The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 0-1 after losing a close and frustrating game to the New York Jets, and are quickly turning into an NFL laughing stock with the amount of off-field drama they see to be producing. With the New Orleans Saints coming to town on Sunday and the New England Patriots waiting in Massachusetts the week after that, the Bucs could be looking at an 0-3 start.
Those kinds of starts have a way of spiraling out of control, and it can be tough to recover your players' trust if you start out poorly, especially so when you've done little to earn it in years past. According to Jason Cole, now of the National Football Post, one NFC assistant coach he spoke to is concerned that the Bucs are heading in that direction.
"That's the kind of performance where you can lose your players in a hurry if you're not careful,"
"We all know it as coaches. If the players don't think you can help them win, they'll tune you out in a heartbeat," the coach said. "You look around the league and you see some of the stuff that happened and it makes you shake your head."
We've seen that scenario before. Raheem Morris lost the team in 2011, as they went through a 10-game losing streak that started with close losses and ended without blowout embarrassments against the Jacksonville Jaguars and other bottom dwellers. It happened in 2008, when the Buccaneers lost four straight games to end the season to keep them from the playoffs. It happened in 2006, when the Bucs started 0-4 and could not figure out how to string wins together, finishing the season with a 4-12 record.
A scenario like that could repeat itself this year. We talked about the need to get the players to buy in last year, but that remains the case this season. Greg Schiano may have relaxed a little, but he still hasn't really proven much at the NFL level. Losing a penalty-filled game with multiple schematic issues does not help your players' confidence in your strategy.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have enough talent on this team to be a playoff contender and even to do some damage in the playoffs. Their defense has key personnel on all levels and played very well against the New York Jets. They have one of the best receiving duos in the NFL, and a top five running back along with an extremely expensive offensive line.
Yes, they have holes. They have no tight end, and Josh Freeman remains a question mark for now. The pass rush could do with an infusion, although it's not in bad shape. Blitzes actually worked against the New York Jets, so that certainly helps. The Bucs have enough talent across the board to overcome those holes.
If the Buccaneers can keep their confidence and win a couple of games, they should be able to pull a pretty good season out of the fire. But if they lose a few more games, this season could spiral out of control very quickly. That's a scenario Greg Schiano has to avoid at all costs. And that starts on Sunday.