Martin Fennelly Columns
Fennelly: Bucs need accountability, not entitlement
TAMPA - You can never assume anything in the NFL. Go ask these Tampa Bay Buccaneers, now flopping around like a fish on a dock. Or try Philadelphia, where Michael Vick and the "dream team" are 3-6. Or give a shout to San Diego, 4-5, trailing Tim Tebow, passing machine.Want to talk to someone in Indianapolis, which had planned on Peyton Manning's return, not so much 0-10? This league is full of stories like that every single season. But a couple of things jump out in the aftermath of the Bucs' annihilation at the hands of the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon. First, it was the swan dive Raheem Morris took into absolute responsibility for this sputtering project. Coaches have done this often in the past, and most of them don't truly believe what they're saying, and there might be a little of that with Raheem, but I give him 10 out of 10 for verve after pronouncing that "I refuse to believe that our guys are that bad." There might be those who are true believers out there – I am when it comes to just how bad the Bucs' defensive line and linebackers and receivers are – but you can understand where Morris is coming from at 4-5 and a trip to Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers on deck. Then there was Josh Freeman, who announced that he is better this year than last year, a howler if there ever was one. I understand what Freeman is trying to say, but there is no way he has been better, and the denial is a concern at this point. But the thing that made me stop was when, in passing, he mentioned that the Bucs can't assume anything because of the "success" of last season, or what they accomplished. He was hinting at a sense of entitlement that has perhaps crept into the Bucs' approach. You can see it, too. Thing is, what did they accomplish last season? Yes, they turned around 3-13 and went 10-6, but it's not as if they made a playoff run or even made the playoffs at all. What is there to be entitled about? The Rays ran into that in 2009 after making the World Series a year earlier. They began 2009 thinking they could just throw their bats and gloves out there and win. They couldn't. But at least they made the postseason. The Bucs truly had nothing to rest on. Part of me thinks their slouching this season is because a team can be propelled only so far by that chip on the shoulder, us-against-them approach. Morris and general manager Mark Dominik loved to think everyone was out to get them and this team during 3-13, as if everyone isn't out to get anyone and everything at 3-13. And it worked. They went 10-6 and proved everyone wrong. This year, it was a plan to prove everyone wrong again, that 10-6 was no fluke. It's time to stop looking outside and start looking inside. Maybe Morris signaled the start of that Sunday. It's time to be accountable for those penalties and lack of discipline and preparation. It's time to stop saying you're as good as you were last season, or that a play here or there and you're in. It's just not so. It's time to make guys like Aqib Talib accountable. Talib, thoroughly embarrassed by an Arian Foster fake on a touchdown catch and run, and maybe that dropped interception, though that was a strange call, bolted the locker room before media entered. Why should you have go-to guys after the game if they're not go-to during it? There's some stand-up for you. Freeman is just that sort of guy, or at least he can be, and should be. So should veteran cornerback Ronde Barber, who didn't chat with media, either, but I think he was composing his thoughts after meeting with coaches for a half-hour after Sunday's debacle. It will be highly interesting to hear what Ronde says. I hope he lays it out there. This team could use that about now.
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