Commentary | The Tampa Bay Bucs and coach Greg Schiano out of excuses

It's time to close out a game, starting Sunday at New England

adell@bradenton.comSeptember 22, 2013 

Redskins Buccaneers Football

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano during the first half of an Aug. 29 preseason game against the Washington Redskins in Tampa. ASSOCIATED PRESS

PHELAN M. EBENHACK — AP

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Greg Schiano to be their coach, they draped him in success when all he had to his name was mediocrity.

Schiano will never be compared to Bill Belichick, whose Patriots play host to the Bucs on Sunday.

It's the reason New England is 2-0, winning by a combined five points, and the Tampa Bay Bucs are 0-2, losing by a combined three. Schiano is 0-5 in games decided by three points or fewer in the NFL and has lost seven of his last eight.

There comes a time when you have to win close games. There comes a time when a defense has to stop the opponent in the last minute or whatever it did in the first 59 is meaningless.

You need a coach who has been there, done that.

The Bucs tried to sell Schiano as a winner, but he has no equity.

It's not even his fault. Rutgers was the dregs of college football when he took it over in 2001. It wanted to look like an Ivy League school and tried to imitate its fellow state academic bastion Princeton.

Then school officials decided to change.

They poured money into the program and hired Schiano.

He made them respectable, but they never won a Big East title or beat West Virginia. The Mountaineers averaged 40.2 points against his Scarlet Knights in 11 years and 31.6 in his final five there.

And now we have this.

After Jon Gruden, Bucs management wanted someone who would be grateful to coach its team and not throw his weight around. So you get Raheem Morris and Schiano.

This is the second part of the grand experiment, and it could get messy.

Schiano can clear the vultures flying over his head with a victory over New England.

But nothing is clear with the Bucs.

Tampa Bay is paying Darrelle Revis $1 million a game and didn't have him on the New Orleans Saints' best receiver, Marques Colston, last week in New Orleans' winning drive.

"We definitely thought about it afterwards for sure," Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. "When we game plan we look at who's perceived as the top receivers for that team and how do we best match up all of our personnel, not just Darrelle. But you're right, he has a very unique skill set in that area and as we go forward we're definitely going to try and orchestrate that into scenarios when we can, whether it's man coverage or pressures or stuff like that."

Schiano said the Bucs have what it takes to be a winner and seemed to contradict Sheridan.

"We have good players, proven methods, good schemes, good coaches. When you have all those good components and you're doing things the right way, it'll turn," he said. "Now you're kidding yourself if you don't have the component, then you're just wishing."

Is he kidding himself?

Schiano has been inconsistent in his support of quarterback Josh Freeman, who already has a fragile psyche that might have caused him to rebel in a passive-aggressive manner by missing team functions.

This game will not be easy, and if the Bucs limp home at 0-3 then the Arizona Cardinals game next Sunday becomes the biggest of the Schiano era.

Against the Patriots, the Bucs will face a team that has won 31 of its past 34 home games.

Both teams are struggling offensively, which is uncharacteristic for New England and unlike the 2012 Bucs. With nearly all of his top receivers from last year gone, Pats quarterback Tom Brady is ranked 28th in pass efficiency. Freeman is 31st.

Depending on your perspective, the Bucs are very close or very far from turning it around. The defense is improved, but the offense has backtracked.

Freeman seems fixated on Vincent Jackson, which brings back memories of how he used to be stuck on Kellen Winslow Jr. Jackson is solid, averaging 19.3 yards per catch, but the Bucs need to get their tight end and a third receiver involved to help Mike Williams.

Last year, wide receivers burned the Bucs. In two games this year, it has been the tight ends. You can expect it from the Saints' Jimmy Graham. But the previous week, it was Winslow, who sat out last year.

This is a winnable game for the Bucs. New England has only one healthy, reliable receiver in Julian Edelman, and its run game has struggled with Stevan Ridley.

A win can silence the critics and tone the noise down. It's the best remedy.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 7056. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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