Buccaneer fans deserve a debt of gratitude to Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. For three weeks, Bucs fans have had the opportunity to taste victory. Victories help you ignore the obvious flaws on your football team. They help mask certain deficiencies that require an inordinate amount of things to go your way to continue to win those games.
After a near-win in Seattle, beating a distracted Dolphins team, a distraught Falcons team and a self-destructive Detroit squad, there was some thought that maybe the players had bought into what coach Schiano was selling and Tampa Bay had turned the corner to being a competitive team.
That maybe we should hit the pause button on those #FireSchiano posts or looking for the next QB in the NFL draft.
However, Cam and that amazing Carolina defense brought back to us on a crystal clear afternoon the perspective that was lost in the fog of winning.
This football team isn't coached well enough and the talent level isn't good enough to compete with top level teams in the NFL.
Here's what else we learned:
1. They talked about "Riverboat" Ron Rivera during the telecast on Sunday but where was "Gamblin'" Greg Schiano? For the past month we saw a multitude of trick plays, daring go for broke play calling that seemed to inject the football team with imagination and a why not give a try attitude. This week's gameplan reminded us of why many (including yours truly) wanted Schiano canned in the first place. A high school offensive gameplan. A defensive plan that looked like a square peg in a round hole and execution that was just plain the pits.
Its tough to beat a team like Carolina with trick plays and misdirection. It's near impossible to beat them with a vanilla three yards and a cloud of nothing game plan.
Blame offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan if you want - but this week's gameplan had Schiano's fingerprints all over it.
We thought Coach S had learned that conservative play calling gets your can kicked in the NFL but as former Buc Booger McFarland has often said on his radio show, a leopard doesn't change his spots.
2. And for the love of God - can we stop with the stupid stunting - especially against running quarterbacks the quality of Cam Newton? Was it a surprise to anyone that Newton's 56 yard run came when the Bucs' defensive line was doing that idiotic stunt and Tampa Bay completely lost containment?
No one is fooled by your evil genius, Bill Sheridan. No one. I wonder what the percentage of success is when the Bucs run stunts on the defensive line. Does it work for a loss or no gain on 50% of the times it's called? 20%? All I know is every time the quarterback is standing back there, having a cuppa from Starbucks, reads the New York Times, watches the entire first season of The Walking Dead, then decides to run for 50 yards with no one near him - the Bucs are typically stunting.
Funny, Carolina has one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Hardly saw them stunt at all. Perhaps the Bucs have to stunt because they don't have the personnel to win man-on-man every play. I tell you what, the few times we see them attack that way - it seems to work so you tell me why they can't do it.
3. I respect Cam Newton as a football talent but man I was hoping Dashon Goldson would clock him once or twice. I know Goldson is on probation from the league and didn't want to be suspended again but he's Tampa Bay's headhunter and if anyone can make the man-child Newton wipe the smug smile off his face and knock him out of his Batman shoes - it's Goldson.
I truly dislike showboats - I think its disrespectful to the opponent and it makes you look like an ass. Yes, Carolina's a better football team - we all know this. No need to rub it in with his ridiculous gestures and "Man, I am so good." attitude. No Cam, you're not that good. Your defense is.
Sooner or later the Bucs' defense will make you pay for your nonsense.
4. Speaking of Cam - man does FOX love them some Fig Newtons or what? I have a lot of respect for analyst Tim Ryan - I listen to him often on my drive home from the office on Sirius NFL Radio with his broadcast partner Pat Kirwan. Every time I listen to that duo I feel like I learn a little more about football. But my lord - did he go Madden's-Love-For-Favre on Cam Sunday or what? I swear - it was almost comical.
"That's one of the better incomplete passes you'll see. Cam put the ball right where it needed to be."
Really? Then why did it go incomplete?
Then later Jimmy Johnson proclaiming Cam should be an MVP candidate. For what? Not getting his team beat while the defense bludgeons their opponents?
5. Okay, Enough on Cam Newton - back to the Bucs - which is all we care about anyway. Let's turn our lens to Mike Glennon. Oh Michael, Momma said there would be days like this. Glennon unfortunately went all rookie on the Bucs' Sunday at Carolina. The offensive line was allowing Carolina to pound on Glennon earlier in the game and for perhaps the first time, it seemed like the Bucs' young single caller was a bit rattled. He made throws we haven't seen him attempt. There was that open hand fumble that will live on in the new generation of football bloopers.
Glennon badly underthrew Chris Owusu on what could have gone for a touchdown and held the ball too long, taking too many sacks.
At half-time, he had an opportunity to compose himself. If you're going to be the guy - you have to have the ability to bring your team back from behind when they know you're going to throw the football. Even Freeman had that quality. Not only did he fail to bring the Bucs back - his offense didn't generate a single point (thanks, Rian Lindell) in the second half.
Really, that's been par for the course with young Glennon. Solid in the first half - but get him in the second half and he turns into a pumpkin.
Glennon's second half stats: 82 comp, 149 att, 830 yds, 55.0 comp pct, 5.57 ave, 5 TDs, 5 Ints, 15 sacks, 68.4 QB Rating.
That's not what you want from your starting QB when you're trying to win games.
6. So where do we stand on the fire Schiano watch? Well, we talked about the win streak taking some heat off the backside of Coach S. Joel Glazer gave the impromptu vote of confidence by saying how he admire the team sticking together during these "tough times".
But let's face it. While Carolina is certainly at another level than Tampa Bay right now - you at least want to be competitive - like they were in Seattle. As we talked about earlier, the gameplans were primitive and the players didn't seem to have the same fire and confidence they've shown in recent weeks.
I personally don't believe the Bucs players thought they could win with the game plan put in place and it showed on the football field.
That's a problem. The three game winning streak is nice - but too many more performances like Sunday and you make it a hard sell to your fanbase to bring this coaching staff back.
I still think Schiano needs to get to six wins to be safe. A 6-2 finish warrants a return. 5-3 might even give enough ammo for the Glazers to sell to season ticket holders...but I don't think a 4-12 or 3-13 season is sellable at this point - not with the venom and vitriol that developed earlier in the year. The players may be all in on Coach S - but the fans aren't. The Bucs need to keep playing competitive football and winning to get them back.
7. I tweeted out during the ball game that if Lavonte David isn't in the Pro Bowl, the Pro Bowl is invalid. David had another outstanding day with 9 tackles and an interception. The kid is just a ball player and the Bucs are so lucky to fall into another dominant Will Linebacker so close after the retirement of the future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks.
David is special and this year should be the first of many Pro Bowls for the 2nd year player out of Nebraska.
Think of this, Bucs fans. When the Bucs' traded back in the first round of the 2012 draft, giving up Morris Claiborne to the Dallas Cowboys - many (including myself) expected the pick to be one Luke Kuechly. Instead, Tampa Bay went with safety Mark Barron.
Imagine if you will - Kuechly at Mike, Mason Foster at SAM and David at his Will linebacker position. The Bucs would have the best linebacking core in the league - bar none.
But the Bucs didn't go that route...and who knows, maybe if they had they wouldn't have picked David in the second round.
Barron is a good ball player but he's not Luke Kuechly good.
8. I think it's time the Bucs begin looking for a replacement for Donald Penn. He's not been very good this season and let's face it - he hasn't been close to being that guy since he made the Pro Bowl in 2010. Penn rose from being undrafted in 2006 to one of the better left tackles in the game for several years. He's not that guy anymore.
He just turned 30, so it's not an age issue - I think the speed and talent in the NFL's premiere pass rushers have just caught up to Penn.
Tampa Bay needs an upgrade and Penn's replacement isn't currently on the roster. Unfortunately, the Bucs' GM Mark Dominik is on record as saying he doesn't like to draft offensive linemen. In free agency, you're going to find older guys who may not be an upgrade.
Until you have someone better in house, you have to stick with Penn - but the Bucs should be actively looking.
9. So how have the Buccaneers fared in their off-season moves this year?
CB Darrelle Revis - He's been solid but not spectacular and certainly not the player you commit $16 million dollars a season and two premium draft picks for.
TE Tom Crabtree - Often injured. Never became the receiving threat the Bucs were hoping they were stealing from Green Bay.
S Dashon Goldson - Hasn't been the Pro Bowl performer the Bucs thought they were getting. Too many personal fouls and blown coverages.
DT Derek Landri - Invisible.
RB Peyton Hillis - No longer on the football team.
CB Johnthan Banks - Seems to be coming around after a slow start.
DT Akeem Spence - Has started every game and has played well in the Roy Miller role.
DE Michael Bennett - Allowed him to walk to Seattle, where he's picked up 6.5 sacks in a reserve role.
10. What to do with Rian Lindell. It's easy to say - cut em, he sucks! But at this point in the football season - who cares? The Bucs are 3-9 and going no where fast. They're expecting (hoping?) Connor Barth will return to his reliable self next season. So the team will likely let Lindell finish out 2013 and send him packing in the off-season.
Lindell has been particularly terrible in the second half of games where he's a dreadful 6 of 10. While his kicking has hurt the Bucs the bottom line is Tampa Bay needs to score touchdowns, not field goals and that in itself is an indictment of the offense.
Still, it would be nice to have a guy out there who you don't have to hold your breath every single time he lines up to attempt a field goal.
Bonus - Since I wasted two of our 10 Things on Cam Newton, he's a bonus one - Gerald McCoy didn't have his normal dominant game on Sunday. McCoy had zeros across his stat sheet for the first time since the end of the 2012 season. You didn't see him get much push on the line and frankly, Geraldini didn't seem to be himself out there.
It's one thing for McCoy to get stopped with double and triple teams - but one-on-one with some backup named Nate Chandler?
The Bucs need more from their horse in the center of the defense. That's not to say McCoy hasn't been a man among boys all season - he has been great - but Sunday he was invisible.
When Teo-Nesheim has a better day than you...you've not earned your paycheck.
Bonus #2 - Can Vincent Jackson NOT get caught from behind...just once? Every time V-Jax gets tackled at the 1 yard line or 3 yard line bad things happen for Tampa Bay.