run? Bell finished with seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.
There is a strategy in playing to win. Playing not to lose is not a strategy, and you sensed that Schiano was thinking at halftime “Let’s not lose this game now that we have a 10-0 lead” instead of “Let’s go out, score more points and win this game.” The play-calling got more predictable and more conservative in the second half outside of Goldson’s fake punt run on fourth-and-inches in the fourth quarter, which was the right call.
Take away Goldson’s 22-yard scamper and the Bucs offense generated just 89 yards over the final two quarters on Sunday.
Suddenly, since the Week 2 defeat to New Orleans, Schiano is now publicly accepting the blame for his team’s losses and his offense’s ineptitude. (I wonder where that came from?)
But privately he is leading the charge to make Freeman out to be the villain. Suddenly there is a rash of “Bucs sources” telling nearly every member of the national media on NFL pre-game shows that Freeman misses team photos, misses his bedtime, misses meetings, misses breakfast, lunch and dinner and misses his mommy and daddy in Kansas City – all in an effort to divert blame away from Schiano.
Those “Bucs sources” are trying to pin all of the team’s problems on Freeman, but Sunday’s loss, which wasn’t much different than the loss to the Jets and Saints exposed Schiano. Freeman wasn’t on the field on Sunday. He was up in a suite per Schiano’s insistance, and the decision wasn’t mutual as the head coach suggested after the game.
Freeman wanted to be down on the field with his teammates. Take away his ability to throw the ball and play quarterback for a second. Like him or not, Freeman is a great teammate, who did oversleep and miss a team photo, which did show poor judgment and leadership on his part. He’s also been late to meetings before.
Team captain Davin Joseph admitted he’s been late to meetings too before. I’ve been late to work before, and likely so have you.
Does that make Freeman a cancer or a team pariah, which some “Bucs sources” are trying to suggest he is? Absolutely not.
By all accounts, Freeman has been a great teammate because he always accepts responsibility for his poor play and doesn’t blame others – on or off the record. Have you ever heard, seen or read Freeman complaining about dropped passes, missed blocks, bad play-calling or bad coaching?
No, I haven’t either. That’s why the players like Freeman, root for him and want him to succeed despite his shortcomings as a quarterback and a leader. The kid doesn’t really have much of an ego, either.
Freeman didn’t lose the team as “Bucs sources” were whispering to the national media members so they could report that and continue to make Freeman seem like he’s the problem in Tampa Bay when he’s not. Schiano has lost the team due to the way he’s handled the likeable Freeman this year.
Ask yourself this question. Why are national reporters like Ian Rappaport, Mike Silver, Mike Garafalo and Jay Glazer getting all of this anti-Freeman spin from One Buccaneer Place when they aren’t in Tampa and don’t cover the team on a regular basis. Yet the local reporters and sports radio talk show hosts, who are at One Buccaneer Place daily, are not falling for the spin and are recognizing the coaching staff’s shortcomings are really to blame for the 1-9 mark in the last 10 games?
The iron-fisted Schiano has done a good job of locking down the players from openly talking to the media. His first rule when he stepped foot in One Buccaneer Place was to tell the players they could no longer call, talk to or text media members with their cell phones. He was telling grown men and professional athletes that they could only talk to the media with a member of the Bucs public relations staff present.
When the players are in the open locker room the public relations staff is in full force and has been directed to hover around and overhear nearly every conversation and interview, so very few off-the-record encounters between players and the media happen inside the locker room anymore.
The reason why the players have been very tight-lipped to the media through the whole 0-4 ordeal is because of good team leadership by Joseph, McCoy, Jackson and others, who are following orders, and because of the fear of Schiano’s wrath.
Since his arrival in Tampa Bay last year, Schiano has already cut a top-notch safety in Tanard Jackson, traded away the team’s top tight end in Kellen Winslow, cut a second-round pick in Brian Price, traded away the team’s top cover cornerback in Aqib Talib and benched the team’s starting quarterback, who was in a contract year. Some of those players deserved to go, but you get the point. The players feel like no one is untouchable in Tampa Bay under Schiano.
The fact is that Freeman was 1-8 in his last nine games as Tampa Bay’s quarterback. Even though the organization will be using “Bucs sources” as a way to deflect heat off Schiano, the head coach is now 1-9 in his last 10 games. “Bucs sources” will continue the spin to the national media by saying Freeman is a distraction, and that’s part of the reason why Tampa Bay lost to Arizona.
Low-key, how-hum, even-keeled Freeman is a distraction? You’ve seen his press conferences the last five years. Have you ever seen Freeman do anything but talk in a monotone voice? Have you ever seen the 25-year old kid get animated – good or bad – about anything?
If Freeman is really a distraction then the Bucs should just cut him this week or try to trade him. The problem is that Schiano and “Bucs sources” have buried the guy publicly and painted him as a partier, who can’t make meetings or even the team picture. Schiano and “Bucs sources” have stupidly slit their own throats and driven down his trade value by vilifying Freeman. Which team would want to give up anything higher than a fifth-rounder for such a supposedly irresponsible quarterback?
Coming off a 7-9 season, Schiano should have manned up, admitted that Freeman wasn’t his guy, traded Freeman, and gotten his own guy in the offseason. Coming off a 4,000-yard, 27-touchdown season, trading Freeman to Kansas City or another quarterback-needy team might have netted some premium picks, such as a second- and a third-rounder. After all, the Chiefs surrendered a second-rounder for Alex Smith, who was not Jim Harbaugh’s guy in San Francisco.
Once again Schiano was too late in making any necessary adjustments. Here we are in the fourth week of what was supposed to be a promising playoff-bound season and Tampa Bay is 0-4.
Here are some facts to digest.
• The Bucs haven’t won a football game with any other quarterback than Freeman dating back to 2008. That’s a trend that may not change for a while as long as Sullivan is calling plays and Schiano is in charge.
• The Buccaneers haven’t scored more than 23 points in a game since coming back to beat Carolina in overtime, 27-21, in Week 11 of last year. The Bucs offense has combined for 34 points in four games, an average of 8.1 points per contest, which is pitiful.
• The paid attendance on Sunday’s game was 44,956, which made Raymond James Stadium look like it was hosting a fourth preseason game. The fans aren’t buying the Bucs anymore – literally and figuratively. That won’t change until some real adjustments are made from the Glazers to Tampa Bay’s coaching staff.