TAMPA, Fla. — The watch is on. Like most impending crashes, it will be hard to turn your eyes from this wreck-to-be.
Bang those drums. The march is almost over. It’s no matter of if, only when. Likely, most of the doubt about coach Greg Schiano’s firing was put to rest before Thursday night’s 31-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
But now, there should be little question about how the credits will roll on the 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: “GREG SCHIANO, THE END,” whenever that will be.
“We got licked,” Schiano said Thursday, a statement that sounds like a fine epitaph for his second year here. “My hat’s off to Carolina. They played better than we did. They coached better than we did. That was the result today.”
How many more like this does the Glazer family need? Perhaps Schiano’s ousting will happen soon. Friday? After a Week 9 game at the Seattle Seahawks? Sometime after?
Perhaps the deed will be delayed, after the season, after this limp lingers past October, November and December and into a winter of discontent.
But there’s no way Schiano walks these sidelines at Raymond James Stadium next season. Thursday’s rout felt like a preseason crawl, with August-worthy play from the pewter and red.
It’s time for an upgrade … and soon.
“We’re going to stay the course,” Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon said. “Our goal right now is to learn from this state and go up to Seattle and get a win. That’s all we can focus on right now.”
Oh, how far have they fallen? Remember the offseason optimism after Dashon Goldson’s signing, after the Darrelle Revis introduction? Remember when Josh Freeman was thought to be capable of a big-boy season, to earn big bucks after a contract year?
Remember when competing in the NFC South seemed like something reasonable, not a wacky, far-out fantasy?
All that seems so long ago. It’s hard to watch this. What else is there to say?
Weeks change, the narrative doesn’t. The consistency is exhausting. The Bucs fell to 0-7, losing their 12th game in 13 tries under Schiano. The Panthers boasted a strong defense that ranked third in the league in total defense. But they were beatable, a few notches below the New Orleans Saints. In July, this was a team most thought the Bucs could beat.
A takeaway from this night: Thank goodness for the Jacksonville Jaguars, or the NFL’s winless world would be Population One. Not exactly company you want to keep.
Again, this one was on the defense. It has been Tampa Bay’s strongest unit, but they’ve appeared to bend, bend, snap since the bye week. The Philadelphia Eagles put up 31 points in Week 6, and the Atlanta Falcons had 31 last Sunday.
Thursday, Cam Newton and Co. racked up 324 yards. They had rubberstamped three touchdowns by the third quarter’s end.
What happened to “toes-on-the-line” intensity? Where did the Bucs go wrong?
There’s no single cause, like most good intentions that peel off the freeway. There seem to be new reports each week that this coach has lost the locker room, the latest an NFL.com piece Thursday in which one former player compared playing for the Bucs under Schiano to living in Cuba.
Too harsh? Perhaps. But the NFL is a perception business, as well as a bottom-line world. The Bucs have received grades in both areas.
Thing is, there are a few bright spots. That’s the part that makes you go “Huh?”
Exhibit A: Linebacker Lavonte David continues to play at a Pro Bowl level, earning 12 tackles and one sack Thursday.
Exhibit B: Glennon shows flashes of being someone who can survive in this league, though he struggled in the second half on a night when he threw for 275 yards with one touchdown.
Josh Freeman’s 53-pass face-plant Monday for Minnesota showed Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik were wise to move in another direction, past the immaturity, past the soap opera. But Schiano also was correct Tuesday when he cracked wise this way: “First and foremost, we desperately need a win, right? That’s a good headline, ‘Desperately Need a Win.'”
Desperation has turned to devastation. Schiano is 7-16 with the Bucs. Raheem Morris was 8-15 in the same window. No, this isn’t a team that’s losing in hide-your-eyes glory the way Morris’ 2011 Bucs did.
Remember 48-3 against the San Francisco 49ers? (Turn away.) Or 37-9 against the Houston Texans? (Hide.)
But this feels past a point of no return. The Bucs are broken. Sometime, eventually, they must be fixed. Sometime, eventually, the Glazer family must turn the page from Schiano and start fresh, start clean.
“What needs to change is we need to execute better on the game field,” Schiano said. “How that happens is we need to coach better. We have to come up with better ways or better ways to communicate.”