From the field in Miami to the dome in Atlanta to the red zone in Carolina, the whispers are the same. Three games the Buccaneers should have won. Three games that one big play could have changed. And in three games, they came up short.
Buccaneers: Almost 4-8.
Instead, they fell to 1-11 after a 16-6 loss to the Panthers on Sunday, and the late game heroics against the Packers are as distant a memory as Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen, if you remember those guys.
You can blame Josh Freeman for his five interceptions. He deserves it. You can blame Greg Olson for curious play calling. He deserves it. You can blame the secondary for allowing a backup quarterback to complete 70 percent of his passes, including 66-yard bomb that has become a weekly tradition. They deserve it.
Here lies Paul Mueller
Jan. 4, 1984 - Dec. 6, 2009
Loving son, friend, writer and fan
"Life is not measured
By the number of breaths we take,
But by the number of passes
The defense takes away."Gone too soon. Throw it away, Josh.
Sometimes the positives just aren’t enough to keep your head high through the week. Sure, Antonio Bryant made circus catches on his way to a 100-yard performance. Cadillac Williams was one or two carries away from 100 yards on the ground. Freeman threw for over 300 yards and led the offense to the fifth highest output (469 yards) in franchise history. And all they have to show for it is the 11th notch on the doghouse bedpost. So close, yet light years away.
"We’ve got to make better plays at the end," head coach Raheem Morris said. "We’re still looking for that guy to stand up and be the closer. We got one at quarterback; he just didn’t have a good day in the red zone. On defense yesterday we finished better than we had finished in a game. The four-minute drive, for example, was a great sign of progress to get out there and get the ball back for your offense, especially against that team and the way they closed the last two games against us."
The Bucs had five drives in the second half, all of which were longer than 50 yards. The longest was a 14-play, 80-yard drive that lasted almost eight minutes and ended, as four of those final five drives did, with an interception.
"That’s the part about being a quarterback," Morris said. "I think his days of calling him a young quarterback are over in that room. He went out there and didn’t make the plays he was supposed to make in the red zone."
So, the real question going into Week 14 is how the suddenly veteran Freeman will respond. Drawing the Jets (6-6) at home will help. Quarterback Mark Sanchez has been banged-up, so if he starts he likely won’t be at full strength. The Jets rely heavily on the run, which could make spotty secondary play a non-factor.
You’re only as good as your last game in the NFL. It’s a "What have you done for me lately" league, and playing poorly in December is an easy way for a lot of people to lose their jobs, as Gruden and Allen, if you remember those guys, would attest.
"You have to find a way to play great football in December, not only this year but for the future," Morris said. "No time better to start than now to work on December football when you are in December with a team that pretty much doesn’t have a shot at the playoffs. You better establish your identity right now of what you are going to be in December."
The Bucs are 3-12 in December dating back to 2006. They have three more games in 2009 to improve their play in December and they play only one opponent with a winning record, the undefeated Saints. Otherwise, they face the Jets at home before traveling to Seattle, a difficult place for visiting teams to win.
I've always been a risk taker, so I'll still slip on the Cadillac authentic this Sunday. I just hope my heart can take it.