Alan Dell

Commentary | Tampa Bay Buccaneers should relish role as NFL's anti-hero against Dallas Cowboys

Things couldn't have gone better for Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano since the debacle in the Big Apple.

A few days after the New York media lit into Schiano for his kneel-down hit on quarterback Eli Manning in the New York Giants' 41-34 victory Sept. 16, Yahoo Sports ran a scathing story on the coach.

It described Schiano as a big bully despised by nearly all the execs and coaches in the league.

The article is filled with unnamed sources, which puts its veracity into question.

But it did for Schiano what he alone could not do for his team.

It has made Schiano and his Bucs the NFL's antiheroes. Not since the late Al Davis turned the Oakland Raiders into the league's most hated team have we've seen something close.

It may only be temporary, but the Bucs are currently the NFL's evil-doers, and Schiano should build on the opportunity.

After last season's collapse, it looked as if the Bucs were back wearing those Creamsicle uniforms and acting like the laughingstock of the league.

The Bucs are never going to be America's team and, judging from the empty seats at the season opener, they are not even Tampa's team.

So why not be the villains of the NFL?

If they start believing it, the players might start playing like the old Raiders.

It's hard to believe Schiano is a bully, not after what he did for Eric LeGrand, his former player at Rutgers who is paralyzed, and another former player who was paralyzed.

Reports of him sitting alone in the locker room crying over LeGrand are not the traits of a cold-

hearted coach who only cares about wins and losses.

But it's OK if outside sources paint him that way if the perceived nastiness rubs off on the Bucs. We had enough of the kinder, gentler Bucs last year with Tanard Jackson and others acting as if football was a non-contact sport.

After the Giants game, Donald Penn declared, "The Bucs aren't a joke."

Outsiders tried to make fun of Schiano's antics, but the Bucs bought into his mantra and are a better team because of it.

Today's game at Dallas is the perfect opportunity for the players to rally around Schiano. Their coach has been maligned and degraded. These guys can show their loyalty and stir up the passion.

The only question against Dallas is whether the Bucs have the tools on defense to send a tyrannical response. But that's why this boost of nastiness can be beneficial.

It is better to be hated and loathed than loved and cuddled in the NFL.

Last year, a lot of Bucs loved their head coach, Raheem Morris, and quit on him.

They won't have a chance to quit on Schiano because he has established a clear policy. Mess up and you lose your starting job; do it again, and you get your walking papers.

Making the 53-man roster spot when camp broke means nothing.

So you might not think of much of Schiano as an X's and O's guy, but as a disciplinarian he is at the top of the food chain. He is what the wretched remains of last year's team needs.

The Bucs face another Manning-like advisory in Tony Romo today. He has used them to paint a Mona Lisa, going 3-0 with 11 TDs, 908 passing yards (71 percent completion rate) and no interceptions.

He'll probably want to pick on Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib, as Manning did in using receiver Hakeem Nicks to shatter Talib's reputation.

If there ever was a villainous creature on the Bucs it would be Talib. The gunslinger is a product of the streets and, to his credit, doesn't make excuses.

After the Giants game, when he was peppered with questions about how Nicks made him look like an NFL intern, Talib stood his ground. He would not criticize a coaching staff that put him in so many unwinnable situations with their fruitless blitzes.

"That's how it's going to be. That's our defense. I don't mind," Talib said. "We fought. We just didn't make enough plays. It's a loss. A loss is a loss whether they got a thousand yards rushing or a thousand yards passing. ... They all feel the same way to me."


n Cowboys CB Mike Jenkins is listed as probable and should play. The Southeast/USF product missed all of the preseason after shoulder surgery. Last week he made his debut, playing eight snaps as the fourth corner and 10 plays with special teams.

n Bucs need a strong performance from defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to contain Romo. McCoy nearly single-handedly contained Cam Newton in Tampa Bay's win, but he disappeared last week.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.