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Monday, Oct 23, 2017
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Joe Henderson Columns

So-so Bucs keep treading water in pool of mediocrity

Halfway through this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the worst kind of purgatory. With a 4-4 record after Sunday's 27-16 to the New Orleans Saints, you can't say the Bucs are knee-crawlin', high-draft-pickin', Indy Colts kind of bad, but they're sure not very good either. They're not out of the race in the NFC South, but they don't have the look of a contender, either. Josh Freeman makes enough good plays that you can't say he is a bad quarterback.
He also makes enough bad plays that you can't say he is good. Coach Raheem Morris seems to understand the problems that helped put his team in this precarious position, which is good. His solutions, however, have failed to provide a remedy, so that's bad. If this keeps up, the Bucs could hang around on the fringes of the wild-card race, but raise your hand if you believe they're good enough to actually crash the postseason party. They hang their hat on being physical, yet the Saints out-hit them Sunday. They pride themselves on defense, but the Saints controlled the ball. They are young, which can mean exuberant. But they can't control that exuberance, which leads to an absurdly large number of penalties. They had nine more for 80 yards against the Saints. And now for something just too bizarre: LeGarrett Blount, of all people, got a 15-yard personal foul for throwing a punch. Seriously? Of all people ... Well if that didn't sum up this football game, I'm not sure what would. The Bucs remain undisciplined and, in the first half of games, inept on offense. Do they want to be a running team? A passing team? A balanced team? You tell me. Here's what we do know: They trail the Saints and Atlanta Falcons by one game in the loss column in the NFC South. It only seems like a lot more after their last two efforts, both losses. We also know Earnest Graham isn't coming back, and wasn't that noticeable on third downs against the Saints? Somehow, having Freeman trying to hit Kregg Lumpkin or Erik Lorig with third-down passes doesn't have the same feel as watching Graham swing out of the backfield, does it? That is looking like a real problem from here on out. We also know Gerald McCoy is having a hard time staying on the field. He left Sunday's game in the second quarter with a biceps injury and there have been reports he may miss the remainder of the season, although Morris said only, "It didn't seem great." If McCoy is out, it becomes much tougher for the Bucs to stop the run or get any real pressure on the quarterback. The nature of the National Football League is that depending how the most recent game went, the sky is either falling or everything is sunny and wonderful. These Bucs have played half a season, though, more than enough time to establish an identity as a mediocre football team -- not bad, not good, just kind of there. If that's going to change, it better start soon. The second half of the season is more manageable than most might think. Houston, up next, is no gimme and certainly the trip to Green Bay in two weeks is fraught with peril, but there are two games with Carolina, along with Jacksonville, Tennessee, Dallas and Atlanta. You say none of those games are guarantees, and considering the way the Bucs have played to this point it's obvious you would be right. Outside of Green Bay though, I don't see any I'd automatically check off as a loss, either. That's the problem. Halfway through this season the Bucs are a lukewarm bunch -- not, not cold, just extremely bland. After winning 10 games a year ago with a young and talented core, the Bucs believed this season could be something special. But that was before they became perplexingly ineffective on offense, or their own worst enemies with the penalties, or all of the other things that teams do when they are kind of good and kind of bad. Eight games remain, so there is time for that to change, I guess. Or not. Right now, I'm thinking "not."
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