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DLT’s Doubloons – Bucs vs. Panthers

The Bucs free fall continued to 2-5 as this gut-punching season seems to crumble before our eyes. Tampa Bay lost to the division rival Carolina Panthers in the worst of fashions. They were pushed around, dominated on both lines of scrimmage and didn’t seem to have the passion or confidence to compete hard enough to win this game.

Pieces of Eight

1) You keep telling yourself there’s a lot of football left to be played. That there are a lot of division games left and the Bucs can climb their way back into this thing. Then you see them perform as they did on Sunday. It brings you that cold, dark reality that Buccaneers faithful have seen way too many times in this franchise’s history. There’s no rallying in this team. There’s no five game winning streak to get them back into contention. They’re not a playoff team. Playoff teams don’t lose four games in a row. Playoff teams don’t beat themselves with stupid, drive killing penalties or turnovers. Playoff teams find ways to win, not invent new ways to lose games.

Or maybe it’s not new? We’ve seen Jameis throw games away before. Usually it’s facing that damn ugly black and blue jersey of the Panthers. Still, he got no help from a pathetic performance by the offensive line or his wide receivers dropping catchable balls that they’ve made 100 times in their careers.

It doesn’t really matter how they lost. Whether it’s the defense, the kicker or the quarterback. Losing is losing.

2) Yes, Jameis Winston had himself a stinker of a ballgame. Seems to always come against Carolina, doesn’t it? For some reason, Ron Rivera’s team has had Jameis’ number his entire career. However, I’m beginning to wonder if Jameis is more seriously injured than is being let on. Dr. David Chao, a regular on Sirius XM NFL Radio and other media outlets yesterday said that the way Winston is playing suggests more than a bruised shoulder. It could be a rotator cuff injury. That right there is a scary thought. Keep in mind, though, Chao is not Jameis’ physician. He doesn’t have access to Winston’s medical records and hasn’t examined the player himself. He is making his deductions based on watching game film.

If this season is truly lost and truth be told, the Buccaneers players are playing as if it is, then it may be time to shut down Jameis. Not permanently, but until that shoulder is fully healed and there’s no signs of any of the injury that Chao is talking about.

Ryan Fitzpatrick can lose games just as easily as Jameis and Winston won’t have to take the pounding. Get him right, then see what you can salvage the rest of the year.

3) Demar Dotson sees it. I think we all do. The Bucs have begun down a course that leads to another season of disappointment for Buccaneer fans.

“We’ve got to start winning,” Dotson told Scott Reynolds of the Pewter Report, “That’s the only thing that’s going to change it. I’ve seen a lot of 2-5 seasons go south with guys just starting to give up because they might see New Orleans is 5-2 and Carolina is 5-3 and Atlanta is [4-3]. You start looking like there is no hope and you start giving up on the season. I’ve been here a lot of years and guys fought, but internally, guys had given if. If guys allow that to start happening internally, you’re going to start losing football games. You’re going to go from a 2-5 football team to a 4-12 or 6-10 team and it’s going to be a waste of a talented team. That’s what I’ve seen from years before. They still came to practice and practiced hard, and still looked like they competed, but internally, the guys were already given up and were looking forward to the season being over.”

I think it started a week early this time, Dot. The tough loss in Buffalo I think did more to this team then send them to 2-4. Win that game and you’re back to .500 with a fighting chance in the division. Win that game and you’re still in it. The Buffalo loss effectively sapped the belief out of the team and now Tampa Bay’s football players are in self-preservation mode.

It’s a shame, because there are still 9 games to get this team right. Teams in the NFL have gone 8-1 or 9-0 to turn seasons around before. Hell, the Packers seem to do it every year. The Chiefs started their impressive run of victories down like this. The Bucs themselves rallied from 3-5 to be within a whisker of the playoffs last season.

For some reason, though, the Bucs don’t have that look this year. They look more like that Raheem Morris team that started 4-2 and finished 4-12.

4) The ironic thing about “self-preservation mode” is usually it costs you. You’re putting bad tape out there. You’re getting your coach and/or GM fired, which usually leads to a new regime coming in and suddenly you’re not their guy. Tony Dungy had the respect of his players to get the team out of early season doldrums and still be fighting for the playoffs at the end. Last year, Koetter seemed to have that respect and got the Bucs playing at a higher level to rally from a 3-5 start. Does he still have it?

With University of Florida coach Jim McElwain being fired after winning two SEC East division titles, it brings you a clear message that winning is all that matters. If you don’t win, you don’t remain.

Now, I’m not advocating the dismissal of Koetter (Mike Smith…we’ll talk), I like Koetter. I think he’s a pretty decent coach. Yet Jameis is in his third year and hasn’t progressed in this offense. Some of that is on the player but some of it is on the coach as well. Winston hasn’t been terrible, mind you. In fact, he’s put up some impressive statistical numbers but a lot of the things he’s struggled with, he’s struggled since he was a rookie. Is it the player? Maybe. It might just be who Winston is and we’ll need to accept he’ll never be Brady or Rodgers. He may be a good QB, but never elite and he’ll need a very good team around him to win games consistently.

On offense, he’s had weapons put around him and statistically, it’s looked good. Top 10 offense, top passing offense in the league. Those are things you want to see from an offensive minded coach. But that’s only half the story. The defense continues to suck (although they played well yesterday), the running game is non-existent and the offensive line continues to be an issue.

Unless the team completely implodes and goes 4-12 or 2-14, I don’t see Koetter getting fired. Jason Licht though? As I mentioned last week, Licht has the stench of the Lovie regime on him. He has Roberto Aguayo on his record.

The team is 19-36 under his watch, a .345 winning percentage. Mark Dominik’s winning percentage was .350. He convinced the Glazers the team was close and to spend big in free agency to get Desean Jackson here as the last piece to the offensive puzzle. To spend money on Chris Baker to solidifying the improving defense. To spend Head Coach level money to keep Mike Smith at defensive coordinator.

Everyone expected playoffs, especially the owners. Now that that is highly unlikely to happen, someone will have to pay. Is it Koetter? Is it Smith? Licht? All of them?

If I’m a betting man, it would be Licht. Of course, you know a new GM would want his own guy at Head Coach so…

5) Some good news on that disappointing Sunday afternoon is both Ryan Smith and Vernon Hargreaves played well against Carolina. Cam Newton was held to just 154 yards passing and top weapons Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess were limited to 4 receptions for 53 yards. Benjamin did get in the end zone for a game-sealing touchdown, but that was in zone with rookie safety Justin Evans late getting over in coverage.

6) Statistically, the Bucs defense played pretty darn well. They limited the Panthers to just 17 points, 154 yards passing and 254 yds of total offense. They also forced a turnover. Yet the Bucs still struggled to get off on 3rd downs (47% conversion rate for Carolina) and Cam Newton wasn’t sacked or hit. That’s right, not a single QB hit registered by the Buccaneers defense. Wow. That’s an eye-popping statistic. The Bucs pass rush is historically bad, folks.

7) The trade deadline is this week and you’d have to imagine the Bucs are sellers, not buyers. Obviously, Winston and Mike Evans are off the market. What about Doug Martin? Or TJ Ward? Or if anyone would take him – Baker?

Is Gerald McCoy untouchable? McCoy hits 30 in February and he takes up a lot of cap space. Of course, he’s Tampa Bay’s only quality defensive lineman so to trade him away is just making your team that much worse. I don’t see that happening. If the Bucs were to trade McCoy, they’d get a much better haul in the off-season than at the trade deadline. Besides, the Glazers may not want Licht making that type of franchise defining move.

8) Looking at the schedule, you have to squint really hard to see when the Bucs will next taste the sweet nectar of victory. Going into the Superdome and upsetting a pretty darn good Saints team is highly unlikely. The Jets on November 10th? New York has been playing some decent football this year. It’s not the automatic win you circled at the beginning of the season. At Miami? The Dolphins offense is horrible…but that hasn’t stopped the Bucs defense from sucking against other crappy offenses. At Atlanta? Nope. At Green Bay? It looks more possible without Aaron Rodgers but…yeah. I don’t know, folks. I just don’t know.

DLT’s Emotional Tweet of the Week – Panthers

 

Up Next

Tampa Bay hits the road again to face the division leading Saints. We’d say this is a must win but who are we kidding? The Must wins began two weeks ago and where did that get us?

J.C. De La Torre

J.C. De La Torre

Want to give JC a piece of your mind? E-mail him at JC@whatthebuc.net JC De La Torre is formerly a columnist/blogger for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blog site BucsNation.com where in 2016, he was nominated as best sportswriter in Tampa Bay by Creative Loafing. Previously, he served as a featured columnist for Bleacher Report on Tampa Bay sports, an editor and featured columnist for SB Nation Tampa Bay covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Gators, wrote for NFL.com’s Blog Blitz and contributed to Pewter Report, one of the top magazines on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. JC is also a filmmaker, comic writer and rabid Whovian.

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