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Bucs must limit flag football to shake off slow start

Penalties are a big reason the Buccaneers are one of the NFC's five winless teams.

Their color of the moment is yellow. And we're not talking caution.


Penalties are a reason the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of the NFC's five winless teams, the free-fallin' flags serving as thorns in their pewter-and-red backside.


Already, they own a laundry list of whistle-worthy lowlights: Lavonte David's shove of Geno Smith, Dashon Goldson's flattening of Jeff Cumberland into a patch of MetLife Stadium turf, an illegal-formation penalty that wiped clean a 73-yard touchdown pass from Josh Freeman to Vincent Jackson on Sunday, Goldson's helmet tattooing Darren Sproles' forehead, Ahmad Black's helmet turning Jimmy Graham into a crash dummy.


"Well, it's hurt our team," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said Thursday. "I'm not one that says, 'We have to be No. 1 in lowest number of penalties.' That's not my belief. I think if you're really playing hard, you can be in the top 10."


Here's one stat: The Bucs average 11.5 penalties per game, tied with the San Francisco 49ers for most in the league. By comparison, the saintly Indianapolis Colts have 6 total.


Here's another: Bucs players, mostly thanks to Mr. Goldson, have forked over $208,875 in fines, and a combined 121,000 big ones have zipped from Black's and Goldson's bank accounts just this week. Imagine the beachfront property lost.


"We all have to play within that framework of rules," said New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose team will try to avoid becoming the Bucs' latest target Sunday at Gillette Stadium. "I definitely don't think it's easy for that group (defensive players), but I think that the players are trying to adjust to the rules."


This is no call for the Bucs to join hands, sing "Kumbaya" and become Mother Teresa. But a little more tact, a little more discretion, would be wise.


Is that so hard to ask?


History says no. Last season, their first under Schiano, the Bucs were far from the NFL's most lawless. They ranked No. 14 with an average of 6.3 penalties per game, which was a decline from 2011, when they averaged 7.7 under Raheem Morris.


This season, they rank last in penalty yards per game, handing over an average of 110. Last year, they were No. 11 with a 51.2 average. In 2011, they clocked in at No. 28 with a 62.9 average.


It's early. There's time to do maintenance on their Bad Boy image. Actually, Schiano would rather see tweaks than a wholesale facelift: Cut down on the silly and selfish penalties, the blunders that make him blue.


This is silly, according to the Book of Schiano: Aligning wrong, illegal procedures, false starts, defensive offsides.


This is selfish: Taunting, over-the-top celebrations, hot-dog acts that make him hot.


"I group them into those two categories," Schiano said. "'Playing hard' penalties are going to happen if you're playing really hard. ... We have to make sure that our 'playing hard' is under control and that we hit people in the strike zone, and that's something we've worked hard on doing."


After all the flags that have flown like locusts around the Bucs so far, after all the mental missteps and puzzling pauses in coherent thought, they are only two penalties from a 2-0 start. Consider that. David’s personal foul in Week 1 and the illegal-formation call in Week 2, both avoidable, separate the gloomy skies above Raymond James Stadium from sun.


These days, arriving to work at One Buc Place requires a Kevlar vest. There are so many rumors flying this team's way that protection is required. Would the questions, the discussion, be different if the Bucs had started at least 1-1?


Certainly.


Now, this team must be smarter ... fast.


"I (take) a lot of pride in my tackling," Goldson said. "I take that seriously (due to) the simple fact that that's the kind of player I am and that's how I made my name in this league. I've got to continue to do what I've got to do, but at the same time, be smart about it."


Not an identity change. We're talking movement toward the middle, a step from the edge.


"Rules are the rules," Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "We've got to abide to them. We just got to clean them up. We got to clean those hits up, and move forward."


To do so, the Bucs must look inward, then ahead, to keep from sliding back. 


Is that so hard to ask?


You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.