TAMPA ó Finally, itís over.
Thatís the best thing you can say about the Bucsí 2017 season. Itís over.
You donít have to watch anymore.
No more Jameis Winston bone-headed turnovers. No more special-team blunders. No more games where the other teamís quarterback can stand back there all day deciding which of the three open receivers he wants to throw the ball to.
No more wasted Sunday afternoons. No more avoiding SportsCenter on Sunday nights.
No more losing.
Itís over. Mercifully. It ended Sunday on the upswing. A nice come-from-behind win against the playoff-bound Saints. Just a reminder of what could have been in this disappointing 5-11 season.
This season wasnít supposed to go down this way. Remember the good olí days? Back when Hard Knocks was here? Back when the Bucs were coming off a 9-7 season and the future looked sunny and bright?
There was talk of the quarterback having an All-Pro season. There was talk about the Bucs, finally, having the right head coach. There was talk of a division title. There was talk of playoffs.
Then the whole thing came crashing down.
Why? How? Weíre still not sure. It canít be as simple as a few injuries and itís certainly not as complicated as offensive game plans and defensive schemes. Whatever it was, it all just kind of, well, happened.
One day the Bucs were 2-1 and almost beating the Patriots. And seemingly the next day there was talk about whether Dirk Koetter should be the coach and whether the Bucs have a future with Winston at quarterback.
And, really, thatís what this all comes down to: the future. Thatís all that matters now.
Whatís in store for 2018?
Was 2017 just one of those oddball seasons? Weíve seen it before. Sometimes an up-and-coming team has all these expectations and, for whatever reason, isnít quite ready for meet those high hopes. Then, the next year is the one it arrives. That means 2018 could be good.
Or could it be we were fooled by last season? That maybe the Bucs really werenít as good as we all thought? And that maybe all that playoff talk was unreasonable, unrealistic and unfair.
The answer is probably somewhere in the middle.
"I believed all along that weíre not that far off," Koetter said. "But your record is what it is."
Iím a big believer in that you are what your record says you are and the Bucs certainly deserved their 5-11 record. But they donít need a massive overhaul to get this thing headed in the right direction.
Bringing back Koetter for another season is the right move. It gives the franchise stability and consistency. And, despite earlier reports to the contrary, he does seem to have decent business relationship with Winston.
Meantime, speaking of Winston, letís be clear: he IS the teamís quarterback now and for the foreseeable future. Thatís just how it is. If youíre one of those fans who think the Bucs need to go out and get another quarterback, thatís just not going to happen.
He was awful at times Sunday, no question about it. He still throws footballs up for grabs and sometimes you think heís never going to learn from past mistakes.
Does he need to improve? Absolutely. Does he need to cut down on the turnovers? Absolutely. Does he need to grow up and behave better and be more mature? Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely.
But he has done enough good things in his three years that he still must be the player you build around. Did you see that winning drive Sunday? Besides, the Bucs arenít going to start over again with some rookie quarterback.
Quarterback isnít the only issue. The Bucs need a running back. They need to bolster the offensive line. They could use secondary help. Maybe a kicker. And they need a pass rusher. Good gosh, do they need a pass rusher.
But thereís a lot to like, too. The receivers are good. The tight ends are good. You still have Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David on defense.
The Bucs will have an offseason to start to address all they need to clean up the mess of 2017. The offseason starts today. Thatís good news.
So is this: 2017 is over.