Nightmares don't happen in the NFL preseason. Bad games are described as horrific premonitions that evaporate without a whimper in September.
They can also be dreams shattered into pieces. Remember those 2008 ferocious Lions that went 4-0 in the preseason and finished like a den of kittens, going 0-16 in the regular season.
Trying to read a preseason game is like trying to decipher hieroglyphics without an archaeologist.
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The only thing we know for sure is to throw out the final score.
So what happened to the Tampa Bay Bucs in their debacle at New England on Friday night comes down to a matter of interpretation.
Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano said his team was physical. If he is right, then every wannabe tough guy should turn himself into a piñata for at least one night.
The Patriots' first-team offense manhandled the Bucs' defense, and things didn't change when the ball switched sides.
Schiano saw it differently.
"I think what we didn't win was some one-on-one battles. I don't think we got outphysicaled, and that's a positive because they're a very physical football team," he said. "Now we got beat on some one-on-one battles in pass protection, but overall I thought it was two teams that hit each other hard."
Some Patriots cried that the Bucs voilated the spirit of their joint workouts last week when they sent quarterback Tom Brady to the ground.
Both teams were told to leave the quarterbacks standing upright at those practices, and it seemed Tampa Bay carried that dictum into the game.
The Bucs' defense allowed Brady to strafe them for 11 straight completions, and the Patriots tore into Tampa Bay's offensive line and sacked Josh Freeman three times in his only six plays.
Schiano must have borrowed Joe Maddon's rose-colored glasses.
"We weren't concerned with scheming. We wanted to just go out and block our rules, play our rules, and when you do that you get caught in some matchups," Schiano said. "Preseason is the time to stretch yourself. Let's see what we can and can't do, and if it doesn't work, why is it?"
Defensive front-four leaders Adrian Clayborn and Gerald McCoy played only briefly, and $16 million man Darrelle Revis didn't see the field again. But even Superman has limitations.
We did learn why Schiano might not want to play Revis in preseason. If he goes down, the Bucs secondary could revert to last year, when it was contending to be the worst in NFL history.
You can scream it's only preseason and look who didn't play, and you're right.
But the Bucs defense was miserable, and Brady kept his offense vanilla with these teams facing each other early in the regular season.
It's not time to hang anyone in effigy, and roses could bloom Saturday in Miami for Tampa Bay's third preseason game, which coaches say is the only one that matters.
But some Bucs are running out of excuses.
Linebacker Mason Foster continues to look like one of the original three blind mice on pass defense. Ahmad Black lost his composure with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, which makes you wonder if his past marijuana issue indicates a problem. Tight end Luke Stocker looked lost and confused, and Da'Quan Bowers is proving he is just a situational player, which doesn't help a questionable defensive line.
This was not toes-on-the-line, Schiano-discipline-ripe football. It was chaos, and the first-team offense does not escape blame because Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph did not play. They weren't around for most of last season.
"It's going to be nice when we get them playing again. Certainly that firms up the middle and gives you the ability to help your tackles a little bit more," Schiano said. "But we didn't protect well those first two drives, and that can't be."
A phantom pass rush from the front four, a secondary lost in flight and a confused linebacking corps cannot be ignored.
But things could've been worse.
This game could've counted.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.