Monday, 4 a.m.
On the little laminated sheet in his hands, Dirk Koetter has answers.
Not all of them, of course. But he had answers for Sunday. Maybe, just maybe, he has answer for tomorrow, too.
For instance: What do you do when you fall behind and make Colin Kaepernick look like a star? Koetter seems to have the answer.
For instance: What do you do when you want to ease your quarterback into the game? Koetter seems to know that answer, too.
For instance: What do you do when your running backs are down to reclaimed freight and third chances? Koetter evidently has that answer, too.
His Bucs finally figured things out on their own in a 34-17 win over the 49ers,
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which is good enough. But the season is six games old, and already, we seem to be dealing with the best coach the Bucs have had out of their last four chances. Not that anyone is counting. (Actually, everyone is).
What a week Koetter had. He entered the Carolina with a 1-3 record and his team on the ropes. He came out at 3-3 and, suddenly, no one is talking about a losing culture anymore.
Yeah, yeah. Koetter would tell you that a 3-3 record isn't exactly like having directions to the promised land. You don't give out final grades before the mid-term. But so far, at least, Koetter has left you nodding. For a change, the Bucs seem to have a ballcoach.
You know what I like about Koetter. The guy makes adjustments, not excuses. He looks at the bottom of his roster, and he doesn't see reasons to hide behind. I always thought Raheem Morris tried to hard to be his players' buddy. Greg Schiano tried to be their drill sergeant. Lovie Smith tried to be the wizard behind the curtain who, really, had nothing going on.
Koetter. He's their coach. It's better that way.
Yeah, yeah. There are times you can quibble with Koetter, too. When 50,000 fans sit on the jury, there are always deliberations. It is possible to think that Koetter could have gotten off another play with better clock management against the Rams. You can quibble with punting late in the game against the Broncos.
But you can't argue that Jacquizz Rodgers has found a home. You can't argue that Mike Evans (who was 14 feet tall Sunday) isn't a better player this year. You can't argue at the rent-a-defensive-end approach to the Bucs' defense. You can't argue against Kwon Alexander, who has taken over the Bucs' tackle leadership. Good players are getting better under Koetter; average players, too.
Frankly, you can't argue at the way Koetter attacked the 49ers on Sunday. Even as you could hear some Bucs fans scream to open up the game, he stayed true to his plan. And eventually, it worked. Give him credit for that.
True, it was sad to see the way the Bucs started their game when Kaepernick looked like he had drunk from Case Keenum's water bottle. And when a turnover led to a second touchdown and a 14-0 lead, this looked like another bad day in the West for the Bucs.
But Koetter stuck with his plan (run the ball against a team that was confused by other teams running the ball), and eventually, the Bucs took over the game. They won with the best plan possible.
You see, Jameis Winston is a fine prospect, but he isn't yet ready to carry a team on his right arm. It helps if he has a running game established, such as Sunday when Jacquizz Rodgers ran for 154 yards. It makes him more efficient, more deadly. Oh, Winston still got 30 throws in Sunday, but he completed 21 of them for a rating of 117.2.
Oh, there will be other games when Winston will come out throwing, too. But as long as the Bucs can run for a 2 1/2 football fields, he shouldn't wear out his shoulder.
Now, it's hard to give Koetter a lot of credit for the defense, which is Mike Smith's domain. But with Robert Ayers hurt and draft pick Noah Spence still catching on, where in blazes was the pass rush going to come from. Well, the Bucs have the answer for that, too. They had four sacks Sunday.
You know what I like about this coaching staff? It's that the players were better in October than they were in September, and better in September than they were in August. Who knows? Maybe they'll be better yet in November.
Eventually, of course, the tests get harder. The Raiders are next. The Chiefs and Seahawks and Cowboys and Falcons and Panthers and Saints are ahead. There are tougher questions.
Does Koetter have the answers for those?
Maybe. Finally, maybe the Bucs have a coach who does.