The plane is going down.

Someone has let the tigers out.

There are volcanoes below. Giant dinosaurs roam the earth. There are fires and floods and quicksand.

Gee, you wonder. How bad is this going to get?

Is it going to be blame-the-blueprint bad? Is it going to be can-the-coach bad? Is it going to be doubt-the-quarterback bad?

Could it be 5-11 bad?

Could it be 4-12 bad?

Could it be 3-13 bad?

After the latest embarrassment by the Tampa Bay Bucs, we are all left to wonder. No one talks about the playoffs anymore. No one talks about a .500 record. No one talks about a bridge of a season that would allow dreams for next year.

Not after the Falcons, a team the Bucs had beaten earlier in the year, danced into Raymond James Stadium and hung up 43 points. And egad, how bad can a defense be? We have gone from Lovie to Mike, but for the life of me, it still looks like the same old Smith.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

Falcons QB Matt Ryan – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

In a span of days, the Bucs gave up 73 points, and 58 first downs, and 1,087 yards. They allowed quarterbacks Derek Carr of the Raiders and Matt Ryan of the Falcons to combine for 65 completions on 93 passes with zero interceptions. For a team that signed two prominent free agents and made its first two draft picks defensive, that seems unforgiveable.

“We really struggled the second half,” coach Dirk Koetter said. “That third period, we couldn’t get off the field. We didn’t stop them the whole second half.”

And so the Bucs are falling down an elevator shaft, and no one knows where the bottom is. All we know is that the landing is going to be hard.

For instance, the Bucs are home against Chicago in 10 days. But the Bucs play home games as if they are frightened by cannon fire.

Then come the Chiefs. And the Seahawks. And the Chargers. And the Saints. And the Cowboys. And the Saints again. And the Panthers. Considering how this team plays pass defense – don’t rush, don’t cover – how many wins do you see in there?

You know what Ryan and Carr had in common? Time. Comfort. Ease. Both quarterbacks dropped back and spent an uncommon amount of time looking downfield.

No, it didn’t help that former Bucs safety John Lynch was enshrined in the Ring of Honor. It might have helped if he had brought his shoulder pads, but he did not.

Bucs SS John Lynch - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs SS John Lynch – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“We’re 3-5,” Koetter said. “That’s where we’re at. We’re 3-5 at the halfway point and that’s what we’ve earned. That’s what we talked about in the locker room. We’ve got half the season left. I’ve got to figure out a way to make this team play up to their potential. Because I don’t like where we are right now. That’s 100 percent on me.”

The thing is, this team isn’t getting better. It’s getting worse. I’ve said it before; it’s running out of parts. But there are players who were better against Atlanta in Week 1 than they were in Week 9. The team seems to be sliding backward.

“We’ve got to figure out who we are,” said Vernon Hargreaves. “We’ve got to figure out who were are as a defense and who we want to be and how we want to finish the season.”

Said Gerald McCoy: “We’ve got to evaluate ourselves, do some soul searching. Everybody has to look at themselves and see what they can do better to bring to this team. We don’t need to rest. We need to reload.”

Reload? Reconsider, perhaps. This team has lost any momentum it had. Right now, it ranks somewhere below Lovie’s second team and above Lovie’s first team. That’s not a comforting thing to say.

Look, we knew all along that this team was woefully thin. Well, shame on the Bucs for not giving more consideration to depth. Coaches differ as to how many great players a team needs to succeed, but it’s more than the Bucs have.

How does it stop? Obviously, it doesn’t stop by players talking about stopping it. It starts with a better plan. It starts by not playing tackle-the-receiver-after-he-catches-the-ball. It starts with a better pass rush, with crisper tackling, with fewer penalties.

It starts with looking differently, thinking differently, playing differently. Because right now, this Bucs team isn’t any different than Lovie Smith’s teams, or Greg Schiano’s, or Raheem Morris’. This is Groundhog Day; cue up “I Got You, Babe” and let’s go.

Where does it end? How does it end?

It ends bloody. It ends in pain. And it ends with owners urging Tampa Bay fans to renew their tickets.

No one has won more awards, including two national Associated Press Sports Editors Best Columnist awards and eight top 10 finishes, than the legendary Gary Shelton, former sports columnist of the St. Petersburg Times. Shelton returns to PewterReport.com for his second season of providing post-game commentary on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like no one else can.

Shelton just received his sixth Sportswriter of the Year award for Florida by the NSSA, and no one has seen more big events, including 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics and 11 Final Fours. Shelton still goes into the locker room to obtain his stories.

And no one has made you angrier, or laugh louder, or think harder about what he has written. Simply put, no one has covered Tampa Bay sports like Shelton has. Now you can read Shelton daily on GarySheltonSports.com and follow him on Twitter at @Gary_Shelton

Bucs fans can enjoy Shelton’s weekly post-game column on the Bucs following every Tampa Bay game exclusively on PewterReport.com, and our readers are encouraged to subscribe to GarySheltonSports.com for all of his expert commentary on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays, USF, Florida, Florida State and all of the sports teams and sports figures in the national spotlight.

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About the Author: Gary Shelton

Legendary sports columnist Gary Shelton returns to PewterReport.com for his second season of providing post-game commentary on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like no one else can. No one has won more sports writing awards than Shelton, who has covered Tampa Bay area sports for decades with his unique brand of humor and insight. Bucs fans can Shelton daily on GarySheltonSports.com and follow him on Twitter at @Gary_Shelton
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BigSombrero
BigSombrero (@bucwild02)
5 years ago

The officiating was really bad. It started early when the Bucs were called for a personal foul for “hands to the face” when a finger grazed an Atlanta defender in the trenches, negating a great pickup in the first half. It continued when there was no flag thrown when Evans gets hit under his chin with the crown of the Atlanta defenders helmet on his impressive one handed catch. The “upheld” review of Juio Jones clear non-catch. The phantom PI in the endzone on 3rd down in the second half. Yes, Atlanta was able to move the ball well at… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan (@naplesfan)
Reply to  BucWild02
5 years ago

Blaming a loss on the refs is loser talk. We simply did not perform, and we did commit most if not all of those offensive penalties that killed drives. Our running backs stopped gaining yards in the 2nd quarter. Our defensive line stopped putting pressure on Ryan by the end of the 2nd quarter. It all went downhill from there. No pass rush to stop the league’s best offense, and no rushing game to open up play action passing, and guess what? You get your butt kicked. The Bucs got butt-kicked, and the refs had zero to do with that.

76Buc
76Buc (@76buc)
Reply to  BucWild02
5 years ago

This is still a bad football team.

stlbucsfan
stlbucsfan (@stlbucsfan)
5 years ago

There is no way under the sun that Mike Smith is responsible for how awful this defense looks. No defensive coordinator can scheme around a team with 1 legit pass rusher, 1.5 LBs bc Lavonte and Kwon tend to show up on separate games, and maybe 1 good CB if you put Grimes and Vernon together and even that’s a stretch. It was just funny listening to the game last night and hearing the announcers say “The Bucs need to look for an in the box safety this offseason bc those guys cant tackle” I think Barron fits that mold… Read more »

LordJim
LordJim (@lordjim)
Reply to  stlbucsfan
5 years ago

I agree with pretty much everything you said. What I respect is that Mike Smith is still trying different looks. But I really have to question Licht at this point.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan (@naplesfan)
Reply to  stlbucsfan
5 years ago

I agree with you for the most part, stlbucsfan. The scheme is likely not the root cause. The root cause is we have a depleted defensive line that isn’t performing. We still don’t have Clinton McDonald in the interior, and he’s our second best DT. Without him, and with McCoy drawing double teams on most plays, there just isn’t enough in there to sustain a pass rush though four quarters. Teams know that if they just keep passing, we will eventually run out gas. That will be the story of the rest of the season until McDonald gets back out… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan (@naplesfan)
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 years ago

In my second to last sentence, I meant to say “One more quality DE would also help enormously.”

76Buc
76Buc (@76buc)
Reply to  stlbucsfan
5 years ago

Don’t forget bypassing 2 high draft picks to pick a kicker that has put excitement back in the game.

macabee
macabee (@macabee)
5 years ago

Maybe It would help if our Front Office would do some research before it hired both players and coaches. Please read the last paragraph of this link and judge for yourself. Sound familiar? George Santayana said “Those who do not learn from history is doomed to repeat it”.

http://www.si.com/nfl/2014/12/29/atlanta-falcons-mike-smith-fired

Naplesfan
Naplesfan (@naplesfan)
Reply to  macabee
5 years ago

Smith is fine – he needs more players. We’re simply too thin on the D-line, and we have no quality safeties period.

MWD
MWD (@mikewestdominguez)
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 years ago

Naples fan, and i’m sure you have noticed this as well. Our CB’s give way too much cushion, in particular VH3. This eludes back to your comment about the safeties, no confidence in your safeties = more cushion given to WR’s from our CB’s for fear of getting beat with the deep ball. I saw even Lavonte David confused or at least way out of coverage last night. In general, it seems like our DB’s, Safeties and LB’s are out of sink with pass coverages and assignments.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan (@naplesfan)
Reply to  Michael WestDominguez
5 years ago

Yup – our great Bucs defenses of old (Dungy-early Gruden eras) had terrific players in all three levels. We’re missing one level altogether at safety, the CBs are pretty thin, all short guys, one a rookie, and the other over the hill. And our D-line is heavily depleted.

It all adds up to suck.

Horse
Horse (@horse)
5 years ago

Most players gave up by the end of the 3rd quarter. Same ole same ole message for 5 years now. Start pulling players off other teams PS and dump the old players who aren’t in the picture for next season. The try outs start now and start practicing tackling again. We’re another joke of the NFL. We’re going to win maybe 4-5 games this season and that’s it. Scouting department is awful and Licht is way over his head. Smith is just is just another Lovie with a smile. I like Koetter, but Smith is another Lovie, but with a… Read more »

gg720
gg720 (@gg720)
Reply to  Horse
5 years ago

Agree, the defense doesn’t have the players but Mike Smith is not an NFL defensive coach!!!!! You have average to below average defensive backs, average defensive line and you continue to do the same scheme over and over. Blitz the freaking opposing QB for God’s sake.!!!!! You don’t ever do it and the opposing QB throws for a million yards standing in the pocket picking his nose. What the hell do you have to lose. Your defense can’t stop any opponent from throwing for huge yardage by not blitzing , so you have no excuse to not try and get… Read more »

pinkstob
pinkstob (@pinkstob)
5 years ago

I never liked this hybrid crap, even when M. Nolan first brought it to M. Smith’s team in Atlanta. However, it’s not just the scheme, it’s the players as well. On their part it’s a lack of talent and injuries. Mostly injuries on the D-line, mostly lack of talent in the secondary.

JayBuc52
JayBuc52 (@jaybuc52)
5 years ago

Seeing how empty the stadium was for a nationally televised game, even on Lynch’s night, it is clear that the new theme song for Buc’s fans is the Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Heck, even the Sun Bank building was done up in Lightning colors and not Bucs colors. It’s just sad. As far as the Glazer boys asking the fans to renew their tickets, good luck with that. For the first time ever, I didn’t renew my season passes after they hiked prices for a team that is a perennial cellar dweller. That put them out of range… Read more »

Amo
Amo (@bucs44)
5 years ago

This team plays home games like they’re frightened by cannon fire. Thank you Gary. I needed that after he last two games.

Amo
Amo (@bucs44)
5 years ago

I apologize for the typo, I was crying.

EastEndBoy
EastEndBoy (@eastendboy)
5 years ago

I think this line resonates most with me Gary: “Time, comfort, ease”. I would extend that beyond Carr and Ryan,though, to include every QB we have faced…not just in 2016, but for years….I can’t even remember when an opposing QB was under consistent threat by our pass rush…honestly it has to be over a decade ago. Ryan last night was just the personification of all those QBs….so happy to be playing our defense…what a huge sigh he/they felt….what a relief it must be for an NFL QB to play against us…no worry about being hit by 300 pound Dlineman, no… Read more »

Amo
Amo (@bucs44)
5 years ago

Mike Smith needs to leave the booth and start having ace-to-face communication with his players.