As the final seconds ticked off on yet another disappointing season for fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it felt the same didn't it? The Panthers doing their arrogant poses. Josh Norman comparing the Bucs (and Mike Evans) to peasants throwing rocks at a giant (I suppose in his metaphor its him, even though that peasant was a 1 yd short of 100 yds against him, but I digress).
It was another ugly afternoon in Charlotte when the Panthers showed everyone how far away the Bucs really are.
But then something happened that gives you a little hope. That maybe, just maybe, we're not going to be seeing this type of disappointment for too much longer.
"We’re going to create a winning mindset this offseason, I guarantee it,’’ Jameis Winston said in his season ending presser, "We’re going to create a mindset that you will never give up, a relentless mindset of being able to persevere over adversity. I’m worried about getting the mentality right, getting everybody on the same page.
Ending a season 0-4 like that? We’ve got to cut that out. I don’t ever remember losing three games in a row, so there’s no way losing four in a row is going to drive us. It’s got to be in here, in your heart. This game is about will, about taking things. At some point, you’ve got to take a win.’’
Just like that, the Bucs' franchise quarterback set the standard for this football team. He later added a message for those teammates who are comfortable with the losing or want to blame their coaches.
"If we didn’t have the good coaches, if they weren’t on us, I guarantee you we would not have won six games this year, because I guarantee you some of our coaches want it more than some of our players, and that’s the bad part," he said, "Our coaches want it. They’re up there working for hours. They don’t get to see their families. I know our coaches want it. We need to get our guys to put in the work like our coaches put in. That’s when you become successful. But we’re going to get it. ... It’s just a little slight construction here and there. We’re going to get it. Everybody’s going to get on the right track."
Some former players bristled at Winston calling out his teammates. I think it was long overdue. It happens, folks. Some veterans who've been here for too long, lost for too long, they begin to not care as much about winning but focus on their quality of life. They accept that they're just part of a losing team and it will likely always be that way. Accept it, enjoy the paycheck you're getting, protect yourself and have "fun".
They lose that burning desire to win, to compete, to be a champion. I'm sure those veterans look at Jameis' comments, shake their head and say, "He'll learn."
No, he won't. Jameis isn't a loser. He won't tolerate giving up or accept losing on his team. He had to take the backseat this year because he was a rookie. He didn't have the right to step up and hold veterans - men - accountable.
He's not a rookie anymore. He's been through an NFL season. Now, as he said, "I can be me."
This is where it began, Bucs fans. In a cold, chilly torn up field in Charlotte. Jameis Winston looked at his team playing out the string and said - no more. We're not this anymore. If you aren't trying to win, you can't be a Buccaneer. His coach and General Manager are 100% behind him.
For this first time in this eight year walk through the wilderness, I feel a change in the wind.
- The scary thing for Jameis Winston -
he turns 21 on Wednesday. (Correction - Jameis turns 22). A young man, barely out of his teens just put up one of the best rookie QB seasons in NFL history. Think about that. Only the third player in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards his rookie season. He threw the 4th most touchdown passes for a rookie in NFL history. He obliterated rookie team records and set a franchise record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
His offense gained the most yards in franchise history.
He can't even drink (legally) until later this week. (actually, yes he can, since he's already 21. Sorry about that).
Did he struggle a little bit down the stretch? Sure. Maybe he hit that rookie wall so many talk about. Maybe its because he's throwing to a temperamental number one wide out and a bunch of undrafted free agents. Or maybe he was trying to overcompensate for a team filled with a bunch of guys too comfortable with losing games.
Regardless, the last month shouldn't take away your enthusiasm for this quarterback. He's got work to do. He knows it and the exciting part, he loves the game, wants to improve and most importantly will work his backside off to get there. Be excited Bucs fans, you have a franchise quarterback.
- Mike Evans allowed Josh Norman to get under his skin (as he's done to so many other WRs in the league) and it led to him losing his cool, berating an official and getting himself ejected. Despite putting up another good season statistically, Evans has had a rough year with drops, injuries and stupid, selfish penalties.
Evans, like Winston, is barely legal to drink. It shows how some of the Bucs' youngblood still has some significant maturing to do.
Here's hoping Evans looks back at his 2015 antics tries to eliminate that from his game next year.
- Barring a shocking turn of events, Lovie Smith will be your head coach entering the 2016 season. With teams firing coaches with recent 11-win seasons on their resume, to say Lovie is on the hot seat next season goes without saying. His backside will be flaming.
Tampa Bay set a dubious record on Sunday, becoming the first team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to finish last in their division five straight years. Yes, not even the creamsicle Buccaneers did that. That's terribly embarrassing for the organization and it must stop.
- Congrats to Doug Martin on a fabulous 2015 season. Some hindsight 20/20'ers are making it out that the Bucs made a bad decision by not picking up Martin's 2016 option but let's face it - Martin had been a shell of his former self the preceding two years. It really looked like he was done. The Bucs needed to make him prove he could be a quality back.
In a contract year he came to camp in the best shape of his life and put together a spectacular season. Good for him. He's going to get a big paycheck.
I hope the Bucs re-sign the Dougernaut but Tampa Bay needs to be careful here. Martin is too close to 30 to give him a long term deal. He's already shown durability issues and lets face it, the position isn't valued as much as others are in the league. You can't overpay to keep him here.
The Bucs could, in turn, turn the running game over to Charles Sims or draft a running back in the second or third round, or even sign a cheaper veteran, like Matt Forte, who could help split carries with the younger Sims.
There are options for the Bucs that don't include giving DeMarco money to Doug Martin.
- Tampa Bay will once again have a top ten pick in the draft. They'll also have gobs of money to spend in free agency (and perhaps more if the blood letting we expect on defense will occur). Many think Tampa Bay will not do anything in free agency this year but I beg to differ. You're not going to be able to rebuild the defense - which will be job one this off-season - with the draft alone.
I think you're going to see the Bucs part ways with George Johnson, Alterraun Verner, Mike Jenkins and Johnthan Banks. Don't be surprises to see half off the starters on defense gone.
I think the entire secondary is going to be eviscerated. Its going to be a major overhaul that is long overdue.
On offense, Logan Mankins may retire. I think Vincent Jackson still has value to this team. They may ask him to take a paycut but I don't believe they will cut him. Tampa Bay certainly needs to add depth on the offensive line and determine an answer at RT. They need a speed receiver to compliment Jackson and Evans. They also need Austin Serferian-Jenkins to not be made of porcelain. Do whatever you have to ASJ to get your body prepared for the rigors of an NFL season.
Gerald McCoy struggled with injuries early in his career as well but has had multiple Pro Bowls since. ASJ can turn it around. He just needs to find a way to stay healthy.
- So Sander will be posting the official BucsNation seasonal awards later, but here are the DLT's Diatribes version of the awards
Buccaneers MVP - Jameis Winston, Quarterback
While Doug Martin certainly deserves consideration here - no one made the impact on the Buccaneers that young Jameis did. Tampa Bay has their quarterback. Now they just need to build up the team around him.
Bucs Offensive Player of the Year - Doug Martin, Running Back
I'm not sure the Bucs get to six wins on the year without the contributions of Doug Martin. He was a force for teams to reckon with and help take a lot of pressure of Jameis.
Bucs Defensive Player of the Year - Lavonte David, Linebacker
David started off terrible, trying to help rookie MLB Kwon Alexander adjust to his posiiton and ended up hurting his own play. Yet once Alexander settled in, David started being the impact player we expected him to be. He finished the 2015 season with 147 tackles (85 solo), 3 sacks, 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown.
Bucs Comeback Player of the Year - Doug Martin, Running Back
How could it be anyone but Martin? 1402 yards rushing, 6 rushing touchdowns, plus 33 receptions for 271 yards and another touchdown. Great season for the Dougernaut.
Bucs Game of the Year - Week 11 - Bucs 45, Eagles 17
Tampa Bay perhaps gave us a glimpse of the future in completely destroying the Philadelphia Eagles. All phases contributed to the most dominant victory of the Lovie Smith era.
Bucs Play of the Year - THE RUN
Dick Stockton still has no idea who had the football.
- Final thoughts - If you had told many Buc fans that Tampa Bay with a rookie quarterback, two rookie offensive linemen and a patchwork defense would finish 6-10, Jameis would throw for 4,000 yards and 22 TDs and only 15 ints, the offense would rank 5th in the NFL, the defense 10th, you would have been thrilled would you not?
Its hard to see it because the season ended on a four game skid - but this football team improved in 2015. Next year's schedule will certainly be much tougher than the one the Bucs had this season and its going to be a make-or-break year for Lovie.
The bottom line is with Jameis, there's hope. With Jameis, there's a chance. Maybe next season this peasant will throw a rock at the giant and smack him upside the head.