Failure. That's what this season has been. Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have done some good things. Their run defense has been historically good. The Schiano culture change appears to have worked -- to an extent. The Bucs looked like a much more disciplined and fundamentally sound football team than they did in 2011. They accumulated more talent as well. And yet, this was yet another losing season.
Is this, then, a failure? Aren't the Bucs rebuilding now? No, they are not. The Buccaneers clearly were a team that wanted to win now. They spent big on free agents. In fact, they were the biggest spenders in free agency in the entire NFL by a sizable margin. They didn't come here to re-build: they came here to win. And they failed.
The results bear this out, too. Until week 15, they hadn't lost a single game by more than a single score. Close losses to the Giants, Cowboys, Redskins, Saints, Falcons, Broncos and Eagles were unnecessary and unfortunate. Had the Bucs played just a little better in those games, they could have been in the playoffs. Had they called better plays, they could have been in. Had their secondary, or their quarterback played better, they could have been in. This is not farfetched: single-score games are decided by just a few plays, and a little bit more luck would have at least given Schiano a winning season. And the Bucs showed they were a good team, too. They blew out the Minnesota Vikings and handily beat the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers. They could hang and beat the good teams and manhandle the bad teams for most of the season.
The Bucs are not a finished product by any means. But they could have easily won in 2012. They could have been a playoff team - and when you make it into the playoffs, anything can happen. What's most disappointing about this season, though, is the way the team fell apart in the end. For a long time, this felt like a team full of promise. And then, starting in week 14 against the Philadelphia Eagles, it all started to fall apart. So now, we're left with nothing but the offseason.