Friday, 4 a.m.
The plane is going down.
Below, someone has let the zombies out.
There are volcanos. Giant dinosaurs roam the earth. There are fires and floods and quicksand and malaria..
Gee, you wonder. Just how bad is this going to get?
Is it going to be blame-the-blueprint bad? Is it going to be can-the-coach bad? Is it going to be doubt-the-quarterback bad?
Could it be 5-11 bad?
Could it be 4-12 bad?
Could it be 3-13 bad?
After the latest embarrassment by the Tampa Bay Bucs, we are all left to wonder. No one talks about the playoffs anymore. No one talks about a .500 record. No one talks about a bridge of a season that would allow dreams for next year.
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Not after the Falcons, a team the Bucs had beaten earlier in the year, danced into Raymond James Stadium and hung up 43 points. And egad, how bad can a defense be. We have gone from Mike to Lovie, but for the life of me, it still looks like the same old Smith.
In a span of days, the Bucs gave up 73 points, and 58 first downs, and 1,087 yards. They allowed quarterbacks Derek Carr of the Raiders and Matt Ryan of the Falcons to combine for 65 completions on 93 passes with zero interceptions. For a team that signed two prominent free agents and made its first two draft picks defensive, that seems unforgivable.
“We really struggled the second half,” coach Dirk Koetter said. “That third period,we couldn't get off the field. We didn't' stop them the whole second half.”
And so the Bucs are falling down an elevator shaft, and no one knows where the bottom is. All we know is that the landing is going to be hard.
For instance, the Bucs are home against Chicago in 10 days. But the Bucs play home games as if they are frightened by cannon fire. Then come the Chiefs. And the Seahawks. And the Chargers and the Saints and the Cowboys and the Saints again and the Panthers. Considering how this team plays pass defense – don't rush, don't cover – how many wins do you see in there?
You know what Ryan and Carr had in common? Time. Comfort. Ease. Both quarterbacks dropped back and spent an uncommon amount of time looking downfield. No, it didn't help that former Bucs' safety John Lynch was enshrined in the Ring of Honor. It might have helped if he had brought his shoulder pads, but he did not.
“We're 3-5,” Koetter said. “That's where we're at. We're 3-5 at the halfway point and that's what we've earned. That's what we talked about in the locker room. We've got half the season left. I've got to figure out a way to make this team play up to their potential. Because I don't like we are right now. That's 100 percent on me.”
How bad will it get? No one seems pleased with Jameis Winston's progress. Mike Evans is in concussion protocol. The defense can't stop a parked car. And so on.
This team isn't getting better. It's getting worse. I've said it before; it's running out of parts. But there are players who were better against Atlanta in Week One than they were in Week Nine. The team seems to be sliding backward.
“We've got to figure out who we are,” said Vernon Hargreaves. “We've got to figure out who we are as a defense and who we want to be and how we want to finish the season.”
Said Gerald McCoy: “We've got to evaluate ourselves, do some soul searching. Everybody has to look at themselves and see what they can do better to bring to this team. We don't need to rest. We need to reload.”
Reload? Reconsider, perhaps. This team has lost any momentum it had. Right now, it ranks somewhere below Lovie's second team and above Lovie's first team. That's not a comforting thing to say.
Look, we knew all along that this team was woefully thin. Well, shame on the Bucs for not giving more consideration to depth. Coaches differ as to how many great players a team needs to succeed, but it's more than the Bucs' have.
How does it stop? Obviously, it doesn't stop by players talking about stopping it. It starts with a better plan. It starts by not playing tackle-the-receiver-after-he-catches-the-ball. It starts with a better pass rush, with crisper tackling, with fewer penalties.
It starts with looking differently, thinking differently, playing differently. Because right now, this Bucs' team isn't any different than Lovie Smith's teams, or Greg Schiano's, or Raheem Morris'. This is Groundhog Day; cue up I Got You Babe and let's go.
Where does it end? How does it end?
It ends bloody. It ends in pain. And it ends with owners urging Tampa Bay fans to renew their tickets.
Just like always.