Monday Column: The Bucs Were in Playoff Contention, and Then….

Let’s flash back to November 22 for a moment. The Bucs were in Philadelphia, and turned in their best performance of the season, a 45-17 thrashing of the Eagles. Tampa Bay improved to 5-5, and was very much in the playoff hunt in the NFC.

Today, the Buccaneers are 6-9, and will miss the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season.

So what happened? Since that impressive performance at Lincoln Financial Field, the Bucs have dropped games to the Colts, Saints, Rams and Bears. We’re not talking Patriots, Panthers or Cardinals here. We’re talking about games that were winnable, and yet Lovie Smith’s team didn’t get the job done, aside from a victory over a Falcons’ team that just knocked off Carolina.

The biggest disappointment down the stretch has arguably been the biggest one all season: the play of the defense. Now we know why Smith says he needs his defenders to force turnovers. When they don’t, the other team seems to march down the field at will, particularly through the air, regardless of whether the quarterback is Drew Brees or Case Keenum. The secondary is awful, regardless of who’s back there. There’s no question the suspension of Kwon Alexander hurts. But I can’t picture the loss of one player having that much of an impact.

Tampa Bay is -4 in the turnover ratio. Somehow it feels worse than that. Over the past five games, the Bucs have forced a grand total of one takeaway.

Should Lovie Smith be fired at the end of the season? I think he should, but my gut says he won’t. The team did triple its win total from a year ago. But consider this: Smith is calling the shots on defense this year, and I have seen absolutely no improvement in this unit from 2014. None.

Smith is 8-23 in two seasons in Tampa. His predecessor, Greg Schiano, went 11-21 before receiving his pink slip. If Schiano got fired for that record, then why should Smith get a free pass? There’s a growing “rumbling” (for lack of a better term) on blogs and social media that the fans would like to see offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter promoted to head coach. He has done a nice job this year with an offense that includes a rookie quarterback, and Jameis Winston wouldn’t have to learn a entirely new offense. So why not give Koetter a shot? You’d keep the rhythm on offense, and it would allow them to give the other side of the ball a much-needed shakeup. There is talent on defense (Lavonte David for one) but the scheme is not working out.

One final note: the Bucs’ season finale against Carolina is now scheduled for 4:25 p.m. instead of 1 p.m.   Carolina is coming off its first loss of the year, and needs to win to clinch home-field advantage.  Why can’t they just play the game at 1:00 and get the torture over with?

 

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