Smith’s losing speech sounds way too familiar

by Gary Shelton on January 4, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Smith has won eight games two years./JEFFREY S. KING

Smith has won eight games two years./JEFFREY S. KING

 Monday 6:00 a.m.

For the 32nd time in his time as coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs, Lovie Smith approached the lectern slowly.

He talked about disappointment, and he talked about not playing well, and he talked about how he expected to play better, although almost no one else did. It was the 26th time in two seasons that Smith's monotone has gotten him through his weekly dissections of disappointing play. This one was the latest, but except for that, there weren't a lot of distinguishing characteristics.

He praised the other team, which presumably was in the other locker room scraping Bucs off of their cleats. He talked about how much better the future looks, although on this side of the draft and free agency, it's kind of hard to see.

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And so it goes. One Lovie Smith press conference is pretty much the same as another. If you're not careful, they could all run together on you. Smith is quiet, emotionless, but he isn't particularly forthcoming. What percentage is there in his singling out particular shortcomings such as the pass rush or the coverage? Coaches who talk tough and speak in clever lines are fine for the fans, but not so much for the locker room.

Winston' finished with more than 4,000 yards.

Winston finished with more than 4,000 yards.

Sunday, this might as well have been a press conference from last year's 2-14 team.

Could it be a press conference from next year's season, too?

That's the concern here. It would be better to think that this year's team won six and last year's only two. It would be better to think that this was the start of things with Jameis Winston, one of only three players to throw for 4,000 yards as a rookie. It would be better to think of this as a growing, vital team.

"We are going to create a mindset this offseason, I guarantee it," Winston said. "We are going to create a winning mindset, a mindset that you would never give up... a relentless mindset of being able to persevere over adversity. We are going to have that next year.

"Right now I’m not worried about the wins and losses, I’m worried about getting the mentality right and getting everybody on the same page and bouncing back. Ending the season 0-4 when we are on the road like that -- we have to cut that. We can’t end the season 0-4. We are way better than that. That’s disappointing. We are way better than losing four games in a row. I don’t ever remember losing four games in a row, three games in a row, in my life, and we are better than that. That’s the positive part because I know we are going to get better. I’m so confident. I know we are going to get better."

Look, this is getting old. For Smith, this is two losing seasons in a row. For the rest of us, it's 13 seasons in a row without a playoff win. It's seven out of 10 seasons with a losing record. We know what coaches say in defeat, how they spin and shape and try to convince us that marbles are diamonds.

"I think we have improved as a ball club this year," Smith said. "The football team we put on the field today and how we played today, that’s not gaining on an awful lot there. The team we had on the football field representing us today needs to get a lot closer to it. We didn’t give them much of a fight today."

One of the key areas of improvement this year, of course, was the running game. But the Bucs could go away from it in a hurry. For instance, Sunday was the sixth time that Doug Martin has had 15 or fewer rushing attempts. The Bucs are 0-6 in those games.

Simply put, the Panthers were better, deeper, more focused. They spotted the Bucs a three-point lead early, but then the big boys got out of school. Cam Newton threw for two. He ran for two.

The Bucs? They struggled to stop the Panthers, and they struggled to maintain their poise. Mike Evans, a constant complainer to the referees all season, was ejected from the game after "losing my cool."

How does this compute? The Bucs had the fifth ranked offense going into the Sunday night game, but they were only 19th in scoring. That isn't making the most of your yards, is it?

But that's hard after watching this team lose four in a row to close out the season. (The Bucs are 2-18 in their final four games of the last five years, and they're 9-31 over the last 10 years. Finishing is not their strong suit). You remember how weak this team's schedule was. You remember remember that it scored 20 points or fewer seven times, and only the final minute of games against the Rams and Bears kept that from being nine times. You remember the lack of a pass rush and the lack of coverage skills.

Sum it up, and it will be an uphill climb to get beyond .500 next year, too.

Lovie does not bring this up. To him, this is an improving team with fundamental pieces such as Winston taken care of. But it's hard to build a defense in one off-season, particularly considering how the Bucs have fared no better in free agency. Most rookie defensive ends take a while to break in. Corners are hit and miss.

Of course, any reinforcements would be nice. The Bucs were terrible at rushing the passer and covering the receivers. There was one play Sunday when Cam Newton evaded William Gholston, then threw downfield and had the pass tipped by Bradley McDougald. The ball bounced downfield into the hands of an uncovered receiver. Wow. How many parts of a defense can look so bad.

For the record, the Bucs will draft ninth in the upcoming draft. Of course, they could use about five picks out of the first 10, but they won't get them.

Then there is the schedule. The Bucs will play the Rams, Seahawks, Raiders, Broncos, Bears, Saints, Falcons and Panthers at home. They will travel to the Cardinals, Chargers, 49ers, Chiefs, Cowboys, Falcons, Saints and Panthers.

From here, that schedule looks a lot more fierce than this year's schedule looked.

So what do you envision the Bucs finishing next season? I did an informal Twitter poll Sunday, and most of the answers were in the 5-6 win total. That doesn't sound as if it would satisfy the Glazer family.

One more time, you ask: Will the Bucs be better in 2016?

Answer: They had better be.

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