Commentary | The guy Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired to fix things just can't find competitive edge

December 24, 2012 

TAMPA

Not so long ago, a man called Greg came to town and said he would fix things.

We believed him because we had no choice. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the dregs of the NFL, and this man with the last name Schiano was selling hope.

He said he had been there and done that, though his only NFL experience was as a defensive backs coach with the Chicago Bears more than a decade ago.

But we didn't care. We were desperate.

Fans embraced him, and he took them on a journey through four straight victories and a 6-4 record. He was the mayor of Raymond James Stadium, and on a few Sundays almost all the seats were filled with people wanting to see this miracle worker.

And then things began to unravel: a heart-wrenching loss to Atlanta; a beat down in Denver; a two-point loss to hapless Philadelphia; and a 41-0 meltdown to New Orleans.

On Sunday, the freefall continued with a 28-13 defeat to St. Louis. It

was the Bucs' fifth straight loss, and it's now been 36 days since they last won a game.

Schiano's first words seem as if they were spoken long ago, perhaps in the Ice Age where his offense might be buried.

The defense gave St. Louis an 80-yard TD pass to open the second half, but it would be hard to pin the loss on this beleaguered lot. They allowed only 285 total yards and stopped the Rams on six straight possessions in the second half.

But Schiano was upset about the tackle that was never made.

"You have a chance to get him down at the 40. We didn't get him down. That's maybe worse," the coach said. "There were some really good things defensively; again none of it matters when you turn the ball over and don't take it away."

Josh Freeman played as if he still had his blinders on, throwing four interceptions to give him eight in the last two games with one touchdown.

He could not be excused and Schiano didn't excuse him, though the coach said he wanted to see the film before making a judgment. He didn't have to bother. The boos showered on Freeman as he left the field did the work for him.

"When he makes big plays they are spectacular, and, wow what a great play," the coach said. "We are in a results-driven business. Calculated risk-taking is a huge component of quality quarterback play. You need to know this is a risk we are willing to take, and this is a risk we are not. I'll put that on me."

Freeman missed more than a few wide-open receivers when he was not under pressure, and Schiano could've said his quarterback needs a psychiatrist more than a quarterbacks coach.

Schiano blamed the loss on the turnovers, and he is partly correct. But there are more problems than Freeman throwing to the guys in the wrong uniforms.

"Three of the five (losses) I would say flip a coin, you're winning or losing, (and) we are sitting here talking about 'we've lost a couple here, but we are in the playoffs, and that's great,'" he said.

Defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who has been one of the Bucs' most consistent performers on his side of the ball, says the team should be winning the close games and not feel complacent because they were close.

"Everybody on the team needs to understand the games are won on Sundays. You have to come out and put your best foot forward and game up. This is a competitive league," Bennett said.

When asked what was missing, Bennett didn't hesitate.

"That competitive edge," he said. "As a whole organization, we've got to come out and be hungry. We got to come out and dominate the game, understand what it takes to win in this league and what it takes to have that edge and be able to beat the man in front of you."

The Bucs didn't have an edge. They had a first down three times in the red zone; twice inside the seven and came away with only three points.

Schiano cited that as a reason for the loss. He didn't have to bother. What we want to know is why. The why doesn't get answered enough at One Buc Place.

Mike Williams, who led Tampa with seven receptions for 132 yards and its only touchdown, says the Bucs offense has gone south because opponents are changing their defenses.

"Defenses are adjusting. We were hitting the deep ball in those games (the four-game win streak), and defenses are starting to play two safeties back and running their corners out so we can't get the deep ball," he said. "It is just adjustments. In this league, you make adjustments, and that is what they are doing. We've got to fight back."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7048, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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