The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t do their embattled head coach any favors Sunday. Then again, the Buccaneers’ embattled head coach didn’t really do himself any favors, either.
With the Bucs still clinging to hope against a Saints team that had already amassed more than 300 yards and 28 points, coach Greg Schiano made one of those head-scratching decisions that have jeopardized his future.
Instead of attempting a 42-yard field goal that would have cut a New Orleans lead to 11 points, 28-17, just before halftime, Schiano opted on fourth-and-10 for a fake field goal that never materialized the way its designer dreamed.
“I didn’t think we were doing a great job of stopping them and I knew it was going to take touchdowns, not field goals, to beat them,’’ Schiano said. “In retrospect, I’d probably like to have that one back.’’
By the end of today, Schiano might be saying the same thing about his job.
The botched fake, in which holder Michael Koenen threw the ball away when he couldn’t find an open receiver, did nothing to keep pace with a Saints attack that strafed the Bucs for 468 yards during a 42-17 loss that could spell the end of Schiano’s two-year Tampa Bay tenure.
Bucs co-chairmen Joel and Bryan Glazer were in attendance at the Superdome, but neither went to the locker room or made himself available for comment after the loss, which left the Bucs at 4-12 and Schiano with an 11-21 record overall.
“It’s a really tough time in that locker room right now for our players and our coaches because of the amount of physical and emotional energy that’s been invested in this season,’’ Schiano said.
“It’s been one of the most demanding seasons I’ve ever been involved in. Things just kept coming, kept coming, kept coming. But that’s why this group of men (is such) a great group of people because they stuck together and worked hard, and that’s what I asked them to do.’’
Schiano was forced to make that request repeatedly this season, from the saga that resulted in the benching and eventual release of opening-day starting quarterback Josh Freeman to the absence Sunday of six starters lost to season-ending injuries.
In between the Bucs dealt with a MRSA infection that claimed starting left guard Carl Nicks as well as a series of reports from unnamed sources suggesting Schiano had lost the respect of the players in his locker room.
By Sunday, that level of respect and a willingness to play for Schiano was one of the few things that remained from a team that was expected to contend for a playoff berth, if not an NFC South title.
“Coach Schiano is a great guy and a great coach,’’ said co-captain and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “And he did an amazing job this year of staying on track and not getting derailed by all the (stuff) that’s been going around.’’
The sentiment throughout the locker room Sunday was the same, some even saying this second losing season under Schiano might prove as soon as next season to have been a blessing.
“At the end of the year we actually have a lot to be thankful for,’’ said co-captain and starting right guard Davin Joseph. “We found a lot of key players this year that can really help us in the long run here. We actually did a lot of positive things. We learned a lot more about our team and sometimes it takes going through some tough stuff to really find out what you got in your locker room.
“I really feel like, even though the record didn’t show it, this was probably the best team I’ been around since I’ve been here – the best talent, the best camaraderie, all that. And Coach Schiano helped that to happen. It’s just that the record doesn’t show it.’’
What the record shows is that the Schiano-led Bucs lost their first eight games this year as well as their last three and have lost 17 of their past 22 dating to November 2012. During that span the offense slipped from ninth overall at the end of last season to last in the league this year, when it finished up by scoring an average of 15.4 points per game during its last four.
Those offensive woes, brought on in part by the loss four starters — Nicks, running back Doug Martin, wide receiver Mike Williams, and tight end Luke Stocker — to injury, were part of Schiano’s decision to try the fake Sunday. The overriding factor, though, was the surprisingly ineffective play of the Bucs defense, which came into the game ranked 13th overall, including 15th against the pass
Even five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis found himself flailing away against Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who completed six passes of 24 yards or more, including touchdown passes of 41, 44 and 76 yards.
“We hurt ourselves,’’ Revis said. “We shot ourselves in the foot. There was bad communication by the secondary and the result was them scoring touchdowns. In the past we haven’t had that.
“But this game, we made mistakes and they executed. Against a guy like Drew Brees, a Hall of Fame quarterback, a Pro Bowl guy, you can’t do that, because he picks it up and he’ll pick you apart if you make mistakes like that.’’
Riding the arm of rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, whom Schiano inserted as his starter after the Bucs got off to an 0-3 start under Freeman, Tampa Bay managed to keep pace for a while.
Glennon matched Brees’ first score with a 48-yard touchdown toss to Tiquan Underwood off a flea flicker to make it 7-7 with 1:35 left in the first quarter. And he hit rookie tight end Tim Wright with a 10-yard touchdown strike with 3:28 left in the half.
That cut the Saints lead to 21-14, but after Brees struck quickly a the 76-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills, Schiano opted for the fake field goal, thinking he had little left to lose.
“I thought we had an opportunity to stun them,’’ Schiano said. “I knew they didn’t have a time out to call, so I thought maybe we could catch them off guard. Obviously, it didn’t work out.’’
Not much did this season.