After the team fired head coach Jon Gruden last winter and replaced him with Raheem Morris, who axed a number of veteran players, the organization?s message was clear: The Bucs were ready to rebuild and overhaul their roster, and they seemed comfortable with losing chunks of games before things turned around.
Morris, 33, is the youngest head coach in NFL history, and he seemed too uncomfortable in his own skin to forge ahead with the locker room?s established veteran leaders. A month after Morris was hired, he created the biggest stir in the franchise?s recent history, releasing linebackers Derrick Brooks and Cato June, running back Warrick Dunn and wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard ? on the same day.
To be fair, those five veterans were far, far past their primes (Patriots fans know all about Galloway), and it?s unlikely any of them would have provided the physical skill to tangibly account for any victories. However, to varied extents, they had all contributed to the recent success of the Buccaneers, who had winning records in three of the last four seasons.
While Tampa Bay is trying to get younger behind Morris, the team could have used the veteran presence of some proven winners. Morris, though, wanted there to be one message, and he demanded it to be his. Former Bucs tight end Alex Smith, who was traded to the Patriots in April ? and has since been released by New England ? said during training camp the writing was on the wall, and Morris was only going to do things his way with his people.
The growing pains are already ugly. If the Bucs fall to the Patriots on Sunday in London, they?ll drop to 0-7 and match their loss total from each of the last two seasons. For whatever reason, Morris believes things are turning around.
?Well, we?re getting better,? Morris said Wednesday. ?We?ve got to grow around here fast. We?ve been outplayed. Teams have been more physical, more violent. We?ve got to pick up some of those things. We?ve got to start doing some of those things if we want to win some football games. We?ve got to learn how to finish. We?ve got to learn how to keep our consistency throughout the game, and until we do those things, we won?t get a win. Hopefully, we can start doing them this week, and we can start trying to win some football games here.?
The team?s front office is also in shambles. Bruce Allen, Tampa Bay?s general manager for five years, was fired the same day as Gruden, and reports swirled suggesting the front office is divided. And while some speculated last offseason that the Patriots could have acquired a first-round draft pick from Tampa Bay in part of a three-team trade involving quarterback Matt Cassel, some reporters believe the Patriots couldn?t work with the ineptitude that has overtaken Tampa Bay?s front office.
And what to make of the quarterback situation? The Bucs cut Brian Griese in the offseason, and Byron Leftwich was benched in favor of 2008 fifth-round draft pick Josh Johnson after the third game of the regular season. If the Bucs are going to lose, why haven?t they given the keys to 2009 first-rounder Josh Freeman?
The Buccaneers, St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans are the only winless teams in the NFL this season, and the Bucs and Rams should have an entertaining battle of ineptitude to capture the top pick in the 2010 draft.
Heading into this weekend, the Buccaneers rank 28th in total offense, 31st in total defense and 29th in points allowed per game. They?ve already had losses to the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers, three of the worst teams in the league. Looking at Tampa Bay?s schedule, there don?t appear to be any points where they can circle a victory, either.
It?s already been a long year in Tampa Bay, and it?s only going to get worse as time rolls on. The 2008 Detroit Lions might soon have some company in the NFL?s all-time basement.
?Oh man, I?ll just say that as a team, we haven?t played together,? running back Cadillac Williams said. ?Sometimes, the defense is playing good. Sometimes, the offense is playing good. Just as a unit, we haven?t been playing together. On offense, it?s been about missed opportunities in key situations in football games. We always find a way to beat ourselves, whether it?s jumping offsides, or fumbling a snap, or this guy not knowing his assignment or throwing an interception. We?ve just had ? if you go game by game ? we?ve just had too many plays in key situations where we haven?t given ourselves a chance. That?s the whole thing about our team.?