Smith, Bucs find a way to blow a 24-point lead

by Gary Shelton on October 25, 2015 · 6 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Who are you going to blame? Maybe Lovie Smith, the guy in charge../JEFFREY S> KING

Who are you going to blame? Maybe Lovie Smith, the guy in charge./JEFFREY S.  KING

Sunday, 7:45 p.m.

It is his fault. Blame him.

The absurd 16 penalties for the ridiculous 142 yards? Blame Lovie Smith. Good head coaches are in charge of the discipline of their teams. Oh, you can jump the refs if you want, but the refs change every week. Lovie is still here, and yes, his Bucs have had this problem before.

The ridiculous lack of coverage in the secondary? Blame Lovie. He calls the defensive signals, after all. He's the guy who keeps picking up these defensive backs who can bear-ly play. A pedestrian quarterback hits 33 of 40 for 317 yards, and it's on Smith. Of course it is. Who else in the NFL has made Kirk Cousins a star?

A blown 24-point lead? That's on Smith. The fourth loss in six games? That's on Smith. The nap during Washington's onside kick – the only one

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converted in the NFL this year? That's on Smith.

What? Are you going to blame rookie quarterback Jameis Winston? He threw for 297 yards without a turnover Are you could to put it on receiver Mike Evans? He caught eight balls for 164 yards despite illness. Are you going to blame Doug Martin, who ran for 136? Or the defense, which had a turnover for a touchdown and held Washington to 50 yards rushing?

No, this is one that has to be blamed on the head coach. This is his team. These are his players. This is his plan. And it's high time that it showed a few signs of working.

So, yeah, you can blame him. Fans, it seems, are more than willing.

In Tampa Bay, fans are no longer after answers. They're after blood. They after someone's head on a spike. They are angry, and they want to know how a game that was this well in hand can slip through a team's fingers. They want to know about the penalties, and the onside kick, and settling for a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown that would have sealed it. They want to know about composure and coverage.

Most of all, they want to know when this will ever end.

And they want to know who the next coach will be.

Oh, it isn't a rational argument, of course. Interim coaches almost never work. Think back over the mess that was the Greg Schiano era and ask yourself: Did you think it was going to take more than 22 games to fix it? Of course it was. Change coaches now, and you will merely be starting over again. A change would not help Winston. It would not help Evans. It might help the secondary, but lining up in the right direction might help, too.

Let's face it: This team isn't going anywhere this year. It never was. So you might as well ride this season out and see where you are. Look, I don't know if Smith is the right guy or not. But I know that Jon Gruden isn't begging to come home, or Tony Dungy. There aren't any great coaches in their living rooms waiting for Tampa Bay to phone.

That said, yeah, this one was tough to swallow. Even for a Bucs team that lost last year when it had 12 men on the field, and when it fumbled away a game in overtime, and when Evans couldn't get off the field, and when it blew leads in two games against the Saints. We have seen so many ridiculous finishes. This was just one in a list.

But think about it.

The Bucs lost because they weren't disciplined enough. The penalties say that.

They lost because they weren't talented enough. The secondary says that.

They lost because they were not alert enough. The onside kick said that.

They lost because they weren't creative enough. The play-calling around the goal line late says that.

They lost because they weren't able to close. The finish says that.

They lost because, after they took a 24-0 lead, they got the heck beat out of them. After that start, Washington outscored the Bucs 31-6. If either of those two field goals had been touchdowns, if any of the drives stopped by penalties had been touchdowns, the Bucs would have won simply because they were so far ahead.

Think about all those ways. Don't most of them surround a team's coaching? You can't really argue that Winston should have been better, or Evans, or Martin. But you can argue that the coaching should have been better.

For Bucs fans, I imagine this is part of the frustration. It keeps happening. Progress is painfully slow.

Victories are like Charlie Brown's football, and Lucy keeps pulling it away.

"All losses really hurt, but you have some that really leave a deep scar," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "And this is definitely one of those."

Smith needs to remember this: The frustration of Tampa Bay fans didn't begin when he did. They've endured Schiano and Raheem Morris before him. And this team has started to take on the same feel that it had in the 80s and 90s, when Leeman Bennett and Ray Perkins and Richard Williamson and Sam Wyche were a sad relay race.

I know this: There are other people in the country who can play defensive back besides ex-Chicago Bears. Let's start there. The Bucs, supposedly the fourth-best pass defense in the league, showed what a chuckle the rankings are. They were invisible against Cousins, who hit 33 of 40 passes for 317 yards. Consider this: In their last two games, the Bucs have given up 620 yards, seven touchdowns and a rating of 127.7.

There are too many times when the Bucs' idea of pass defense seems to be to tackle the receiver after he catches the ball. There are too many times the Bucs seem to be playing chase. Put it this way: That the Bucs were fourth in the league in pass defense is a good argument to stop keeping stats.

Why, Jameis Winston was stellar, earning a rating of 128.1  without a turnover. Doug Martin was electric as he ran his season total to 541 yards rushing. Mike Evans was uncovered all day. The defense scored a touchdown. The run defense was solid, holding Washington to 50 yards all day. There have been very few Bucs' losses where so many players played well.

And despite it all, the Bucs lost. Despite checking almost every box in the blueprint, the Bucs lost.

Who is going to explain this one? And when they do, will they talk about an absurd 16 penalties for 142 yards. That's a football-field-and-a-half the Bucs gave away. Do Bill Belichick-coached teams have 142 yards in penalties? Do Pete Carroll coached teams?

Throw in the poor pass defense. The Bucs let Cousins hit 33 of 40 passes for 310 yards and three scores. Those are Peyton Manning-level numbers. Those are Tom Brady-level numbers. But Kirk Cousins? You're kidding, right? The last two games, the Bucs have been awful in the secondary, giving up 620 yards on 56 of 73 passing (76.7 percent). The rating is a staggering 127.7.

What else? How about being asleep when Washington tried an onside kick, the first one recovered all year in the NFL by the kicked team. How about a touchdown that was nullified by offensive pass interference. How about settling for field goals instead of touchdowns with a chance to put the game away?

And how about that winning streak being snapped at one game in a row?

It is a most frustrating time for a Bucs' fan, absorbing the most frustrating defeat of a frustrating era. This could have been a victory to validate the Bucs' improvement. Instead, it was merely a new way to lose, and this team has most of the ways covered in the last two seasons.

And so, in times of frustration, they turn on Lovie Smith, the head coach of the Bucs. At a time you cannot blame the quarterback or the running back or the receiver or the offensive line, who are you going to blame?

Smith has now won four of 22 games since taking over the Bucs, but he came on the tail of Greg Schiano and Raheem Morris, so there has been a lot of losing lately. And fans are weary of feeling like this.

No, it isn't the rational argument. A coach gets more than 22 games most places, especially places that weren't ready to win when he got there. But who says these are rational times? Isn't a head coach responsible for his penalties? Isn't he in charge of turning field goals into touchdowns? Isn't he calling up the defense that couldn't rush and can't cover?

Here's where I am. I'm not thrilled by Smith in a season-and-a-half or so either. But eventually, the Bucs are going to have to believe in a coach, and that coach probably isn't going to have a great start. Maybe he'll win six of his first 22. Maybe eight. But it's going to take the right guy -- and I'm not sure it's Smith, I'll repeat -- more than a season and a half to fix this mess.

By nature, I do not believe in interim coaches. If Smith is wrong, I don't think one of the guys on his staff is right. I do not believe in a quick trigger. I think Smith should get more time.

But even the calmest of us would say it is time for a few better results than this one.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack Airey October 26, 2015 at 7:53 am

Sunday’s SUCK if you’re a BUC’s fan.


Rick October 26, 2015 at 8:52 am

Anyone who has followed the Bucs for any amount of time should have known a 24 point lead is an anomaly and a major collapse was likely. This Bucs fan started to tune out weeks ago…….No more emotional investment from me.


Gary Shelton October 26, 2015 at 11:21 pm

Can’t blame you. And that’s the main loss the Bucs are suffering…losing the fans.


Howard Powders October 25, 2015 at 9:40 pm

Heads should roll after this disgraceful effort …. assuming the owners care.


Bill Myers October 25, 2015 at 8:30 pm

Behind the scene, so we will never know, the Glazers should be asking Lovie some hard questions about this one! His seat just got a bit warmer I’m sure.


Brett October 25, 2015 at 8:14 pm

I normally argue for patience as well, but Lovie said he was here to win now before Game 1. Why does he deserve a shred of patience at 4-18 when the first thing he said as head coach was that it was unfair to ask fans for it?


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