It’s official. The Buccaneers are the worst team in the division, and after a 38-19 blowout loss to the Panthers, they might be the worst team in the conference. They’re losers of six straight, and outside of a few flashes of competence, are a shell of the near-playoff team we saw a year ago.
If the Buccaneers keep losing (no problems so far), they’ll land a top-10 draft pick, and with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck being a consensus first- or second-overall selection, Tampa Bay is bound to land an impact player. Justin Blackmon would relegate Mike Williams to the number two target, but — with a new offensive coordinator — the Oklahoma State wide receiver could immediately improve the offense. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o would provide the defense with a fundamentally sound, strong-tackling playmaker. Morris Claiborne, the draft’s top defensive back, would replace Ronde Barber and — if Aqib Talib isn’t in jail — create one of the league’s most formidable corner tandems.
As bad as the team has performed in 2011, the Buccaneers are set at several positions. It allows the management a little more freedom in their draft choices, and it’ll be exciting to see which way they decide to take the team. The 2012 first-round pick — speed receiver? power back? defensive playmaker? — will go a long way toward establishing a team identity.
The Panthers haven’t had a convincing win all year, but after that initial touchdown drive, I rolled my eyes, exhaled noisily, and braced myself for the beatdown. The Bucs looked disinterested out there. Sloppy. For the second consecutive week, the offense scored only one touchdown, and the defense got ripped apart by the run.
And the schedule isn’t an excuse anymore. If the Raheem Morris era had any type of trend or consistency, it was that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the teams they were expected to beat. Since 2010, Tampa Bay has an 11-1 record versus losing teams. The single loss was the result of a blown call against the Detroit Lions.
After Sunday, Carolina made it 11-2. The Pewter Pirates were educated by the 3-8 Panthers. Blown out. At home. By a losing team.
Raheem Morris has built a reputation on charisma. He’s forever the optimist, perpetually relaxed, with a smirk plastered to his face.
Scratch that image. Defensive tackle Brian Price was sent home from the football game after committing a 15-yard personal foul. Morris, ahem, “discussed” it in his post-game press conference:
“Yes, I sent him to the locker room. I told him go home. F***. Yeah. Because it’s foolish, it’s selfish to your teammates, to everybody in your organization, to your fans. That’s terrible. That’s just selfish behavior to get a 15-yard penalty, in that situation, when that’s all we talk about, when that’s all we discuss. You just can’t do that to your team.”
The normally-reserved Morris seems to have thrown his hands up. He indirectly acknowledged that he has lost the locker room.
“You know, they’re not listening. They’ve got to listen and we’ve got to do a better job of coaching. That’s all.”
Morris’s job depends on a lot of things. It’ll depend on how the players — especially Brian Price — respond in the coming days. It’ll depend on Morris’s contingency plan. It’ll depend on how the team plays against the Jaguars. Because as it stands, the players aren’t competing for their head coach. They’re playing slow, uninspired football, and getting stomped on by every opponent. Things are ugly in Tampa. Let’s hope the worst of it is over.