Joe Henderson Columns
Henderson: This Bucs team isn't worth caring about
TAMPA - Losing seasons, even the kind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are enduring, don't always lead to a housecleaning of the coaching staff and front office. It's different, though, when the fans simply stop believing it will get better. Based on what I saw at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday during a 38-19 loss to Carolina, I think we're there. Losing six games in a row is bad, but the Bucs may have bigger things to worry about. For at least the time being, I believe they have lost the city again. On the field, I made up my mind on this football team a few weeks ago; the Bucs are simply not good. The Bucs aren't especially concerned about my opinion, but it's a much larger issue when you, the paying customer, tune them out. You can tell from the start when the people in the stands are all-in, and that was never the case in this game. Carolina had a 14-point lead about 10 minutes after kickoff, but there were only a few half-hearted boos from the announced gathering of 56,270.Booing is never pleasant to endure, but it would have beaten the overwhelming indifference shown as the afternoon dragged on while the Bucs were being outclassed by an opponent that improved to a whopping 4-8. This wasn't an excellent San Francisco team taking the Bucs to task, nor was it a very good Houston team with a grizzly bear defense that made the locals look foolish. This was 4-8 Carolina. By now, it's obvious general manager Mark Dominik erred during the off-season when he didn't supplement the NFL's youngest roster with some veteran leaders. That's not a one-liner, fired off to be snarky. It's a fact, based on comments from inside the locker room. Head coach Raheem Morris, whose job has to be in major jeopardy, spoke grimly after Sunday's game. "We're not playing like a smart football team right now," he said. "We have four weeks to prove we can." That was the word of the day: smart. In past weeks, the talk has been of needing to "execute" but now the bar has been raised above the neckline. Veteran teams play smart. Playoff teams play smart. Well-coached teams play smart. Well-coached teams execute. Un-smart teams have plays like that of second-year defensive lineman Brian Price, whose 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the last play of the third quarter so enraged Morris he told Price to leave the premises immediately and head for home. "We need to improve with our game intelligence, our football intelligence – playing smart, playing within the system, and doing the things we're coached to do," center Jeff Faine said. "It has kind of been the story all year where we have not been executing and we have not been playing smart. That's what's holding us back." Would more veterans have helped improve the Bucs' collective football IQ? It sure wouldn't have hurt, and that's why I don't think this pratfall of a season is all on Morris. This has been a group collapse, and anyone believing it can't have ramifications at the end of this season is naïve. If they keep playing like this – and the gulf between the Bucs and their customers gets any larger – everything is in play. These players say they love Morris and have his back. This would be a pretty good time to prove so. "We are pros and we're expected to go out there and make plays, go out there and win. I've been in this league long enough to know if you don't do that, changes may come," safety Sean Jones said. So, he was asked, are they basically playing for Morris' job in the final four games? "We've been playing for Raheem since I've been here. We play for Raheem each and every day, every practice and, even though we're losing, nothing is different," he said. "We still love our coach and want to do our best for him, but we've got to have more sense of urgency and get a win." That's a good sentiment and maybe the Bucs still have enough passion to back it up. They'd better hope so. The biggest message they need to send in the next four weeks is that this is still a team worth caring about. At the moment, that message isn't getting through.