Here are our 10 things we think we learned from Tampa Bay's 35-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints:
1. There is a world of difference between 3-3 and 2-4. At 3-3, you harbor some hope at a major turnaround and maybe even contention for a playoff spot in the topsy turvy NFC. At 2-4, you're on the precipice about to head over the edge to irrelevance. If you lose to a 1-4 team at home - even one with Drew Brees at the helm, you're not a good team - period. Any thoughts to the contrary should be abolished.
2. Only in Tampa Bay can a quarterback throw for 420 yds, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions and still be singled out by talk show callers and posters as "The Problem". No fans, Josh doesn't cover Lance Moore on third down. He doesn't decide rush three against one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the league. He doesn't call an idiotic shift on a 51 yd field goal attempt and he doesn't allow himself to get pushed out of the back of the endzone on the final play of the game. Freeman did his job, the other guys around him failed. That's not excuse making, it's truth.
3. I don't fault Vincent Jackson for getting run down on that amazing 95 yd passing play. Jackson came into the game with a calf injury and truth be told, the fact that he had the game he had was simply an amazing accomplishment. It was great to see V-Jax show teams what happens when you try to roll coverages to Mike Williams. One of them is gonna get cha.
4. This loss falls on Greg Schiano and his coaching staff. I know they must have seen something in the Saints punt and field goal blocking schemes that prompted them to do these exotic alignments on their punt and kick block teams.
I don't blame Schiano for not knowing every single rule. I've been watching NFL football somewhat coherently for 26 years and I don't believe I've ever seen either call on special teams. Yet the special teams coach, Bob Ligashesky - one of the few coaches on Schiano's staff who has an extensive amount of coaching experience in the NFL - and assistant special teams coach Phil Galiano failed to say, "Hey coach, you can't do that in the NFL."
Someone should have looked up the dang rule. Coach tried to cover for his guys saying he knew the rule. Apparently, you didn't coach.
Where I do fault Schiano is on defense. It's a danged if you do danged if you don't situation. We lambasted Schiano for blitzing Eli Manning and getting his defense torched by the Pro Bowl QB. Now we lambaste him for letting Drew Brees film two commercials, have a latte, order a pizza and then decide to throw the football by rushing three defensive linemen on third down. I think between the two, I'd rather die by the blitz and knock the snot out of Drew Brees then let him sit back there and wait for a guy to come open. Without your best corner, it was just a matter of time before someone did, especially with Brandon McDonald on the field.
Final coaching gaff - not knowing LeGarrette Blount s-u-c-k SUCKS at short yardage. I'm sorry to put it so crassly, but how many times have we seen the massive Blount tip toe to the line of scrimmage, get no momentum with his large frame and get nothing, nada, zip? Diminutive Doug Martin is more effective. DJ Ware is more effective. Hell, Eric Lorig would be more effective in that situation.
5. Even though the Bucs rallied at the end to make it a thriller, the game was really lost on that goal line stand by the Saints. The Bucs lost 7 points by not punching it in from four tries at the 2 yard line against one of the worst red zone defenses in the NFL. Then they surrendered a 95 yd scoring drive to the Saints (aided by the idiotic shift on the field goal try) to complete the 14 point swing. There's your ball game, folks.
6. For those wondering why no pass interference was called on the defender when Mike Williams was shoved out of the back of the end zone - it's simple. Once Josh left the pocket, the defender has the right to "shed a block", in other words, you can put hands on the receiver. It's designed to allow a defender to get off a receiver's block if the quarterback decides to run with the football. The only reason Williams was wide open was because Saints defender Patrick Robinson knew he was ineligible.
"We practice it all the time, talking about in the red zone, when there's a scramble drill, push your guy out of bounds if you can because you no longer have to cover him and you can go help somebody on the other side," Saints DB Malcolm Jenkins told reporters, "When I saw (Robinson), he told me, 'I pushed him out of bounds.' I knew the game was over."
7. I didn't have a lot of issues with the play calling of Mike Sullivan - with the exception of the goal line sequence. It was Schiano's call to have Blount in the ballgame - and who knows, it might have been Schiano's call to pound it three consecutive times with Blount. But whomever is responsible should at least mixed in one pass play in the sequence. Yes, we know, Coach Schiano wants that physical mentality and an offense with that expensive of an offensive line should have the ability to push the pile enough to get the runner in. But after the first two times failed miserably, you try something different. You don't wait until fourth down to roll out Freeman and give him no options.
8. We can blame Aquib Talib for a lot of the defense's issues this week. Indeed, Talib didn't set foot in Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, but because of his absence, Brandon McDonald was forced on to the field. Lance Moore made the confused McDonald his female dog (google it, youngsters). McDonald missed calls, blew assignments and frankly was the weakest link.
9. If Brandon McDonald was that bad, how bad does former 3rd round pick Myron Lewis have to be?
10. The Bucs head to Minnesota on a short week with little time to prepare for the Vikings. At the beginning of the season, a winnable game now appears to be a big challenge for the Buccaneers, as the Bucs may be right around where we thought they'd be - but the Vikes are significantly better. The good news is Christian Ponder is more Brady Quinn-like than Drew Brees-ish. The bad news is the Vikings defense is playing epic football right now. In that noisy dome, on National television with a sold out crowd - the Buccaneers will have a herculean effort on their hands to prevent from falling to 2-5.