Some defeats can alter reality for a team

by Gary Shelton on November 11, 2020

in general

Brady had a forgettable night./TIM WIRT

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

Everyone loses. Everyone feels dejected. Everyone blames everyone else.

That's nothing new. Heck, in Tampa Bay, we have seen the Bucs lose a staggering 427 times (plus nine playoff games). The sight of a lopsided scoreboard is not new to us.

Ah, but then there are the losses that shatter your soul, the gut-wrenching, foundation-shaking losses that alter how you look at your own franchise, the losses that are so devastating, so faith-sucking awful that it leaves you hollow.

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This week was one of those. A few days ago, fans were convinced the Bucs were headed to the Super Bowl. Now, those same fans wonder if this team will miss the playoffs...again.

That's how bad this was. It was awful on all fronts. It was indefensible to witness, inexcusable on the coaches, unfathomable on the players. It was a return to Lovie, with a stopover at Leeman's house, with a special message from Perkins. It was 98 flavors of terrible, and even now, it seems total in its devastation.

Over the years, the Bucs have lost in all sorts of ways. They've given games away with turnovers, cost themselves leads with penalties, blown games with poor coaching. But seldom has a loss tasted this bad, because rarely has a team shown this much promise. Somehow, that all seems stripped away. All that is left is a bomb crater.

When you're talking about devastation, personally, I don't include any of the playoffs on the list. Sure, the loss in '99 to the Rams was terrible, because of what was at stake, but in the end, heck, the Bucs reached the NFC title game. How bad could a five-point loss be? Most of us knew that the Bucs' offense was limited coming in.

And I don't count the losses in seasons that were obviously not going anywhere. For instance, the 2015 loss to the Washington Redskins (32-31) hardly counts despite the Bucs blowing a 24-0 lead. Heck, Tampa Bay was in the middle of another 6-10 season. What did it matter?

But along the way, there have been games that made it hard to believe in this team.

How about the 1999 loss to the Raiders? The Bucs were riding a six-game winning streak when they went to Oakland, and the analysts were acting as if they'd never lose again. Hah. Jon Gruden's Raiders steamrolled the Bucs, 45-0. It was a loss that was forgotten, somewhat, when the team made the NFC title game, but it was terrible nonetheless.

Remember the 38-35 loss to Indianapolis in 2003? That was like this. Before the game, you could find all sorts of reasons to believe in the Bucs. And when they got off to a 28-7 lead as the fourth quarter approached, it was easy for a Buc' fans to swagger.

Ah, but the Colts roared back, and they won a game that sapped the energy out of this franchise for the entire season. The Bucs were never the same again.

In 2010, the Bucs seemed to be a team on the rise. With the young trio of Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Evans, they won three of their last four. But they lost a 20-17 overtime game to Detroit despite holding a lead with 1:39 to play. That was the reason the 10-6 Bucs lost out on a playoff spot that year.

Then there was Sunday night, when the favored Bucs never competed. Their hyped collection of stars played like free agents who had been signed the day before the game, or like those little electronic football players who run in circles. It was Pompeii, and the Saints were Mount Vesuvius.

There are those who are pushing for this game to be forgotten quickly as if it were an anomaly. And perhaps it will be. Maybe the secondary will heal, and the run defense will show up, and for goodness sakes, someone will block someone else.

Today, it doesn't feel that way. It feels as if the Bucs were exposed as high-priced members of yesterday's news. It feels as if the Saints owned them, and as if other teams might own them, too.

Here's the thing.It passes. What you will remember from this team will be bigger than the two losses to the Saints. You'll remember whether this team didn't measure up to their reputations, or if they finally got it together and salvaged something of a season.

By the first of December, you may have your answer.

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