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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. Bucs Are Hardly A Bad Ass Football Team
On April 29, 2017, Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter was asked what kind of identity he wanted for his football team.
“A bad ass football team,” Koetter said.
Since going 9-7 in 2016, Koetter’s first season as Tampa Bay’s head coach, the Bucs are hardly bad ass. They are 8-17.
Instead of being bad ass, they just stink like … well, you know.
We are two and a half years into Koetter’s regime and four and a half years into Jason Licht’s reign as general manager and the culture hasn’t changed. The Bucs are still losers, and they have a loser’s mindset.
I am not personally attacking the players or suggesting they can’t play in the league. I’m simply looking at the team’s record, which is the ultimate judge of what a player playing the ultimate team sport is.
The Buccaneers accept defeat too easily.
Oh, the Bucs battle. They fight back. They don’t give up.
They lost four games by three points in 2017 and three more by less than a touchdown. This year, Tampa Bay has lost two games by three points and another one by five. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
The Bucs don’t do enough to win – often enough.
I walked into the locker room on Sunday following Tampa Bay’s 16-3 loss to Washington as the team simply melted down time and again in the red zone. The locker room was quiet. The players were dejected.
It was a picture of the culture of losing. It was a scene of players accepting defeat.
It was Gerald McCoy, who has been in this position for the better part of nine years, struggling to find the right words to say.
It was Demar Dotson, who has been here one year longer than McCoy, saying the same sad refrain of the Bucs “shooting themselves in the foot.”
The veterans certainly suffer from HWGA syndrome.
Here We Go Again.
Against the Redskins, the Bucs were beating themselves with turnovers (again) and allowing the enemy to score first and get a lead and have to play catch-up (again).
Licht has tried to change the culture, bringing in players from Super Bowl teams like Clinton McDonald in 2014 and Jason Pierre-Paul, Beau Allen and Vinny Curry this season. The problem is that they are outnumbered. There are far more Buccaneers in the locker room that haven’t made it to the playoffs – let alone a Super Bowl.
The vast majority of these players simply don’t know how to win and they accept losing too easily.
The Buccaneers locker room is too subdued too often. The players are resigned to losing.
There are five stages of grief in the Kubler-Ross psychological defense model – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It seems like the Bucs just skip the first three stages and go right to depression and acceptance.
I’d like to see more anger. Not finger-pointing or locker room fights, but just sheer anger.
The kind of anger that Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks felt before the San Diego game in 1996 when they roomed together and watched Chris Berman call them the Yuck-aneers on the ESPN pre-game show. The Chargers took an early 14-0 lead in San Diego, which would have been the cue for the Yuck-aneers to fold and embrace the HWGA Syndrome.
Only the Yuck-aneers didn’t show up. The “original bad ass Buccaneers” did, coming back from 14 points down to win 25-17. That win was the turning point for a Tampa Bay team that shook off a 1-9 start and finished 5-2 down the stretch.
It turns out that was the best 6-10 team in Bucs history as they used that season to go 10-6 the next year and notch a Wild Card playoff win over Detroit.
Tampa Bay fans have been waiting for a similar scene to unfold for more than a decade now (sorry, the smoke-and-mirrors 10-6 season in 2010 doesn’t count). There needs to be some anger. There needs to be some resolve.
This woe-is-me, I’m-in-disbelief-again crap isn’t cutting it.
The Bucs need a serious attitude adjustment and I’m not sure Koetter is the guy that can make that happen. Not when he has the same befuddled look on his face in his post-game press conferences as his players do.
I remember getting excited about Jameis Winston’s post-game press conference following a 38-10 loss at Carolina in the 2015 season finale. That was Lovie Smith’s last game as head coach and Winston called out some of his teammates.
“We’re going to create a winning mindset – a mindset that you will never give up,” Winston said at the podium with a look of defiance. “A relentless mindset of being able to persevere over adversity.”
Then Winston implied that the Bucs’ culture needed to change.
“I guarantee (there are) some of our coaches that want it more than some of our players, and that’s the bad part,” Winston said. “That’s the bad part. Our coaches want it. They want it. They’re up there working hours and don’t even get to see their families. … I know our coaches want it. We need to get our guys to put in the work like our coaches put in.”
Where did that edge from Winston go? I liked the edgy Winston better than they smiling, W-eating Winston we’ve seen the last couple of years, didn’t you?
Following a loss to Cleveland that left the Bucs 1-7 in 2014, McCoy said: “Every time the game is over we sit here and say, ‘Oh, they made a play, we didn’t. When are we going to get tired of that? I’ve been dealing with this for five years, I’m tired of it … you’ve got to get tired of losing, man.”
I suppose McCoy is still tired of it after nine years, but yet where are the game-altering, fourth quarter sack-fumbles? McCoy gets enough sacks to make six Pro Bowls, but not enough important ones to win more than six games a season, which is the average number of games the Bucs have won per year since he was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2010.
The Bucs simply need to learn to not tolerate losing.
Look at Bill Belichick, the NFL’s greatest head coach of all time. He simply doesn’t tolerate losing. That’s the standard. If you want to change the culture in Tampa Bay you have to make losing unacceptable.
That hasn’t been the case for far too long at One Buccaneer Place. Win or lose, the players get paid the same. Win or lose, they still play ping-pong and shoot hoops in the locker room. Win or lose, they still give up sacks and keep their starting jobs. Win or lose, they still miss tackles and give up touchdowns and keep their starting jobs.
Yes, in one sense, football is a child’s game – except that it isn’t on a professional level. These are paid professionals who are paid to win games – not just play in games. Too many losses and then players, coaches and general managers lose their jobs and have to uproot their families and move to a different city.
Win or lose, moms and dads don’t mind paying $5 at the gate to see little Johnny play Pop Warner football. But hard-working Tampa Bay families that plunk down $1,000 per season ticket to sit in Raymond-James Stadium roasting in the sun don’t want to watch the Bucs play football.
They pay money to see the Bucs win.
This is real. This is serious.
Maybe Koetter should slip a little bit of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” wisdom in the Bucs’ playbooks.
“The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.” – Sun Tzu 544-496 BC
Football isn’t war, but it really isn’t a mere game, either – not at the professional level. This is about winning and losing. Win, and you get to keep your job and get a contract extension. Lose, and people lose their jobs – their livelihoods.
It’s time for the Bucs to get angry and get serious about winning.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t know what to think about DeSean Jackson last year. Now, I love the guy. He hates losing. He hates losing more than he likes winning. He hates losing so much he wanted out of Tampa Bay – and I don’t blame the guy.
The fact that he said that he now wants to stay in Tampa Bay and retire as a Buccaneer makes me respect him even more. He wants to be part of the solution. He wants to win.
I want more guys like him on this team that get pissed off and don’t accept losing.
The Bucs need to find more players that hate losing more than they like winning. Every year there are free agents that come from better teams and players that get drafted from winning programs, but they get to Tampa Bay and get sucked into the losing culture vortex and they learn to accept losing.
This underachieving team is a lot closer to being stank ass than it is bad ass, and that’s a fact – a 3-6 fact.
If you are a Tampa Bay player, coach or general manager and you are reading this – show us that you aren’t a loser.
Win. A. Game.
Then another one. And another.
Until then, you’re a loser – and you’ve lost five of your last six games, including three in a row.