TAMPA, Fla. — If 0-6 looks bad, know there’s always another level below. When it rains for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in this strange season, the storm cloud stays parked overhead, primed to dump more bad news upon a team whose goals were washed away long ago.
Sunday, running back Doug Martin sustained what’s believed to be a torn labrum in his left shoulder, as reported by FOX Sports NFL Insider Mike Garafolo. On Monday, Bucs coach Greg Schiano said he doesn’t believe the injury will be season-ending, though he added it will be “a stretch” to see the Pro Bowl rusher play Thursday when Tampa Bay hosts the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium.
In addition to that nasty nugget, two-time Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson is day-to-day with a left knee injury he sustained early in the loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The hits keep coming.
Does this thunderhead include a break? Heck, a silver lining? Keep searching, wondering, when the downpour will end.
“It can always be worse,” Schiano said of the season. “I just take the next task at hand. I can tell you on a short week like this, you don’t get a lot of sleep. You try to get everything done and make it a good plan, not as complicated, because you don’t have a lot of time to practice.”
A simplistic view of the Bucs’ season boils down to this: What else can go wrong? The spiral started with kicker Connor Barth’s torn Achilles in July, then there were the MRSA outbreaks involving guard Carl Nicks and kicker Lawrence Tynes, the Josh Freeman fiasco, another MRSA case involving cornerback Johnthan Banks and, finally, six consecutive losses to start a season for the sixth time in franchise history.
The best previous finish from those 0-6 slides (in 1976, ’77, ’83, ’85 and 2009): 3-13. Last season’s 7-9 record, one that included five losses in the last six games, looks more attractive by the week, right?
“Things just aren’t going our way, and we have to correct it,” Bucs linebacker Mason Foster said. “(Schiano)’s doing everything he can, the players are doing everything they can. It’s just little things here and there, and we have to correct it and turn this thing around.”
Martin’s injury, in particular, is a cruel knife to the back of those efforts. Drafted No. 31 overall in 2012, the Boise State product has become the answer to this question: “If there’s one player who’s indispensable to the Bucs’ offensive plans, who would it be?”
Granted, Martin’s holes have been less welcoming in his encore. He has 456 yards on 127 carries with only one touchdown. Last season, he rushed for 1,454 yards on 319 attempts with 11 touchdowns.
Martin has one game with more than 100 yards rushing this fall, a 144-yard effort against the New Orleans Saints in Week 2. He was held to as few as 45 yards on 27 attempts against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4. There are multiple reasons for a drop in production: (a) He’s no longer a rookie surprise, and (b) with Tampa Bay struggling to establish a passing threat, first with Freeman and now Mike Glennon, opponents are wise to key on him. But his absence remains a blow to morale.
“Doug’s a great running back, a Pro Bowl running back, so there’s pressure just trying to fill half his shoes,” Bucs running back Mike James said. “So I’m just trying to do what I can to help us win the game.”
Eyes will be on James, a sixth-round pick last April, if Martin stays out an extended time. The rookie has 57 yards on 17 carries this season, including a season-high 45 yards on 14 carries against the Falcons after Martin left in the third quarter, following a clean-but-strong hit from safety William Moore near the end zone. Seventh-year pro Brian Leonard, who has three carries for 6 yards, also could receive more time.
James has talent, but losing Martin may have an effect that goes beyond the running game alone. Now defenses, which have already forced three interceptions by Glennon in three games, will have license to flood the pocket. The Bucs rank No. 20 in the league in rushing offense with an average of 101.2 yards per game … and that was with Martin.
“Obviously, Doug is one of the best backs in this league,” Glennon said. “We would love to have him, and he’s a great player. But at the same time, we’re comfortable in those guys (James and Leonard) and confident in them. But Doug is definitely a good player, and we want him to be out on the field.”
So, is this a short-term absence for him?
“There are different ways you can handle that injury, and I think we just have to wait and see how it responds to treatment,” Schiano said. “You don’t know until you try. It’s a little bit of both (pain tolerance) and functionality. His ability to function and pain is always an issue. We just have to wait and see.”
Days change. The forecast doesn’t: Dreary, with a chance for rain.