CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 24: Kellen Winslow #82 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fumbles the ball as teammates Dan Connor #55 and Chris Gamble #20 of the Carolina Panthers make a play on the ball during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
These Tampa Bay Buccaneers have looked terrible for weeks. But today was Christmas Eve, and maybe a miracle could be expected. After all, these Carolina Panthers are not a great team and have an especially vulnerable defense. But, as so often this year, there were no miracles for the Buccaneers - only harsh reality.
Reality says that the Bucs are not a good football team right now. Reality says that the Bucs have given up, and are playing well below their talent level. Reality says that the Bucs can't stop anyone from running on them. Reality says that the Bucs have a terrible defense and an offense that only shows up occasionally.
The Bucs didn't force the Panthers to punt until the third quarter. Carolina managed to score on each of their first five possessions, and each of those drives ended in the end zone or inside the 5-yard line. All in all, the Panthers scored on all but three drive in the game - and one of those drives ended the game. The Bucs countered that production by turning the ball over six times, including twice on downs. They scored on just three of their drives, one of them a meaningless drive against a prevent defense in garbage time.
In short: these Bucs sucked, once again. A few things were different this time: accountability and offense - for a while.
The accountability started with the first play on offense, when Legarrette Blount fumbled a Josh Freeman handoff. Fumbled handoffs are officially credited to the QB, but that looked like it was Blount's fault. The result: Legarrette Blount was benched until the third quarter.
On the third defensive drive of the game, the Bucs allowed a 91-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell. E.J. Biggers was in coverage on him, but he was expecting deep help from Tanard Jackson. The free safety instead was jumping an underneath route by Greg Olsen, leaving no one between LaFell and the end zone. The result: a touchdown given up, and Tanard Jackson was benched for one drive.
When he returned to the game he messed up again - missing an open field tackle on a 49-yard Cam Newton touchdown scamper. And once again, he was benched for Ahmad Black for one series. The discipline wasn't consistent across the board: Kellen Winslow and Sammie Stroughter stayed in the game after losing fumbles.
The offense also showed up for a drive, as the Bucs went 80 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Throughout the first half Josh Freeman was nearly perfect, going 13/14 for 127 yards, a touchdown and two sacks. The one incomplete pass came on a drop by Mike Williams. Of course, then the second half happened and he looked he has looked the rest of the season: inaccurate, uncomfortable and lacking help from his teammates.
This game was different in a few ways, but it was another embarrassing blowout loss. The Bucs have now allowed 40+ points in three games this season, the first time that has happened since 1976, their first year of existence. Their nine-game losing streak has only been reproduced in four other seasons: 1985, 1983, 1977 and 1976. The Bucs are producing a historically inept season, and they have one more game to go as they face the Falcons in Atlanta next week.
Merry Christmas, Bucs fans.