There are beat downs and then there's what the Saints delivered Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Bucs were destroyed by New Orleans 41-0. What did we learn from this one?
1. Josh Freeman has fallen apart this last month of the season. Freeman doomed the Bucs on Sunday with 5 turnovers and in December has turned in some horrid numbers. He's 58 of 120, a 48% completion percentage with 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, 3 fumbles (1 lost) and he's been sacked 5 times. The offense's production, which during the months of October and November was one of the deadliest in the league, has dropped to 335 yds and 18 pts a game over the past 3 contents. Consequently, the Bucs have lost all 3 December games.
2. Greg Schiano will have to decide if Freeman is the quarterback he wants to stake his career in Tampa Bay on. Certainly Freeman has shown that he's capable of being the one of the best in the league - his October and November show that. However, his regression this last month of the season has to give one pause. It's one thing to struggle against a top notch defense like the Broncos - but Philadelphia and New Orleans? Two of the worst pass defenses in the league feasted on Freeman and hung ugly L's on the Bucs.
Still, Freeman is just 24 years old - younger than some of the rookies coming out this year and he now has four years under his belt. He's on pace to set Buccaneer single season records for touchdown passes and passing yardage. There's still time to figure out if this kid can be something special.
3. What is there to say about the defense that hasn't already been said? We expected Drew Brees to chew them up like a Porterhouse steak. What we didn't expected was the anemic Saints running game to pile up 149 yds. It's one thing for the Bucs defense to not be able to stop the pass, but if they can't stop the run either? That's more like Raheem ball.
4. It's the second straight season the Bucs have gotten off to a solid start (4-2 in '11, 6-4 this season) and have collapsed in the second half of the year. I will say this, last season we saw quit on the football field in the final games of the season. This loss was ugly, but it wasn't because the Buccaneers players quit on their coaches. Moreover, they are just completely out of sync...or in a rut or whatever other cliche you can pull out your backside. We've always said, as Freeman goes, so goes this football team. Freeman was terrible today (as he was last week), the rest of the ball club followed suit.
5. Can the Bucs still make the playoffs? Mathematically they're still alive. Realistically, not a chance in hell. There won't be a playoff madness article this week because let's face it - there's better chance the world will end on December 21st than the Bucs playing in the playoffs.
6. What area of the football team is the biggest need? Obviously cornerback is going to be a big focus this off-season. However, the Bucs will need to look at Free Safety as I don't expect Ronde Barber to return. I still say they need more pass rushers and now I think there are some valid concerns at tackle on the offensive line. Donald Penn has not had a good season and Demar Dotson seems to be wearing down toward the end of the season.
7. Is Michael Bennett worth the big money contract he expects to command this off-season? If I'm the Bucs, I let him go unless he gives them a big time home discount. Bennett is a good football player, don't get me wrong, but he's not an elite pass rusher by any stretch of the imagination and with he's sack totals, he's going to get above the market money. Plus, the Bucs have Bowers ready to step into that role and they can draft another young stud pass rusher to back him up. No, the money they would allocate to Bennett is better used elsewhere.
8. So Greg Schiano's first season is winding down. What have we seen from Coach this season? His team plays hard for him and we've seen some significant improvement, especially on offense. Until this week, the Bucs have gone toe-to-toe with some of the best in the league and haven't blinked. Things don't feel as quite as hopeless as they did at the end of the Raheem tenure. The Bucs still have a ways to go before they're a contender in the NFC South - but they at least have a foundation to build upon.
9. That said, if the Buccaneers mail in the last two games of the season, the Bucs will end things on a six game losing streak. That is certainly not creating any momentum for 2013. Six game losing streaks get coaches fired. Now, I'm not saying Schiano would be in any danger if that finish does go down that way - but someone's head will roll - be it the defensive coordinator or the db coach or the GM.
10. Ending on a positive note, welcome back to the season, Mark Barron. Barron was all over the football field on Sunday, laying hurt shots on New Orleans receivers and backs. He ended the ballgame with 10 tackles, 8 solo with a pass defense. Nice to see the Bucs' number one pick not be the invisible man.