Taking the temperature in the Tampa Bay locker room a few weeks ago after the Bucs’ road loss to Atlanta, which sent them to 0-6, it seemed like beleaguered head coach Greg Schiano was losing the locker room. What looked like a listless performance by the Buccaneers in a 31-13 loss to Carolina on Thursday Night Football provided evidence to those, including PewterReport.com, that Schiano’s message was indeed getting lost on the players.
But something different happened on Thursday night that escaped the eye while it was happening live, but can be seen while re-watching the Panthers game. The usual frenetic and tightly wound Schiano was as calm as ever and not nearly as tightly wound on the sidelines against Carolina.
He appeared to have a much more calm and collected demeanor in Seattle as well, and his Buccaneers players actually played their best football of the year in the first three quarters of Sunday’s heartbreaking, 27-24 overtime loss in Seattle, breaking out to a 21-0 lead in the second quarter and enjoying a 24-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Sunday’s effort and the high level of play through the first three quarters is as clear of an indication as one could get that Schiano has indeed NOT lost the locker room. As someone who has called for Schiano’s firing, I have to clearly admit that if I am to consider myself an objective reporter.
Sunday’s strong, out-of-the-gate performance comes on the heels of a conclusion the PewterReport.com staff made on Friday at One Buccaneer Place, yet failed to report. The Bucs locker room was as loose as we’ve seen it all year and the players were actually, um, confident heading into the buzzsaw that is noisy CenturyLink Field where Seattle had won 11 straight home games.
The Bucs players sounded anxious to go play the 7-1 Seahawks, and were far from dreading it. Externally, they appeared to believe in the offensive and defensive game plans. That was evident from the play in the first half of the confident Bucs as the offense, defense and special teams combined to race out to a 21-0 lead.
Also on Friday, a highly respected Bucs player mentioned to PewterReport.com that Schiano had eased up on practice that day, and several players during the week had told PewterReport.com off the record that Schiano had been loosening things up at practice over the past two weeks.
Is Schiano humbling himself and deciding to try a new approach because his old iron-fisted methods clearly haven’t worked? Or is he listening to the players’ advice about practice, and in turn, they are forming a better relationship with him?
Either way, it’s evident that Schiano has not lost the locker room based on how hard and confident the team played against the best team in the NFC. Yet there are no moral victories in the NFL. Sunday’s loss counts just the same as the other seven this year.
“It certainly hurts,” Schiano said. “Guys put forth a great effort – coaches and players. But at the end of the day, it’s about having more points than they do.
“There were a lot of things guys did right. Keith Tandy, I thought played really well, and Mark Barron. Mike James, I thought he ran very hard. Mike Glennon was very efficient running the show. The offensive line – it was the best job they’ve done in a while. There are a lot of good things that are encouraging and things that make me optimistic, but today it doesn’t look very optimistic.”
Schiano will find plenty of optimism when he watches the film. If Bucs fans are looking for optimism and hope that the Bucs will actually win a game this year under Schiano – and possibly another, and another, etc. – there were plenty of bright spots in Seattle.
First of all, the Bucs were as aggressive as they’ve been all year. Throwing into the end zone with a rookie quarterback against a Pro Bowl-caliber secondary, calling for a surprise onside kick and a halfback jump-pass by a rookie for a touchdown was as bold and imaginative as we’ve ever seen from a Schiano-coached team in Tampa Bay. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough for a winless team littered with rookies on offense against a veteran team at home that seems poised to win homefield advantage in the NFC and make a strong run at the Super Bowl.
“When you play a very good football team the margin for error is very small,” Schiano said. “We did win the turnover battle, which we haven’t done this year. Usually that’s a good thing for us, and for most teams.”
Sunday’s game was right there for the Bucs to win as they had a 24-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but Golden Tate’s 71-yard punt return not only produced a field goal for Seattle, it produced some much-needed momentum for the Seahawks.
“The big punt return was a tough play,” Schiano said. “Third down in the first half we were almost perfect (7-of-8 offensively), and then in the second half we really tailed off (1-of-7 offensively).”
That’s a sign that despite the multitude of coaches the Bucs have, Schiano might want to look at replacing some – and perhaps even a coordinator or two – because Tampa Bay still continues to struggle when it comes to second-half adjustments. The Bucs just can’t seem to make the right plays on offense to extend drives or the right plays on defense to kill opponents’ drives in the fourth quarter.
“We have to find out,” Schiano said. “If I knew, it would be fixed. I think it’s a process. I don’t think it’s a single thing. It’s a process with people. We’ll figure it out.”
An objective look at the Bucs defense shows the team playing with two young safeties in Barron and Tandy, and despite some mistakes, they each made some plays. Barron led the team with 11 tackles and an interception. Tandy, who was filling in for injured Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson, had five tackles and his first career interception on the goal line in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs secondary is also playing with a Darrelle Revis that is not back to his old form yet, a rookie cornerback in Johnthan Banks and a couple of nondescript corners in Michael Adams and Danny Gorrer.
Tampa Bay’s defense just doesn’t have the athletes along the defensive line that can effectively chase down Russell Wilson when he broke down containment and scrambled six times for 36 yards and a touchdown on Sunday.
“We had opportunities to contain the quarterback and we didn’t,” Schiano said. “We have to get that down. That’s something that we have to get – a couple of key plays and he’s a guy that can expose you. Russell Wilson is as good of a mobile guy as there is in this league and we had him a couple of times and we let him out. I say let him out, he had a lot to do with it. We have to make sure we do everything we can do perfectly. Then if he still whips us, then he does.”
Glennon, who played with the scrambling Wilson at North Carolina State, admired how the Seahawks star rallied to score three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and pull Seattle from a 21-0 deficit to win in overtime.
“He played really well,” Glennon said. “He’s a big-time player. He makes that offense go. The few mistakes he made he bounced back and that shows you the kind of player he is.”
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn has three sacks on the season, but the team’s other defensive ends – Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Da’Quan Bowers and rookie William Gholston – have combined for just one through eight games, and that’s a huge problem. Bowers, a former second-round pick, still can’t crack the starting lineup. This team still lacks a dynamic pass rusher with elite athleticism to play opposite the gritty Clayborn.
An objective look at the Bucs offense shows the absence of Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks, Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin, playmaking wide receiver Mike Williams and speedy backup running back Jeff Demps, in addition to having right guard Davin Joseph play at less than 100 percent and less than his usual Pro Bowl level as he continues to recover from knee surgery in 2012 and a staph infection in 2013.
An objective look also shows that Tampa Bay started a rookie at quarterback in Glennon, a rookie at running back at James and a rookie at tight end in Tim Wright on Sunday against the best team in the NFC.
James was the surprise star of the show, rushing the ball for 158 yards on 28 carries (5.6 avg.) and throwing a 2-yard touchdown to tight end Tom Crabtree. It’s a shame he didn’t get more of a look in the fourth quarter and overtime from offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, who called a pretty good game for three quarters.
Wright caught his second touchdown in as many games and led the Bucs with four catches for 48 yards while Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson was well covered. Jackson was so limited on Sunday that rookie wide receiver Skye Dawson was more productive with a 14-yard end around than Jackson was, catching just two passes for 11 yards.
Glennon completed 17-of-23 passes for 168 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against an imposing Seahawks secondary in the most hostile environment the QB has ever faced.
“The job Mike Glennon did handling the noise was veteran-like,” Schiano said.
Glennon spread the ball around to six different players, getting running back Brian Leonard (four catches for 48 yards) and fullback Eric Lorig (two catches for 14 yards) involved in the passing game. Through five games, Glennon has raised his completion percentage to 60.3 while throwing for 1,165 yards.
With three more touchdowns in the remaining eight games, Glennon will surpass Josh Freeman and break Tampa Bay’s rookie record for TDs by a quarterback, which was set in 2009. Glennon is 16 passing yards away from moving into third place past Doug Williams (1,170 yards in 1978), and only 691 yards away from moving past Freeman (1,855 yards in 2009) and into first place as the franchise’s top rookie passer. He has eight games to do it, too.
Glennon is playing so well that it’s time to proclaim that Schiano definitely made the right call in benching Freeman and making the painful switch to a rookie quarterback four games into the season. Even the most ardent Freeman supporter has to realize that Glennon, despite not having Martin and Williams, is having a very good rookie season from a statistical standpoint and has clearly outplayed Freeman.
While Schiano took plenty of heat for benching and ultimately cutting Freeman, it was the right move, and Glennon’s high level of play with eight touchdowns and just three interceptions validates the move. Schiano has been vindicated, and his harshest critics – and PewterReport.com has been one of them – need to take a strong, objective look at that.
The team remains incredibly confident that an NFLPA investigation will conclude that the leaks about Freeman came from his own agent, and PewterReport.com is researching this issue and drawing that same conclusion, too. In the meantime, Glennon is playing good football at the quarterback position for the Buccaneers.
“We did some good things, but without the win, it hurts,” Glennon said. “We have to keep building on the positives and eliminate the negatives.”
Glennon said that the team needs to focus on the positives that came from hanging tough at Seattle.
“We have to,” Glennon said. “We have no other choice, but to find the positives and build on those. Ultimately, it’s about wins and losses, and we didn’t win. I think there are some good things we’ve done in this game and going forward, but it’s about wins and losses.”
Behind the scenes it appears Schiano is turning things around and creating a better working atmosphere at One Buccaneer Place. The result was the effort from his players playing harder and better on the road against one of the most talented teams in the NFL.
But the result was also a loss – the eighth of the season, and the 13th in the last 14 Tampa Bay games.
“We have to close out. We have to close out. There is nothing to say but that, we have to close out!” Revis said. “Especially with a team that is one of the best teams in the NFL. Their record speaks for them. They have great players on their team. When you have a team down like that you have to choke them out. You have to choke them out because great teams come back, and they are a great team. They fought back, great teams do fight back.”
If Schiano doesn’t find a way to get the Bucs to close out and win games soon, he’ll be out.
But until that day comes, expect the players to continue to play hard for him. I’ve come to learn that what Gerald McCoy and Goldson said last week about Schiano not losing the locker room wasn’t just lip service and the company line from Tampa Bay’s defensive captains.
It’s the truth.
And Sunday’s hard-fought effort in Seattle was proof.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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