The Jaws of Victory


Tampa_Bay_Buccaneers_2014_Ship2I want to say I waited a few hours after the Bucs’ most recent loss to post this in order to compose my thoughts and provide some insightful comments on what happened today.  But the real reason is that a post composed of nothing but caps-locked obscenities wouldn’t have been very interesting reading.  And that’s all I was capable of until about an hour ago.

24-0.  That was the lead the Bucs had in the second quarter today.  24-7 at halftime, and getting the ball to start the second half.  The run game had been stellar, with the Redskins seemingly having no answer for it.  Jameis Winston took advantage of the openings the running game gave him, looking every bit the #1 pick.  The defense had been stout, scoring on a fumble return.  It was as complete a half of football as the Buccaneers have played in years, the kind of half a winning team puts together against a lesser opponent.  Jokingly, I posted on Facebook, “Can we call the game before we screw this up?”

Turns out I knew what I was talking about.

24-7 became 24-14.  Then 24-21 after an onside kick even a rookie head coach should have known to look out for.  And through it all, the Bucs continued to play like they were running away with the game, easing off the gas until it dawned on them it was actually a football game again.  And by that point, the pilot light was out and couldn’t be re-lit.

And even then, we led 27-24 and took the ball on a lengthy drive that saw us inside the five with a shot to put the game away.  Instead, on 3rd and goal from the 1, we inexplicably pitched the ball backwards, lost yardage, and settled for a field goal.  Still, 30-24, with under three minutes to play, and the Redskins needing a touchdown to win.

Which they promptly got as easily as going down to the 7-11 and picking it up off the shelf.

And we still had a chance; or would have if we hadn’t squandered all our time outs.  Or fumbled the ball when we got into field goal range.  And like that, we’d given the Redskins their biggest comeback ever, and threw away a chance to reach .500 and redefine the season.

This kind of collapse is all on the coaching.  A good coach keeps his team’s head in the game when they have a large lead.  A good coach rallies the troops when the other team makes their run.  A good coach has his team disciplined and prepared so they don’t rack up 142 yards on 16 penalties.  And on this day, Lovie Smith was not a good coach.  He wasn’t even an average coach.  He was outmatched, unprepared for a desperate team trying an onside kick, unable to adapt to changing game circumstances.

This is as disgusted as I have been at a loss in my 27 years of following this team.  And it’s the kind of loss that can sink a season.  You’re on the cusp of respectability, and suddenly you’re 2-4 and questioning yourselves.  This kills confidence.  This undoes progress.  This starts losing streaks.  And this causes fans to throw up their hands and find other things to do on Sundays.

And if this truly does unravel the season, Smith has to be fired.  This team has done the one step forward, two steps back routine too many times under his leadership.  Normally a rookie QB who was your #1 pick buys you some time, but the team risks dooming Winston’s promise by chaining it to a sinking ship.  If this team doesn’t turn it around, and rapidly, it’s a lost season, and we’re back at square one.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some caps-locked obscenities to get out of my system.

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