It's funny isn't it? The Bucs are where many of us expected them to be at his point in the season, especially when the schedule was released earlier in the year. Facing the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys on the road in consecutive games is a tough stretch for any team - let alone one that is breaking in a wet-behind-the-ears coaching staff.
So coming into this stretch we flashed back the last year. Yes, sure, beating Carolina in the opener was nice - but now it was going to get serious. Subconsciously, we may have thought - just be competitive - don't embarrass us like you did in 2011.
Then the games were played and opportunity was lost. Instead of being content that the Bucs did what we may have secretly hoped - we're all frustrated and angry that they let opportunity slip through their fingers.
Make no mistake, the Buccaneers should be 3-0 coming home from this two game escapade through the billion dollar mansions of the NFC East. They're not and that's the frustrating part.
Yet, we think we've learned a few things this week - here's the ten that seem most prevalent.
1. I'm probably one of the biggest Josh Freeman flag wavers here at BucsNation. I believe in the kid. He's just 24 years old but has demonstrated a great arm, can be accurate when he has his mechanics right, has an ability to bring his team from behind and displays leadership on the field. He's got all the tools to be a top quarterback in the NFL. However, what we saw on Sunday was one terrible performance by Five.
Usually, there's something to hang your hat on. Last week Josh at least had the big play in his game. This week he couldn't even put touch on a five yard dump pass - sending pepper to reserve back DJ Ware who had it launch off his chest for an interception by the Cowboys - something that is about as rare a solar eclipse. For the Bucs to have any kind of chance to win - Freeman must be better.
2. Freeman was hardly alone. Vincent Jackson had a terrible game, struggling to get open against Brandon Carr and Mike Jenkins (the latter who won't make anyone forget Deion Sanders). Add a few dropped passes and it was a forgettable performance for the top free agent signing of 2012.
Mike Williams dropped a makable catch as well and no one had the ability to get open against the Cowboys secondary.
3. We like Doug Martin here at BucsNation. He's a talented kid that has some big time ability. Right now, in my humble opinion, he isn't right for this offense. Martin was the choice when Tampa Bay had road graders Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood on the right side of the line. But with Joseph out with a knee injury and Trueblood on the bench - Martin just can't seem to find the running lanes right now. LeGarrette Blount, while still young, is a seasoned veteran who knows how to get the running game moving in the right direction, as evidenced by his 4.6 yards per carry career average.
There's certainly a role for Martin to play - but it's time for Schiano to remove Blount from the Chateau De Bow Wow and use this beast. By the way, LeGarrette - you don't have to hurdle on EVERY run. Use a trick too much it gets played out.
Now, I'm not saying that Martin should be benched or not remain the starter - but some of the carries should be sent Blount's way.
4. So Josh Freeman gave offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan a get out of jail free card in the post game press conference. No, Sully didn't call that dreadful 3rd and 9 draw play with two minutes left in the game and his team down by 9. In fact, Sullivan didn't call any play - as apparently the helmet mike malfunctioned while the playcall was radioed in. With only 8 seconds on the play clock and not wanting to burn a time out - Freeman called the first play that popped into his mind. Josh does not have a future as an O.C. in the league.
5. What doesn't get Sully off the hook is just the dreadfully drab play calling the rest of the ball game. Opportunity after opportunity came and went for Tampa Bay - but the Bucs failed to capitalize. Either Sullivan has yet to figure out how to use all his pieces, the players aren't understanding the concepts or the game plan was just plain bad this week.
6. The frustrating part of this road trip is we're not sure what exactly is totally broken. Last week, the offense put up 27 points on the road in hostile territory against the Super Bowl Champions but the defense gave up a team record in yardage and allowed 41 points. This week, the defense was absolutely dominant but the offense made Mike Shula's crayon written playbook seem like Mike Martz's greatest show on turf. Such is life with a young coach and a team trying to find its identity.
7. It was encouraging to see the defense bounce back in a big way against the Cowboys. Sure, Dallas certainly helped them with a ridiculous amount of false start penalties (what is up with that, Dallas?) but the Bucs physically punished and intimidated the Cowboys."That was right up there with one of the most physically tough games I've been a part of," Romo told reporters after the game. He was sacked four times and hit an awful lot more than that. There was one hit that Gerald McCoy delivered that seemed to nearly knock Romo into next winter.
Demarco Murray didn't fair much better, getting just 38 yards on 18 painful carries. The Bucs held the Cowboys to under 300 yds of total offense and just 16 points (several times being faced with a short field due to offensive and special teams blunders). The only touchdown of the game came thanks to an interception thrown by Freeman that set the Cowboys up in point blank range.
So that's two good defensive days and one bad one.
8. I think it's now safe to believe that coach Schiano has managed to fix two important cogs in the defense - pressure on the quarterback and the run defense. Through three games, the Bucs have surrendered just 147 yds rushing (a 47.3 yds per game average) and 2 rushing touchdowns. Tampa Bay didn't sack Eli Manning but until they wilted in the fourth quarter they were delivering some big time hits on the Giants QB. Despite the goose egg in New York, the Bucs defense is tied for 6th in the league in sacks with 7 takedowns already this season. At their current pace, the Bucs would register 36 sacks on the season. Considering they had a measly 23 last season - its definitely something to be pleased about for Bucs fans.
9. While the offense was bad - the special teams was worse this week. Punt returner Jordan Shipley muffed a punt on the same play where Dekota Watson missed a block and was called for roughing the kicker. Then late in the game when the Bucs needed to keep the Cowboys out of scoring range, the punt coverage unit let Dez Bryant scoot down the sideline 44 yds to the Bucs 6-yd line. Somehow, someway the defense stopped Dallas from getting it into the end zone, but the field goal made it a two score game.
10. I don't blame the refs for a lot of stuff. Both teams have to deal with the terrible antics of the replacement refs but this week it was especially bad. First, the refs missed a Tony Romo fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Eric Wright. The replacement refs blew the play dead, instead of allowing it to play out as they were supposed to do. The ruling on the field was Romo was down - but he wasn't. The fumble was live and the Bucs should have been up 14-10. Schiano challenged and won but because the play was blown dead, the Bucs were only allowed to get possession at the recovery location. That leads into a whole other diatribe about the Bucs offense not being able to take advantage of chances - but the focus here is on the officials.
Later in the game, a replacement ref threw his hat to signify a receiver went out of bounds - as he's supposed to do - only, he threw it five yards into the endzone, where Dallas receiver Kevin Ogletree slipped and threw off the timing of what could have been a Dallas game sealing touchdown.
Bottom line - this has gone on long enough. We need the real refs to yell at.
Bonus: Greg Schiano stuck out two middle fingers to the "establishment" that gave him heat all week for the kneel play defense. Tampa Bay was again within a score and came hard at the Cowboys in their victory formation. To add insult to injury, Schiano called two time outs so his team could have two more cracks at it and reamed them on the sidelines after the second attempt because it didn't have the physicality to his liking.
To his credit, Dallas HC Jason Garrett didn't cry like a little girl (like some old grumpy coach in New Jersey) after the game and shook Schiano's hand for a hard fought effort.